Category Archives: Animals

Bringing home the bacon

If you ever find yourself travelling through the south of Illinois, passing by the village of Cobden, you may want to make a quick stop to pay your respect for an individual who raised millions of dollars to help the US navy during World War II.

Born in early 1942 at the Sherman Boner farm, a young pig called Parker Neptune was soon adopted by the farmer’s young daughter to raise as part of a youth project.  With the war effort under way, Neptune was donated in December 1942 to be served at a fundraising event to raise money and seemed destined for the chop.

A local navy recruiter, Don C. Lingle, spotted Neptune’s potential and took him on a trip throughout the south of Illinois, renaming him King Neptune, and auctioning parts of the pig off for war bonds.  These bonds were raised in order to build a brand new battleship, to be named USS Illinois.  At each auction the pig was returned unharmed to be auctioned elsewhere.  Among the “parts” to be auctioned, even his squeal managed to raise $25 in one of the auctions.

King Neptune was now a celebrity and was given a blue navy jacket, a small crown and silver earrings.  He made a number of appearances around the rest of Illinois, raising further funds, and being sold over and over again.  At one auction the Governor of Illinois, Dwight H. Green, bought King Neptune for $1m before returning him to Lingle.

Aside from his auctions, King Neptune’s appearances led to his life membership of a number of clubs across Illinois, and his efforts led to Lingle’s promotion to Chief Petty Officer.

During his career as fund raiser, King Neptune collected an incredible $19m, which in today’s terms is close to a quarter of a billion US Dollars, an achievement few could match.

After the war King Neptune retired, living in a farm and enjoying himself.  He died just two days prior to his 8th birthday from pneumonia.

After his original grave suffered from neglect, and was later vandalised, the state of Illinois created a new memorial for him, just outside the village of Cobden:

The memorial for King Neptune, a pig like no other.

Unfortunately, the USS Illinois was not completed before the end of WWII, and her construction was halted.  Her incomplete hulk was finally broken up and scrapped in 1958.  The only surviving piece is the ship’s bell, which is now displayed at the Memorial Stadium, at the University of Illinois and is traditionally rung when their football team scores a touchdown or a goal.


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Posted by on Monday 16th July 2012 in Animals, History, Wars


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When Australia lost the war

Australian armies have taken part in a number of wars, including WWI, WWII and others, and their achievements and sacrifices are celebrated by a proud nation, but often forgotten is the only war Australia fought on her own, and lost.

The background for this war starts with the end of WWI, when many returning soldiers, including English soldiers who chose to move to Australia, decided to take up farming in Western Australia.  With global depression setting in during the late 20s, these farmers were encouraged to grow wheat to help the nation, and were promised subsidies to offset any falling prices.  The problem was that with the extra production prices did tumble, but the Government was unable to deliver subsidies, leaving many farmers facing hardship.

Things became even worse by October 1932 because some 20,000 emus were on their annual migration from inland to the coast, but suddenly found themselves in a vast area of cleared lands and added water supplies.  This was like Paradise for the emus and they decided to stick around, and they either ate or spoiled a lot of crops and destroyed fences – letting in many hungry rabbits that had been kept out.

Sir George Pearce, Australian Minister of Defence

The farmers were desperate and once again turned to the Government, where they met with the Australian Minister of Defence, Sir George Pearce.  Like these farmers, Sir George had served in WWI and had seen for himself the effectiveness of machine guns, so when the farmers asked for these guns to be deployed on the emu population he quickly agreed.

There were conditions to the deployment of these machine guns.  Because they were weapons of war they could only be used by military personnel with proper trooper transport, while food and accommodation would be given by the farmers (who would also pay towards ammunition).

The troops would be led by Major G.P.W. Meredith of the Seventh Heavy Battery of the Royal Australian Artillery, armed with two Lewis Automatic Machine Guns and 10,000 rounds of ammunition.  They were ordered to kill as many emus as they could and collect 100 skins so that their feathers could be used for hats worn by the Australian light horsemen.

