Having recently read two books about the second Chindit expedition in Burma (March-August 1944) I was delighted – if a little surprised – to come across a living history group, The Burma Mule, at a ‘Desert Rats’ commemorative event in Thetford Forest.
Unfortunately there were no mules present as their two 16 year old mules are now largely retired, but there was still much of interest. I was especially pleased to see mule saddles up close. Of relevance to the Salonika campaign is the one shown below, which is very similar to those used in the First World War. This could carry a variety of loads and you can see, here, a portable forge. Although date stamped ‘1940’ it is likely that similar kit – including a small anvil – was in use by earlier generations of mule transport units. Keeping the feet of mules and ponies in tip-top condition is, of course, vital for their well-being and efficiency.
Their other saddle was of a later pattern with a rigid metal frame and was, apparently, less popular than the previous one. Whether this was with the mules or muleteers wasn’t clear! The load shown is illustrative only and, in reality, would have been more balanced, i.e. a pair of howitzer wheels or two loads of ‘K ration’ boxes.
To read more about the use of mules by the British (and Indian) Army, from the Peninsular War to 1975 – including detailed chapters on both world wars – I heartily recommend The Mule in Military Service, a slim paperback by distinguished military historian and SCS member, Anthony Clayton (The Book Guild Ltd, 2017). It looks like it is out of stock, so you may have to hunt for a secondhand copy.
If you’re interested, the books on the Chindit expedition that I read were:
Military mules may be history for the British Army, but their versatility in tricky terrain means that they are still valued by some armed forces around the world. Back in March I shared a video from the US Marine Corps about Alice, a mighty military mule who was described – unfairly in my opinion – as the meanest mule in the USMC. I’m pleased to say that the good people at the 2nd Marine Logistics Group have shared a further video of their wonderful mules.
My thanks go to Edward’s grandson, David , not just for contacting me about Edward’s story and sending some splendid photos to share here, but also for his great patience. I’m ashamed to say that he first got in touch in early 2018 and only now have I published this! I know there are others out there who have submitted material to me so, I hope that this will reassure you – I may be slow but I will get there in the end!
Muffin – who has been sponsored by the Society since 2015 in recognition of the vital role of mules in the campaign – is a gentle little chap who has the build of his donkey father so would have been too small for the mule lines in Salonika.
International Women’s Day may have gone, but I see no reason not to remember some other women of the campaign who played a vital role but are largely forgotten: the Macedonian women who worked on the roads, especially the Seres Road.
Chinese New Year seems an auspicious time to launch the latest iteration of the Society’s website. No major changes of design this time – and still with the familiar WordPress – just a change of hosting arrangements which will save the Society money and should be easier to manage. Please bear with us as we get used to the new setup.
This is a good time to introduce Andy Hutt who has joined the SCS Committee team and will take over the role of Web Editor from Robin in October. Andy and Robin will work together on the website until then. The Committee is grateful to Andy for stepping forward.
Oxen are often seen as slow and dull-witted, but in Chinese culture they are honest and earnest, low key and never look for praise or to be the centre of attention. This often hides their talent, but they’ll gain recognition through their hard work. This sums up so much of the work that goes on throughout the Society, as members in various parts of the world ensure that the Salonika campaign and those who endured it – especially those who did not return home – are not forgotten.
Here’s a hardworking and patient Macedonian ox, from a German postcard.
My thanks go to Rosemary Newton, granddaughter of Cecil Deadman who served in Salonika with the Army Service Corps. 175347 Private Deadman was in 706 MT Company, ASC, which was part of the supply column attached to the Serbian army.
Rosemary has published a book of her family history (1880-1950), which includes an account of Private Deadman’s time in Salonika. She has kindly made this part of her book available to us and you can see it online here. This fascinating article is copiously illustrated with original photos, postcards and documents. Amazingly, he was one of the three brothers serving with the BSF – and they had the opportunity to meet up!
In this remembrance season it is appropriate to also remember those animals that served – and suffered – without which the BSF could not have functioned. Mules and horses are the most obvious, but there was also the humble, but vital, carrier pigeon.
My thanks go to Australian author Bojan Pajic for sharing a link with us to a fascinating article on the Australian War Memorial website about Australians and New Zealanders who served on the Serbian Front.