It was common practice among the units of the CEF Battalions to adopt an animal as their mascot and in that regard the 15th Battalion was no exception. The regimental history records that on August 2, 1915 while the unit was out-of-the-line in billets at Grande Munque Farm and the Piggeries near Ploegsteert, Belgium:
“Lt Col Marshall took on strength of the Battalion a small, unprepossessing but loyal recruit Bruno, sheep-dog pup – an offspring of casual amours and unknown ancestry – but who became the Battalion’s beloved mascot. His friendship for the Colonel, his loyalty and his long life and adventures with the Battalion, are s story in themselves. Despite his shaggy and flea-populated hide, his instincts for vagabondage and flirtation, he became an outstanding regimental figure and a well-loved and honoured member of the Unit. Out of the line he seldom left the O.C.’s immediate presence…and when the Battalion was in, Pipe Major “Sandy” Keith was his keeper.”
Research over the years uncovered several photographs taken in the late summer of 1915 at Ploegsteert that show Bruno as a puppy with some of the battalion’s officers. On March 25, 1916 Bruno even paraded with the Battalion as it marched past Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig in the square at Bailleul as they rotated out of the Ploegsteert sector to rear area billets. On May 19, 1916 the Battalion was back in the Salient conducting a frontline trench tour when Lt Col Marshall was killed by a sniper’s bullet as he crossed a gap in the trench line near the railway cutting in front of Hill 60. The Regimental history noted:
“The shaggy Bruno and the Colonel had been inseparable when out of the line. When the Battalion fell-in quietly at 9 a.m. on the morning of May 28th, they looked with infinite sympathy towards the bereaved dog, tail and head dejectedly down, listlessly pacing in and out of the officer’s huts, whining, unable to understand, or, perhaps understanding.”
However, when the former Deputy Commanding Officer, Major Charles Bent took command of the Battalion, he in turn adopted Bruno and a new bond was formed that would last beyond the eventual end of the war. The photographic record next shows Bruno with the Battalion at Noeux-les-Mines, France in mid August 1917 as the unit prepared to take part in the assault on Hill 70. He appears in several group photographs with the Officers and Senior NCOs of the unit and by that time he was clearly as described- large and shaggy. He was also apparently living up to his reputation as an adventurer for several weeks later at Lozinghem he was reported as having gone AWL from the unit. The Regimental history records; “Lt Col Bent went to visit the officers of a neighbouring unit and on his return Pipe Major Sandy Keith reported: ‘I can’t find Bruno, sir.’ There was great excitement. The Highlanders would have no luck without their shaggy mascot. He had to be found. ‘Where did you last see him.’ ‘Several hours ago’ said Sandy. ‘He was running up the road after a lady dog.’”
The incident was verified by a document found in museum archives – a message sent by the Battalion to the 1st Division APM (Army Provost Marshall) which stated:
“The following is a description of this Battalion’s mascot missing since the 11th. As this dog belonged to the late Col Marshall, and will be given to Mrs. Marshall, when the Battalion returns to Canada, would you please have a good lookout kept in order that it may be returned to the Battalion. “a large Belgian, Bob-tailed sheep dog, dark grey, answering to the name BRUNO, wearing collar engraved “Bruno, 48th Highlanders of Canada”. Last seen near Fosse 10.”
Bruno returned to the unit on his own the night likely drawn back home by the sound of the Pipers playing while the Officers were at Mess. From that point in the war until the Armistice and the Occupation of Germany in 1919 there is no further mention of Bruno although he undoubtedly remained with the Battalion. He next appears in the historical record when the battalion was in Bas-Oha, Belgium in April 1919 awaiting repatriation to the UK and Canada.
A July 19th letter from the Commanding Officer of the 48th Highlanders in Toronto to a shipping agency in the UK indicates that Bruno did not return to Canada with the Battalion:
“I have the honour to request that you will take up the matter of the importation, with the Canadian Military Office in Great Britain, of the marginally noted. This dog “Bruno” was sent from France on the evening of April 28th 1919 but arrived in Liverpool too late to come back with the regiment and is at present in quarantine being held there pending licence from the High Commissioner permitting shipment to Canada.”
An additional series of Great North Western telegrams between Lt Col Bent in Pugwash NS and Lt Col Darling in Toronto show that Bruno was successfully shipped from the UK, paid for by the Officers of The Regiment, and reunited with Lt Col Bent. When Bent relocated from Pugwash to a fruit farm at Paradise in the Annapolis Valley, Bruno went with him. At some point they were joined by the Battalion’s war horse ‘Fritz’ who had also been shipped home from France. In 2012 when the Bent family attended the 48th Highlanders Officers Annual Mess Dinner in Toronto, Colonel Bent’s son Donald recalled that as a young boy his father would ride Fritz through the apple orchards with Bruno – a staunch guardian of the property – running alongside. Not long afterwards, the family found a photograph of trio in the orchard which they forwarded to the 15th Battalion Memorial project. Donald also recalled that his father had been greatly stressed when the mascots eventually grew old, frail and in Fritz’s case Col Bent had to personally shoot him, as a veterinarian had not been available. When Bruno eventually also passed, he was buried alongside Fritz on the farm. For Col Bent, both animals must have been living connections to his war years, his beloved 15th Battalion and to all the men he served with and led.