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Personal information



September 22, 1924[2]

Place of death

Kingston, Ontario[3]

Place of burial

Cataraqui Cemetery (Supposed burial place)[3]

Military service

Flag of Canada-1868.svg Dominion of Canada[3]

Service branch

Canadian Army[2]

Years of service



21st (Eastern Ontario) Canadian Battalion CEF[2]

"She wore her service chevrons carved into her horns along with the number of the battalion for easy identification … Nan was a welcome guest in either canteen or estaminet where she expressed a preference for "vin blanc" as opposed to the sour French beer, although she would also take rum with gusto."
― 21st Battalion historian Steven Nichol, describing Nan and her preference of drink [src]

Nan, also known as Celestine and sometimes referred to as Billie, was a female goat who served as the official mascot of the 21st (Eastern Ontario) Canadian Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) during the First World War. Nan was purchased by a soldier of the 21st while the battalion was in Brockville, Ontario and served with the battalion throughout the next four years in Canada, England and in continental Europe. Due to the care given to her by members of the battalion, Nan survived the war and holds the distinction of being the first Allied mascot to cross into Germany after the armistice on November 11, 1918. Despite a close run-in with the Board of Agriculture in England following the war, Nan was able to accompany the battalion back to Canada in the spring of 1919.

Upon arriving back in Canada, the battalion was disbanded in Kingston and Nan was placed in the care of various persons and facilities before ending up in the stables of the Royal Military College (RMC) in the fall of 1919. While there she would be presented to the visiting Prince of Wales by her former handler Piper William Nelson, and was awarded three separate medals for her service to the British Empire and Canada. By the fall of 1924 Nan had begun experiencing the affects of old age. On September 22 of that year Nan was quietly put to sleep under the direction of a military veterinarian, and was buried with full military honours by several surviving members of the 21st Battalion.


Life in Canada

"No.2 company, 21st Battalion, has now a mascot that promises to take away some of “Buster’s” popularity. A snow-white goat has been taken on the strength…"
― An excerpt from the April 5, 1915 edition of The Daily British Whig  [src]
Nan and a group of soldiers from the 21st Battalion CEF

In August of 1914 The Great War broke out in Europe, and the Dominion of Canada found itself in the position of declaring war against Germany in the support of Britain. Several months later, in October, authorization was given to Lieutenant-Colonel William St. Pierre Hughes to organize an infantry battalion as a part of the 2nd Canadian Division. The men of this battalion, which had been designated as the 21st Battalion, were to be initially drawn from Military District No. 3 which was headquartered in Kingston, Ontario. The 21st Battalion would train at various training camps within Canada before shipping off to England in May of 1915, and before finally ending up in France in the fall of the that year.[2]

As with many other Canadian military units during the First World War,[4] the 21st Battalion had adopted a small handful of mascots throughout their time of active service.[2][5][6] The 21st had three official mascots while training in Canada: a collie dog named Major;[6] a bulldog named Buster;[5] and a goat who would eventually carry the name Nan and also become the official mascot of the entire battalion.[2] In the spring of 1915, while the battalion was in the Brockville area east of Kingston, Buster, who acted as the mascot for the No. 2 company of the 21st, was reportedly stolen by a local resident. One of the young soldiers who was disappointed at the loss of Buster went out into Brockville and, out of his own pocket, bought a white goat to act as the new mascot of the No. 2 company.[7] The goat was initially named Celestine, but this was eventually shortened to simply Nan[8] — the name which would stay with the goat for the rest of her life.[2]

Within days of her purchase, the soldiers of the 21st had tipped Nan's horns in silver, provided her with a new harness and placed a chain around her neck from which hung the battalion badge.[6] Buster eventually found his way back to the battalion,[9] and both he and Nan acted as mascots within the 21st while it was it stationed in Canada.[5]

The Great War

"She would carefully watch the members of the transport section, her closest friends. Nan knew these men would prepare a flat section on one of the G.S. Wagons so she could ride comfortably to the Battalion's next position."
― A description of Nan, who was intuitively aware of her surroundings [src]

