Friday, July 3, 2009

Sue Weaver: Animals Who Served for Our Independence

Lady Moe, donkey mascot of the
96th Bombardment Group during World War II

They Served
Military mascots’ contribution to victory, particularly during the two World Wars, was one of morale. Mascots provided comfort and a sense of home in an otherwise chaotic world. I first learned about military mascots while researching The Donkey Companion. From the United States Military Academy’s famous football Army mule to Lady Moe, donkey mascot of the 96th Bombardment Group during World War II (the only donkey to ever fly a combat mission), the long-eared clan has served our nation well. Now I’ve learned that, except for dogs and cats, more goats served as wartime military mascots than any other species!

I’m writing a series of sidebars about these valiant mascots for Get Your Goat. In honor of our own upcoming Independence Day, let’s look at two brave goats who served valiantly.

Sergeant Bill
Sergeant Bill (left, yes, the goat) was awarded the 1914/1915 Star,
the British War Medal, and the Victory Medal for his four and a half years’ service.

On August 23, 1914, a train carrying soldiers of the newly mustered 5th Western Cavalry Expeditionary Force stopped at Broadview, Saskatchewan, Canada, where a group of recruits spied young Daisy Curwain and her cart goat, Bill. They asked Daisy if they could have her goat as their good luck mascot, and she agreed.
Private Bill proceeded with his new family to Valcartier training camp and thence overseas to England. After long, arduous months of training, the unit received their orders to proceed to the front. However, no regimental pets would be allowed to go along.

The men of the 5th had other ideas. According to Sergeant Harold Baldwin, who penned Holding the Line (Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Son, 1919) from the front, “We could not part with Billy; the boys argued that we could easily get another colonel, but it was too far to the Rocky Mountains to get another goat. The difficulty was solved by buying a huge crate of oranges from a woman who was doing brisk trade with the boys. The oranges sold like hot cakes and in a jiffy the orange box was converted into a crate and Billy [was] shanghaied into the crate and smuggled aboard the train.”

Bill’s life in the trenches was an exciting one; he was known for his fondness for canteen beer and his propensity to eat important papers left lying around. However, Bill subsequently redeemed himself in battle, earning the rank of sergeant. At Ypres he was found in a shell crater standing over a nervous Prussian guardsman, even though Bill himself had been wounded by shrapnel; at the Second Battle of Ypres he was gassed along with his boys but survived. He fought at Vimy Ridge, was shell shocked at Hill 70, and was wounded twice at Festubert, where he became a hero by knocking three soldiers into a trench seconds before a shell burst precisely where they had been standing.

By war’s end he was one of the few original soldiers of the 5th still active and the only original mascot to enter Mons on Armistice Day. For his valor he was awarded the 1914/1915 Star, the British War Medal, and the Victory Medal for his four and a half years’ service. Sergeant Bill accompanied his men to Berlin at war’s end and marched in the grand Victory Europe parade wearing an embroidered blue plush coat emblazoned with sergeant’s stripes.

Despite immigration problems, Bill returned to Saskatchewan with his unit, where it was demobilized on April 24, 1919. He was later returned to Miss Curwain in Winnipeg and lived several more years. After his death Bill was stuffed and mounted and displayed in the Saskatchewan Legislative Building. His body was eventually returned to Broadview, where he still holds a place of honor in the Broadview Museum.

Another valiant wartime mascot was Nan, caprine mascot of the Canadian 21st Battalion CEF. She served with the men of the 21st Battalion from its mustering in eastern Ontario in 1915 through its demobilization in 1919. During that time 3,328 men of the 21st Battalion were killed or wounded or went missing in action; only 106 of the unit’s original soldiers—and Nan—entered Germany at the end of the war. Like Bill, Nan earned the 1914/1915 Star, the British War Medal, and the Victory Medal for her valor at the front.

Nan, caprine mascot of the Canadian 21st Battalion CEF
[Photo of Nan is courtesy of the 21st Battalion CEF

When it came time for her battalion to move, Nan watched for the men of the Quartermaster’s Detachment and Transport section to prepare her place on one of the general service wagons; then without prompting she hopped aboard, ready for deployment.

During the march to the Somme, the unit’s transport officer decided the men spent too much time caring for Nan and sold her to a French woman for 20 francs. When her boys discovered she was gone, they were so horrified and outraged that the sale was quickly annulled, and Nan returned to her place in the ranks. Nan saw action in many of the same battles in which Sergeant Bill served, and she was the first Allied mascot to cross the Rhine.

However, Nan’s closest brush with death came at war’s end, when her men unloaded her at Southampton, England. It was against Board of Agriculture regulations to bring an animal into England from a foreign country; Nan, the board insisted, would have to be slaughtered or deported. And deported she was—but not back to France. After three weeks in quarantine, she boarded the Cunard liner, Carolina, with her friends and departed for Canada.

After her battalion was disbanded, Nan spent the rest of the summer on the grounds of Mowat Hospital, cared for by Piper Nelson, her closest friend. In the fall she moved to the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario, where she lived in the stables for the rest of her days. On September 22, 1924, at the ripe old age of 12, Nan lost the use of her legs; she was painlessly put down and buried by veterans of her battalion. A corner of the military museum at The Armouries in Kingston, Ontario, is devoted to Nan’s military career.

Next time: Today’s regimental mascots—two Welsh goats and an English ram!

Sue Weaver sold her first freelance article in 1969. Since then she’s marketed material to major horse periodicals, including The Western Horseman, Horse Illustrated, Chronicle of the Horse, Flying Changes, Horseman’s Market, Arabian Horse Times, The Appaloosa News, The Quarter Horse Journal, Horse’N Around, and The Brayer. Sue is based in the southern Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.

1 comment:

Sarge said...

My Google alert brought up your story on Nan, the 21st Btn Goat. She was also known as Celestine. The officer who sold her, was forced to buy her back, out of his own funds at the direction of the battalion commander.
Also, Nan's stuffed head is in the Princess of Wales Own Regiment museum in Kingston Ontario, complete with surplice, decorations and a myriad of photographs. Nan is one of the few animals actually buried in a human cemetery.
Anyway, thanks for telling her story. For more details on her and the 21st Btn go to