Animals of the Great War, Part 9: Jackie the Baboon
2014 marks the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of World War I. In addition to humans, the war involved millions of animals - from horses to pigeons to slugs! In this special year, Barnfield House Veterinary Centre is sponsoring a series of articles remembering animal helpers, heroes and victims of the war written by Laura Brown now working for the Bat Conservation Trust.
A war fought all over the world drew in animals from all over the world. Thus it was that Jackie, a Chacma baboon, came to enlist with the Third South African Infantry Transvaal Regiment in 1915.
Jackie had grown up as a pet in the family of Albert Marr on a farm outside Pretoria. When Marr joined the Transvaal Regiment as a private, he got permission to bring Jackie with him. Jackie had been trained to behave like a human, and this impressed the soldiers so much that they made him the regiment’s mascot. He wore a miniature uniform and marched and drilled with his human companions. He also entertained them by lighting cigarettes and eating with a knife and fork. He always stood guard duty with Private Marr, and since his sight and hearing were keener than a human’s, he proved very useful.
Jackie’s regiment went first to Egypt and then to Europe. At the battle of Agagia in 1916, Private Marr was shot in the shoulder. Jackie licked his wound and comforted him until he was taken to hospital. Marr recovered and returned to the front lines, and so did Jackie.
In 1918, in Belgium, the regiment found itself in its heaviest fighting yet. As the shells and shrapnel rained down, Jackie began frantically picking up stones and piling them around himself. His barriers could not stop shrapnel from severely injuring his leg and arm. Stretcher-bearers came to take him away, but at first he would not let them near him. Shrieking with fear and pain, balancing on what was left of his leg, he kept turning round and round and piling up stones, trying to build a wall that would shut out the human world and the war.
The stretcher-bearers did eventually coax Jackie to come with them. In the hospital he was treated like any other wounded soldier. He survived the amputation of his leg and recovered his health, but he was never sent into battle again. After the war, he and Private Marr went to England, where they helped to raise money for the Red Cross. Members of the public could get a handshake or kiss from Jackie in exchange for a donation.
In 1919 Private Marr and Jackie returned to South Africa, where they participated in a number of patriotic parades. Jackie was awarded the Pretoria Citizen’s Service Medal and a gold wound stripe. In 1921, he died in a fire at the Marr family’s farmhouse.
Throughout history it has been common for humans to keep other primates as pets and treat them like miniature people for entertainment. Today, the damaging effects of such practices are better understood. Not only does the pet trade pose a serious danger to wild primate species, but individual primates suffer psychologically from being kept among humans. They have very complex social behaviours and need to be with members of their own species.
While rival groups of apes or monkeys have been known to be aggressive to each other, there is certainly nothing that could prepare a non-human primate for the horrors of modern warfare. Sadly, wild primates continue to be among the casualties of human war and unrest today, particularly in Central and East Africa.