Picture the sun-drenched but troubled island of Cyprus in the summer of 1974, and a sand-bagged observation post of the Canadian Airborne Regiment on the Confrontation Line in Nicosia under the pressure of advancing Turkish forces, when who waddles into view but a beautiful white duck, head high in the air, and resplendent in bright orange bill and gaiters. Promptly dubbed Petty Officer Wilbur Duck, no doubt as much for his sea-going gait as for his webbed feet, the new arrival at once becomes the focal point of good humour and affection, a foil to tension and a relief to boredom — in other words, a mascot!Footnote 1
The traditional buoyant spirit of the Serviceman and the nature of his calling explains the fact that mascots have been around as long as fighting formations have existed. What is generally not known, though, is that a mascot may not necessarily be, dare it be said, an animate being. Examples abound.
There is Old Blue, the magnificent golden buck's head which occupies a place of honour on a bulkhead in HMCS Fraser, destroyer, the "living" symbol of the spirit of the Frasers, as the ship's company is known.Footnote 2 Old Blue, of course, was inspired by the golden buck's head in the ship's badge (the ship was named for the river honouring Simon Fraser), which is derived from the crest of the Fraser arms, and the ship's colours, gold and blue.Footnote 3
Also inspired by a ship's badge is the much travelled wardroom mascot of HMCS Terra Nova, Percy the Penguin. Stuffed and highly decorated, Percy has been the center of many an amusing adventure in sixteen years of sailing the oceans of the world.Footnote 4
Another famous mascot of this non-breathing variety was the much travelled Little Chief of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, a pewter Indian, eleven feet tall, which once stood in solemn silhouette against the evening sky on the roof of the canning factory in Picton, where the regiment mustered for drill back in 1939. However, the stoical Little Chief was lost when the "Hasty P's" were hastily evacuated from Brittany through Brest when the attempt to stem the German tide failed in June, 1940. Nevertheless, a second Little Chief, this time seven feet tall and carved from solid pine, eventually joined the regiment in the European theatre of war, and today enjoys a prominent place in the regimental headquarters at Belleville.Footnote 5
Also fashioned of metal is the well known yet seldom seen Cecil the Snake of 444 Tactical Helicopter Squadron. The device on the squadron badge is the hooded cobra and many years ago, in Germany, a fine likeness of this fierce reptile was acquired in a shop. From then on, he was called Cecil the Snake. But because visitors from other squadrons have been known to cast covetous glances at Cecil, the cobra has been entrusted to the care of the junior officer on the squadron, there being dire penalties awaiting this gentleman should anything happen to Cecil. As a result this unusual mascot emerges from his secret refuge only for very special occasions in the mess.Footnote 6
But perhaps the most cherished and the most coveted of the long parade of inanimate mascots which led truly charmed lives in the Canadian Forces was the Greater Yellow-Legs of Ottawa's No. 2416 Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force in the 1950s, which when glasses were raised in the squadron mess, brought forth the solemn toast, "the Honoured Twillick!"
So great was the fame of this bird that it was essential, for his own security, that he spend most of his quiet hours bound by a huge chain in a strong wrought-iron cage. For this mascot was no ordinary Twillick bird. Not only did he occupy the honoured position of being the major device on the squadron's official badge, but he dominated the scene of every mess function. Unknown to the uninitiated, the Twillick bird was fitted with an uncommonly capacious holding tank, together with a spigot concealed in the feathers just abaft the landing gear. With a flourish, the Twillick-Master would give a twist to the spigot and proceed with the ceremonial "Charging of the Noggins" with a brew which defied normal analysis, but which always evoked the lusty toast, "Up the Twillick!"Footnote 7
The origin of the custom of maintaining regimental mascots is not known, but it was well established two centuries ago. A curious little book written and published by a British officer in New York for the express purpose of aiding, by the book's sale, the dependents of the soldiers "butchered that day" of Concord, and of those "that gloriously fell in their country's cause at Bunker Hill" (1775), gives this picture of a mascot in the North America of that day.Footnote 8
The royal regiment of welch Fuzileers has a privilegeous honor of passing in review preceded by a Goat with gilded horns, and adorned with ringlets of flowers ... the corps values itself much on the ancientness of the custom.
The author went on to describe the regiment's observance of St. David's Day at a mess dinner with the richly caparisoned goat ridden by a drummer boy being led three times round the mess table by the drum-major to the tune of "The Noble Race of Shenkin," when the mascot took off at a furious rate, unseating his rider, bound for his quarters in Boston with ail his elegant trappings, "to the no small joy of the garrison and populace."
