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The Channel Islands and the Great War
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Joey's Story

The story of how Joey the donkey became the mascot of the RGLI is told in Davis (1). He noted that, prior to their departure on 1st June, 1917 the troops were inspected on the Fort Field by Colonel H St Leger Wood, DSO, AA and QMG, in the absence of the Lieutenant Governor. When bidding the men farewell, he offered them the choice of a dog or a donkey for the Battalion mascot. The latter was chosen unanimously, and the Colonel St Leger Wood is said to have gone immediately in search of one. (2) He purchased Joey from Mr George Head, a farmer of Rouge Rue Farm, St Peter Port, on that same day.

Joey had previously been used in town to pull a milk cart driven by Mr Head's son Stephen, and he was also known as one of the fastest donkeys on the island, having won the first prize at Ponchez show in 1914. He was provided with new shoes and harness, and "a military haircut", (3) then decorated with the island colours of green and white before heading the procession from the Fort Field, where the men had paraded, to the White Rock.

At 9.30 in the evening of 1st June, the men of the 1st (Service) Battalion, RGLI boarded the Lydia on their way to Bourne Park camp, near Canterbury, for further training. However, Joey stayed behind, according to an unpublished memoir (4) of Private LT Le Poidevin, RGLI (which formed the basis for my book, A Guernseyman Goes to War). He noted that "as I was kept back in the rear guard, I did not leave before the 14th of June, 1917, taking the Battalion pet Joey with us".

What happened after this is unclear, but Joey appears not to have accompanied the Battalion to France. Coysh (5) states that "Later the troops were joined by their mascot in England, but when they went to France the donkey returned to Guernsey, where it rather prosaically drew a milk cart!" This seems to fit in with Pte Le Poidevin's account, and also with Joey's previous occupation.

Joey was certainly in Guernsey to greet the remnants of the Battalion on their return to the island on the "Lydia" on May, 1919. The Weekly Press of Saturday 24th May carries a picture of Joey with Colonel St Leger Wood at Number 3 berth awaiting the return of the Lydia. The accompanying article states that "Quite an interesting figure at early morning was the donkey, Joey, the mascot of the RGLI, presented by Colonel H St Leger Wood, DSO, AA and QMG. Joey was quite in his element, and trotted up and down the berth as if impatiently awaiting his old acquaintances, with whom he had marched, paraded and played with (sic) both here and at Canterbury. Indeed Mr Henry Head, his keeper, had to keep a close watch to prevent his gambols exceeding the bounds of sober liberty."

When King George V visited the island in 1921, he inspected the Militia and ex-service men, who had marched from the Town Arsenal to the Connaught Slip. Coysh notes that "The King's Colour was borne by Lt CTW Clark, and the band was in attendance, as well as Joey the mascot, whose ears the King fondled!"




There appears to be no record of what happened to Joey after this date, until his death which Coysh recorded thus: "His successor, Joey ll, attended for the first time at Belvedere on the King's birthday parade in 1936. It wore a ceremonial coat, and was accompanied by two young buglers in full dress. Joey I had died in Sark some years before". Whether he had remained with the men, was put out to grass somewhere, returned to pulling his milk cart, or went directly to Sark has not been established. However, for a brief period of time he was not only the fastest but probably the best known donkey on the island.


1. Davis, EV (undated), Sarnia's Record in the Great War (reprinted from The Star)
2. Guernsey Weekly Press, 2nd June, 1917
3. Guernsey Weekly Press, 9th June, 1917
4. A Guernseyman Goes to War, Liz Walton, pub 2014, Guernsey Museums
5. Coysh, V, "Old Guernsey"

© Liz Walton 2017