They had no choice

ARMISTICE DAY IS celebrated annually on the 11th of November, the day that fighting came to an end in WW1. The day is to celebrate and:

“…remember all those who gave their lives in service to their country since 1914.” (https://www.britishlegion.org.uk/get-involved/remembrance/about-remembrance/armistice-day). It was not only humans who sacrificed their lives, either willingly or less willingly, but also animals, who had been employed in warfare. A monument on a wide traffic island in London’s Park Lane was constructed to remember these four-legged creatures who lost their lives prematurely during battles from which they were unlikely to gain any benefit.

Erected by The Animals in War Memorial Fund (www.animalsinwar.org.uk/) and unveiled in 2004, this dramatic monument consists of a semi-circular Portland stone wall with a gap near its centre. Two bronze horses laden with military equipment are depicted walking towards the gap. and beyond the gap, a bronze sculpture of a running dog can be seen. The western part of the concave side of the wall has bas-reliefs depicting, horses, elephants, and camels. The eastern side of the concavity bears several inscriptions including one with the words “They had no choice”. The convex surface of the wall bears stylised silhouettes of horses. The monument was designed by David Backhouse and was inspired by the book “Animals in War” by Jilly Cooper.

“They had no choice” is a poignantly appropriate sentence on a memorial to creatures who were taken into fields of battle innocent of their likely fate. Seeing this moving monument made me think that these same four words could easily be applied to the numerous Indian participants in WW1 and WW2 who were sent to Europe as ‘volunteers’ innocent of their horrendous destination by their rulers in the Princely States of India, who wished to please the British, whom they served. Had these unfortunate servicemen known what they were about to face, some of them might have objected. That option was not one that would ever been open to the slaughtered animals commemorated on Park Lane.

Guard dogs and Cruella de Vil

LARGE FIERCE LOOKING DOGS roam freely in the grounds of a huge mock Tudor house overlooking north London’s Hampstead Heath on the corner of West Heath Road and Platts Lane. Approach one of the metal gates designed to prevent an outsider from viewing the house properly and within seconds one of those dogs will meet you on the other side of the gates and bark menacingly. I did manage to peer through the railings and the shrubbery within them to catch a glimpse of a huge sculpture of a seated lion sitting close to the steps leading to the house’s front door. Several notices on the outer wall of the property read:
“DO NOT ENTER. LARGE DOGS MAY BE RUNNING FREE”.

I have often passed this house and wondered about it.

A plaque posted by the Hampstead Plaque Fund reads as follows:
“Francis Owen Salisbury (1874-1962) ‘Frank’. Artist. Mural and Portrait painter, recorder of scenes of magnificent pageantry and historic event. Stained glass artist. Lived here.”

Frank, born in Harpenden (Hertfordshire), was the son of a craftsman, who worked in plumbing, decorating, and was also an ironmonger. He was apprenticed to a stained-glass company when he was 15, and then entered Heatherley’s School of Art as a part-time student (www.19thcenturypaintings.com/artists/79-francis-%28%22frank%22%29-o.-salisbury/biography/). A skilled artist, Frank won a scholarship to the Royal Academy Schools, where he won two silver medals. Soon, he:

“…acquired a considerable reputation. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1899 to 1943 and his career as a portrait painter also flourished in the United States. His sitters include five presidents of the United States, five British prime ministers and many members of the British royal family, including the official coronation portraits of King George VI.” (https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/person/mp07514/francis-owen-frank-salisbury).

Frank painted more portraits of Winston Churchill than any other artist. His portrait of Franklin D Roosevelt is still the official portrait of this president hanging in the White House. He was the first person to paint a portrait of the young lady, who is now Queen Elizabeth II. He made portraits of many of the most famous and infamous personalities of the first half of the twentieth century. Frank’s skills were not confined to portraiture as the commemorative plaque reveals,

Frank was highly successful in the USA and by 1932, he was able to move into his impressive mock-Tudor mansion, Sarum Chase, overlooking Hampstead Heath. The house was designed by Frank’s nephew Vyvyan Salisbury (died c1982). Following Frank’s death, the property was bequeathed to the British Council of Churches, who soon sold the house and its contents. The house has since been used as a background for photo and film shoots. In Disney’s 1996 film of “The 101 Dalmations”, Sarum Chase was used as the exterior of Cruella de Vil’s home.

By 1974, the house was home to St Vedast’s School for Boys, part of the School of Economic Science, which has links with a branch of Hindu philosophy. In 2005, the building was sold and is now, or has been, the home of property developer and donor to Jewish charities.

So, there you have it. If I have aroused your curiosity, that is good but do not try to enter this heavily guarded premises as did a little dog called Chewy, who found its way through a hole in the fence and met his sudden end in the garden of Sarum Chase in September 2016 (https://www.hamhigh.co.uk/news/our-pomeranian-dog-died-after-being-bitten-by-wealthy-property-3531920).

Canine celebration

IT IS NOT SO OFTEN that I am invited to a dog’s birthday party in Bombay, let alone anywhere else. Yet, early one Sunday morning this February we were picked up by a friend and driven to Marine Drive with its elegant curving seafront lined with apartment blocks, many of which are designed in the Art Deco style.

We joined a group of our host’s congenial friends, all of whom had brought their dogs to the party. Everyone had arrived with snacks for breakfast. The group meets every Sunday and their dogs greet each other like old friends.

While we humans filled ourselves with sandwiches, patties, samosas, cakes (some eggless for strict vegetarians), biscuits, and hot tea, the dogs lapped up icecream. A few stray dogs joined the party whilst crows looked on enviously. Some of the stray dogs had thin string collars with small labels. These dogs are being considered for adoption by dog lovers. Stray dogs, often intelligent and very ‘street wise’, make good pets once they have had appropriate vaccinations.

We had attended our friend’s dog’s birthday two years ago. It was a relatively quiet occasion because the seashore promenade on Marine Drive had been fairly empty apart from occasional joggers and cyclists. This year it was different.

The promenade was chock full of children out for an early morning charity fun(?) run. Swarms of children of school age were moving along the wide pavement, some bearing banners with the names of their schools. There was much shouting and maasti (fooling around). Most of the children were wearing black tee-shirts with the name of the charity for which they were raising money (Terry Fox Cancer fund). At first glance, this seemingly endless procession of kids with banners looked like a political rally.

Some of the children seemed not to know or care about the direction they were supposed to be running. Many of them stopped to pet the dogs and to take photos of each other with the creatures. We asked some children why they were out running. They answered that they had no idea but their teachers had told them to do it.

While the kids were running or walking past us, they made a great noise as already mentioned but every few minutes this was drowned out by powerful motorcycles racing at high speed along Marine Drive. We were told that this also happens late at night and each year this reckless, careless driving (‘rash driving’ in Indian English) results in many fatalities on Marine Drive.

When we arrived at the party there was a thick mist or haze that almost hid the buildings around and far across the bay. By the time we left, having enjoyed the party and all that was going on around us, visibility had improved and we could see across the bay much more clearly, but not perfectly.

I am looking forward to another doggy birthday party in Bombay next year! Take a lead from me: canine celebrations can be great fun.