Read Bonzo's War Online

Authors: Clare Campbell

Bonzo's War




Also by Clare Campbell

Out of It: How Cocaine Killed My Brother

Tokyo Hostess: Inside the Shocking
World of Tokyo Nightclub Hostessing






Constable & Robinson Ltd
55–56 Russell Square
London WC1B 4HP

First published in the UK by Corsair,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson, 2013

Copyright © Clare Campbell and Christy Campbell, 2013

The right of Clare Campbell and Christy Campbell to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

Written with Christy Campbell

All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not be reproduced in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or hereafter invented, without written permission from the publisher and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in
Publication data is available from the British Library

ISBN 978-1-47210-679-7 (hardback)
ISBN 978-1-47210-687-2 (ebook)

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Printed and bound in the UK

Jacket images © Mirrorpix, Harshad Pisavadia (author); Jacket design: Leo Nickolls



To Fergus and Luis, and all those that went before


Author's Note


A Note on the Animal Welfare Charities

A Note on the Sources

A Note on the Naming of Pets


  1  In Case of Emergency

  2  It Really is Kindest …

  3  Killed by Order

  4  Killed by Kindness

  5  Keep Calm …

  6  … and Carry a White Pekingese

  7  Hunting Must Continue!

  8  Wolves Not Welcome


  9  Pets Get the Blame

10  The Dunkirk Dogs

11  Three Million Dogs to Die

12  No Cat Owner Need Worry

13  Blitz Pets

14  The Comfort of Pets

15  How is Your Pet Reacting?


16  The Perils of NARPAC

17  Non-essential Animals

18  Pets Under Fire

19  Wanted – Dog Heroes

20  Pets on the Offensive

21  Nationally Important Cats

22  Too Many Poodles

23  The Secret War on Dogs


24  Camp-followers

25  Flying Pets

26  The D-Day Dogs

27  Doodlebug Summer

28  Finest Hour


Pets Come Home



Source Notes

Author's Note

When I was eight years old I was horrified to discover that my uncle ‘had killed a dog'.

Eavesdropping on my parents' conversation in our south London home one evening, I heard my mother tell my father how distressed her twin sister, Lena, had been at the very start of the Second World War. This was not as a result of fears for herself or her young son at the thought of the approaching conflict, but rather because her husband, Ernest, had decided to have their beloved pet dog ‘Paddy' destroyed.

From what I could gather, Paddy had been a very nice Wire Haired Fox Terrier. I had never known him; it was all several decades earlier. But I do remember a fading snap in our family photo album of an agreeable, eager-looking dog with magnificently tightly curled fur bouncing along by my aunt's side. He had reminded me of the Tri-ang toy push-along dog that I myself had loved so much as a child.

Now he was long gone. But I pricked up my ears and wanted to know more. With some reluctance, my mother told me.

The way she told it, each evening my Aunt Lena would walk Paddy across the common to the suburban station to meet Ernest off his train, the dog jumping up to greet him with joy. It was summer 1939; war was coming. Everybody
sensed it, even if the pets of the southwest London suburbs were as yet blissfully unaware of Herr Hitler's intentions.

Then, when the Invasion of Poland was at last announced on the BBC News, my mother told me that Uncle Ernest had suddenly decreed that Paddy must go.

Always a very ‘rational' man and totally lacking in sentiment, he took the dog from my aunt's arms the following day (2 September 1939) and went out the front door, I assume, with Paddy happily beside him on a lead. The next day, a Sunday, the sirens sounded and Britain really was at war.

My aunt never saw Paddy again. I was horrified. I thought of my uncle, otherwise a twinkly-eyed, kindly man of whom I was very fond, and decided then and there that he must be a monster. ‘Well, it was the war, darling,' my mother explained unconvincingly. ‘Food was going to be rationed, everybody thought so, and your Uncle Ernest decided Paddy was one more mouth to feed. He wasn't the only one who thought like that at the time.'

For every person who thought like my uncle, I am sure that there were dozens for whom pets were like members of the family, and only slightly less dear to them than their own children. What on earth should they do if, as everyone expected, the war began with a cataclysm from the air?

As I would discover, it was a scene repeated in thousands of loving homes – weeping children, sobbing mothers, stern fathers saying it was the only thing to do. That it was the
thing to do.

