Baa-ck in Time

Mom sent in the manuscript for her sheep book the day before yesterday. Now she isn’t as grouchy and harried. In fact, she’s been telling us some of the things she wrote about, including a sheep named Private Derby.

by Martok
Sheep postcard
Courtesy Sue Weaver
Here’s another animal-historical tidbit this week: This old postcard in Mom’s collection probably came from around the 1920s.

Mom sent in the manuscript for her sheep book the day before yesterday. Now she isn’t as grouchy and harried. In fact, she’s been telling us some of the things she wrote about, including a sheep named Private Derby.

Did you know that military units used to keep pets as mascots? Some still do, especially in Britain, where Private Derby lives. Private Derby is a member of 2nd Battalion Mercian Regiment (Worcesters and Foresters) in Derby, England, and he’s a sheep! He’s a Swaledale ram, to be exact, and the 29th Private Derby to date.

The 95th Derbyshire Regiment of Foot, forerunner of the 2nd Battalion Mercian Regiment, acquired the first Private Derby in 1858 at the siege and capture of Kotah, in India, when the unit’s commanding officer spied a handsome fighting ram tethered in a temple yard. He requisitioned the ram, which marched more than 3,000 miles with the regiment. During that time, the first Private Derby was undefeated in 33 matches against other fighting rams. At war’s end he was awarded an Indian Campaign Metal, the only British mascot to win one. He died in 1863.

Later, Private Derbys were requisitioned in whatever part of the world the unit was stationed. Some were gifts, like Derby VI, who served from 1882 to 1884, a black ram presented by His Royal Highness Syed Muhammad Kalby Ali Khan the Nawab of Rampur (that’s in India). In 1912, the Duke of Devonshire began providing rams from his flock of champion Swaledales. The tradition continues today.

The current ram enlisted on Jan. 15, 2009. He has his own handlers, the Ram Major and the Ram Orderly, to look after him. He leads the regiment in parades and represents it at other public appearances, where he wears his full Private Derby regalia, a scarlet jacket faced with Lincoln green and gold.

The Army recognizes Private Derby as a regular soldier. He has his own regimental number and documentation and he’s paid £3.75 per day. He also draws his own rations like any other soldier, has a leave card, and takes an annual holiday during the mating season.

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Lots of British military units have mascots, though Private Derby is the only sheep. Some have used drum horses as part of their regimental bands since the mid-1700s. Drum horses carry two solid silver kettle drums plus a rider, so a drum horse must be big and powerful to carry the weight. His main role is to stand still on parades. Other unit mascots are Shetland ponies, Irish Wolfhounds, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, ferrets, and an Indian Blackbuck antelope. But best, of course, are the regimental goats! I’ll tell you all about them next week.

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