This image has been shared around the internet for years claiming to show a WW2 soldier carrying a donkey, not out of compassion or love for the animal because they’re walking through a minefield and the donkey could set the mines off.
The true story is a lot nicer, contrary to what is often claimed, the reason the donkey is being carried is indeed compassion.
The picture became especially popular during the Coronavirus pandemic of early 2020, being shared as an allegory.
It got a lot of attention and embarrassingly was even shared by American Governor Phil Murphy during a Coronavirus briefing in Trenton USA on April 6, 2020 and which was broadcast on NJTV;
The true story behind the image is quite different.
A clue that things may not be as they seem is that generally soldiers who move through a minefield walk in a line, single file, not scattered.
The uniforms/clothing also don’t quite match the WW2 era.
In July 1958 the French 13e demi-brigade de Légion étrangère ( 13th Demi-Brigade of the Foreign Legion ) was on duty in Algeria (near Jebel) when they found a foal (a baby donkey) that had been abandoned and was dying of hunger.
The soldiers took pity of the animal and decided to take it back with them to their base.
It was so weak that the men had to carry it, as they were walking back a photo was taken which ended up in the Paris Match and Daily Mail newspapers.
The story was soon shared by many other publications, like here in the Daily Mirror;
Back at the base the soldiers fed the donkey, looked after him and named him Bambi, eventually be became the official mascot of the unit.
Meanwhile the photo went around the world, the gesture of compassion spoke to animal lovers everywhere.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) tried to identify the anonymous hero so they could thank him while the British Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) also wanted to pay tribute.
Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, the Legion refused to give up the identity of the man in the photo or any of the other men in the unit who helped the animal, so we may never know who he was, although you’d assume that by now perhaps his anonymity has become less important.
One of the sources claims the man was a ‘Harki’, an Algerian fighting on the French side, but I’ve not found any evidence that backs that up.
In stead of thanking the individual man the Foreign Legion as a whole received a diploma or medal (not quite clear) for distinguished services to animals.
I asked the RSPCA if they could find more information for me, but all they had was this brief mention in one of their old database:
In the February 16th 1959 issue of the Daily Mirror we hear one more time of Bambi, who according to the journalist has been promoted to Private First Class.
The story tells us that Bambi is doing well during his leave at the Legion’s headquarters in Sidi-Bel-Abbes after having been on a long winter spell patrol with his company.
We learn that when they found him the Legionnaires gave him some of their precious water and carried him in turn on their backs, so it was not just one of them all the way.
He was named Bambi because of his appealing eyes and it didn’t take long for the donkey to become spoiled rotten.
They fought over who was allowed to be his keeper and they waited on him hand on foot, they were crazy about Bambi, said the company commander.
Soon he refused to eat animal food, having gotten used to soldier’s rations, which in turn meant he deserved/earned/needed an official rank.
Not just because eating military rations should be rewarded but to make sure the company would get them supplied just for Bambi.
The donkey was allowed to go wherever he wanted in the base except the bar, he liked that too much and eventually had to be barred for being an obnoxious drunk.
He has seen action a few times but in early 1959 was allowed to stay at the base when the company was given a helicopter to go into battle with in stead.Here is the original story, with regards to Sofia Lincos;
It is unclear what became of Bambi after this although one source suggests that Bambi eventually ended up at the ‘Ferme de Legionnaire’, a legion farm near Sidi Bel Abbes, then the Legion’s HQ.
This (like all my articles) story is a work in progress.
I hope to find out more details about the awards, what happened to Bambi, name the photographer, perhaps find some of those original news stories, etc.
If you can add anything, please let me know.
- Histoires de l’Histoire de la légion (2010) By Emilio Condado-Madera
- History of the 13th Demi-Brigade of the Foreign Legion
- Monsieur legionnaire
- French Foreign Legion Info
- The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
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