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Man's Best Friend

by BBC Scotland

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Archive List > British Army

Contributed by 
BBC Scotland
People in story: 
J. Semple
Location of story: 
East Africa
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
31 January 2006

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Vijiha Bashir, at BBC Scotland on behalf of J. Semple from Johnstone and has been added to the site with the permission of Johnstone History Society. The author fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

As the war in Europe was well progressed, I found myself with many other service personnel drafted East anticipating at that time, a long struggle against the Japanese.

As it turned out, I found myself for the next two years, in East Africa seconded to the King’s African Rifles who were natives of Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda whose troops had fought with distinction in Burma and as you can imagine I had many things on my mind as I had never served in Africa before.

I wondered about people, the language, the food, the health problems and so on. I also wondered what animal life I would encounter, but I did not anticipate that I would encounter Army Personnel who kept pets. These included, chameleon, mongoose, monkey and one man who caught poisonous snakes, but the most numerous were cats and dogs. The African troops were not interested in pets and animals which to them represented food regardless of what kind of animal it was.

I found that certain dogs would attach themselves to Army officers, and more senior the better for some reason. In my first Army unit a fine Labrador dog followed the Colonel everywhere and when the officer went home to England, the dog attached itself to the young Major who replaced him. Our unit moved around 1000 miles and the dog trundled along making sure it always had a place in one of the vehicles.

In due course I found myself adopted by a dog. The first was a brown bitch but sadly she developed distemper and had to be put down. Next was a black Labrador bitch who gave birth to seven pups. I found homes for all of them but the mother — named Mama — was taken by a hyena. Soon I had another, this time a black and tan dog. He followed me everywhere, loved to travel in the jeep and lay at my feet in the office or on a chain by my bed at night.

This was excellent for security. Thieves would regularly steal the blankets off your bed while you slept but not with Chum there (that is what I decided to call him).

The African Soldiers (Askaris) thought I had called him after myself as they mistook “Chum” for “Jim”. Chum was so understanding of my commands that I was able to pretend to our African friends that he could speak English.

All good fun! When it was time for me to leave I managed to find a good home for my dog with another British Officer.

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