Monday, October 10, 2005

Cats in cages: a little local history

Yesterday we took another little stroll in the cemetery near our house. The Vol-in-Law wanted to check out a memorial that we hadn't looked at before. It was a memorial to WWII dead. There are several such memorials in the cemetery including a rather large one to civilian dead from the area.

The one we looked at was for military and home guard personnel the majority of whom appeared to have been killed locally. There was a little park bench near the memorial and an older man was sitting on it in what appeared to be a reflective mood.

He started talking to us and he was a font of local knowledge. He had been a young boy during the War and his parents and grandparents had been from Tooting. He told us where all the foreign troops (Polish, free French and American) had been stationed and where they had kept the German and Italian prisoners of war. He told us where various large rockets had struck within the borough killing people sheltering in the Underground or watching films.

He told us about the Granada in Tooting, now a bingo hall but then a cinema and variety hall frequented by locals and American servicemen and how even Lord Haw-Haw had talked about the Granada on his famous pro-Nazi propaganda broadcasts. (Lord Haw-Haw was the last person convicted of treason in the UK).

None of this was surprising to me, I'd heard stories like this before - though it was good to hear about them in a local context. But he did tell us something that neither I nor the Vol-in-Law had heard of before: the mass slaughter of pets.

He told us that many of the cats and dogs had gone mad from the constant bombing (no surprise he said as it had driven many people round the bend, too). The Borough of Wandsworth was peppered with bombs and rockets and apparently it caused many people's pets to go crazy and attack people. He remembers being warned by his mother not to touch any of the stray animals, for fear that they would hurt him. The UK has been declared rabies free for a long time, but I'm not sure if there were any cases of rabies during that time.

He didn't say so, but I imagine that many of these pets were abandoned because their owners were dead, wounded, drafted or evacuated. The cats and dogs were hungry, crazy and scared. When looking around the Internet this morning, I found a children’s resource pack called Dogs in War which said that some people argued for all pets to be put down, because food was scare for humans. This man told us the animals were rounded up and put down. He said that on one of the local commons, officials erected a giant cage that they filled with cats waiting to be put down. I have quite an image of the cage filled with cats, like a kitty concentration camp.

But on the upside – here’s a story about two London cats, Faith and Panda, who survived a direct hit on their home in a church and were declared local heroes.

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