Lord Dowding:humanitarian, anti-vivisectionist and resident of Tunbridge Wells
Bored sitting in Sunday traffic queues on returning from my regular pilgrimage to the Big Yellow Storage in Tunbridge Wells (why do so many people apparently want to shop in Asda ??) I noticed that I was stuck in Dowding Way. I had forgotten that Lord Dowding -who played such a key role in Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain- had lived locally in Calverley Park.
I had come across him, not primarily through my work on the Second World War, but because of my research for the entry on his second wife, Muriel, in the Oxford DNB. He was a spiritualist before they met and then together they campaigned for animals. Both Dowdings were active anti-vivisectionists. Hugh used his position in the House of Lords to speak against animal experimentation and against the cruel ways in which animals were poisoned in the wild; most of his speeches in the Lords were on animal welfare. Hugh Dowding acted as president of Beauty without Cruelty and as patron of the International Association against Painful Experiments. Three years after his death the Lord Dowding Fund for Humane Research, to promote practical alternatives to animal experiments, was established by the NAVS, as was the annual World Day for Laboratory Animals, on his birthday, 24 April.
Despite being overlooked for the most prestigious establishment honours, Dowding was elected president of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association and regularly attended its reunions, at which, his Oxford DNB biographer recalls, he was regarded as a revered icon.
I was delighted to just come across a memorial to him in Calverley Park. Although his wartime achievements are remembered so too is his work for animals, though for this he is called a ‘humanitarian’ alongside ‘commander’ and ‘strategist’. I wonder if the extent of his support for animals is known locally?
And, I also sometimes wonder whether I am one of the only people who actually looks at memorials in the public landscape. I suspect that I have noticed much recently partly since I am in exile in a village on the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells and, like Tom Waits, see myself almost travelling abroad, ‘bearing in mind my transient location’ though probably having less fun in so doing …