In May of 1915 the 21st Battalion, accompanied by Nan, was ordered across the Atlantic Ocean to England and eventually arrived at West Sandling Camp in Shorncliffe, Kent.[8][2] Throughout her time in Europe with the 21st, Nan accompanied the battalion everywhere it went: from Ypres in Belgium; to Amiens in France; and even in Germany along the Rhine River.[3] She was a common patron of canteens, pubs and other social establishments frequented by the battalion’s soldiers, and she was known to have acquired a taste for white wine, while disliking French beer. She would, however, also drink rum if presented with it. Nan also made a name for herself as she developed a liking for eating the soldiers’ laundry, especially acquiring a taste for the silk handkerchiefs of staff officers.[2]

Nan and the sergeants of the 21st Battalion CEF, in 1915

While known throughout the 21st as a whole, Nan was, more often than not, under the care of the battalion’s transport section and pipe band, specifically that of Piper William Nelson. Nelson, who had worked as a shepherd in the Orkney Islands in Scotland prior to moving to Canada, paid special attention to Nan and developed a special relationship with the goat: when the battalion was ordered on long marches, Nelson would carefully trim Nan’s hoofs so as to avoid splitting or other problems which might harm her; and at night, if possible, Nelson would find a suitably deep shell hole, camouflage it with a blanket or other material, and tether Nan inside it so as to protect her as best as possible from the many dangers present along the front lines. Likewise, Nan always knew that when the battalion was ordered to move to a new position that the transport section would prepare a suitable section in one of their trucks for her to ride comfortably in.[2]

One story of Nan, as told by the quartermaster and transport sections, took place during the battalion’s march to Somme. The Transport Officer at the time came to the conclusion that his men were spending too much of their time tending to Nan. With this in his mind he decided to sell her to a local French farmer for 15 francs. Upon selling her, the officer then presented the money to the transport section for beer money, only to have his soldiers display their anger with his unilateral decision. Upon hearing about the selling of Nan, the Commanding Officer of the battalion gave the officer responsible a direct order to immediately retrieve her from the French farmer; something which he was able to do at his own expense, at the cost of 30 francs.[2]

At war's end

"Prior to leaving Ham-sur-Sambre, Nan, the battalion goat was presented with a cloak by the towns-people."
― Author Stephen Nichol, describing Nan's departure from Belgium [src]
Nan and Piper William Nelson

With the surrender of Germany on November 11, 1918 the First World War came to an end. Even so, the soldiers of the Allied armies could not go home right away, but had to stay behind for a large number of reasons.[10] The 21st Battalion was not exempt from that, and the battalion stayed in Europe until early 1919. On December 13, 1918 the 2nd Canadian Division crossed the Rhine River into Germany via the Bonn Bridge, with the 21st Battalion leading the way. Nan holds the record of being the first Allied mascot to cross into Germany during the war.[3] In February of 1919 the battalion was billeted in Ham-sur-Sambre in Belgium while waiting for their orders to return to England. When those orders finally arrived the battalion left Ham-sur-Sambre, but not before Nan was presented with a hand-made cloak from the people of the town.[2]

When the battalion was eventually ordered home they returned to England via the English Channel in the north of France. However, it was here that Nan witnessed her closest encounter with death throughout the war. The battalion departed from Le Havre in France and landed the following day in England at Southampton. Initially, the soldiers were able to get Nan into England without any questions being asked, but then approximately fifteen minutes after the battalion had finished unloading, the 21st's commanding officer (CO) was asked to report to the Officer in Charge of the port. The port officer then informed the CO that bringing livestock of any kind into England from a foreign country was illegal, against the regulations of the Board of Agriculture and that the goat would have to be quarantined, sent back to France, or slaughtered outright. However, the soldiers of the 21st were taken aback by what was happening and through an organized show of force they let the port authority know that they would not allow anything to happen to Nan. With the 21st soldiers protecting Nan, the port officials temporarily let the matter go. The battalion then proceeded to Witley Camp via train, discreetly placing Nan in a baggage car under guard and in strict isolation for her protection.[11][2]

