A train full of soldiers made a stop in a small prairie town.
In that town, there was a girl named Daisy with a goat named Billy.
“Mind if we borrow your goat?” one of the soldiers asked Daisy.
Daisy almost said no. She was very fond of her goat. But
The soldiers were going to war and they thought Billy would bring them luck. So Daisy said
Yes—as long as they brought Billy back after the war. The soldiers promised they would.
And that’s how Billy’s extraordinary story began.
Mireille Messier takes young readers beyond the mud and blood of World War I with her rollicking humanizing tale of a goat and the soldiers who cared for it. Illustrator Kass Reich expertly captures the tone of Messier’s words with her delightful illustrations.
Believe it or not, Sergeant Billy is a true story. Early in World War l, soldiers from the 5th Battalion (Western Cavalry) Canadian Expeditionary Force adopted a Saskatchewan goat as their mascot. They named the goat Billy, and it trained with them at Valcartier Camp in Quebec during the summer of 1914. When shipped overseas, the men managed to sneak Billy past British custom officials and into England. When the Battalion was sent to the battlefields of France and Belgium in 1915, they again managed to take Billy with them.
Billy adapted to the hard life in the trenches. He was the “first to befriend the nervous new recruits and to comfort those who missed their fallen friends”. During the four years the 5th Battalion spent in the trenches, Billy helped capture an enemy soldier and saved the lives of three Canadians by head-butting them into a trench when an artillery shell was coming towards them.
Billy was promoted to sergeant and was awarded a medal for his “exceptional bravery in the field”. After the war, the men of the 5th Battalion kept their promise and returned Billy to Daisy, and he lived out the rest of his life with her. Following his death, Billy was “stuffed” and is now part of the permanent collection in the Broadview, (Saskatchewan) Museum.
Horses, donkeys, pigeons and dogs were important in World War I. Even under shell fire, horses and donkeys worked hard transporting supplies up to the dangerous front lines while pigeons carried messages to and from headquarters. Animals were also beloved mascots. Most Canadian battalions adopted dogs and cats. These animals were born in the trenches and rescued by the men. There are other stories about mascots saving soldiers’ lives, and so Billy, though exceptional, is not unique. One, in particular, is the story of “Vimy”, the dog mascot of the 27th “City of Winnipeg” Battalion band, who “knew” when artillery shells were coming and warned the men to take cover by acting strangely and pulling on their puttees, the legwraps on the lower part of soldiers’ legs.
Ian Stewart is curator of the Royal Winnipeg Rifles Museum and Archives. He would like to add that Daisy was living in Winnipeg when Billy was returned to her. Billy also met Edward Prince of Wales when the prince visited Winnipeg in September 1919.