An emu private, on the lookout for Australian troops

Although war had been “declared” in October, action was delayed for a number of days due to heavy rainfall.  Engagements began on the 2nd November, and after a number of encounters perhaps a few emus had been killed.

On the 4th November over a thousand birds had been sighted, but the guns jammed after 12 had been killed, and the rest had scattered.

Over the next few days the Australian troops engaged the enemy a number of times, but after 6 days, on 8th November, Major Meredith reported back that they had spent some 2,500 rounds, but had killed only 50 or so birds (farmers would later claim that wounded birds would raise the number to over 200).

Meredith’s official report noted proudly that his men suffered no casualties.

In Parliament the war had become an embarrassment, with Dominic Serventy famously commenting that “The Emu command had evidently ordered guerrilla tactics, and its unwieldy army soon split up into innumerable small units that made use of the military equipment uneconomic. A crestfallen field force therefore withdrew from the combat area after about a month.”  Sir George had no option left and ordered a withdrawal of troops, thus admitting defeat for the Australian army.

Major Meredith later reported the emus had surprised his troops with their maneuverability and their ability to sustain heavy injuries.  He said “If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds it would face any army in the world…They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks. They are like Zulus whom even dum-dum bullets could not stop”.

Australia were to have better success a few days later, but it was not effective enough.  The farmers called for further military assistance in 1934, 1943 and 1948, but were turned down each time.  The Government did not want to engage this formidable enemy yet again.

To this day, Australians and emus live side by side in an uneasy peace, but who knows when hostilities may break out again?

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Posted by on Thursday 26th April 2012 in Animals, History, Wars


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Man’s best friend wins in court

It all began in the autumn of 1869, in the farmlands of Missouri.  Leonidas Hornsby was fed up with finding several of his sheep killed and warned his neighbours that the next dog he saw on his land would be shot.

Horsnby’s brother in law, Charles Burden, owned a black and tan foxhound called “Old Drum” which was found shot dead on 28th October 1869.  It was a clear cut case and Burden filed a suit against Hornsby for the loss of the dog.  The matter may have been forgotten by history were it not for Burden’s sense of loss resulting in him asking for $100 damages, which was more than the $50 maximum allowed for such a case.  This resulted in three separate jury trials and an appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court.

In the first trial the jury could not decide for either man.  In the second trial the jury awarded Burden $25 and costs.  Horsnby decided to appeal and hired new lawyers who would surely win the case.  The appeal was successful and a third trial was to be held in September at the Old Courthouse in Warrensburg, Hornsby employed future senator Francis Cockrell and future Governor Thomas Theodore Crittenden (later to become famous for offering a reward for the capture of Jesse James).

George Graham Vest didn't always need to listen to the evidence

Burden’s lawyers managed to convince George Graham Vest (another future senator) and John Finis Philips (future US Representative) to help with their arguments and closing remarks.

On 23rd September 1870 Vest made his closing speech.  He made no reference to the evidence or to Old Drum, but instead delivered a powerful tribute to all dogs and their masters which Crittenden later claimed reduced some of the jury to tears.

Following his summation, the jury spent little time in returning a unanimous verdict in favour of Burden, awarding him $50 and costs.  This would later be appealed again by Horsnby, but it was this closing speech by Vest which would go down in history as the birth of “Man’s best friend”.

Unfortunately, this speech was not written down during the trial, and only the opening remarks have been preserved, but they still give an indication of the speech which moved a whole court:

“Gentlemen of the jury, the best friend a man has in this world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter whom he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us those whom we trust with our happiness and good name–may become traitors in their faith. The money that a man has he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us may be the 1st to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. The one absolute, unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world–the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous–is his dog.

Gentlemen of the jury, a man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and poverty, in health and sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow, and the snow drives fiercely, if only he can be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer; he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

“If fortune drives the master forth an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him to guard against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes the master in its embrace, and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even unto death.”

Years later, a statue was erected outside the very courthouse where this speech was made, in memory of Old Drum, the first dog to be called “Man’s best friend”.

Old Drum and the Eulogy of the Dog

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Posted by on Sunday 23rd October 2011 in Animals, History


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