The PDSA Ilford Pet Cemetery is fairly easy to find, if you know where you are looking. A quick Google maps search told me that the postcode given was going to take me to a dead end road which was close but not actually near the cemetery. Hence, I found the exact location and headed there early one chilly November morning. While I know you could argue that this was not a essential lockdown visit, I did not see another person the entire time I was there and it felt essential for my wellbeing having not visited a cemetery for some time!
The cemetery itself is tucked neatly behind the animal hospital in a leafy part of suburbia close to a park. As you go to the back of the animal hospital there is a wooden archway along a pathway which bears the inscription ‘They Are Ever In Our Thoughts, Love Never Dies’ and next to that is a map showing the locations of some of the more famous inhabitants. This cemetery is the location of some of the recipients of the Dickin Medal for bravery which was given to animals who showed incredible courage during World War II, these include Able Seacat Simon, military dogs, rescue dogs and messenger pigeons. Of the over 3,000 pets and animals buried in the cemetery there remains many headstones and grave markers, some clearly still visited due to the presence of fresh flowers.
Ilford Pet Cemetery opened in the 1920s and closed to new burials in the 1960s. After many years of neglect, a National Lottery grant gave it a new lease of life with many grave markers being replaced and the area refreshed to reopen to visitors in 2007. The gate and a separate memorial garden have been installed, there is a series of tall pillars to one side where people can place tags for their deceased pets. When I visited, the cemetery looked well cared for although the leaf fall was heavy and covered many of the pathways but you could still tell that there is a real sense of love for the animals buried there.
Many of the animals with headstones remaining were household pets, I particularly noted that many these graves had more than one animal within them so it seems that families may have been able to buy plots where they could inter more than one animal. Some of the more elaborate gravestones are as grand as any persons, a topped with effigies of the animal resting there such as a dog, cat or rabbit. When you scan across the cemetery the markers are much smaller than any humans in general but show just as much love and affection.
Interestingly, I did notice that there is also a formal headstone for Peter the Home Office Cat from 1949-1964. It would appear that Peter is actually Home Office Cat Peter III and he was a loving cat but also an occasional nuisance having one time done his business directly onto a doormat which the Queen was about to walk on. I also spotted a headstone for Rusty who was the former pet of Bruce Forsyth.
The shiniest and newest looking headstones belong to the aforementioned Dickin Medal recipients and I’d like to introduce a few of them for you. Able Seacat Simon was on board HMS Amethyst and received his medal for boosting morale, fighting a rat infestation aboard and also taking injuries from cannon shells. Rip was a search and rescue dog in Poplar in London who helped save the lives of over 100 people during the aftermath of the blitz bombings by locating victims. Beauty was also a rescue dog, she is considered the original rescue dog having saved the lives of many people and animals while in service. Mary of Exeter was a carrier pigeon who took many messages across the English Channel and back to her home in Exeter. She was surprisingly injured on numerous occasions, having been attacked by a hawk, shot at and hit by shrapnel. Even once she was retired, the loft where she lived was bombed, but although many pigeons were killed, Mary survived. You can find out more about these animals and many others who received the Dickin Medal here.
I’d thoroughly recommend a visit to the cemetery if it’s something you would like to do. If you would like to know how to get there just let me know, the only reason I discovered it was there in the first place was from the Atlas Obscura page. The thought that so many people remembered their pets in this way is so heart warming.