In August 1915, a new conscript named Albert Marr arrived at the recruiting station of the 3rd Transvaal Regiment of the 1st South African Infantry Brigade. After undergoing a medical examination and other official procedures, the now private under number 4927 turned to the regiment command with an unusual request. He asked to be accompanied at the front by a comrade - a baboon of the Chakma variety named Jackie. After a little reflection, the officers agreed to enroll an unusual soldier in the ranks of the regiment. Thus began the odyssey of baboon Jackie and his master across the battlefields in the deserts of North Africa, the forests and swamps of France and Flanders.
The friendship between Albert and Jackie began long before the war on a small farm in Cheshire in the suburbs of the South African city of Pretoria. Albert, who lived on this farm with his parents, once picked up an orphaned baby baboon who was wandering at the edge of the forest. Soon the baby baboon became a universal favorite, he quickly gave in to training and grew into a large strong male. The monkey and the man became so attached to each other that Albert, who was going to the war, could not even imagine that he would leave his pet at home.
Albert and Jackie received their baptism of fire in Egypt in the hostilities against Sanusia, a Sufi religious and political order (tariqa) that still exists in Libya and Egypt. During the First World War, the followers of the order maintained close ties with the Ottoman and German empires. In the summer of 1915, the Ottomans persuaded the then leader of the Order, Ahmed Sharif es-Sanussi, to declare jihad on the British and attack British-occupied Egypt. The 1st South African Infantry Brigade, along with other British forces, was sent to Egypt to counter the jihadists. At the famous Battle of Agagia on February 26, 1916, Albert Marr was wounded in the shoulder. Until the orderlies arrived, Jackie, distraught with grief, covered his master, who was lying on the ground, and licked his wound. It was then that Jackie became for the rank and file of the regiment not just a mascot, but a comrade in arms.
For a long time, Albert and Jackie managed to fight without injury, but in April 1918, luck changed the brave baboon and his master. The 1st Brigade found itself under heavy shelling during the retreat during the Battle of Paschendal in the area of the Belgian town of Reningelst. Frightened, Jackie, having come under fire, desperately tried to build a wall of stones around himself to protect himself from the shrapnel. One of them wounded the monkey in the front paw, and the second almost chopped off the hind leg: it hung on several tendons. Albert was also injured, but luckily, lightly.
When Jackie was taken to the field hospital, the doctors were at a loss for what to do, with no experience in animal surgery. Finally Jackie was euthanized with chloroform and had a hind leg amputated. No one knew if the baboon would survive. Here is what Lieutenant Colonel R.N. wrote about this in his memoirs. Woodsend of the Royal Medical Corps, who operated on the monkey: “It was a terrible sight. The animal the size of a little boy, which his master had brought in his arms, groaned in pain. And the soldier shouted in our faces: “Do something for him! He saved my life in Egypt, he courted me when I was sick with dysentery! " The baboon was badly injured, the left hind paw was hanging on scraps of muscle, another open wound was in the right front paw. We decided to give the patient chloroform and bandage his wounds. If he died under anesthesia, it might be best. Since I had never anesthetized such a patient before, I thought this would be the best result. However, he tolerated chloroform as if it were a simple glass of whiskey and fell asleep very quickly. It was not difficult to amputate the leg with scissors, I cleaned the wounds and bandaged them as best I could. "
To the surprise of the doctors, the baboon recovered quickly. It was said that when the regiment commander came to see him, Jackie jumped up on the bed and saluted the astonished officer.
For Privates Albert Marr and Jackie, service ended on November 11, 1918. They were sent to England, where Jackie immediately became a celebrity: all London newspapers wrote about him, he participated in the parade at the Day of the Lord Mayor of London. Until February 1919, Jackie and Marr, on behalf of the War Department and the South African government, collaborated with the Red Cross, participating in charity events to raise money for sick and wounded soldiers. They collected huge sums, allowing the public to shake Jackie's hand for half a crown and kiss him for five shillings.
In April 1919, Jackie returned to South Africa, where he was promoted to corporal, dismissal issued and a military pension granted. Now, like a true war veteran, on the sleeve of his uniform was a gold stripe and three blue chevrons, which meant three years of service at the front. In May 1919, Jackie and Albert returned to Pretoria. On July 31, 1920, at the Peace Parade in Pretoria Church Square, the baboon was awarded the Pretoria Citizen's Service Medal.
Soon Albert and Jackie returned to their family farm in order to forget the horrors of war in the midst of a peaceful life, but the war overtook Jackie at home. During a severe thunderstorm that broke out on May 22, 1921, the baboon was frightened by strong thunderclaps, similar to the explosions of shells, his heart could not stand it, and Jackie died. Such was the tragic end of one of South Africa's most astonishing soldiers. His friend and comrade Albert Marr, on the contrary, lived a long life and died at the age of 84 in August 1973.
Pictured is Private Albert Marr and his friend Jackie the baboon.