Jackie – the baboon mascot of the 3rd South African Infantry Brigade
Jackie the baboon was not as well-known as “Nancy”, the springbok mascot of the 4th Regiment ( South African Scottish) of the 1st South African Infantry Brigade of World War One.
Jackie was an unlikely choice as mascot for the 3rd SA Infantry (Transvaal Regiment) and spent three years, on and off, in the front line, in the mud and blood of the trenches in France and Flanders and went “over the top” with the 3rd SAI during the heavy fighting in which they were engaged.
Until August 1915, Jackie was the beloved pet of the Marr family, who lived on Cheshire Farm, Villieria, on the outskirts of Pretoria. When, as No 4927, Private Albert Marr attested at Potchefstroom on August 25 1915, for service in the newly-formed 3rd (Transvaal) Regiment of the 1st South African Infantry Brigade, he asked for and was given permission to bring Jackie along with him. At first Jackie`s presence was ignored, but he was so well behaved and had such an impressive bearing that he was soon noticed.
Jackie was then officially adopted as the mascot of the 3rd SAI.
He drew rations like any other soldier. He drilled and marched with his company and would entertain the men – such entertainment would become all important to relieve the boredom of the stalemate of trench warfare once the Brigade reached France.
Jackie was taken on strength as a member of the Regiment and once in England was provided with a special uniform and cap, complete with buttons and regimental badges. The two inseparable friends, Albert Marr and Jackie, first saw action during the Senussi Campaign, early in 1916 when the 1st SAI Brigade was dispatched to Egypt as part of a force to crush the warlike tribe, which had taken up arms at the instigation of Turkey, Germany`s ally. At the battle of Agagia, on 26 February 1916, Albert was wounded in the shoulder by an enemy bullet. Until the stretcher bearers arrived, Jackie, beside himself with agitation, attempted to do what he could to comfort the prostate Marr, by licking the wound. So it happened that Jackie became the firm favourite and comrade, rather than pet, of all ranks of the Regiment.
At night when on guard duty with Albert, he was particularly useful because of his keen eyesight and acute hearing. He could give early warning of enemy movement or impending attacks with a series of short, sharp barks and tuggings at Pte Marr`s tunic. Jackie wore his uniform with panache, would light up a cigarette or pipe for a pal and always saluted an officer passing on his rounds. He would stand at ease when requested, placing his feet apart and hands behind his back in regimental style. At the mess table he used a knife and fork in a proper manner and cleverly used his drinking basin.
Although an animal, we, of course, will never know what Jackie felt, when he was in the midst of the nightmare that was Delville Wood or Passchendaele, nor afterwards in the desperate fighting round Kemmel Hill.
Up to now he and Albert had come through the war unscathed but in April 1918, the South African Brigade was being heavily shelled as they withdrew to Reninghelst. Jackie was seen to be frantically trying to build a wall of stones about himself, as shelter from flying shrapnel, while shells were bursting all around. The wall was never completed. A jagged piece of shrapnel wounded him in the arm and another in the leg. At first Jackie refused to be evacuated by the stretcher-bearers; he tried vainly to continue with his wall, hobbling around in excruciating pain, on what had once been a leg.
In the words of Lt-Col R N Woodsend of the Royal Medical Corp.
It was a pathetic sight; the little fellow, carried by his keeper, lay moaning in pain, the man crying his eyes out in sympathy, “You must do something for him, he saved my life in Egypt. He nursed me through dysentery”. The baboon was badly wounded, the left leg hanging with shreds of muscle, another jagged wound in the right arm.
We decided to give the patient chloroform and dress his wounds. If he died under the anaesthetic perhaps it would be the best thing; as I had never given an anaesthetic to such a patient before, I thought it would be the most likely result. However, he lapped up the chloroform as if it had been whiskey, and was well under in a remarkably short time. It was a simple matter to amputate the leg with scissors and I cleaned the wounds and dressed them as well as I could.
He came around as quickly as he went under. The problem then was what to do with him. This was soon settled his keeper: “He is on army strength”. So, duly labelled, number, name, ATS injection, nature of injuries, etc. he was taken to the road and sent by a passing ambulance to the Casualty Clearing Station.
It was the end of active service for Albert and Jackie, with the war coming to an end.
They were shipped to England, where Jackie became a celebrity, receiving much publicity in the English newspapers. From early September to 14 February 1919, Jackie and Private Marr were lent to the Red Cross by the War Office and the South African Government for the purpose of collecting money for the sick and wounded soldiers.
On 5 May 1919, Jackie and Albert were on their last leg of their journey home to Pretoria and Cheshire Farm.
Jackie had been officially discharged at Maitland Dispersal Camp in Cape Town on 26 April. On his arm, Jackie wore one gold wound stripe and three blue service chevrons, indicating three years frontline service. At Maitland he received the usual parchment discharge paper, military pension, plus a Civil Employment Form for discharged soldiers.
After their arrival home, Jackie was again feted and became the centre of attention on occasions such as the parade to welcome back officially the 1st SAI Brigade and at the Peace Parade in Church Square, Pretoria on 31 July 19120, where he received the Pretoria Citizen’s Service Medal .
Jackie died a day after a fire destroyed the farmhouse on 22 May 1921 and Albert Marr passed away at the age of 84 in Pretoria in August 1973