It was all based on a false assumption: that mass bombing of cities with gas and high explosive would very soon follow the outbreak of war. A general panic stalked pet lovers. Would their animals suffer terribly? Would they become hysterical and run wild at the sound of sirens and explosions, their bodies burned or contaminated with mustard gas or
whatever other horrors were coming? If they survived the opening onslaught, could they even be fed?

It had been in the papers, broadcast on the BBC – ‘It really is kindest to have them destroyed,' said the man from the Ministry of Home Security, spoken in a soothing announcement from deepest officialdom made in the treacliest tones of Mr Cholmondley-Warner (I can only imagine that's how it was).

The result was a catastrophe. Actually it was all an accident, wasn't it?

And thus it happened that in those first days of war, many, many thousands of cats and dogs were shooed out into the street, dumped in the woods or taken to the vet or animal welfare clinic for some sort of kindlier end to be inflicted. It was a national tragedy, a heart-breaking pet holocaust that still haunts animal lovers like me. And it had touched my family directly.

‘There has always been a rumour that something like that happened,' the archivist of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) told me while I was on the long and varied research trail for this book. Well, it did happen – and it's all there in the Society's own archives – and in those of other animal welfare charities – and it's recorded in detail in the official files of HM Government. I know who I blame …


So, what was it like to be a pet during the Second World War? What happened to domestic dogs and cats when bombs began to fall and food went on the ration? And what happened to the animals at the zoo?

Living in a house full of cats and history books I began to wonder. Unlike medal-winning ‘war animals' with memorials and biographies galore, at first I could find nothing on the ordinary pets of ordinary people, and the humble working animals: the milkman's horse rather than the war horse. Then, little by little, the story opened up. What follows concerns the civilian animal experience of war and especially the pets of embattled Britain.

Since 2004, those animals who
served Great Britain have had their own monument in Hyde Park, London: the ‘Animals in War Memorial',
dedicated, as it proclaims, to ‘all the animals that served and died alongside British and Allied forces in wars and campaigns throughout time'. It bears a second inscription – ‘they had no choice'.

Well, neither did the war pets: the companion animals that often had more to fear from their owners than anyone else, it would turn out. Cats and dogs had no choice when the bombs began to fall (other perhaps than to run), although plenty of choices would be made for them.

Pets, on the whole, do not write their memoirs. To find out what happened I had to look for accounts of those who entwined their lives with their pets because they loved them especially or because they sought to advance the wellbeing of animals generally.

I found them in abundance. And what extraordinary stories they were – of animals under fire in the Blitz, of evacuated, blacked-out, foodless and homeless pets, of brave cats and intrepid dogs who did not go barking mad at the first wail of sirens as everyone expected them to, but rather gave aid and comfort to humans.

And it is about how many humans, otherwise engaged in waging total war, did their utmost to comfort and save their animals. At least some of them did.

I looked at my own cats. Could I queue all day for a cod's head or boil up sheep's windpipe for hours on end? That took a deep devotion. Would I have smuggled them into an air raid shelter to be barked at by a horrid warden – or risked being taken to court for giving them a saucer of milk?

Then there were the accidental animal combatants who became entangled by the fortunes of war, those who were left behind when everybody else had fled – like the Dunkirk dogs – and the masses of camp-following pets who often had to dodge officialdom or switch sides to stay alive. ‘No mascot is as popular as one captured from the enemy,' it was said in the midst of war. And I imagine whoever wrote that knew what they meant.

Indeed many so-called ‘regimental pets' had to change sides to survive at all. But who could condemn these furry collaborators with no understanding of the struggle in which they had been swept up?

And, as I discovered, Britain set out in 1942 to recruit an army of 6,000 dogs. They were pets loaned by their families for the duration. Many did not make it home. At the same time officials were secretly plotting the mass destruction of dogs and launched a hate campaign against cats. The wartime Archbishop of Canterbury would not allow the saying of prayers for animals because it was ‘theologically inaccurate'. It's amazing that pets made it at all.

The war was won. And so the victor nation's animals had seen it through. Rationing would ease though not quite yet. In the glow of victory, the pets had done their bit by boosting morale – while in the background, Government officials had considered getting rid of them all in the cause of national survival. A bit like my Uncle Ernest, that part was not to be spoken of.

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