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The Cat and Dog Massacre of September 1939

  • Geoffrey Manton Lecture Theatre 4 M15 6LL (map)

The cat and dog massacre of September 1939 and the shifting animal - human relationship on the British Home Front during the 1939-45 war. Presented by Dr Hilda Kean 

The 1939-45 war often called the ‘People’s War’ is imbued with mythic qualities that show British people on the Home Front in a favourable light.  The words ‘People’s War’ also emphasise by their omission that the war was about humans (not animals) although animals would play a large part in the events on the Home Front, including rescuing injured people (and animals), alerting people to forthcoming bombardment and providing emotional support. However, at the start of the war, c. 400,000 dogs and cats were killed in London within a few days – at their owners’ behest. This needless slaughter was widely criticised at the time. Subsequently, companion animals and humans often drew closer, sharing aerial bombardment, Anderson shelters -and restricted diets. Humans recognised different qualities in cats and dogs and jointly they survived – or died – together.

Drawing on oral history and family stories as well as state archives and material from animal charities, this new research shows we cannot just ‘add in’ animals to the previous stories we tell ourselves as a nation. The treatment of animals disrupts the narrative of the ‘People’s War’. It also potentially challenges how we see ourselves – and our Second World War past. NB There will no images of dead animals (or humans)