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UK honors glow worm war heroes

World War I soldiers used the light of glow worms to read maps.
Great Britain

LONDON, England -- Britain's most unusual war heroes -- including glow worms, elephants and monkeys -- have been honored for their devotion to duty under fire.

The Princess Royal, Queen Elizabeth's daughter, unveiled a war memorial in London's Park Lane Wednesday dedicated to all the animals and insects that endured hardship with the nation's armed services.

"Britain's Animals in War memorial is a nation's long-awaited and very welcome tribute to the millions of animals that have served and suffered for their country," Marilyn Rydstrom, head of the PDSA animal charity, told Reuters.

Among those honored were glow worms whose light was used by soldiers to read maps during the trench warfare of World War I.

The Princess Royal unveiled the bronze sculpture by David Backhouse of two mules carrying battle equipment, and of a stallion and a dog which stand next to a curved wall of Portland stone carved with an array of animal profiles.

It carries the inscription: "Animals In War. This monument is dedicated to all the animals that served and died alongside British and allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time. They had no choice."

Millions of horses carried men to war and delivered dispatches, armed ammunition and equipment during Britain's conflicts. Eight million died in the First World War alone, most from exposure, disease or starvation.

Hundreds of thousands of messenger pigeons saved countless lives serving Britain in its First and Second World Wars.

Sixty animals have been awarded the PDSA Dickin medal -- the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross -- for their service to the country.

One of those attending Wednesday's ceremony, British Army dog Buster, a seven-year-old Springer spaniel, broke a resistance cell in Safwan, Southern Iraq, when he discovered a hidden cache of weapons and explosives.

One man showed his respect to the animals by leaving a wreath of poppies at the foot of the vast stone wall. In a handwritten note attached to the flowers, he asked for forgiveness for what they had been through.

He wrote on a note attached to the flowers: "Dear Animals, You have smelt our fear. You have seen our bloodshed. You have heard our cries. Forgive us dear animals that we have asked you to serve in this way in war."

A flock of racing pigeons was released as part of the ceremony, which was attended by many war veterans and authors Jilly Cooper, journalist Kate Adie and Camilla Parker Bowles's ex-husband Andrew who were all involved in the campaign to construct the £1 million ($1.7m) tribute.

Cooper, who has written a book about the animals war effort, told the UK's Press Association: "We never said thank you to them. Every other Common Market country in the world has.

"They died in their millions. They carried our food and our weapons and they were phenomenal.

"In the Blitz, dogs used to wake up their owners and take them to the shelters when they heard the sirens, and in the First World War horses would neigh when they heard enemy fire but would do nothing when they heard their own fighters going overhead.

"It's their sixth sense and it's amazing."

Marmite the five-year-old mule, laden with wood, attended the ceremony. He was there to represent the thousands of mules who worked during conflicts and also the mule currently owned by the British army which takes the name of Alfred.

Staff sergeant Jason Barnes, of Winchester, western England, said of Marmite, who was in his care: "He's with the Mule Society and has not served with the British army.

"Alfred is very unpredictable and wasn't allowed to come," he told PA. "It's very important that these animals are honored because they have no choice. The biggest thing is that they are so loyal."

Among those commended in the past with the Dickin Medal are:

  • Rob, the para-dog who made more than 20 parachute drops while serving on top secret missions with the SAS in North Africa and Italy.
  • Search and rescue dogs Beauty, Peter, Irma and Jet who located survivors buried in the debris of the London blitz.
  • Ricky, the canine mine detector who cleared a dangerous canal bank in Holland despite suffering severe head injuries.
  • White Vision, the messenger pigeon which delivered the message saving the lives of a ditched aircrew.
  • Metropolitan Police horses Olga, Regal and Upstart who faced their fear of fire and the hail of flying bombs.

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