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.

Of mules and men: Challenging relationships in WW1

An army mule tied in a wooden crush or stocks to hold it steady while it is shod. © National Library of Scotland
WarMule Thu, 01/05/2014 - 02:37

Together with the millions of horses employed by Allied troops in WW1 were mules. As horse losses mounted many mules were purchased, frequently from far away, arriving by ship to end up in the mud-filled trenches with handlers often ill-equipped to care for them. The introduction of British troops to mules must have been a challenge, as mules were not widely appreciated or used in the UK. A mule is not a horse, and to work successfully with them required a different attitude.

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.

The Forgotten

Two pack mules. © IWM (Q 34066)
piphoc Fri, 25/04/2014 - 17:12

Since I started working for The Donkey Sanctuary last year at Town Barton Farm (where most of The Donkey Sanctuary mules are) I have been alerted to how much mules did during the War by a couple of fabulous colleagues. This has been so well depicted on your website. As I looked further into it I noticed that there isn't very much information on mules in the War available and I wanted to do something for these fabulous animals which do and have done so much for us.

Recently I have been working with a mule called Louisiana who was very nervous at first but as we have created a bond her confidence has grown so much and I can see how much trust a mule will have in us if we let them. I see this everyday when my colleagues are doing the amazing behaviour work with the different mules on the farm. After a really good day's training with a colleague and some quiet reflection time with Louisiana I felt I could write for her, if she were to talk of World War 1, being unable to make the decision to go to war but soldiering on none the less, through such horrors we could never imagine.

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.

The War Donkey

A shell bursting near a park of Indian A. T. carts on the Western Mule Track. © IWM (Q 13559)
Eva Mon, 21/04/2014 - 19:17

I have thought about the war a lot over the last few months for a few reasons. My son over in Holland has been looking into my family's history and I lost a great uncle in a battle in France when he was only 26. I have thought about all the people who lost loved ones, some of them young men. It made me think of all the animals who had no choice but to go where humans took them, into battle and I know a lot of them died. I knew horses were used a lot but I only found out recently that they also used mules and donkeys. I just wanted to speak for them in poetry.

The ultimate sacrifice

Italians unloading a mule from a ship at Salonika. © IWM (Q 32504)
WarMule Tue, 15/04/2014 - 21:05

This week I've been reading through (and re-reading) a couple of transcripts that Crispin passed to me that are of interviews the Deep Wreck Mysteries team gathered as part of their research into the sinking of the SS Armenian for the filming of Search of the Bone Wreck currently being aired again on UK television.

Warhorse - The real Warhorses of World War 1

Soldiers of the Staffordshire Regiment with mules and donkeys near Menjil. © IWM (Q 24995)
WarMule Fri, 04/04/2014 - 19:12

A short video presentation narrated by Neil Pugh created by his daughter to illustrate the tragic sacrifice wrought through the equine ranks in the battlefields of World War 1.

As well as the men who fought, animals paid their part in the war.

Without their help, we could easily have been defeated.

Throughout history, mules and donkeys as well as horses have played an important role in war.