Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Heartwarming tale of soldier's devotion to 'Old Joe' the mule


Friends for life: a WW1 soldier with his 'donk'
It gives me great please to mark the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele with a story about mud that has a happy ending! It is a simple, touching story about the close bond we humans form with our animals, and it is told in a letter written home in 1917 by an Australian soldier called Edward Judge. You can find it (along with many other heart-warming tales) in my book Letters from the Trenches.

Judge, a blacksmith from New South Wales, was serving on the Western Front at a time when intense shelling and the heaviest rains for 30 years had turned battlefields into quagmires. When the Battle of Passchendaele was launched in July 1917, mud could pose as real a threat to life and limb as the enemy. Soldiers drowned in glutinous craters that were deep enough to swallow them whole. 'I died in hell, They called it Passchendaele', was how Siegfried Sassoon summed it up.

With the scene thus set I'll let Edward Judge relate his story, written in his own Aussie vernacular:
"The last stunt we was in was one of the toughest jobs we have had since coming to France, as we had the wet weather and mud to contend with one would bog almost waist deep in the mud, and we had to use all pack animals in getting the supplies up to the boys as waggons were out of the question and the pack mules would even bog and at times fall into a shell hole and would have to remain there or shoot them.
"Leading pack is rather an exciting experience as the track you have to follow is generally through shell holes and over gaps bridged by boards about eighteen inches wide scarcely wide enough for the animals to walk across, so very often if they make a slip it is a gon coon [slang for 'they've had it'] and will get a drop of fifteen or twenty feet. 
"There was rather a dramatic turn on with one of our lads and our favourite donk the last turn we done to the line. Old Joe as the donk is known had the misfortune to come to grief in a hole filled with soft mud and was there struggling feet upwards with the pack on and his driver who is terribly fond of him trying to release him while old Fritz was overhead in a plane peppering away with the machine gun, but the driver stuck to the old donk and eventually got him rescued, needless to say they both got a warm welcome when returning to camp as neither was the least hurt."
Edward Judge
Excerpt from the letter written by Edward Judge