Sunday, 10 November 2013

War Mule; Forget Me Not

Mules in war, please remember them today

Today is Remembrance Sunday in the UK where we remember those who have lost their lives in conflict throughout the ages.  

Here in the Muleteer Household we make a special effort to remember our long eared brothers and sisters who had no choice.  We hope today that you too will remember them, they fought on all sides; without nationality or religion and have lost their lives in many conflicts.  Still used today in conflicts such as Afghanistan we can only hope that humans can one day resolve their differences, learning some lessons from our noble friends the donkey, horse and mule would be a good start.

We offer you a special insight in to the life of a war mule all those years ago enduring life in World War  One.

Introducing Molly The War Mule

From the moment I could walk I knew I was different, destined for big things! A bit like my big ears really…. My Mom was a heavy old mare and my Dad was never to be seen but I think he gave me my mulificent ears.  When I was young I was always looking for the next big adventure, waiting to see what was for me outside of my Missouri pasture.  Apparently I had a job to look forward to!  Little did I know….

The day came when I was just three years old that I was pronounced ‘Fit for Work’ I was soo excited, loads of my pals were also told they were ready too.  Ready for an adventure….. ready for hell.

We were all moved to a place that smelled of water and fish, not of manure and hay.  Funny work for a mule?  I’d always thought I’d work pulling a cart of hay or maybe get to carry one of the two leg variety… it was not to be.  It seems that the two legs of the world had been having some disagreements (typical two legs) and needed the help of us mules to help one of the sides win the argument.  That’s when my nightmare began.

After a while waiting at the docks while all these other long ears (and short ears) arrived I started to hear about something called War, not a concept us mules understood.  Eventually it was our gang’s turn to go on our adventure.  We were being put in to a floating barn, something called a ship.  Sounded kinda cool to my young ears back then.  What I didn’t realise is that my feet could not carry me in to the floating barn, rather I had to be put on board using a giant haynet (except there was no hay).  It was not nice, some of the short ears panicked a lot at the net and one of my friends cracked his leg, it was awful he couldn’t get up so the two legs took us all away and then we heard a bang, we never saw him again.

The floating barn moved, it rolled and smelt and it felt like the land was moving, apparently we were sailing whatever that was, sailing to a far away land…. Maybe they would have sweet hay and oats and the two legs would love my long ears and ask me to pull a pretty carriage?  After days of  sailing I soon realised I was wrong.

Eventually the floating barn stopped moving, the two legs said we had arrived.  There were all kinds of noises outside, my long ears picked up noises I did not like, there were thuds and bangs and worst of all there were the sounds of long ears in pain…. The floating barn did not seem so bad now, maybe I could stay here a while longer?

But it wasn’t to be, I was dragged out of the floating barn in to what can only be described as hell.

There was noise and movement everywhere, lots of two legs rushed around us and poked and prodded and decided what work we would do.  I was horrified, the short ears were selected for cavalry duty while we long ears got cargo duty.  Maybe it will be a carriage I pull?

To get us ready for work the two legs tested out our education; could we pull, carry, have our hooves shod and behave?  We could, but what about them?  Some of them could barely look at me without shaking with fear, they called these two legs the City Boys, apparently they didn’t know mules well and were scared of us.  I was a good Molly though and showed how hard I could work.  They said I was ready for work, they clipped my coat to stop me catching lice but oh my goodness I was so cold, there were no blankets and it was nearly winter.

And then I went off to work.  I was put with a gang of long ears and it was our job to haul and pull and pull some more.  I didn’t mind hard work, for I am a mule.  But I did mind what happened next.

I was sent to the trenches, great pits of mud and blood, wire and metal, noise and despair. I was sent to hell.  There were two legs everywhere, many were thin and bloodied, gaunt and grieving, confused and hopeless.  We were all there because of the arguments of their ‘leaders’; I never did understand what makes humans such a destructive species?

Ref 3

My days in those trenches all blur in to one; days of pulling carts, gun and sleds through mud so deep and thick that it reached my elbows and I frequently got stuck.  I tried to pull and pull, I was not afraid of hard work, for I am a mule.  I never forget the day that my pal that I pulled with got so stuck that he just couldn’t move, he tried and I pulled with all my might but the mud was like glue, eventually he stopped trying, exhausted.  He gave in. The two legs said we had to go, we had to leave him, so they took me away and the last thing I heard was yet another bang.  He was my friend. 

The bangs and blasts happened every day.  There did not seem to be an hour that passed without those devil guns exploding around us, and the devil’s work they were.  Some of my friends were blown to pieces by those bangs or injured by the metal they slung in the air.  I learnt early on that the best thing to do was stand, frozen still when the bangs went off, my shorter eared friends panicked more and often injured themselves in their blind panic.  They even made us carry those devil guns, so that they could blow up my friends that the other two legs used.  That was not OK.

The nights were as bad as the days.  Quieter but awful for other reasons.  It was so cold and although we were exhausted to lie down meant lying in thick, putrid mud, no easement for aching bones.  We were hungry too.  There were few rations for any of us; man or mule.  Our meagre rations of mouldy hay and a tiny handful of oats barely filled us for an hour or two before we were hungry again.  Us mules fared better than our short eared friends.  We could eat twigs and bushes and somehow stay from getting too thin.  Our short eared friends turned in to monstrous skeletons before our eyes, they could not cope with the hard work, the cold and no food.  For once they wished they were a mule.

It became winter and was so very cold.  Our coats had been clipped away, no sparse mane or wintry fluff to drive away the cold, just freezing rain with no shelter, no protection and no respite.  It was miserable.  Often times we would wake from our standing exhaustion to find icicles in our tails and one of our friends fallen to the ground never to stand.  It was hard.

