Monday, 1 April 2013

Animals in War Memorial, Brook Gate W1

The Animals in War Memorial is a clever piece of work without a doubt. A high curved wall carved with images of animals used in war, from the mighty elephant to the smallest pigeon, defines a gateway through which a train of animals of war pass, shedding their heavy loads as they walk from the darkness of war to the grassy upland behind.
It is highly realistic, with every detail correct both anatomical and historical. It's important - the military history wonks will get you if a strap is out of position and the animal welfare types will create a fuss if a pastern is incorrect (as Dr Johnson discovered).
The memorial designed by David Backhouse and was unveiled in 2004 by the Princess Royal. It is impressive and touching, but not without a lavish dollop of sentimentality that I find a bit disturbing.
The big problem is that, like many modern war memorials, it is not specific enough. The best memorials are to named individuals or units with a story, such as Jagger's Royal Artillery memorial at Hyde Park Corner. The Animals in War memorial is dedicated to "all the animals that served and died alongside British and Allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time." The result is a feeling not of sympathy for individual suffering but a general sigh of "aw, the poor animals."
The words at the side of the memorial give the game away: "They Had No Choice."
This hectoring, finger-wagging slogan says loudly and clearly: "It's not about the animals, it's about the bloody awful humans." 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I find all war monuments hard to deal with. For one thing, who are they for? Not the dead, surely, because they are out of it and unaware that they are being remembered. For us? If so, what is their purpose - to make us feel good about ourselves because we spare an occasional thought for "the glorious dead"?

If there could be anything worse than human beings slaughtering one another in the most vicious and hateful ways then it is the use of animals to prosecute that work with the inevitable suffering, fear and death that it causes them. Again, I question the point of this memorial: more mealy-mouthed self-congratulation for bankrupt sentiment?