Friday, 13 January 2012

Remember the humble beasts

'War Horse’ is released today. Hollywood has taken a children’s book (via a West-End and Broadway play) and turned it into a big budget movie. If you go to see it then expect lavish shots, large-scale battle scenes and to be squeezed through an emotional wringer.

It’s a no-brainer what the film is about; it highlights the use of horses in the First World War. Millions of horses were used by all countries fighting in the war and for Britain which was campaigning across Europe, Africa and the Middle East there were more than just horses used. Mules, camels, elephants, dogs and carrier pigeons were just some of the animals used and abused by our armed forces during the war.

When it came to creating the Scottish National War Memorial in the 1920s the designers wanted to capture in stone, bronze, wood and glass all aspects of the war. They remembered the Scottish regiments; the corps; the sailors and airmen; the nurses and civilians. In short, all the men and women who's lives were lost due to the War. They also remembered the animals.

Edinburgh artist Phyllis Bone was chosen to sculpt the heads of the beasts of burden who served and died alongside the soldiers on all fronts during the war. If you visit the Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle cast your eyes up the pillars of the Hall of Honour and you will see Bone’s work. She carved animal heads for the pillars and one carving at your feet which is easy to miss - the mice and canaries who were ‘The Tunnellers' Friends’.

Thanks to photographs from 1920's guidebooks you can see them all on the Scottish War Memorials Project without having to visit the SNWM (which you should still do though).

In the shrine to Scotland’s servicemen and women which is overflowing with grand memorials the simple memorials to “the humble beasts that served and died” are some of the most powerful. You don’t need to go to the cinema to see 'War Horse' to get a lump in your throat.

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