Number 224 Hamlet Court Road, Southend was once a place offering a lifeline to the many innocent animals who were to become the first casualties of both World Wars.

The address was the site of an animal shelter and headquarters for Our Dumb Friends League for Southend (later to be known as the Blue Cross).

The shelter had been originally founded in Brighten Road, Southend during the First World War.

A benevolent Southend couple named Mr and Mrs Stockwell has set up the charity because so many people evacuated Southend and left their animals to starve

By the autumn of 1939, with the prospect of yet another war on the horizon, the shelter had moved to Hamlet Court Road.

People were already panicking at the thought of rationing and bombings. Many were fleeing Southend and leaving their pets to fend for themselves.

Even before war was declared in September, 1939, the League’s resources were at full stretch, and records show the charity was £1,000 overdrawn at the end of 1938.

In that year alone the 12 animals shelters located across the UK collected a staggering 76,905 stray cats and 8,684 stray dogs.

Things were only going to get worse.

In Southend the problem was mirrored. The Southend-on-Sea and County Pictorial newspaper reported how “from every conceivable household pets – from cats and dogs to tortoises, monkeys and canaries” were given treatment at the Hamlet Court Road shelter.

The outbreak of the Second World War was to mean two things for workers at the shelter – they would be required to do more work than even they could imagine and because of new measures brought in the shelter could no long board or house animals for long periods of time.

This meant volunteers scrambled around to find homes for the animals left on their doorstep – often to no avail.

The shelter was besieged by owners, intent on leaving Southend, bringing in their dogs and cats and asking staff to put them to sleep.

The Pictorial reported: “In some cases cats and dogs were left behind to roam the streets but there were heartbreaking scenes when people who had to leave the town on business reasons and had to leave without their pets.”

Mrs Waller was the officer in charge of the centre in 1939. She is pictured in our photo gallery, Her job was to administer first aid to all animals brought in with minor injuries. Serious cases were sent to veterinary surgeons.

Mrs Waller also drove the league’s little blue ambulance, touring the outlying districts to answer calls to help animals in distress, only to return to the shelter to find three or four different animals had been dumped on the doorstep.

In October of 1939 the shelter was full up with stray cats and kittens, which were always kept for seven days.

“If they are not claimed then every effort is made to find them a new home. If one cannot be found they are painlessly destroyed,” she told the Pictorial.

“No animal is destroyed unless it is absolutely necessary and the hundreds of people who have come to Mrs Waller to ask her to put their pets to sleep have in many cases been persuaded not to take such drastic steps unless conditions make it absolutely imperative.”