BLOG 28-CINDY THE WALLABY
Moving to Primrose Sands, I went to the local watering hole-the Primrose Sands RSL Club. I was made most welcome as I knew many of the patrons there. I notice on a calendar, this picture (the picture of an Australian Digger in Egypt in 1914 28 with the Kangaroo.) I asked Cindy, the Lady behind the bar about the story behind the image, but she didn’t know much about it. So as a writer, I came home and researched the information. I found out the kangaroo in the picture was called Skippy.
“EGYPT, 14 DECEMBER 1914. In the shadows of the great pyramids and amid kitbags and Lee-Enfield rifles, an Australian Imperial Force infantryman encounters a kangaroo.
Skippy was on permanent shore leave at Mena Camp, the British Empire's training ground in Egypt. According to Peter Stanley, principal historian at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, members of the 9th and 10th Battalions smuggled mascots from home aboard transport ships.
Aussie diggers brought mascots reminders of home
"The first Australian troops to arrive in Egypt were proud to be serving Australia and the Empire, and at least one of them smuggled aboard a kangaroo," Peter says. "Others took wallabies, koalas, possums but what's a koala going to eat? Biscuits and bread? Chances are it got sick and died.
"You have to look at who these men were. They'd just signed up, voluntarily, for war. They were young, with not a lot of thought for the future." The above photo, snapped by Chaplain Ernest Merrington, shows the regard with which this soldier treated the marsupial expat. It's believed it ate the same food as the British force's horses and donkeys a hay and chaff mix called tibin.
"We don't know if the 'roo had a name, or if it was free-ranging," Peter says. "We'd love to learn more." In March 1915, after roughly three months of what Peter describes as "learning to be soldiers they were mostly citizen soldiers, who'd never been to war" the men left Mena bound for Gallipoli, bequeathing their mascot to the care of the Cairo Zoological Garden.
Researching on, I learnt that many soldiers on both sides had mascots including this second picture of the wallaby- (a cousin to the Kangaroo and smaller for my American friends) which was taken in France.
Wild wallabies in southern France?
Given the movement of troops and the attrition of war, stories surface regularly of wild wallabies in the UK and Europe, in particular the highlands of France.
I also learnt that the Australian Nurses in the field hospitals off Greece had pet Kangaroos.
SO NO CINDY THE WALLABY JOINS THE BATTLE OF JETTENA JUNCTION