Matthias Walter , zoo elephant keeper in Germany
Born ? in Germany
dead ? in Germany
1911: elephant keeper Matthias Walter mentioned, he later (1915?) brought elephant Jenny to war service. Walter was badly wounded 1918 during WWII.
1914: Matthias was in the Red Sea on his way home on the s.s. Axenfals when the radio picked up the news of the outbreak of war and this was broadcast from the bridge. Matthias had eleven elephants with him on board. The captain steamed as fast as he could to the as it then was Italian colonial port of Massawa. From there the elephants were taken to Brindisi on an Italian tramper and thence went to Stellingen by rail.
I was at Middelkerke on the Belgian North Sea when I received orders from the Supreme Command to proceed at once to Stellingen and thence bring back a working elephant named Jenny from Hagenbecks. She had suddenly been classed k.f. (kriegsferting) or fit for active service, and so with her draft harness, marching rations and with Me, her Oberbootsmannmatt, we were ordered, to proceed to the Western Front. We set off, and proceeded to Avesnes station, south of Maubeuge, the ordinary infantry men had something to stare at when for the first time in their lives they saw a blue jacket riding high up on an elephant on the way to war.
Nearly all our really reliable attendants and animal catchers were also
in the Army.
One of them, indeed, rode high in field-grey uniform on an elephant, too! This was our good old Jack-in-the-Box, Matthias Walter the same who had gone round the Cape of Good Hope with me in the dromedary ship and occupied the Enamel
throne next to mine at Swakopmund. He and his working elephant Jenny made war history.
It was like this. Matthias was in the Red Sea on his way home on the s.s. Axenfals when the radio picked up the news of the outbreak of war and this was broadcast from the bridge. Matthias had eleven elephants with him on board. The captain steamed as fast as he could to the as it then was Italian colonial port of Massawa. From there the elephants were taken to Brindisi on an Italian tramper and thence went to Stellingen by rail.
Two days later Matthias, being a naval reservist, had donned his blue naval uniform at Wilhelmshaven and exchanged his elephant goad for a carbine. Five months later, he was at Middelkerke on the Belgian North Sea coast when orders came through from the Supreme Com- mand to proceed at once to Stellingen and thence bring back a work- ing elephant named Jenny. Jenny had suddenly been classed as k.f., or fit for active service,* and so with draught harness and marching rations reached the truck in which under 'Oberbootsmannmaat* or Assistant Bo 'sun Matthias Walter she was to proceed to the Western Front.
At Avesnes station, south of Maubeuge, the German infantry men had something to stare at when for the first time in their lives they saw a bluejacket riding high up on an elephant. But there was work for Jenny to do. In the large woods of Felleries, just behind the front lines, Jenny began to earn her daily bread in the pit-prop industry. Every morning, off she went to the forest. Tremendous old trees came crashing down and were trimmed back to the Trunk.
Then along came Jenny and with head, Trunk
and front legs reduced the confusion of trunks, lying all ways, one on top of the other, to decent order. Next she dragged all the timber out to the high road and to a sawmill which turned the timber into pit-props for the trenches.
Daily, Jenny transported fifty trees, among them some that twelve horses could not have shifted. She could fell a tree two Feet
in diameter all by herself. She was quite systematic about it. First she would shake it, till she had loosened up the roots. Then she got her fore legs and powerful shoulder against the Trunk,
reared on her hind legs and brought her six-thousand-pound weight to bear. It was remarkable that she never broke a tree off; it was always the roots which were made to give way, with loud reports, till the earth heaved up and she brought the tree crashing down.
In time, Jenny was employed everywhere that they could fit her in, as a sort of maid of all heavy work. There was a traction engine that the French had driven into a pit to prevent us using it, but Jenny yanked it out all right. A column of motorized transport got stuck in the mud Jenny put them on their way again. She was even harnessed to the plough, and the old parade ground at Floumont was turned into arable land, and ploughed twice as deep, too, as any ordinary team could have done it.
Her greatest triumph, however, this bulky figure in 'self ' field grey achieved in the goods marshalling yards of Floumont. She had been working all day long as 'shunting engine,' making up trains, and Walter had just hooked her to four loaded trucks in a siding. Then up came a General, who no doubt was seeing this for the first time, for he laughed and made a scornful gesture, as if to say: 'She'll never pull that. 1 Then Jenny just leant her powerful shoulder against the rear wagon and all the trucks moved, slowly at first, but with gathering speed sixty tons of load. Speechless, the General at once produced six cigarettes and a special ginger cake for Jenny.
Our elephant became famous all down the front. In the evenings, for full measure, she would sometimes add a little bonus show of her circus arts, and the laughter of the chaps on their amphitheater of tree-trunks could be heard a mile away.
The only thing Jenny could not stand was an aero plane, and it did not matter whether it was ours or an enemy one. If one came her way and her trusted rider was not to hand to calm her, she would swing her Trunk
in the air and Trumpet
loudly and combatively, pricking up her huge Ears
and trying to locate the enemy whose thundering din she heard. On Sundays people said one could have believed oneself in India, for then Jenny did no work, but was free to wander through
the woods and pick delicacies for herself. But at a call she always came straight back to Walter, just like a faithful dog.
For more than two years this 'outsize number in field grey* of the first world war worked like this, the first and, I think, the only war elephant on the books of the Wehrmacht. But then, towards the very end, in 1918, Walter was badly wounded. She then returned home, herself unwounded. She died in the thirties, pensioned off in the Strassburger Circus.