This time of year I find really evocative leading up to Armistice day. It is a day that is so humbling and one I feel we should never forget. Conflict past and present is graphically documented but I feel that the animal side of their involvement is one that maybe is not. War Horse has helped the cause of the horse and how they had to participate within wars. For me being a horse lover knowing that they are flight animals it filled me with horror, being put in the middle of conflict would be the most stressful situation for them. However, dogs and their involvement has been something that has not been so well documented.
For the last four years Galen has gone to the Menin Gate to pay tribute to all who serve or have served in war with a special emphasis on dogs and their contribution. This year we are particularly excited as we are going to be taking my dog Molly as a token dog to represent all the dogs that have served, died and participated in helping people during conflict. This year we will be walking in the parade as we have before but this time directly demonstrating the approximate numbers of human lives have been saved by dogs by putting a word tribute on a coat that Molly will be wearing. In the past we have gone with three wreaths with client’s dogs names featuring in the commemoration, this year we are doing the same but we hope with even more poignancy.
The reason we at Galen are so keen to represent dogs in this way is because we are always looking to give people more knowledge about their welfare and health but also by demonstrating how dogs in war have contributed, we hope to enhance everyone’s respect for dogs.
I am very lucky, I work with dogs and I am in contact with them every day either treating them or teaching people to work with them. And everyday I am amazed by them! What they do for us is extraordinary and their sacrifice in conflict is one just example.
If anyone is interested in having their dogs name put on the wreath that we will be taking so your dog can be part of the commemoration we would be delighted to do so for a small donation of £5 that you can donate from a link on our website www.galentherapycentre.co.uk or our facebook page Galen Therapy Centre. What we are looking to do with the money donated is (along with the money we had donated from last year) to ultimately form a charity. Initially we are looking at building a small agility trail (akin to a small fixed agility course) in common areas where people can walk and enjoy being with their dog; these trails will be dedicated to a dog of war with a history of their achievements this will be documented in situ on a plaque and also on a dedicated website. Our aim is to have a number of these trails all over the UK, all commemorating different war dogs. We hope the sites will enlighten people about how amazing the species is and their individual stories.
If you are interested in following us and our trip this year please go to our Galen Therapy Centre Facebook or Twitter page where we will be sending through live feeds. We will also be putting a full report on our website and a tally of how much money we have raised. This is a new project we are very excited about and we cannot wait to get going as we have been planning this for a while!
Why the Menin Gate? The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is one of four British and Commonwealth memorials to the missing in the battlefield area of the Ypres Salient in Belgian Flanders. The memorial bears the names of 54,389 officers and men from UK and Commonwealth Forces (except New Zealand and Newfoundland) who fell in the Ypres Salient before August 16 1917 and who have no known grave. The soldiers marched east towards the field of flander along what become known as the Menin Road; many never returned. The bridge they then walked over has now reconstructed into a permanent memorial and is now known as the Menin Gate. (Retrieved October 23, http://www.greatwar.co.uk/ypres-salient/memorial-menin-gate.htm)
The following is an extract from last year’s trip to Ypres:
"A really early start of 3.35am! We just caught the Euro tunnel to Calais in time to have breakfast just before joining the Poppy Parade. Ypres was heaving with people and serviceman from all regiments including the Fire Service. The atmosphere was palpable and we were thrilled to be included in such an auspicious event. We started the Poppy Parade at the cathedral with a huge crowd and walked through the main street alongside wonderful veterans displaying their hard earned medals – this was really humbling and an honour to be alongside. The Parade marched past the museum and large television screen in the Grote Markt market square recording the events and then on towards the Menin Gate. The streets were lined with people and there was real interest in our wreaths coupled with lots of ‘Aaaaah!’
"We reached the Menin Gate walked through with the parade and waited with the other wreath layers to lay our wreaths. We were so delighted and honoured to be completely part of the whole service and stand within the Menin Gate itself; the site where so many marched through that transpired to be their last journey. For some of our Galen contingent it was their first time to the Menin Gate and to be standing in the huge building that is lined top to bottom with names of soldiers that were unable to be recognised, therefore have no grave was really overwhelming and deeply emotional. During the service we were stood next to the Military bands, nearest to the Fire Service band but not far from away from a Scottish regiment with their bagpipes. During the service some of the many well-known anthems including I vow to thee my country, Oh Danny boy, Jerusalem were played and sung. Being so close to the bands was amazing and the music moved us even more so because of its evocative nature.
"So then the wreath layers were assembled under the gate where the three of us walked forwards in procession and handed our wreaths over to the wreath layers. They were separated and placed two together and one singularly at opposite end of the wreath display. This at first we felt was disappointing but in fact the subsequent interest at both sides of the display for our wreaths meant that they were more obvious for people to see.
"Then the poppy petals were released at the openings at the top of the building- one poppy petal for each fallen soldier.”