Great War, great goat: WWI mascot from Sask. back in TV spotlight

The story of a goat raised near Broadview, Sask., that was secretly whisked away to the front lines of the First World War is about to get new life again thanks to a forthcoming documentary on The Travel Channel.

TV doc to tell story of Canadian army legend Sgt. Bill

Canadian soldiers came across Bill on a train platform in Broadview, Sask. So keen were they to make Bill their mascot, they secretly stashed him in a crate and shipped him to England. (Broadview Historical Museum )

The story of a goat raised near Broadview, Sask., that was secretly whisked away to the front lines of the First World War is about to get new life again thanks to a forthcoming documentary on The Travel Channel.

Sgt. Bill outside his case at the Broadview Historical Museum. (Ken Bell)

Sgt. Bill will be the subject of an upcoming segment on the channel's Mysteries at the Museum, in which host Don Wildman visits museums "where strange and curious remnants of the past are revealed."

But there's nothing mysterious about Bill the goat. The four-legged fighter was unquestionably a hero — and even has the medals to prove it.

The outside of the museum. (Broadview Historical Museum )

Ken Bell, who is the exhibits, research and development coordinator at the Broadview Historical Museum, says Sgt. Bill was decorated with three medals for bravery for feats of heroism on the battlefields of Europe.

In one instance, according to Veteran Affairs Canada, he pushed three Canadian soldiers into a trench just seconds before a shell exploded where they had been standing.  

"Apparently goats have super sensitive hearing," said Bell.

In another incident, according to Bell, Sgt. Bill cornered three enemy guardsmen in a trench.

"My assumption is that the [Canadian] soldiers must have come along later, or else no one would have been able to tell the story," said Bell.

One day on a train platform...

On Friday, the Mysteries crew will visit Sgt. Bill's current resting place: a display in the front left of the museum in Broadview —150 kilometres east of Regina — where, if you push a button, you can hear a 73-second audio history of Bill.

So how did a goat end up being the cherished mascot of the 5th infantry battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the Great War? 

Sgt. Bill was court martialled several times, once for eating the battalion personnel roll. (Veterans Affairs Canada)

Bell says that, in 1914, Canadian soldiers travelling through Broadview spotted a young farm woman named Daisey on the train platform.

"She had her goat with her for some reason," said Bell.

That would be Bill.

After gaining the woman's permission, the soldiers took Bill to their destination, a basic training camp in Ontario.

Whisked off to England

Bill wasn't supposed to go on to England, but soldiers secretly packed him away anyway.

He served in France, too. 

"He was wounded in action a couple times," said Bell.

Valiant though he was, Sgt. Bill was not above being disciplined. 

"He was courtmartialed twice," said Bell, once for eating the battalion personnel roll.

The legislative assembly building in Regina where, after the war, Sgt. Bill was displayed in the building's rotunda - only to be climbed on by children. (CBC News)

"Apparently at [another] point they weren't feeding him quite right and one particular sergeant had done something Bill didn't like and made the sad mistake of turning his back on Bill."

Bill "gave it to him" with his horns — one of which was inscribed with the word "5th."

Post-war life

After the war, Bill was reunited with his former owner Daisey and lived the rest of his days in Winnipeg, says Bell.

After his death — Bell isn't sure what year he died — a now-taxidermied Bill was displayed in the rotunda at the legislative assembly in Regina.   

"Apparently kids would try to climb up and ride on him. I think they damaged him in some way. There may have been a horn broken off, I'm not totally sure."

"The men dearly loved that goat," said Ken Bell, a historian at the museum in Broadview. (Broadview Historical Museum)

Bill was eventually given a proper home at his enclosure inside the museum. He hasn't budged from there since 2006, after an assessment from the Royal Saskatchewan Museum decided he was "not exactly roadworthy," said Bell.

But his memory lives on beyond the museum walls: a romantic-comedy short film inspired by Bill was screened at a recent Yorkton Film Festival, and a children's author from Ontario, Mireille Messier, is at work on a book.

Not to mention Mysteries at the Museum.

"To have the Travel Channel come out, boy, if I could buy that kind of advertising, let me tell you," said Bell.

'The men dearly loved that goat'

It's all thanks to Daisey, who had the forethought to have Bill stuffed.

"[She] thought that he had war significance, and it was of national interest, she felt, because he'd saved people's lives," said Bell.

"Consider the trouble they went through to sneak him from Ontario to England to France and back to Canada.

"Having gone through all that, the men dearly loved that goat."

An airdate for the Sgt. Bill segment on The Travel Channel wasn't immediately available.

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatoon

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With files from Samanda Brace