Trust and friendship when it mattered

She is very stupid but I am very fond of her. © National Library of Scotland.
WarMule Sun, 08/06/2014 - 14:08

It's well known that mules are highly intelligent and the British Army, accustomed to working with horses, found it extremely challenging to train mules. It wasn't until they started to understand the mule, did their partnership start to improve. With this came a deep respect of the long-eared, sure-footed animals that were to serve alongside the British Army. In return the mules began to trust those working with them and friendships between man and mule developed.

One for every two men

Horses being unloaded from trains at Ormskirk, 1914. © National Railway Museum and Science & Society Picture Library.
WarMule Fri, 06/06/2014 - 19:20

With the onset of World War 1, the British Army's remount service was put under a massive strain to supply enough horses because at the time, they only had about 25,000 horses with 6,000 held in reserve in barns and stables across the country. This proved quite a challenge for the service and eventually the Army turned to mules to help with the War effort. I'm not sure where mules came from in England originally, but I can imagine there was by no means a large scale supply of mules the British Army could use, so they had to look further afield to America.

The history of mules since 1400

British troops taking up supplies on a mule drawn light railway. Balkan Front, January, 1917. © IWM (Q 32725).
WarMule Thu, 22/05/2014 - 17:35

William Gervase Clarence-Smith is Professor of the Economic History of Asia and Africa at SOAS, University of London, and chief editor of the Journal of Global History (LSE and Cambridge University Press). He has published on the history of horses, mules, donkeys, camels, elephants, and bovids around the world, as traded commodities, military beasts, sporting champions, sources of symbolic power, origins of food and raw materials, transport animals, movers of agricultural and proto-industrial machinery, and bearers of disease.

Helping to herd mules at Wiveliscombe

Mules at Wiveliscombe Station. © Tony Hiscock.
WarMule Wed, 21/05/2014 - 18:56

During the First World War train loads of mules were unloaded at Wiveliscombe Railway Station in Somerset having arrived into Britain from the US by sea into Avonmouth. After the mules had been disembarked from the ships, they spent a few weeks grazing on local farms in the area to give them a chance to recuperate before they were sent to army depots to be trained for military use and then on to join their regiments on the Western Front. From what I have found, there were about 12 army mule depots in the Somerset area, of which Wiveliscombe was one.

A journey of discovery

Shavetails and Bell Sharps book cover
WarMule Fri, 16/05/2014 - 20:28

Below is a list of books that I have read through my journey of learning about mules in war. Some of these are no longer being published, but can be sourced through second-hand bookshops or online through sites such as which has millions of new and used books, rare books and out of print books.

All these books have been recommended by people I have been in contact with as I explore World War 1 and the roles mules played throughout.

A friend of the mule once upon a time

Exhausted mule being fed by a soldier. Copyright expired - public domain.
WarMule Thu, 15/05/2014 - 19:00

Eric Lumb was in the Lancashire Fusiliers in WW2 and was involved in the fighting in Italy in 1943-1944. It was tough in the mountains near the famous battle of Cassino and further on up through the mountains of Italy. Eric was sent to Tripoli in the Lebanon to go on a special course to learn how to handle mules. He spent a month there travelling by train from Egypt through Palestine to get there. When on the course he met Cypriot muleteers and he learned to respect the mule as an animal. He learned how to load and unload mules.

Mule train to Minehead

Mules outside Minehead Station.  © Daphne McCutcheon.
WarMule Mon, 12/05/2014 - 19:48

Before the war broke out in 1914, Minehead was quite a fashionable resort in Somerset. Imagine the sounds of children playing happily on the beach and the sound of waves breaking as they rolled in from the sea. Yet 100 years ago, this all changed as war was declared and the bustle of families enjoying their seaside holiday was replaced by chaos as hundreds (if not thousands throughout the war years) of mules were all gathered together in front of Minehead Station.

Confessions of Custard, a Military Mule

Confessions of Custard, a Military Mule
WarMule Wed, 30/04/2014 - 20:08

Yes, that's really the title of a book that is a collection of letters written by a mule called Custard to the Middleton sisters, nicknamed Merrie and Bright, which gives a fascinating insight into the Army life in between the wars (1929-1932). Both sisters had visited Custard at Ewshott Camp with their father, Captain 'Ack-Ack' Middleton, the Second in Command of the 13th Light Battery, 5th Light Brigade R.A. The published letters are as they were written, mainly hand-written, with beautiful drawings to illustrate what is being old in the letters.

Logistical marvels

A line of mules carrying ammunition for field artillery. © National Archive of Scotland
WarMule Tue, 29/04/2014 - 18:43

Mules gave the US Army unlimited mobility whilst they exhibited patience, endurance and surefootedness. They were also sensitive, intelligent and quickly recognised danger and knew by instinct how to avoid it. In Shavetails & Bell Sharps, the humble army mule finally gets the attention he has long deserved and gives an understanding of the logistics of the US Army in its wars with native tribal Indians through to larger conflicts before the army's mechanisation.

Cornflowers and floppy mule ears

She is very stupid but I am very fond of her. © National Library of Scotland.
WarMule Tue, 22/04/2014 - 19:11

Did you know the commemorative flower for military horses, donkeys and mules is a blue cornflower? I'm currently reading The Military Mule in the British Army and Indian Army: An Anthology by Brian Nicholls, Philip Malins and Charles MacFetridge and came across this reading the preface:

In the very early hours of St George's Day, a small group of people gather at the Cenotaph to lay a wreath of blue cornflowers to commemorate the thousands of horses and mules who, alongside the men, gave their lives, often in the most distressing circumstances in two World Wars. The cornflower was chosen as a symbol because, like the poppy, it flowers profusely during the summer in those areas of France and Belgium that have been the scene of so much bitter conflict.