Mules don’t feature on television very often, so what a joy it was to see Martina in Gary Lineker: My Grandad’s War on BBC1 on Monday 11th. A lovely Italian mule, Martina – in an all too brief appearance – explained to Gary (yes, that Gary Lineker) the important role mules played in supply and casualty evacuation on the mountainous front line of the Italian campaign during the Second World War. In the programme, Gary followed the route of his late grandfather from Salerno to Monte Cassino to understand his experiences as a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps and why British troops in Italy came to be known as ‘D-Day Dodgers’.
It’s impossible not to see parallels with the Macedonian campaign: a Mediterranean front with challenging terrain and climate, overshadowed by the main fighting in north-west Europe and considered a ‘cushy number’ by those not there; of course, the Italian campaign was a far bloodier business. The programme will be available on the BBC iPlayer for the next month or so and you can read about it here.
INVASION OF ITALY : EIGHTH ARMY – Original wartime caption: To defeat the demolition menace, the 8th Army have once againresorted to the mule. These pictures show an RASC pack transport company trekking through the mountains with stores and ammunition for our forward patrols. The mules are able to avoid normal diversions and travel by way of the tortuous mountain paths.© IWM (NA 6748)
This is one of an impressive collection of photos in the excellent IWM online collection showing mules in Italy (search: mules Italy). Searching ‘mules Salonika’ will find photos of British military mules from a generation earlier.