Sunday, September 10, 2017

Mute Companions

The Last General Absolution of the Munsters at Rue du Bois by Fortunino Matania
The 2nd Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers (2RMF) next role was participating in the Franco-British Second Battle of Ypres, in the area of the March Battle of Neuve Chapelle. The day before the attack of 9 May 1915 the battalion received Absolution from their chaplain, Francis Gleeson (depicted in the famous "Rue du Bois" Matania painting). 
The British bombardment began at 5 a.m., the Munsters then pressing forward with extraordinary bravery, German fire sweeping No-Mans-Land, some Munsters audaciously charging ahead through the German lines, briefly waving a green flag on its breastwork, then moving beyond until cut off by the British artillery bombardment that followed, which killed many sheltering in shell craters. By 11 a.m. the 2RMF was withdrawn with only 3 officers and 200 men remaining, having lost 19 and 370 respectively. It was one of only two battalions to reach the German lines. But suffered the regiment's highest loss of any one day of the war, 11 officers and 140 men killed in action. It was an unsuccessful day for the British forces overall, casualties exceeding 11,000, the devastating losses exposing the British forces weakness in artillery. Morale was subsequently at a low ebb. (Source)
While doing research for something to post, I ran across a couple of things which grabbed me and would not let go. That opening painting is one. The Munsters (for such is what they were known as, Munster being one of the ancient provinces of Ireland, which contains the modern counties of Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, and Waterford) were practically destroyed in the Battle of Aubers Ridge during WWI.

Most folks would notice the men and think of their fate. Some might also think of the participants in battle who really have no choice in the matter. They go because we humans take them.

Horses, mules, donkeys, dogs, cats, pigeons, oxen, elephants and other companions of we humans who go to war. They die, they suffer, many, if not most, are forgotten. As Americans we have heard many of the stories of the faithful dogs who have accompanied our men and women into battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many do not return, sometimes it is the human who falls. Sometimes it's the animal.

At times it is the human who mourns...

I challenge you to read this story and not shed a tear.
At times it is the faithful companion...

Dogs do mourn.
I did not know this but the British have a war memorial for those mute companions who follow us to war, on the edge of London's Hyde Park.

It's called The Animals In War Memorial and from the looks of the website, it's a place I want to visit. Make sure you read the stories there. As a cat person, I was particularly touched by the story of Simon, ship's cat aboard HMS Amethyst.

It got very dusty at Chez Sarge, reading all the stories of the faithful beasties we take to war with us. But I lost it with this painting (also done by Fortunino Matania) and the poem which accompanied the painting at the Animals in War Memorial site.

A Soldier's Kiss

Only a dying horse! pull off the gear,
And slip the needless bit from frothing jaws,
Drag it aside there, leaving the road way clear,
The battery thunders on with scarce a pause.

Prone by the shell-swept highway there it lies
With quivering limbs, as fast the life-tide fails,
Dark films are closing o’er the faithful eyes
That mutely plead for aid where none avails.

Onward the battery rolls, but one there speeds
Needlessly of comrades voice or bursting shell,
Back to the wounded friend who lonely bleeds
Beside the stony highway where he fell.

Only a dying horse! he swiftly kneels,
Lifts the limp head and hears the shivering sigh
Kisses his friend, while down his cheek there steals
Sweet pity’s tear, "Goodbye old man, Goodbye".

No honours wait him, medal, badge or star,
Though scarce could war a kindlier deed unfold;
He bears within his breast, more precious far
Beyond the gift of kings, a heart of gold.

Henry Chappell

Tears at the heart it does...


  1. Yes, it does. Great post, Sarge, thanks.

  2. Getting dusty in here................

  3. They place in us their unwavering faith and loyalty, and they never judge. After what I wrote about my horse, yeah, dusty here too. I did not know about "A Soldiers Kiss". Thanks Sarge.

    1. I only learned about it through the Memorial's website.

      Had me in tears...

  4. You do look past the obvious. Thank you for a great post.

  5. As a young Marine it was my pleasure to take treats to Sergeant Reckless who was a hero to the First Marine Division. Reckless, and many of the working dogs I've known, were among the best Marines I've encountered and they ALL lived our motto Semper Fidelis.

  6. Durndit, sir! Wife is looking at me like I'm an idiot, but she'll be bawling in a few when I have her read the pieces.

    Yes, animals have been, are, and will be for the foreseeable future a part of our military. Just no getting around it.

    Watched some NatGeo show about military dogs in Afganistan and got to see the horror of a dog being blown up by those bastards. Some things are only watchable once.

    On a lighter note, in a strange way, the Army actually recruited Mule Skinners after 9-11 to teach the ancient art of pack-saddle, including the tried and true cavalry methods of long-distance road marches on horseback.

  7. I have a video of my grandfather's battalion of horse artillery trooping over Memorial Bridge in 1936. It's hard to believe how integral the horses were to combat for millenia. They still are. I remember an article about SPECWAR riding horses into the Panshawr and Afghanistan valleys in search of bin Laden.

    1. Horses can go places a machine can't. Useful critters.

  8. "Mute Companions"? Dang! I thought this was going to be a 'how to' article!

  9. Always been moved by that Munster painting. Great post.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.