The Board of Agriculture, though, had not forgotten about Nan. The following day, after the battalion had arrived at Witley Camp, an agriculture inspector arrived at the camp and presented himself at the battalion's headquarters. He discussed the situation with the CO and, despite being a former military man himself and understanding the battalion's sentiments towards their mascot, insisted that the law had to be followed — Nan had to either be quarantined, re-exported to France or slaughtered. The inspector and CO discussed the situation further and were able to reach a compromise: that Nan would be allowed to return with the battalion to Canada, but only after she had spent the required three weeks in quarantine. This was of a suitable arrangement to everyone involved, and following this there were no further issues with the Board of Agriculture.[2]

Post-war life

"When Piper Nelson led her to the stand to greet His Royal Highness, they both carried themselves proudly; Nan appeared to be as aware of the occasion as her handler."
― A description of Nan and Piper Wilson, meeting the Prince of Wales [src]
Nan, being presented to the Prince of Wales

Upon her return to Canada and the disbandment of the 21st Battalion, Nan was, for a short time, taken care of by Piper Nelson until the arrival of summer. During the warmer months, Nan resided at the Mowat Memorial Hospital which had been taken over by the Canadian military during the war to tend to the wounded and disabled veterans of Kingston and the area.[2]

Mowat Hospital, located on King St. in Kingston, was not far away from several military establishments nor the Royal Military College (RMC). Thus, when the colder weather of the fall season arrived, the then-commandant of RMC,[2] Lieutenant General Sir Macdonell[12] made arrangements with the college's riding master to allow Nan to be housed in RMC's stables alongside the college's horses, and to be properly tended to and fed by the stable staff.[2]

In 1919 the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, passed through Kingston during a Royal visit to Canada. Under the care of Piper Nelson, Nan received a rubbing with wet oatmeal to whiten her coat, preparing her to be presented to the Prince in an official ceremony at the Royal Military College. When the Prince was introduced to Nan by Piper Nelson, he greeted the goat warmly and commented to those present that he and Nan had met once before years earlier, during the war in Europe. Following this, the Prince of Wales presented Nan with the 1914–15 Star, the British War Medal and Allied Victory Medal for her service to the British Empire, Canada and the 21st Battalion.[2]


"Although Nan has left us, and she was just a goat, her spirit has surely joined her comrades who sleep "Between the crosses row on row" in France and Flanders."
― A tribute to Nan, from [src]

After several years of living in the stables of the Royal Military College, old age began to take its toll on Nan. She eventually lost the use of all four of her legs and, under the advice and direction of the Veterinary Officer of Military District No. 3 in Kingston, Nan was put to sleep on September 22, 1924.[2] Following her death, Nan was buried with full military honours by several surviving members of the 21st Battalion and her grave site marked.[13][3]

Potential offspring

The image of Nan, soldiers from the 21st and two young goats at West Sandling Camp in England, 1915
"I would think that if Nan had delivered them, there would be something to document the event. All the same, an interesting line of thought."
― Al Lloyd, commenting on the rumour of Nan bearing kids [src]

There exists a picture taken at West Sandling Camp, England in 1915, sometime between May and September, that depicts fourteen soldiers of the 21st Battalion, Nan and two young goats. It was rumoured that the two young goats might have been offspring of Nan's, born while the battalion was stationed in the United Kingdom and before heading off to the Western Front. However, there exists no mention, either official or otherwise, of Nan potentially giving birth, let alone being pregnant at any point or time — something which would have had to have happened before the battalion had set sail from Canada. According to Al Lloyd,[8] regimental archivist[14] and a volunteer curator of The Princess of Wales' Own Regiment Museum,[15] a momentous event such as a battalion mascot giving birth should have been documented in the official war diaries of that unit. The lack of any record, let alone mention of any pregnancy, from the war diaries of the 21st Battalion leads researchers to believe that Nan was not, in fact, the mother of the two goats in the picture from Sandling Camp, and that she was not pregnant at any time while in the care of the 21st Battalion. Since there is no recorded mention describing a birth or pregnancy it is more realistic to determine that the two young goats in the photograph were actually purchased from a local farmer while the battalion was in England.[8]

