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Today in History: Death of Major Major

17 December 1944: Major Major, No. 1 New Zealand Dog, 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force, Regimental Mascot of 19 Battalion and Armoured Regiment, dies in Italy. 

Major was a white bull terrier, and a true Anzac dog at heart. Born in Australia and given to Officer Cadet Errol Williams during training at the Royal Military College in Duntroon, he was brought to New Zealand when Williams graduated in 1938.

When World War II was declared, Major became the official mascot of 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force and registered as No.1 New Zealand Dog. He paraded through Wellington with his unit as the first troops marched to the wharves before they embarked overseas.

At Maadi Camp in Egypt, he joined the troops in digging latrines (toilets) and got to know the local dogs with the odd scuffle. During one such incident his left ear was bitten and permanently drooped, as can be seen in the photograph of Major (with Lieutenant May) taken July 1942. Major is also known to have had a romance with a naval Pekingese from a British ship. Life was never dull for this Regimental Mascot!

After the death of Captain Williams in Libya, Major passed into the care of Captain Bill Aitken, and promoted to Captain. During the First Battle of El Alamein in 1942, Major was wounded in the thigh by shrapnel. His wound was dressed at the Regimental Aid Post truck, where he was given a field medical card and evacuated to an Advanced Dressing Station. From there he was invalided back to Maadi Camp. After Captain Aitken was captured and became a prisoner of war, Major was reassigned to the care of Major Tony Everist, and promoted to Major. In February 1943 he was inspected with the troops (proudly wearing his jacket with unit colours and emblem) by Lieutenant-General Freyberg, who noted: ‘Ah, the old dog. You’ve been on every parade yet.’

At the end of the North African campaign, he sailed to Italy with Lieutenant Steve Whitton. However, he became quite sick, likely with pneumonia, and died on 17 December 1944. A dog that had undertaken ‘training’ at the Royal Military College in Duntroon, seen active service in Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Italy, and been wounded by shrapnel, Major Major was buried with full military honours in Rimini, Italy. Although his grave no longer exists, his exploits live on in both the 19 Battalion’s official history and Graham Spencer’s book The Four-legged Major.