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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 December 2007, 00:50 GMT
Last resting place of 'hero pets'
Children at the grave of Simon the cat at Ilford Animal Cemetery in the early 1950s
The cemetery has been restored with a 50,000 lottery grant

A cat which kept sailors from starving at sea and a dog which helped out during the Blitz are among the "world's most heroic animals" laid to rest at the newly restored Ilford Animal Cemetery in Essex.

Heralded by animal charity, the PDSA, as the UK's "premier animal cemetery", the newly restored site is the resting place of 3,000 military animals and family pets.

It was due to reopen on Thursday following a 50,000 restoration project funded by the Big Lottery Fund.

Among the animals buried there are about 12 recipients of the PDSA Dickin Medal, the charity's equivalent of the Victoria Cross.

The bronze medallion is inscribed with the words "For Gallantry" and "We also Serve".

It is awarded to animals which have displayed "conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defence Units", the charity said.

Beauty with his owner, PDSA Supt Bill Barnett
Animals which saved lives during war are among those buried there

The honour has been bestowed 62 times on animal recipients, many of which saved lives during war and terrorist attacks.

Of these, there are 32 pigeons, 26 dogs, three horses and one cat.

A pigeon flypast was due to take place on Thursday as part of a ceremony to mark the cemetery's restoration.

The PDSA said the cemetery had fallen into disrepair, with many graves unmarked and any surviving headstones either seriously weathered or broken.

The restoration work has included not only repairs to the headstones, but work on the entrance gate, the creation of a visitors map and work to number the graves.

A garden of remembrance has also been created, along with information boards detailing the animals' stories.

PDSA director general, Marilyn Rydstrom, said: "Many lives were saved as a result of the courage and dedication to duty of the animals buried at Ilford.

"Sadly, over the years, the animal graves at the cemetery had weathered and broken.

"So we decided to embark on the restoration project as a mark of respect for the PDSA Dickin Medal recipients and the 3,000 other military animals and family pets buried there."

In pictures: World's hero pets
13 Dec 07 |  In Pictures

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