Mascots also flourished in garrison life in the Canada of colonial times. In 1843, one of the units on garrison duty in Upper Canada was the 83rd Regiment of Foot. A water-colour in the Public Archives of Canada portrays a company of the 83rd shooting the Lachine Rapids bound for Quebec and return to England. The vessel shown is a typical forty-foot bateau of the period running free with her single squaresail set and there, firmly secured in the bows in a seated position, is the regimental mascot, a large bear.Footnote 9
A few years earlier, there was a mascot with the garrison at the Citadel at Quebec who rejoiced in the name, Jacob the Goose, and who regularly did sentry-go with the picquet. A century later, the lieutenant-colonel commanding, Coldstream Guards, wrote:
Jacob the Goose was enlisted at Quebec in 1838. He came to England with the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment in 1842 and died on detachment at Croydon in 1846. He had been awarded one Good Conduct Ring. His head is preserved in a glass case at Regimental Headquarters, and it is adorned with a gorget as worn by officers of the Regiment in the early nineteenth century. I feel that eight years is probably a very reasonable life for an enlisted goose.Footnote 10
A few glimpses of mascots in the Canadian army of the period of the Great War, 1914-1918, are to be seen in regimental histories. The home station of the Royal Canadian Dragoons at St. Jean, Quebec, was also the home of the regimental mascot, Peter the Goat, whose chief claim to fame was his popularity with the local populace and his ability to collect small change to provide comforts for the RCDs at the front. After the war, Peter shared his stable accommodation and pasture with a pair of pit ponies, named for the current comic strip characters, Maggie and Jiggs, which had been acquired by a detachment of the regiment during a spell of duty at Sydney, Nova Scotia.Footnote 11
There is little doubt that the most colourful mascot of the period was that of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. Presented to the regiment at Ayr, Scotland, in 1917, Sable Chief was a magnificent Newfoundland dog, weighing in at some two hundred pounds. The pride of the regiment and the delight of the surrounding countryside, Sable Chief marched with dignity on parade and romped with the troops on sports days. Killed in an accident later in England, his surprisingly life-like figure is still to be seen today in St. John's.Footnote 12
It is during periods of hostilities, with their attendant stresses and strains, that mascots make their most valuable contribution to Service life, and the Second World War, 1939-1945, was no exception. There was that big, sad-eyed St. Bernard, Wallace, of the Canadian Scottish Regiment from Victoria. His namesake, Wallace III, still serves with the regiment today.
Another was a little Aberdeen terrier affectionately known as Heather. It seems there was some small bother about regulations and when the pipe band of the Calgary Highlanders was outward bound for embattled Europe, Wee Heather made some of the more difficult parts of the passage in the big bass drum!Footnote 13
The most enduring mascot tradition of the Canadian Forces began on a battlefield in wartime Italy and continues to the present day. This is the story of Princess Louise and, most appropriate for a former cavalry regiment, the Princess was and is a very beautiful horse.
It all began on the slopes above the Besanigo River not far from the Adriatic Sea after the capture of the town of Coriano in September, 1944. Darkness had come to the valley. Fitters and mechanics of what is now the 8th Canadian Hussars (Princess Louise's), were out recovering damaged Sherman tanks. During a lull in the enemy shelling, a plaintive cry was heard. A search revealed a very young and wounded filly beside the remains of its mother. Emergency rations of a stimulating nature and the dressing of her wounds back at the Hussar lines started the young mascot, for such she had become, on the road to recovery. She was promptly named Princess Louise.
