‘These animals killed during the war didn’t have a choice’
As supporters are honouring soldiers and animals during remembrance, Richard Ault asks if you will be wearing red, white or purple poppies
PURPLE poppies are blending in with red this year as more people choose to commemorate Remembrance Sunday by wearing a different colour.
Red poppies, sold by the Royal British Legion, remain the most popular, and it is sales of these which benefit the charity’s work in helping service men and women, veterans and their families.
The purple poppy is less common, but is designed to remember animals that have been killed in war.
It was originally launched by Animal Aid, but the charity felt its message was misrepresented and switched to using a purple paw badge, which can be worn all year round, to commemorate, ‘all animal victims of human exploitation’.
Murphy’s Army – a charity which reunites lost and stolen pets with their owners – launched its first purple poppy campaign in 2016.
Sarah Akhtar, of the Trentham World War One Project, is wearing a purple poppy this year alongside her traditional red one.
Sarah, of Trentham, said: “I think it’s a good idea to remember the animals who were killed during the war, particularly the horses.
“There’s a connection with Trentham and the horses which were brought through here. There were already blacksmiths in Trentham and Hem Heath. The horses came to Butterton and then to Trentham to be shod.
“They used the parks for training the horses, and blacksmiths like Abraham Clay made sure they were properly shod and helped to train the farriers.
“These animals didn’t have a choice.”
On the outbreak of the First World War, the army possessed just 25,000 horses, which were used by the cavalry, as well as to pull heavy guns, transport weapons and supplies, and carry the wounded to hospital.
The War Office was given the urgent task of recruiting half a million more for the front line, which meant emptying the countryside of shire horses and riding ponies.
Trentham Hall Stables became an Army Remount Unit, with an outpost at Butterton.
Thousands of horses passed through Trentham Hall Stables on their way to the Front between 1914 and 1918.
Few returned home. In fact it is estimated that eight million horses, along with countless mules and donkeys, died in service during the Great War. One horse which did make it home was Christ Church, Lord Sandon’s charger, who accompanied him to the Western Front. Lord Sandon, an officer with the Royal Field Artillery, rode Christ Church throughout the war, then brought him home to Sandon Hall, near Stone, when it was all over.
Many other animals, apart from horses, were put to use. Pigeons carried messages, cats and dogs were trained to hunt rats in the trenches, and canaries were used to detect poisonous gas.
At Milton Parish Church, a ‘Weeping Window’ of more than 3,000 knitted and crocheted poppies has been created for Remembrance Sunday. A special feature of the display is the inclusion of purple poppies ‘to remember the huge numbers of horses, donkeys and pack-mules who lost their lives’.
Reverend Pat Beckett said: “When we were talking about knitting red poppies, someone suggested including purple ones. I looked it up and there were over a million horses from across the country which went to war.
“They faced all the same things as the men did, and most of them died. We thought it would be good to remember them as well, not to take anything away from the men.”
In addition to purple, people can choose to wear white poppies, which have been worn for more than 80 years by thousands of people.
They represent remembrance for all victims of war, a commitment to peace, and a challenge to attempts to glamourise or celebrate war.
Some members of the Green Party have historically shown their support for the idea.
Jan Zablocki, left, co-ordinator of North Staffordshire Green Party – who doesn’t wear a white poppy himself – said: “I think it represents the message that we should prevent war, not have to commemorate it afterwards.
“What we shouldn’t do is have this childish conflict between white and red.”
But Anthony Forrester, of Meir – poppy area organiser for the Royal British Legion – said: “There’s lots of people that have jumped on the bandwagon.
“The red poppy is the only one which funds the British Legion and goes to help members of the Armed Forces.”
RESPECT: Purple poppies are used to remember animals that fell during the war.