Corporal Jackie Of The Third South African Infantry Regiment

Corporal Jackie Of The Third South African Infantry Regiment

Richard Justian, Staff Writer

Whenever people typically think of friendly monkeys or apes, we generally picture juvenile chimps, orangutans, and capuchins. It’s safe to bet that most people wouldn’t consider baboons to be the primate equivalent of man’s best friend. In South Africa they are numerous and considered vermin and hunted for the threat they pose to bush land farmer’s crops. They are destructive to thatched roofing and have become expert thieves. Hunting them to keep their numbers down is perfectly reasonable, but an animal that possesses the cleverness and intelligence of a the baboon can hardly be considered common vermin. Corporal Jackie was an example of an exemplary monkey that broke the mold of the vermin of his species.

The story starts in August, 1915. Jackie was the Chacma Baboon companion of Albert Marr. Jackie was an unlikely choice as mascot for the 3rd South African Infantry and spent over three years of the Great War on and off  the front line in the mud and blood of Egypt, the trenches in France and Belgium, and went over the top with the 3rd SAI during the heavy fighting in which they were engaged. Up until August 1915, Jackie was the beloved pet of the Marr family, who lived on Cheshire Farm in Villieria, on the outskirts of Pretoria, one of three South African capital cities. When Jackie’s owner, Private Albert Marr attested at Potchefstroom on August 25 1915, for service in the newly-formed 3rd Regiment of the 1st SA Infantry Brigade, he was given permission to bring Jackie to accompany him.

Initially the other members of the regiment simply ignored Jackie but he was so well behaved and had such an impressive bearing that he was soon noticed, lighting up a cigarette or pipe for anyone he liked. At the mess table, he used a knife and fork in a proper manner and adopted the use of a drinking basin. Jackie was then officially adopted as the mascot of the 3rd SAI. Once in England, Jackie was given his own special uniform and cap, complete with Brass buttons and regimental badges which he wore with panache. He drew rations like any other soldier and was even given his own pay book. Jackie was in every aspect the perfect soldier. He was trained to salute superior officers, he drilled and marched with his company and was taught how to stand at ease, placing his feet apart and hands behind his back in regimental style.

On patrol, he was an excellent watchmen, and Marr often relied on his pet’s eyes and ears. He could give early warning of enemy movement or impending attacks with a series of short, sharp barks and tuggings at Marr’s tunic. Jackie would also often provide entertainment to the men, such distractions that would become all the more important to raise morale and relieve the crippling boredom of the stalemate of trench warfare once the Brigade had been deployed to Belgium.

Albert Marr and Jackie first saw action during the Senussi Campaign, early in 1916 when the 1st SAI Brigade was dispatched to Egypt as part of a force to crush the warlike tribes, which had taken up arms in open rebellion at the instigation of the Ottoman Turks, German allies at the battle of Agagia on 26th of  February 1916. Albert was wounded in the shoulder by an Egyptian bullet. Until the stretcher bearers arrived, Jackie beside himself with agitation, attempted to do what he could to comfort the injured Marr by licking the bullet wound and stroking Marr’s body. During the same campaign he later nursed Marr through a nearly fatal bout of dysentery.  So it occurred that Jackie became the firm favorite and closest comrade to Marr, rather than pet.

Up to now, he and Marr had come through the war with relatively minor injuries, but in April 1918 the South African Brigade was being heavily shelled as they withdrew to Reninghelst, Belgium. During the retreat Marr was hit again, only this time Jackie was wounded as well while defending his master. Jackie was seen to be frantically trying to build a wall of stones about himself and Marr, as a crude shelter from the flying shrapnel, while shells were bursting all around. A jagged piece of shrapnel wounded him in the arm and another in the leg. At first Jackie refused to be evacuated by the stretcher-bearers. He tried vainly to continue with his wall, hobbling around in excruciating pain, on a ruined leg. Medics were forced to amputate the limb with a pair of scissors while Jackie was unconscious.


An account according to Lt-Col R. N. Woodsend of the Royal Medical Corp.

“It was a pathetic sight; the little fellow, carried by his keeper, lay moaning in pain, the man(Marr) crying his eyes out in sympathy, “You must do something for him(Jackie), he saved my life in Egypt. He nursed me through dysentery”. The baboon was badly wounded, the left leg hanging with shreds of muscle, another jagged wound in the right arm.  We decided to give the patient chloroform and dress his wounds. If he died under the anesthetic perhaps it would be the best thing; as I had never given an anesthetic to such a patient before, I thought it would be the most likely  result. However, he lapped up the chloroform as if it had been whiskey, and was well under in a remarkably short time. It was a simple matter to amputate the leg with scissors and I cleaned the wounds and dressed them as well as I could.

He came around as quickly as he went under. The problem then was what to do with him. This was soon settled his keeper: “He is on army strength”. So, duly labelled, number, name, ATS injection, nature of injuries, etc. he was taken to the  road and sent by a passing ambulance to the Casualty Clearing Station.”

He and Marr would go to make a full recovery. For his bravery in the face of danger, Jackie was promoted to corporal and was awarded a medal for valor.

With the war coming to a close, this was the end of active service for Marr and Jackie. They were shipped to England, where Jackie became a celebrity, receiving much publicity in the English newspapers. Jackie and Private Marr were lent to the Red Cross by the War Office and the South African Government for the purpose of collecting much needed money for the sick and wounded soldiers. They sold postcards, pictures and handshakes with the famous veteran. By May 1919, Jackie and Albert were on their last leg of their journey home to Pretoria and Cheshire Farm. Jackie had been officially discharged at Maitland Dispersal Camp in Cape Town,SA on april 26. On his arm, Jackie wore one gold wound stripe and three blue service chevrons, indicating three years frontline service. At Maitland he received the usual parchment discharge paper, military pension, plus a Civil Employment Form for discharged soldiers. The last Honor to be awarded to Jackie was the Pretorian Citizen’s Service Medal in 1920.


Corporal Jackie died a day after a fire destroyed the Marr family’s Cheshire farmhouse on 22nd of May, 1921 and Private Albert Marr passed away at the age of 84 in Pretoria, SA in August of 1973.


More pictures of Corporal Jackie:

Jackie pictured in a Joberg restaurant using a fork and knife to eat

Jackie and Lt-Col Woodshed post amputation

Jackie in a 3rd SAI Brigade company picture

Jackie and Marr red cross postcard + Jackie’s ID tags

Jackie shown in his military uniform Post amputation