The tales of the Princess's wartime adventures are legion, some of which are true. She made the transfer to north-west Europe by being smuggled in an army lorry specially fitted with a false front in the cargo area. The war over, it seemed as though the whole town of Hampton New Brunswick, turned out to welcome Princess Louise after her voyage in a Dutch liner to New York, thence by rail to her regimental quarters. The spirit of the homecoming is to be seen in the quaint language of the welcoming address: "Know all men by these here present, that the Royal Lady ... is entitled to roam at will ... and to devour and partake of that which she pleaseth".Footnote 14
The Princess foaled in 1954 and after years of regimental duties was retired in 1971, aged twenty-seven years, to pasture. The new filly, of course, became Princess Louise II and in 1958 was presented to the newly formed Regular Force component of the regiment at Camp Gagetown. There followed some three years service with the regiment in Germany. At Petawawa, in 1966, Princess Louise III came along but succumbed to an infection four years later. But the second Princess, elegant in her richly embroidered saddle cloth, continues to carry out her ceremonial duties, the beloved embodiment of a regimental tradition spanning more than three decades.Footnote 15
Sea-going mascots are rather scarce in our forces' story, but the Korean War brought forth an incident involving the bitch Alice. In November, 1951, HMCS Cayuga, before proceeding on patrol to the northward of Inchon, took on fuel out at sea from a tanker, an evolution that almost ended in tragedy. Alice, whose seniority dated from July, 1950, when she joined ship at Guam, fell overboard between Cayuga and the tanker. But Alice was no novice; she'd been over the side twice before. She struggled valiantly in spite of the towering hulls on either side. Also it is said that the pipe "Alice overboard!" evoked an even quicker response than the sounding of "action stations!"Footnote 16
Most sailors have at one time or another witnessed the timeless little drama of the sea when a shore bird, driven far from the land by the gale, falls exhausted on the deck of a ship. Such was the origin of the mascot of HMCS Gatineau, on passage from New Zealand to her home port, Esquimalt, late in 1972. Much pampered by the ship's company, pigeon Tom was named for the destroyer's captain.Footnote 17
A mascot from the wide open spaces of the prairie has attained something approaching immortality in that his mask is the central device on the badge of his unit, the Loyal Edmonton Regiment.
The old 101st Regiment, of Edmonton, raised several battalions for service in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the First World War. One of these was the 49th and, during the journey by troop train to the east coast a coyote puppy was presented to the battalion at Lestock, Saskatchewan. The coyote was dubbed Lestock.
Though coyotes generally do not possess the best of reputations, Lestock made friends everywhere he went, and soon became the pride of the Edmonton battalion. Many were his adventures before he eventually wound up in Regents' Park Zoo in London when the battalion embarked for France in the fall of 1915.
It was early in 1916 that the 49th Battalion was to receive a new cap badge. A strong case was put forward to have Lestock's head as the major device. The battalion's wish was granted, even though the authorities said the much-maligned coyote had "no heraldic standing" and the official blazon called Lestock a wolf. Today, that coyote pup of sixty years ago graces the badge of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment.Footnote 18
Back in 1957 there was a goat mascot at RCAF station Camp Borden. Impeccably groomed and turned out in a tasselled coverlet of silk bearing three chevrons, Sergeant W. Marktime graced all inspection parades of a training school on the base.Footnote 19 And so the story of mascots in the Canadian Forces comes full circle, for the goat is the focal point of the military mascot tradition.
It is generally agreed that the earliest regimental mascot, properly maintained and accoutred, and with a long record of service, was the goat of the Royal Welch Fusiliers in the eighteenth century, the one that saw service in the American Revolution (see page 127). And a goat of the Canadian Forces today is a product of that tradition, Batisse of the Royal 22e Régiment.
In Britain there is a royal herd of white goat, the result of a presentation of a pair of goats by the Shah of Persia to Queen Victoria.Footnote 20 In 1955, by permission of Her Majesty the Queen colonel-in-chief of the regiment, a goat was selected from the herd and presented to the "Van Doos," a thousand strong, on the Plains of Abraham, Quebec, by the then Governor-General, the Right Honorable Vincent Massey. The mascot of the Royal 22e Régiment was at once given that familiarly affectionate French-Canadian name, Batisse. Richly caparisoned and with gilded horns and a specially engraved silver shield on his forehead, Batisse, attended by the traditional goat-major, was on his best behaviour as His Excellency spoke to the Honorary Colonel, Major General Georges Vanier and his regiment:
Acts of bravery of a Regiment such as yours can only come from a deep-rooted esprit de corps and a sense of tradition. You are affiliated with a very famous British Regiment. It is important, I feel, that you should share with The Royal Welch Fusiliers a tradition which has been theirs for centuries — that of having a Royal Goat as a member of your RegimentFootnote 21.
Batisse II was presented to the Van Doos in 1964 by His Excellency the Governor-General, General Georges Vanier. However, this goat died without issue. Now Batisse III, presented to the regiment in 1972 by the Governor-General, the Right Honourable Roland Michener is the pride of the regiment. At the same time a suitable mate was provided, and the succession of mascots for the Royal 22e Régiment seems assured, an important link in a Canadian Forces' tradition already well established.
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