Burial site

"Using "L" rods I first asked if Nan was buried in the cemetery...the rods crossed, the answer "yes", I then asked to point in the direction where she was buried...the rods pointed down the road."
― Bruce Kettles, describing his use of dowsing to locate Nan's burial site [src]

Following her death, the location of Nan's grave was lost over the next eighty years. It was believed that the mascot's remains had been buried somewhere in Cataraqui Cemetery, however the location of the site had been forgotten over the preceding decades. Several members of the "21sters", the 21st Battalion CEF Discussion Group, attempted to locate Nan's burial site, but were unable to do so until Bruce Kettles became involved in the search. Kettles made an attempt to dowse for Nan's remains in Cataraqui Cemetery, believing that the location would most likely be found near the military section of the cemetery.[3]

Bruce Kettles marking Nan's burial site in Cataraqui Cemetery

Dowsing is a type of divination which is used in various capacities, such as locating ground water, underground metal and ores, as well as grave sites.[16] Although there is no accepted scientific rationale behind the concept and no scientific evidence that it is effective,[17] the act of dowsing has had a long history in both Europe and North America dating back to the 15th Century.[18] The United States Marine Corps, for example, apparently attempted to use dowsing during the Vietnam War to locate hidden enemy tunnels and weapons caches below the ground.[19]

Once in Kingston and at Cataraqui Cemetery, Bruce Kettles deduced that Nan's burial site would have to have been located in a spot which would not have been used for future burial plots, several such areas of which were located within the military section. Kettles began to dowse at a road junction in the western part of the cemetery near the military section. Through the use of dowsing rods Kettles asked if Nan was actually buried at Cataraqui Cemetery — the rods crossed, which was indicative of the answer "yes." He then asked in what direction the burial site was at and the rods began pointing down the road that Kettles was on. Kettles asked the rods to cross themselves when they were overtop of Nan's remains, and he then proceeded to walk in the direction that the rods were indicating. Approximately 150 feet later the rods crossed over a spot located just off of the road. Following this, he then went to three different locations and attempted to dowse the burial site again each time. Each time Kettles ended up in the same spot as originally.[3]

Once he had determined the spot, Kettles then attempted to sex the location. In the act of dowsing, 'sexing' is used to determine the sex of the particular subject. While standing over the spot determined to be the burial site, Kettles balanced the dowsing rod on one finger and waited to see what would happen. The rod proceeded to rotate counter clockwise, which indicated that a female was buried at that site. As before, but this time using a pendulum, Kettles attempted to confirm both the location and the sex by using different, random starting points in the cemetery. Again, the location of Nan's burial site was confirmed each time.[3]


"… the members of the 21st Battalion Association wanted to pay a special tribute to their beloved Nan and decided to have her head mounted …"
― Al Lloyd, under the username 'swellal', commenting on a forum post about Nan's mounted head [src]

After the death of Nan, the members of the 21st Battalion Association wanted to pay respect to Nan and had her head stuffed and mounted, and placed on the wall in the Senior Non-Commissioned Officers' Mess in The Princess of Wales' Own Regiment (PWOR) armouries located in Kingston, Ontario on Montreal St. The location choice of the Senior NCO's mess was made because that was where the majority of the Association's gatherings and meetings took place and also where the Association members frequently socialized.[13]

The stuffed and mounted head of Nan, located in the Regimental Museum of the Princess of Wales' Own Regiment

Eventually, in 1991, Nan's stuffed head was moved out of the Senior NCO's mess and into The Princess of Wales' Own Regiment Museum, which is also inside the armouries.[13] The PWOR, a Canadian Forces reserve infantry regiment, perpetuates the 21st Battalion's history and battle honours, thus honouring the battalion's memories and legacy, which includes Nan. The stuffed and mounted head of Nan can still be seen there today holding a place of honour among the gathered history of the 21st Battalion and the PWOR.[2]


"…a nice white Billie goat with as fine a bunch of Donegal whiskers as could be grown on the chin of any goat."
― An excerpt from a 1915 edition of the Kingston Daily Standard, speaking of Nan [src]

