Allen Foster tells the story of an amazing Irish-born dog who followed his master to The Front during WWI
Prince was a very remarkable half Irish terrier, half collie, from County Cork, who found his way alone from London to the trenches during World War One and was reunited with his master there.
Private James Brown went to France with the 1st North Staffordshire Regiment in September 1914, leaving his ‘Prince’ with his wife in Buttevant, County Cork. She took Prince to Hammersmith, London, to live, and he disappeared one day.
Prince had been inconsolable at his master’s departure, and she was fearful an accident had occurred to the heartbroken dog.
After a fruitless search, she wrote to tell her husband the sad news.
The following day she heard that Prince was with him in France, after turning up two weeks after disappearing. Brown was returning to his quarters near Armentières when a friend from his battalion called out to him, “I’ve got your dog here, Jimmy.” Brown took it as a joke, but when he looked he found it was indeed Prince and the pair were delighted to be reunited.
The actual detail of the dog’s extraordinary journey remain a mystery, but the bare facts that Prince left the house in Hammersmith, alone, and turned up two weeks later where his master stationed remain undisputed.
News of the amazing reuniting of man and dog spread quickly and the following morning Private Brown had orders to parade with Prince before the Regiment’s Commanding Officer to verify the story.
The regiment adopted Prince as a mascot and he remained in France during the war. He was given a jacket made from an old khaki tunic and had his own identification disc.
The dog became a great favourite with the men and amused them his many tricks. His best trick was to balance a penny of his nose while the names of the other regiments were called out to him.
When the name ‘1st North Staffordshires’ was called out Prince tossed up the penny, caught it and barked for his reward. He also learned the word ‘Allemand’. Hearing it Prince would rush around looking for a pair of legs not wearing the familiar British Uniform. If he found one he clamped onto it. He also quickly learned to run for cover when enemy shelling came over.
Brown had a friend called Weaver that Prince was fond of, and spent some of his time with him while Weaver went about his job delivering food supplies up to the front line. Prince regularly took charge of Weaver’s horse perched on the saddle with the reins in his mouth.
Prince was a natural born ratter and loved to kill the vermin. According to Weaver, who collected the corpses, Prince once killed 137 rats in a day, which was greatly appreciated by the men in the trenches, who were plagued by them.
Prince’s sleeping quarters was in a loft over stables. The only access to it was by wooden steps as steep as a ladder. One day Prince missed his footing and fell, breaking his leg.
After being treated, he paraded every morning with the sick. For the rest of his life, he would hold up the leg that had been broken for the inspection of anyone who asked him to.
At one point Prince was in grave danger of being killed. There were so many dogs with the troops in France that an order was issued for them all to be shot. Influence had to be exerted to save Prince’s life, and he was registered as a police dog in order to avoid this draconian order. Once, Prince went missing for several days, and all those who knew him feared the worst. However, Prince was safe. A message came from another regiment ten miles away that a dog of his description was with them. The dog wore an identification disc number…it was Prince! He was quickly returned to Brown’s care.
Prince returned to England in May 1919 and was famous. After going through quarantine the dog returned to live with his master. The dog’s years of war service wore him out prematurely and he died on 18 July 1921.
He was lying beside his kennel when he saw a mouse and gave chase. Prince caught it, but the exertion was too much for him. He crept away into a cellar and died.
When his story was first told in the press many people refused to believe it. The Royal Society for Cruelty to Animals investigated and proved its veracity.