If you ever want to spend a few hours of your day on a frustrating task, try finding the last time in history when there were no wars being fought anywhere in the world. It’s extremely difficult to do, and some people suggest that actually, there has never been a time when there was no war. Depressing!
With so many conflicts throughout our history, it’s logical that many people have been involved in those fights. In modern times, there is an official process for this in most countries that requires citizens to enlist in order to be formally recognized as soldiers. But not all formally enlisted soldiers are exactly who you think they are.
10. Wojtek was a soldier in the Polish army… and also a bear
Animals and war have a long history. Horses were used long before we had motorized vehicles, elephants had their time, and dogs still appear on battlefields around the world. But most of those animals are not officially recognized as real soldiers with rank. Some, however, rise above.
A Syrian brown bear named Wojtek was given the rank of private in the Polish army during World War II. It was a group of prisoners of war who first discovered the bear cub in Iran as they traveled through the mountains from Siberia to Egypt. They brought the bear with them, feeding and caring for him, even as his release was negotiated and they were sent to Italy to fight with the Allied forces.
Wojtek grew up with the soldiers, even learning to smoke and drink beer, which obviously are not the best habits for a bear to have. He also learned to carry ammunition boxes during battles on the front line, although the soldiers later stated that he only carried spent projectiles, not real ammunition.
The bear also learned to salute and march. He fought, boxed, and even played soccer. He became, in a way, responsible for the company’s morale. They even adopted a bear holding an artillery shell as their insignia. He was eventually promoted to corporal.
After the war, the company moved to Scotland and Wojtek joined them. He helped out on a farm and continued to play with his comrades until the company was disbanded. Wojtek spent the rest of his life playing and relaxing in Scotland, enjoying the occasional cigarette and beer.
9. A six-year-old girl enlisted in the Royal Navy in Australia
The armed forces of any country are subject to an seemingly endless chain of rules, edicts, and procedures. There are codes of conduct, definitions, and formal regulations, and all sorts of bureaucratic red tape even around the simplest things. Some of them are also remarkably silly. But at least the same silliness can be manipulated in times of need.
In 1920, the Australian Navy had strict rules about who could and could not be aboard a military ship. For example, under no circumstances was a woman allowed on boardeven though the Navy itself simply said «civilians»could not embark. This wouldn’t have been a problem until the day Nancy Bentley was bitten by a snake.
We all know you shouldn’t mess with Australian snakes. Nancy was only six years old, and a snakebite could have easily been fatal to her. Worse, she and her father were nowhere near a hospital. But they were near the HMAS. Sydney an Australian warship.
Nancy’s father rowed her to where the ship was docked and asked for help. Captain Hayley knew the regulations wouldn’t allow for the treatment of a girl on board. But he would allow for the treatment of a sailor. The captain ordered the girl to be formally enlisted in the Navy and they brought her on board.
The girl was given the rank of «mascot» and received first aid treatment before arrangements were made to take her to a proper hospital. Nancy made it to Hobart and survived her harrowing experience. Eight days after enlisting, she was officially discharged.
8. Just Nuisance was an official sailor in the Royal Navy
Several dogs have saved lives during times of war and performed heroic acts that were later officially recognized. But the Great Dane named Just Nuisance seems to be the only one who officially entered the British Royal Navy.
The dog was born in Simon’s Town, South Africa, near a British naval base. The sailors took a liking to the dog and often walked and gave him treats. He often slept on the gangway of HMS Neptune. Because he was so large, nearly 6.6 feet when standing on his hind legs, this made him a nuisance to move around, hence the name.
So how did Nuisance enlist? Because he was a nuisance. The dog wanted to go ashore with the soldiers when they traveled to Cape Town. But the train officials hated having the dog on board and started sending threatening letters to his official owner. Some included threats to humiliate Nuisance.
The sailors, who loved the dog, took him on in the chain of command. They didn’t want to lose the dog either, and their commanding officer, determined to keep morale high, found a solution. The Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Navy enlisted Nuisance. This meant he was entitled to free travel on trains so the railway company couldn’t complain about unpaid fares for the massive beast.
His enlistment included complete documentation where his name appeared as «Just» because it couldn’t be blank. He was given a medical examination and signed it with his own paw print. His official rank was Able Seaman and, while he never saw combat, he proved to be a valuable member of the Navy on land. So much so that he was actually later promoted to Able Seaman.
Nuisance had an accident when he was seven years old and the Navy was forced to put him to sleep. He received full military honors, including a Royal Navy discharge party.
7. William Windsor was a goat in the British Army
While some animals fare well and rise through the ranks, that’s not always the case. A goat named William Windsor was demoted for his behavior as a soldier in the British army.
William, also known as Billy, was a lance corporal in the First Battalion Royal Welsh and couldn’t keep in step during a parade in honor of the Queen in 2006. he was demoted to Fusilier.
Billy wasn’t the only goat in the regiment, of course, as monarchs have been gifting them since the time of Victoria in honor of a goat said to have led Welsh soldiers in the Battle of Bunker Hill. In 2022, Lance Corporal Shenkinwas present for the Proclamation of King Charles.
