A goat named Bill was pulling a cart in a small town in Saskatchewan, when a train carrying soldiers on their way to fight in WWI stopped. The girl who owned Bill let the soldiers take him along as a good luck charm. Mascots were not supposed to go to the front lines, but the soldiers had become very attached to Bill, so they hid him in a big crate and took him with them.
Sergeant Bill, as the goat was called, was a big help. He saw action beside his human friends in many battles, including one where he pushed three soldiers into a trench just seconds before a shell exploded where they’d been standing.
Despite being wounded several times, Sergeant Bill survived the war. Once the fighting was over, he was even part of a large parade in Germany; he proudly word a fancy blue coat with his sergeant stripes! Bill eventually returned to his hometown where he was reunited with his owner.
This is Gander, a mascot that was also seen as a fellow soldier with jobs to perform.
Gander was a Newfoundland dog raised by the Hayden family on the airport base in Gander, Newfoundland. A friendly dog, Gander loved playing with the children; he pulled them on their sleds and they watched him drool – a lot! He enjoyed living on the base; however, he spent too much time on the runways, trying to catch the planes as they came in to land!
One day, because he was growing to be so large, the family decided to give the playful dog to the Royal Rifles of Canada Regiment stationed at the Gander Airport. Quickly, Gander became a mascot and good friend.
In 1941, the Royal Rifles of Canada Regiment was sent to Hong Kong to defend the land from an enemy. The soldier responsible for Gander, Fred Kelly, fed Gander, gave him cool showers to keep him comfortable in the heat – this was an enjoyable duty for Kelly and his regiment. Gander reminded them all of their pets and families back home.
Gander was a fellow soldier who would bark and nip at the legs of the enemy, scaring them away. But one night, Gander showed true courage. He was smart, knew what a grenade was and how it could hurt people. That night, Gander saw a grenade tossed near a group of wounded Canadian soldiers. He ran to it, took it and ran away with it. The grenade exploded, and of course, Gander was killed. But he’d saved the lives of seven soldiers.
In 2000, Gander was awarded the Dickin Medal for his bravery. Fred Kelly was there with a Newfoundland dog, Rimshot, who represented Gander, the brave mascot-soldier. Gander’s medal was the first awarded to a Canadian animal and is now on display at the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa.
Meet Bonfire, a horse given to Dr. John McCrae. There were no jeeps to carry doctors and nurses to the wounded during the First World War. There were no helicopters to drop a doctor into a war zone. Bonfire would get the doctor where he needed to be.
John McCrae wrote many letters to his family in Canada during the war. He often mentioned Bonneau, the abandoned dog he adopted overseas, as well as Bonfire. Here’s a piece of one of his letters:
“I have a very deep affection for Bonfire, for we have been through so much together, and some of it bad enough. All the hard spots to which one’s memory turns the old fellow has shared though he says so little about it.”
McCrae also sent a letter to his nephew Jack Kilgour. The letter, dated October 1, 1916, was ‘written’ by Bonfire:
“Did you ever eat blackberries? My master and I pick them every day on the hedges. I like twenty at a time. My leg is better but I have a lump on my tummy. I went to see my doctor today and he says it is nothing at all. I have another horse staying in my stable now; he is black and about half my size. He does not keep my awake at night.”