Animal charity goes retro to celebrate 125 years

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Bill Bailey as a Pearly King.
Bill Bailey as a Pearly King. © Blue Cross

A trio of animal-loving celebrities has had a ball dressing up to recreate historic images from the archives of national pet charity Blue Cross to celebrate its 125th anniversary.

Comedian Bill Bailey, actor and TV presenter David Harewood MBE, and Paralympian Lauren Steadman MBE stepped back in time to recreate three images from Blue Cross’ heritage, dating all the way back to WWI and WWII, to commemorate 125 years of the charity helping pets and people.

Five of the charity’s modern-day rehoming team also lent their support, recreating an additional archive image that features five ‘kennel maids’ wearing protective army helmets whilst caring for the dogs of WWII soldiers while they were fighting overseas.

Originally known as ‘Our Dumb Friends League’, Blue Cross was formed in 1897 to help the working horses of London, who were often underfed, struggled to carry heavy loads and became injured on slippery asphalt roads created for new motor vehicles. Fast forward to today, and the charity continues to support pets and people through its veterinary, rehoming, pet behaviour, education, and pet bereavement services.

Since its formation, the charity estimates that it has positively impacted a staggering 38 million lives and it plans to help more than 120,000 pets over the next three years through its services.

Bill Bailey congratulated the charity on its 125th milestone, and enjoyed playing his part.

“I had a great time transforming into a Pearly King! I love all animals, so having an opportunity to celebrate Blue Cross’ heritage and highlight the support that they have continued to offer to horses, and other animals, since their inception was really special. Thank you for all that you do for both pets and people,” Bailey said.

A Pearly King with a horse "saved from slaughter".
A Pearly King with a horse “saved from slaughter”. Pearly Kings and Queens, known as pearlies, are an organised charitable tradition of working-class “cockney” culture in London, England. Traditionally Pearly titles are passed down through families. Children would be raised in their family’s Pearly traditions and eventually be ‘crowned’ with their parents’ title. © Blue Cross
Visiting day: A WWII soldier visits his dog in the ODFL Charlton kennels. Soldiers returning home for a few days leave were permitted to visit and spend time with their dogs. The picture was recreated by David Harwood and Dutch shepherd, Kit, who was rehomed by Blue Cross.
Visiting day: A WWII soldier visits his dog in the ODFL Charlton kennels. Soldiers returning home for a few days leave were permitted to visit and spend time with their dogs. The picture at right was recreated by David Harwood and Dutch shepherd, Kit, who was rehomed by Blue Cross. Harewood said he was thrilled to be a part of the celebration. “This campaign not only highlights how long Blue Cross has been around to support pets and people, but also how the love for animals can also span across generations.” © Blue Cross
The Blue Cross Fund, created to raise funds to help animals during the Balkan War in 1912 restarted at the start of WWI. The fundraising effort in the UK was huge and encouraged supporters to donate or support the cause on a wider scale. This poster was created by Blue Cross Fund American representatives in San Francisco. At right, the image is recreated by Lauren Steadman and her rescue dog Kira.
The Blue Cross Fund, created to raise funds to help animals during the Balkan War in 1912 restarted at the start of WWI. The fundraising effort in the UK was huge and encouraged supporters to donate or support the cause on a wider scale. This poster was created by Blue Cross Fund American representatives in San Francisco. Paralympian Lauren Steadman brought her own dog, Kira, to create the image of a WWI nurse treating a wounded dog. “Kira is a rescue dog, so I have a huge appreciation for the work that Blue Cross and pet charities do. Happy birthday Blue Cross, and congratulations on your 125th year.” © Blue Cross

During WWI, Our Dumb Friends League opened a quarantine kennel in Blackheath, South London, for soldiers who had befriended dogs overseas and could not afford the quarantine costs. They were happily reunited when the soldiers returned home and the Blue Cross archive contains letters of delight from the soldiers who were ecstatic to see them again.

This image shows a group of "kennel maids" during WWII with the dogs they are caring for at the Charlton kennels.
This image shows a group of “kennel maids” during WWII with the dogs they are caring for at the Charlton kennels. © Blue Cross

In WWII the Charlton kennels came into use again, both to quarantine befriended dogs as before, but also for soldiers who were posted overseas and had no one to care for their dogs while they were away.

European refugees were also able to place their beloved pets in the kennels for the quarantine period if they could not afford the cost privately.

Fundraising efforts to support the work of Our Dumb Friends League were not just during wartime.
The charity helped animals back in the UK and was originally formed in 1897 to help the working horses of London who could often be seen lying in the street injured or exhausted.

Funds were needed to support the charity’s network of animal ambulances and the work of the Our Dumb Friends League Animal Hospital in Victoria, London.

Blue Cross staff recreated the "kennel maids" image.
Blue Cross staff recreated the “kennel maids” image; from left, Rowin (black Labrador) with Marie Loveridge (Animal Welfare Assistant), Prim (cocker spaniel) with Kirsty Smith (Rehoming Supervisor), Bertie (cairn cross) with Vicky Murray (Volunteer Coordinator), Joey (Yorkie x Chihuahua) with Megan Baverstock (Veterinary Supervisor), and Bru (boxer x collie) with Centre Manager Lara Alford. © Blue Cross

The first horse ambulance was bought for £100 by ODFL in 1901, to be used on London’s streets picking up injured horses and taking them for treatment. Before this, working horses who became injured or exhausted were left lying on the road for several hours before they received any help. The same year also saw Our Dumb Friends League supply sun hats for horses to protect them from the summer heat. By 1913 there were 17 horse ambulances providing life-saving care.

Small pets needing veterinary treatment were also collected by bicycle and taken to the Victoria animal hospital, there was even a mini pet ambulance led by Shetland pony ‘Tiny’.

The first motorised animal ambulance was bought in 1923.

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