6. Donald Duck was a sergeant in the army
Now we can confidently agree that animals serving in the military are not very unusual. That means we have to step it up a bit with an animal that isn’t even real. We need to talk about Sergeant Donald Duck.
As you may have noticed, Donald Duck has always been dressed as a sailor. This dates back to 1934. In 1941, he was officially drafted into the U.S. Army, unlike the Navy, where he seemed like he would fit in, though he found a place there later on. In 1942, he appeared in military cartoons. as part of the U.S. propaganda machine during World War II. Disney had been losing money, and a government contract to make films promoting their war efforts paid the bills.
Disney produced several military and patriotic cartoons featuring Donald as an example of a solid American, including paying his taxes in what sounds like a fascinating and exciting premise for a cartoon.
Donald also became an honorary member of both the Navy and the Marine Corps. While he may not have been in the Air Force, his face appeared on the side of many planes. In 1984, 50 years after his enlistment, the Army Chief of Staff officially gave Donald his honorable discharge papers and released him from service. This was after his final promotion to the rank of sergeant.
5. Calvin Graham joined the U.S. Navy at twelve years old
Calvin Graham, the youngest veteran in U.S. history, was only 12 years old when he joined the Navy. Graham had run away from home at age 11 back in 1941. He sold newspapers to support himself and that’s how he regularly read war news. The attack on Pearl Harbor convinced him to enlist.
To sell the lie, Graham started shaving, trying to grow a stubble. He feigned a deeper voice and then forged papers signed by his mother and sealed with a stolen notary stamp. Things almost worked until the doctor saw his baby teeth and tried to kick him out. Graham responded that 14-year-old kids had already been let in and he would rat them out if he wasn’t allowed in too. It worked.
Graham became an anti-aircraft gunner on the USS South Dakota. He helped shoot down 26 planes in Guadalcanal. Later on, the South Dakota suffered serious damage and Graham was left with shrapnel in his face but survived and helped his fellow soldiers.
His mother saw footage of the ship’s return. She called the Navy to enlist a child and they responded by stripping Graham of his medals, dishonorably discharging him, and throwing him in the brig. It wouldn’t be until 1977, after years of hardship, further service, and injury, that President Carter reversed the discharge and restored his medals..
4. Momcilo Gavric became a soldier at eight years old
You’ve probably heard a story or two about a soldier who enlisted underage. This was something that happened fairly regularly during World War II. Boys as young as 14 tricked their way into service by lying about their ages, and we saw Calvin Graham serve at 12 years old. Technically, this is illegal and frowned upon, as we don’t want children risking their lives. But child soldiers are far from an unknown thing. One of the youngest was Momcilo Gavrica Serbian soldier at eight years old.
When the First World War broke out, Gavric’s village was attacked and his entire family was killed along with everyone else. Alone, the boy set out to find the Serbian army. They took him in, and moved by his story, officially admitted him into the division. Three times a dayhe had to fire a cannon to avenge his family.
Gavric stayed with the soldiers through many battles, even suffering his own injuries. He reached the rank of corporal. At twelve years old, when the war ended, his commanding officer gave him one last order. Head to London and finish school.
3. Jean Thurel was a French soldier for nearly a century
Most soldiers are expected to be young and in good physical shape, at least it probably helps during the physical part of war, like trying not to get shot or blown up. But there is certainly room for people with more years and experience in command positions. You want a general who has been through some things in charge, not a kid who simply reads about it. But what kind of experience are we talking about? In France, there is a lot of experience.
Jean Thurel was still busy as a soldier when he was 100 years old. In 1787, King Louis XVI awarded him the Medallions des Deux Épées. for the third time. It was awarded in honor of 24 years of service. He joined the French army in 1716 at the age of 18 and served during four different wars. He was still serving in 1804 at the age of 106.
2. Monte Gould was the oldest basic training graduate in the U.S.
Joining the military is typically a young person’s game these days. Fresh out of high school is when many enlist, or shortly thereafter. But it’s not always the case. Monte Gould is an absolute exception, as he graduated from U.S. Army basic training in his mature, ripe old age of 59.
Gould is a veteran of the Marine Corps and the Army Reserve, and he went through Marine Corps basic training back in the late ’70s. He finished modern BCT in 2020 in the top 10% Despite his age, he demonstrates that sometimes experience and skill surpass youth when needed. But he was also quick to point out that it was much, much easier in his old age and that Marine Corps boot camp would be impossible now.
1. The Mormon Battalion was the only religious regiment
Faith and military service have gone together for a long time, but usually in a largely pragmatic way. There are military chaplains, but military service is not governed by any particular religious principle. In U.S. history, there has only been one entirely faith-based regiment: the Mormon Battalion.
In 1846, Mormon immigrants asked for help from the U.S. government, and directly from President Polk. A man named Jesse Little proposed that the president could use the Mormons to defend and fortify the West in exchange for assistance. The president agreed and ordered the raising of a 500-man battalion. They would fight in the Mexican-American War. The Mormons agreed.
While the battalion didn’t see combat, they endured one of the longest and most grueling marches in military history over 2,000 miles. They also had an official battle against wild cattle.
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