Feath­ered friends a com­fort at war time

This year marks the 100th an­niver­sary of the First World War. Laura Brown, an aux­il­iary vet­eri­nary nurse from Barn­field House Vetri­nary Cen­tre, con­tin­ues her se­ries about an­i­mals in the war – this week, Bird­watch­ing in the Trenches

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - PEOPLE AND PLACES -

Of­fen­sive. His poem, pub­lished after his death, showed the com­fort that wild birds could give to men at war.

Birds did not just in­spire po­etry. The armed forces con­tained both am­a­teur bird en­thu­si­asts and pro­fes­sional or­nithol­o­gists (at least 20 zo­ol­o­gists and botanists were called up from the staff of the Bri­tish Mu­seum alone).

The en­forced travel of mil­i­tary ser­vice gave th­ese peo­ple the chance to ob­serve new species and habi­tats, and some of them used the op­por­tu­nity to con­trib­ute to sci­en­tific knowl­edge.

James Mau­rice Har­ri­son, a sur­geon with the Royal Navy, was a keen am­a­teur or­nithol­o­gist.

His ship, HMS Mon­i­tor 28, was The sky­lark, the sub­ject of a poem by John Wil­liam Streets (pic­tured be­low); (be­low left) the bee-eater, one of the birds of great in­ter­est to James Mau­rice Har­ri­son sunk in the Aegean Sea dur­ing the Bat­tle of Im­bros in 1918 and he was the only of­fi­cer to sur­vive.

He lost his bird jour­nal in the sink­ing, but was able to re­con­struct it from mem­ory and used it to publish a num­ber of pa­pers about the birds of the Aegean re­gion.

In one of them, he ex­pressed hope that his ac­counts would ‘give some idea of the attractions of­fered to the field nat­u­ral­ist in Mace­do­nia, and may be of in­ter­est to oth­ers about to em­bark O.H.M.S. [On His Majesty’s Ser­vice] for that quar­ter, and help to send them on their way one de­gree cheerier, and hold out some con­so­la­tion for For­eign Ser­vice in war-time.’

The ef­forts of Har­ri­son and other am­a­teur ob­servers in the mil­i­tary helped to sus­tain the field of or­nithol­ogy dur­ing a time when many sci­en­tific projects and pub­li­ca­tions were sus­pended.

Har­ri­son went on to found an or­nitho­log­i­cal mu­seum in Sevenoaks. Now known as the Har­ri­son In­sti­tute, the mu­seum sup­ports con­ser­va­tion projects around the world. He and his son also founded a na­ture re­serve just out­side the town.

Sol­diers some­times re­lied on wild birds to pro­vide clues about the en­emy’s ac­tions. Birds would fly away when they smelled poi­son gas. Pheas­ants and gulls seemed to sense the vi­bra­tions of guns from a long way off and be­came no­tice­ably ag­i­tated.

Wild birds were also among the vic­tims of war, and not just be­cause hun­gry sol­diers some­times shot them for food. When mines went off at sea, they sent an oily dis­charge to the sur­face, which coated the feath­ers of seabirds and killed them in large num­bers. Birds may have rep­re­sented life and free­dom to those en­trapped by the war, but they were not al­ways able to rise above man’s ‘san­guine strife’.

Next month: The ship­wrecked pig and other mas­cots.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.