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Forces War Records Blog

MASCOT OF THE SUTHERLAND HIGHLANDER REGIMENT DURING WW1

To pronounce ‘Fraoch’ say ‘Och Aye’ back to front: ‘Aye Och’ then add Fr making ‘Fr aye och’

About 100 years ago now, there was a little Shetland pony whose name was Fraoch, which means ‘heather’ in Gælic. Gælic is a language spoken in Scotland, where Fraoch was born.

She was given as a special present to Scottish soldiers by Mary Gray, when she was about 19 years old. You may think it a funny thing to do, to give soldiers a little pony, but Mary did it because she thought it would be lovely to give the soldiers who had been staying in her Aunt Bessie’s grounds a reminder of their time there.

The soldiers were camped in her aunt’s grounds to prepare to fight in the Great War. They were soldiers from Scotland who were to be sent in groups of many men to ‘The Front’ to fight. They were very brave men because the fighting was extremely dangerous and meant that some of them might get wounded or they might even get killed and never return home to their families. They were brave but also cheerful because they were patriotic; they were fighting so their country would stay free. They thought this was the right thing to do.

Mary and her family welcomed the soldiers on their land and tried to make them as comfortable as possible. The soldiers lived in Army huts and they liked it very much when entertainments, such as concerts, were arranged for them, or when they were given things to help make their life less difficult. Mary’s Uncle and Aunt, Christian and Sophie Gray, organized concerts for them.

As well as having singing and music to listen to, Mary and Aunt Bessie thought the soldiers would like to have an animal to look after in the camp. It could become their Regimental Mascot and represent them when they were on parade. Although the Gray family lived in England, they were Scottish. The Argyll and Sutherland Highlander Regiment was also Scottish, so Aunt Bessie and Mary decided a Shetland pony from Scotland would be ideal. They thought it would not be too big nor too small; it would be just right.

They also thought that they would like the pony to be called 'Rhuadh' which means ‘red’ in Gælic, but the soldiers chose another name for her: ‘Fraoch’ meaning ‘heather’. Perhaps it was to remind them of Scotland where heather grows everywhere in abundance. So in 1915, while the soldiers were still camped in her family’s field, Mary presented Colonel Gordon of the 3rd Battalion of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders with the little pony.

Straightaway on her arrival Fraoch became a great favourite among the soldiers. She was loved by them all, so much so that some of the soldiers spoiled her. They let her have whatever she wanted and do whatever she liked! She was full of energy and loved to gallop about or be chased.

Because she was the only pony in the camp, from time to time she felt a bit lonely and missed the company of other ponies. She sometimes got up to mischief and gave the soldiers ‘the run around’. She liked to be free to go where she liked and not have to go back into her stable when they wanted her to. The soldiers tried to catch her but often decided it would be better to leave her running free rather than to tire themselves out. One day, once they had given up the chase, she walked quietly into her stable as good as gold, as if nothing had happened.

Another day she wandered into the Mess room, which was where the Officers, the soldiers in command of the Regiment, ate their meals, not where they made a mess! She walked up to a table where some bread had been put ready for the next meal and she started to eat it! BUT she didn’t eat all of the bread, she just ate the inside of the loaf leaving the crusts, which, it seems, were not to her taste. As we know there are some children like that! The waiter tried to stop her eating the bread, but she bared her teeth at him and chivied him out of the room. She then wandered into the kitchen to see what else she could find to eat, but she was stopped by the cook before she could do any more harm.

When the soldiers left their camp in Aunt Bessie’s field in Kent they moved to Norton Hall camp, then to one in Scotland before going to Kinsale in Southern Ireland, not far from Cork. Fraoch went with them, sailing across the Irish Sea, and when she arrived she enjoyed eating the lush green grass growing there. She was always proud to lead the Regiment on parades, and to honour her the soldiers gave her a brand new headband with her name, 'FRAOCH', emblazoned in brass studs!

In Edinburgh, in 1917, Fraoch led the biggest parade of her life! There was a special ‘March Past’ of the Scottish troops along Princes’ Street in which all the Scottish Regiments took part. This special parade was to thank them for their bravery in going to fight in France. It was also an opportunity for the people of Edinburgh to show their pride in the young Scotsmen who were beautifully turned out, looking very smart, despite the terrible time they had had fighting in the war.

 

One of Aunt Bessie’s friends, Mabel, was there in Edinburgh watching the parade and she wrote to Aunt Bessie to tell her all about it. In her letter she wrote: “It was ‘a never-to-be-forgotten day’. Fraoch led the 3rd Argylls. She is really the most proud little animal and quite owns everything and everybody.” 

Fraoch was led in the March Past by two young boys, who were there to make sure she went in the right direction. When they marched past the ‘Saluting Point’ where all the soldiers turned their ‘eyes right’ to salute Lord French, who was taking the March Past, one of the boys jerked Fraoch’s halter, perhaps because he was nervous being at the centre of attention, and Fraoch did an ‘eyes right’ with the Regiment! The crowd loved it and loudly cheered the proud little Scottish pony, as they did all the soldiers on parade.

One day the Regiment was to move to a posting in a foreign country and so Fraoch could not go with them. Everyone in the Regiment was sad that she had to leave. She had to find another place to live and Aunt Bessie was asked by the Colonel if Fraoch could live with her again. Of course Aunt Bessie said “yes”, because she loved having the little pony in her field.

Mary was quite grown up by this time and she had married her own soldier. He was called Captain John Todd. Because he had been wounded in the Great War he could no longer be a soldier and had to leave his Regiment.  Instead he and Mary decided to start a farm together in Devon. Fraoch was given back to Mary by Aunt Bessie to help them on the farm and to take them around in the countryside, as there were very few cars in those days. 

Aunt Bessie very kindly bought a little cart and harness, and Fraoch travelled to her new home in Odam in Devon. She was no longer a Regimental Mascot and she missed the fun of that. Instead she became a working pony on the farm with lots of other animals. She liked her new life, and although she missed being a special pony and part of an Army Regiment, she was happy to be among the cows, pigs, sheep, chickens and dogs on the farm.

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