Ref  4
The humans suffered too.  They were hungry, cold, scared and grieved just like we did for our fallen friends.  I had a two leg friend, his name was Harry.  He was kind to me and did not laugh at my voice or ears and whispered about his hopes and fears to me; he told me about the green grass of England and how he hoped one day we would walk on it together.  He scratched my ears and we shared what meagre biscuits he had.  Strange friends perhaps, but friends we were.

Every day I worked with Harry, when things got tougher he would whisper at me “please Molly, for me, try a little harder”.  He would try to protect me from some of the other two legs who would beat me and prod me and push me to make me try more, I was already exhausted but try I did, for I am a mule.

Mules stuck in mud - WWI, Ref 1
Ref 1
The days drew on and I dreamt of the dusty pastures of my youth, what was once boring and unwanted now seemed like heaven.  My days passed by, always with this daydream.  I became weaker, I knew I could not carry on much longer.  I tried, I tried for Harry but one day I fell and I could not get up.  It was enough, I’d had enough.  I lay my head down in the stinking mud and dreamt of Missouri, of the land of my mother and I breathed deeply and left hell to take the journey to heaven over the Rainbow Bridge.  Now I sleep on soft straw beds and I eat sweet hay and oats and I have never again heard another of the devil’s guns. 

Ref 2
For I was a war mule and I served you.  Please on this day of remembrance remember me and remember my brothers and sisters, for we were war mules and we served you well.  We had no choice.

Remember Me 

Remember me, I was a war mule
Remember me, I toiled for you
Remember me, I was starved and frozen
Remember me, I pulled and carried
Remember me, I was hungry and thirsty
Remember me, I was loyal and endured
Remember me, I was beaten and mocked
Remember me, I was your friend
Remember me, I had no choice

Animals In War Memorial: Hyde Park, London

For more general information about mules and horses in war please see our post here: We Will Remember

Ref 2: Australian National Archives
Ref 3: Department of National Defense, Canada
Ref 4: National Library of Scotland


  1. So sad that we use animals for stuff such as that.
    Haflingers were used in World War I.

    1. It is always sad when the innocent are dragged in to the arguments of others.... of course mules are only a small glimpse of the suffering. Haflingers would've been used often for their strength and endurance by all sides, poor, loyal ponies :-(

  2. This was so sad .
    The tribute serves testament to the greatness of the mules perseverance and heart .
    Your right they had no choice, yet they served proudly.
    War is such a horrid thing .
    Of course I shed tears while reading this and I will not forget , no I will not forget .

    1. Dearest Willow, we are sorry that you were sad but know that when there are good people who understand in the world like you that we are one step closer to this never happening again. We send you warm wishes and thanks for your remembrance x

  3. I wish we had a memorial to our mules and their service in war times. This was beautiful. I have several Mule books regarding their service in the US Military.

    1. Thanks Val, mules are so often the forgotten ones, we feel deeply for all the other animals who lost their lives but they are well remembered by many organisations, this is our yearly tribute to the ones that so many forget. We are so happy that the 'Animals in War' memorial in London features two mules as its centrepiece, someone, somewhere obviously felt as we do. And of course so many of the 'British' mules hailed from Missouri especially and other parts of the US that we cannot forget our debt to those American mules, over 200,000 of them lost their lives.

  4. My breed was almost wiped out by the human wars. Few of my breed returned. So very very sad.

    1. You are so right Zoe, so many perished and so many loved workhorses, proud ponies and family favourites were conscripted in to the army to end their days in terrible situations. Heartbreaking for all concerned. Thank goodness we are safe.

  5. Animal serving in wars is most tragic as they do not have the voice to refuse. They suffer much in those violent environments and give their lives. Beautiful animals in war memorial. May they never live a life of burden but be loved and cared for. Thank you for this touching tribute.

    1. Thank you Carmen, it is such a sadness when the innocent are caught in the battles of man be they animals or humans. With every moment of care and compassion we step closer to this never happening again.

  6. A very heart wrenching post, and a beautiful tribute.

    1. Thank you Linda, it is always so hard to write about these tragic events without it being sad, at least with a heavy heart we remember and understand that this should never happen again. We are grateful that you read this and commented.

  7. I couldn't read this and skimmed the pictures. Pathetic, I know, but...Very sad. Remembering everyone, animal and human.
    With love from Judy in Cambridge

    1. Dear Judy. This is not pathetic at all, it means you care deeply. We all remember in our own way and we respect everyone's right to remember individually, in all honesty the pictures tell all the story that needs to be told. We send you snuffles, Neighbrays and whinny rays xxx

  8. What a wonderful tribute but it reinforces just how much we have used and abused animals for our own ends for hundreds of years. Perhaps one day we may realise the futility of war - we can live in hope

    1. We must live in hope jc you are so right, without hope we cannot dream of a day without such futility and destruction. Thanks for commenting x

  9. So painful to read and so important to remember. Why oh why do we persist in torturing each other, regardless of the species. Dear precious loyal mules, horses and donkeys, we will never forget your amazing contributions to the follies of humans. May you be spared further suffering in the service of war.

    1. Your comment sums this up so well and so eloquently Cynthia, thank you for leaving it.. This was so hard to write and I shed a few tears but felt I owed it to those brave mules and men, of course we owe so many living creatures a debt for following us trustingly in to the evil that only humans seem capable of. May we dream of a day when this will never happen again.

  10. Oh, FH, I just read this through tears today, Wednesday, I am so late reading everything. Crying very hard. You wrote so eloquently of what the dear animals went through alongside their humans during the war. Thank you.

  11. Dear Mary Ann. Thank you so much for your comment, it means a lot to know this post has touched others. Remembrance happens every day and may we never forget so that we can work to avoid such horrors in the future. FH x