Nan was a female, white-coated goat that was acquired from the Brockville-area of south-eastern Ontario.[7] In a number of ways her appearance matched that of most other, average goats, but she was also identifiable due to several small factors.[7][2] Her horns had been silver tipped,[6] and service chevrons, along with the battalion number "21" had both been carved into each of her horns to make for easy identification. At times, Nan could be seen wearing a harness around her chest and a chain around her neck which carried the battalion badge of the 21st. Throughout her time with the battalion, Nan's appearance and wellbeing was maintained by Piper William Nelson, a former shepherd from the Orkney Islands located in northern Scotland. Nelson would carefully trim Nan's hoofs prior to long marches undertaken by the battalion, and while on the Western Front he would tether her inside nearby camouflaged shell holes for her own safety.[2]

Honours and awards

Nan's personal decorations include (in order of precedence):

1914-15 Star ribbon.svg British War Medal ribbon.svg Allied Victory Medal ribbon.svg
Medal Description Criteria
1914-15 Star.png
1914-15 Star
The 1914-15 Star was approved in 1918, for issue to officers and men of British and Imperial forces who served in any theatre during World War I between August 5, 1914 and December 31, 1915. Military members who had already qualified for the 1914 Star were ineligible to receive the 1914-15 Star. 71,150 to Canadians were awarded the 1914-15 Star for their service during the war.[20]
British War Medal.png
British War Medal
The British War Medal was approved in 1919, for issue to officers and men of British and Imperial forces who had rendered service between August 5, 1914 and armistice day November 11, 1918. Officers and men of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, and Dominion and Colonial naval forces were required to have completed twenty-eight days mobilised service to be eligible for the medal.[21]
Allied Victory Medal.png
Allied Victory Medal
The Allied Victory Medal was awarded for service in World War I and was issued to all those who received the 1914 Star or the 1914-15 Star, and to most of those who were awarded the British War Medal — it was never awarded on it's own. The medal was awarded to men and women of British and Imperial forces who had rendered service between August 5, 1914 and November 11, 1918.[22]

Notes and references

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  1. According to Ordinary Heroes, the official history of the 21st (Eastern Ontario) Canadian Battalion CEF, Nan was twelve years old at the time of her death on September 22, 1924. This would place her birth at some point in the year 1912.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 2.23 2.24 2.25 Ordinary Heroes: Eastern Ontario's 21st Battalion C.E.F. in The Great War
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 21st-icon.png "A Profile of Nan" on the website of the 21st Battalion CEF (
  4. Ducimus: The Regiments of the Canadian History
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 21st-icon.png "Battalion Mascots" on the website of the 21st Battalion CEF (
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 The Kingston Daily Standard, 10 April 1915
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 The Kingston Daily Standard, 5 April 1915
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Research notes for the article Nan, describing a conversation with regards to her potential offspring
  9. The Daily British Whig, 23 April 1915
  10. The First World War
  11. The Stump Ranch
  12. "Macdonell, Sir Archibald Cameron" from The Canadian Encyclopedia online at; URL accessed April 23, 2011
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Forum comment by 'swellal' (Al Lloyd), Topic: "Mascots", started by forum user 'Ex-Dragoon' on; URL accessed April 24, 2011
  14. Forum thread: "21st Battalion CEF", comment by user 'swellal' (Al Lloyd) at; URL accessed April 24, 2011
  15. 21st-icon.png "Homepage of the 21st Battalion CEF" on the website of the 21st Battalion CEF (
  16. "The Matter of Dowsing" from Swift, Vol. 2, No. 3/4 January, 1999
  17. "New Zealand Diviners" from the New Zealand Journal of Science and Technology pp. 30, 38–54. reproduced in Pseudoscience and the Paranormal
  18. The Divining Rod: An Experimental and Psychological Investigation, pp. 7
  19. Forum topic: "Dowsing and the Viet Nam War" by user 'SWR' on; URL accessed April 24, 2011
  20. VAC-icon.png "War Medals (1866-1918): 1914-15 Star" online at Veterans Affairs Canada (
  21. VAC-icon.png "War Medals (1866-1918): British War Medal" online at Veterans Affairs Canada (
  22. VAC-icon.png "War Medals (1866-1918): Victory Medal (Inter-Allied War Medal)" online at Veterans Affairs Canada (

See also

External links