80 years ago – start of the Second World War and thousands of deaths of pet animals…
During the Munich crisis in 1938 a year before the Second World War newspapers described blind panic- and certain people fleeing quickly from London. Some rushed with their pets to animal charities where some pets were killed at the RSPCA ,Battersea Dogs Home and The Our Dumb Friends League, (now the Blue Cross). The National Canine Defence League (The Dogs Trust) refused to do this. Animal charities realised what might happen in the future…
In the many months before September 1939 the RSPCA and vets advised the Home Office on “questions in connection with the protection of domestic and captive animals” . By August 1939 an umbrella organization was created in the form of the National Air Raid Precautions Animals’ Committee (NARPAC),and established through the ARP department of the Home Office by the Lord Privy Seal.It said:
“Those who are staying at home should not have their animals destroyed.Animals are in no greater danger than human beings, and the NARPAC plans . . . will ensure that if your animal is hurt it will be quickly treated, or put out of its pain if it is too badly hurt to be cured. Another very strong point against destroying animals is that they play an extremely important part in keeping down rats and mice in our cities.”
The government had not issued a diktat or emergency measures requiring animals to be killed. But many people did this , particularly in London, in the first week of war in September 1939. The press covered the mass slaughter of some 400,000 dogs and cats in London alone. This figure was later corroborated both by the RSPCA and Brigadier Clabby, of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps.
This slaughter of 400,000 animals was more than six times the number of civilian deaths on the Home Front caused by enemy bombing during the entire war in the whole country. Importantly no bombs had actually fallen that September 1939 and none would fall on London—or Britain—until April 1940.
September 1939 is now being recalled as a memorable 80 year old event. It should also be remembered for many lost lives of domestic animals. As Richard Overy recalled on The Great Cat and Dog Massacre cover “ this process offer[ed] a profound view of the way animals and humans interact.”
(Photographic images in my book show cats and dogs animals being protected – not destroyed)