By Jeff Pelletier, Army Public Affairs
There is a special memorial in Canada’s capital that is located a few blocks down Elgin Street from the National War Memorial.
Under the shade of trees in Confederation Park, just across from Ottawa City Hall, a unique memorial named the Animals in War Dedication honours a special group who have served, and continue to serve, in harm’s way.
Many species remembered
Animals have been, and continue to be, a part of military operations in many ways. Soldiers on horseback led cavalry charges in Canada’s earlier conflicts, mules transported ammunition to the front, pigeons carried messages that were often vital to the safety of troops, and dogs have helped with a variety of tasks, including sniffing out explosives, helping to string miles of communications wire, and contributing to troop morale as mascots.
Mice and canaries have served to warn of gas attacks, camels and elephants contributed in various ways and glow-worms have provided light to read maps.
Estimates show that more than eight million horses perished in service in the First World War alone.
In 2004, Great Britain unveiled its Animals in War Memorial, a large stone and bronze installation in London that cost more than a million pounds. Australia has a simpler version, a bronze horse’s head on a tear-shaped base, which was unveiled in Canberra in 2009.
Ottawa’s Animals in War Dedication memorial was unveiled on November 3, 2012. It was funded and supported by private and public means, including the Government of Canada, Veterans Affairs Canada, the National Capital Commission (NCC) and the Royal Canadian Legion.
Explaining the contributions of animals in war
The project was the idea of Lloyd Swick, a veteran of the Canadian Army who served in the Second World War and the Korean War. In 2010, Mr. Swick approached David Clendining, an Ottawa-based artist and sculptor, to create the memorial.
“I realized at one point that most of the animals that went over to Europe in the First World War never returned, and I thought that was kind of shocking,” Mr. Clendining said about the beginning of the process of creating the memorial.
“When Lloyd approached me and we exchanged that information, right away we became a team, and eventually very good friends.”
He credits Mr. Swick, who passed away in 2017 at the age of 94, with the idea of making the memorial. “He just wanted to explain the essential things animals in war had done.”
Plaques, animal footprints and a military dog statue
The creative process started with a few initial designs that Mr. Clendining and Mr. Swick showed to a few friends and focus groups. The chosen design includes three bronze plaques with animal tracks on a concrete base. Clendining added a life-sized First World War-era service dog wearing a medical backpack to serve as the centrepiece of the memorial.
The first plaque describes the memorial and its significance.
The second plaque is an image of First World War soldiers guiding mules, horses and dogs through muddy trenches as doves fly overhead.
The third plaque is based on a 1916 painting called “Goodbye, Old Man” by Italian artist Fortunino Matania. It portrays a British soldier hugging his horse after it had been mortally wounded in battle.
Located beside South African War Memorial
When it was time to choose a location, Mr. Clendining and the NCC discussed several possibilities. He and the NCC decided on the location in Confederation Park, right next to the existing South African War Memorial. During the Boer War, thousands of Canadian cavalry horses and mules were killed in battle.
“I suggested that location to the NCC because it was very central, and they thought it was a good idea and accepted it, and thus, we had the monument placed there,” Mr. Clendining said.
The 2012 unveiling ceremony was attended by an assembly of military and police members, civilians and politicians, as well as several kinds of animals, such as RCMP horses, service dogs and homing pigeons.
Ottawa mayor Jim Watson issued a proclamation that the date would be recognized as War Animals Day, and the memorial has been a place of interest for local residents and tourists ever since.
“I think it’s important that we have, as a general population, an awareness of the contribution the animals – all animals – have offered,” said Mr. Clendining. “They’d been conscripted, really.”