1st December 2016

Jimmy the donkey– the city’s First World War animal hero & mascot

Jimmy was loved by the soldiers of the trenches simply for making them smile. He was born amidst the war’s bloodiest battle in June 1916 after his mother who carried supplies from the rear to the frontline was fatally wounded by German shellfire.

Soldiers of the 1st Scottish (Cameronian) Rifles Regiment helped deliver the foal as the battle of the Somme raged above and they could not bear to be parted from the orphaned baby. He was christened Jimmy, and the soldiers cadged oats and carrots from the local French to feed their new mascot.

According to various documents he loved tinned milk and was soon taught to “beg” on his hind legs for his favourite jam on biscuit tit bits. It’s recorded that he would greet each soldier by raising his front leg in salute.

Wounded seven times Jimmy became the only decorated donkey, wearing a brow band embellished with chevrons and stripes.

The much loved hero was demobbed in 1919 and bought through public subscription for nearly £7 by Mrs Heath the branch secretary of the Peterborough RSPCA.

On flagdays Jimmy the donkey used to help in collections for the cause, and was well loved and well looked after. Local children would be treated by their parents to a ride in the wooden carriage which was pulled by Jimmy.

Jimmy was allowed to graze on common land (the grassed area in Broadway adjacent to where Clifton House is today) and he even had his very own hut. Jimmy was the city’s best loved mascot raising hundreds of pounds for the RSPCA.

The Peterborough Advertiser newspaper ran a column every week detailing how many donations had been made thanks to the fine work of Jimmy.

When he died, aged 26, on 10 May 1943 he was buried in Central Park, Peterborough and a memorial stone was laid. The inscription reads:

Our Jimmy

Born on The Somme June 1916

Mascot of the 1st Scottish Rifles

Died 10 May 1943

Bought by Mrs Heath in 1920

To give him a good home

And to promote interest in the RSPCA

Jimmy the Donkey's gravestone

Jimmy’s Gravestone – Images courtesy of June and Vernon Bull

The headstone, decorated with a picture of a donkey, fell into disrepair and was restored in 2003 during which a special memorial service was held for the city’s best loved donkey and over 200 people attended including two representatives from Jimmy’s regiment – the Scottish Rifles.

One might think the story complete apart from an Evening Telegraph newspaper article dated 8 June 1979 when Mr Derek Walding revealed that the donkey had been bought by his father at Swaythling, near Southampton and that its first owners were gypsies and that the donkey had never left the country! The then 75-year old said that his father, Mr George Walding, used to pass Jimmy’s hut laughing his head off – knowing full well the exact provenance of Peterborough’s hero donkey.

June & Vernon Bull – Local historians & authors

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