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NANCY RESTS IN FLANDERSFIELDS

 

SHE WAS THE ONLY ANIMAL IN MILITARY HISTORY

TO BE ACCORDED FULL FUNERAL HONOURS


The mascot of a South African regiment is the only animal in military history to be accorded full funeral honours and to be buried in an Allied war cemetery. She was Nancy the famous Springbok mascot of the 4th South African Infantry Regiment (Transvaal Scottish,) who died of pneumonia at Hermenton, in Belgium, during the severe winter of 1919 during the First World War.

It was on a cold afternoon – November 28th – that the officers and men of the 4th stood ankle deep in mud, with heads bared, around an open grave in the war cemetery at Hermenton. The firing party fired their volley. As the echoes died slowly away on this quiet afternoon, the regimental bugler, Private Dave Petersen, stepped forward. A few seconds later the familiar notes of the Last Post sounded. Once or twice the bugler faltered, but nobody seemed to notice.

 Bugler Petersen ended the last note and there were tears in his eyes as the officers saluted, then trudged back to their cold and muddy trenches around the village.

Nancy began her army career in March 1915, when her owner, Mrs. McLaren Kennedy of the farm Vierfontein in the Orange Free State, took her to Potchefstroom.

Nancy was the pet of the Kennedy family and just over a year old when Mrs. Kennedy should volunteer for war service. I feel, she wrote to General Tim Lukin, “that if Nancy was     adopted by a South African regiment as a mascot she would keep the memories of South Africa alive.

A few days later she had a reply. It was a telegram from General Lukin: “Delighted with your offer,” it said. “Please bring her.” And so Nancy began her army training. She was put in the charge of Private Petersen and, during the following six months taught to respond to all the regimental calls, as well as conduct herself with dignity on the parade ground and on ceremonial occasions.

At the beginning of September the regiment, part of the 1st Brigade was ordered to entrain for Cape Town- prior to sailing in H.M.T. Balmoral Castle for service overseas. Mrs. Kennedy was invited to Potchefstroom to say farewell to Nancy.

On their arrival in England the regiment continued its training at Working. It then set sail for Egypt early the following year. The heat and rolling sand dunes were more to Nancy’s liking than the English winter. At Mex Camp, Alexandria, where here unit was completing its training, Nancy was always the centre of admiring crowds of both Commonwealth troops and the local “Gippos.”

And then one morning she failed to turn up for parade. Bugler Petersen sounded a second call just in case Nancy was “swinging the wind.” But there was still no Nancy.

By midday, her disappearance was regarded as serious and she was posted up in regimental orders as AWOL. By this time the news of Nancy’s absence had spread to all the camps in the area and an appeal was to all other units to keep a lookout for her.

That afternoon Bugler Petersen was given a special pass to proceed to Alexandria, in case Nancy had made for the city. Curious crowds followed Petersen as he stopped on the corner of practically every street and sounded the various bugle calls.

At sundown a despondent Bugler Petersen returned to camp but was not prepared to give up the search. He acquired a donkey and rode from camp to camp. The troops in the area did not regard Nancy’s absence with the same tolerance – there were irate messages from other allied units objecting to Petersen’s travels across the desert sands with his bugle sounding penetrating calls until “Lights Out.”

With Nancy still AWOL the following morning the mater became serious – both from a sentimental and a morale point of view. All parades were cancelled and a house-to-house search of all “gippo” settlements in the area was started. There had been a suspicion that Nancy may have met her end as a delicacy.

The search ended at sundown when the men returned dejectedly to their camp. It was on the third day, when men were parading for their midday meal that the sound of cheering broke out in the lines and the next moment Nancy appeared prancing as if nothing was amiss. Where she had been remained a mystery, despite the fact that thousands of troops had kept a lookout for her.

After the Egyptian campaign Nancy accompanied the regiment to France and disembarked with them at Marseilles in April, 1916.Owing to a contagious sickness, which broke out on the Oriana, the regiment was put into quarantine until may, when they left for Steenwerck, the Brigade Headquarters.

A month later the regiment was moved to the village of Sailly-le-Sac, about two miles behind the front lines. It was here that Nancy, who had been under heavy fire on scores of occasions, became a casualty when the Germans began the heavy bombardments, which launched the Battle of the Somme.

On June 30th a shell landed near the regimental headquarters and Nancy was knocked unconscious. When they examined her, the Brigade Medical Officers found one of her minute horns missing. The shell splinter had neatly removed the horn. There was no sick leave forNancy but was on “light duty.” They could not give her kitchen fatigues so she was aloud to roam about the headquarters.  It was while on “light duty” that a relationship sprang up between Nancy and the mule used by General Lukin whilst doing his rounds of the regimental headquarters and the troops in the front line. A familiar sight to the Springbuck soldiers: the General and his entourage of a mule and a genuine Springbuck from South Africa trotting behind the General on his mule.

The highlight of Nancy’s distinguished military career and war record happened on February 17th 1918 when Nancy attended her last ceremonial parade. She proudly led four battalions of the South African Brigade to the first Delville Wood Service. Prancing on her thin little legs as if she knew that she was the darling of every soldier on parade and for those they were coming to honour.

The drumhead memorial service was held on the road that led out of the wood to the village of Longueval, where most of the South Africans had laid down their lives during the holding of the wood.

The South African troops formed a square in the centre of which stood a tall wooden-cross erected on the orders of General Lukin. It bore an inscription that read: “In memory of the officers and men of the 1st South African Brigade who fell in action in July 1916 during the Battle of Somme.”

The parade was not only a last for Nancy but it was the last parade for General Lukin in France. Nancy caught pneumonia during the severe winter of that year and, although devotedly cared for by Bugler Dave Petersen and all the medical personnel of the headquarters, died on November the 26th

Her death was announced in General Orders – probably the only occasion in military history that this was done. All parades were cancelled. There were only a few of the original members of the regiment still on active service and they were detailed to form the firing party.

Nancy’s head and skin were sent to London to be treated. It was then dispatched to Sir William Dalrymple, who had it mounted and presented to the regiment. Nancy kept a critical eye over the young, (and old,) officers from the wall of the Officer’s Mess, Transvaal Scottish Regimental Headquarters. She has been promoted and is now a member of the War museum in Johannesburg.

As a postscript to this: While adorning the wall in the Officer’s Mess a formal guest evening was held and after the formalities, the then, Commanding Officer, Transvaal Scottish took their guest of honour, who happened to be a Orange Free State farmer to view the regimental trophies. At the end of the tour the Commanding Officer pointed out their most prized possession. The guest of honour took a critical view of the springbuck head mounted on the wall and said to the Commanding Officer: “hell. Man, that one has only one horn. Take it down and I will send you one with both horns.” Guess who was never invited back as even a guest let alone guest of honour.

 

This story and hopefully many more is dedicated to my mentor, the late Colonel Dennis (DO) Stratford SAMS whose notes I used to compile the story.

Rowley Medlin

 


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