Hagenbeck negotiated an agreement, not have to send more zookeepers to the army, but instead contribute with an elephant.
During the war, Jenny was used to fall trees and pull heavy equipment.
After the end of the war, she was returned to Hagenbecks, but her keeper was wounded in the war, and could not return to work in the Zoo anymore.
I was at Middelkerke on the Belgian North Sea when I received orders from the Supreme Command to proceed at once to Stellingen and thence bring back a working elephant named Jenny from Hagenbecks. She had suddenly been classed k.f. (kriegsferting) or fit for active service, and so with her draft harness, marching rations and with Me, her Oberbootsmannmatt, we were ordered, to proceed to the Western Front. We set off, and proceeded to Avesnes station, south of Maubeuge, the ordinary infantry men had something to stare at when for the first time in their lives they saw a blue jacket riding high up on an elephant on the way to war.
Matthias Walter, elephant keeper for Hagenbeck, Jan 1915
Nearly all our really reliable attendants and animal catchers were also
in the Army.
One of them, indeed, rode high in field-grey uniform on an
elephant, too! This was our good old Jack-in-the-Box, Matthias
Walter the same who had gone round the Cape of Good Hope with
me in the dromedary ship and occupied the enamel throne next to
mine at Swakopmund. He and his working elephant Jenny made war
It was like this. Matthias was in the Red Sea on his way home on the
s.s. Axenfals when the radio picked up the news of the outbreak of war
and this was broadcast from the bridge. Matthias had eleven elephants
with him on board. The captain steamed as fast as he could to the
as it then was Italian colonial port of Massawa. From there the
elephants were taken to Brindisi on an Italian tramper and thence went
to Stellingen by rail.
Two days later Matthias, being a naval reservist, had donned his
blue naval uniform at Wilhelmshaven and exchanged his elephant goad
for a carbine. Five months later, he was at Middelkerke on the Belgian
North Sea coast when orders came through from the Supreme Com-
mand to proceed at once to Stellingen and thence bring back a work-
ing elephant named Jenny. Jenny had suddenly been classed as k.f.,
or fit for active service,* and so with draught harness and marching
rations reached the truck in which under 'Oberbootsmannmaat* or
Assistant Bo 'sun Matthias Walter she was to proceed to the Western
At Avesnes station, south of Maubeuge, the German infantry men
had something to stare at when for the first time in their lives they saw
a bluejacket riding high up on an elephant. But there was work for
Jenny to do. In the large woods of Felleries, just behind the front lines,
Jenny began to earn her daily bread in the pit-prop industry. Every
morning, off she went to the forest. Tremendous old trees came
crashing down and were trimmed back to the trunk. Then along came
Jenny and with head, trunk and front legs reduced the confusion of
trunks, lying all ways, one on top of the other, to decent order. Next
she dragged all the timber out to the high road and to a sawmill which
turned the timber into pit-props for the trenches.
Daily, Jenny transported fifty trees, among them some that twelve
horses could not have shifted. She could fell a tree two feet in diameter
all by herself. She was quite systematic about it. First she would shake
it, till she had loosened up the roots. Then she got her fore legs and
powerful shoulder against the trunk, reared on her hind legs and
brought her six-thousand-pound weight to bear. It was remarkable
that she never broke a tree off; it was always the roots which were
made to give way, with loud reports, till the earth heaved up and she
brought the tree crashing down.
In time, Jenny was employed everywhere that they could fit her in,
as a sort of maid of all heavy work. There was a traction engine that
the French had driven into a pit to prevent us using it, but Jenny
yanked it out all right. A column of motorised transport got stuck in
the mud Jenny put them on their way again. She was even harnessed
to the plough, and the old parade ground at Floumont was turned into
arable land, and ploughed twice as deep, too, as any ordinary team
could have done it.
Her greatest triumph, however, this bulky figure in 'self ' field grey
achieved in the goods marshalling yards of Floumont. She had been
working all day long as 'shunting engine,' making up trains, and Walter
had just hooked her to four loaded trucks in a siding. Then up came a
General, who no doubt was seeing this for the first time, for he
laughed and made a scornful gesture, as if to say: 'She'll never pull
that. 1 Then Jenny just leant her powerful shoulder against the rear
wagon and all the trucks moved, slowly at first, but with gathering
speed sixty tons of load. Speechless, the General at once produced
six cigarettes and a special ginger cake for Jenny.
Our elephant became famous all down the front. In the evenings,
for full measure, she would sometimes add a little bonus show of her
circus arts, and the laughter of the chaps on their amphitheatre of
tree-trunks could be heard a mile away.
The only thing Jenny could not stand was an aeroplane, and it did
not matter whether it was ours or an enemy one. If one came her way
and her trusted rider was not to hand to calm her, she would swing
her trunk in the air and trumpet loudly and combatively, pricking up
her huge ears and trying to locate the enemy whose thundering din
she heard. On Sundays people said one could have believed oneself in
India, for then Jenny did no work, but was free to wander through
the woods and pick delicacies for herself. But at a call she always
came straight back to Walter, just like a faithful dog.
For more than two years this 'outsize number in field grey* of the
first world war worked like this, the first and, I think, the only war
elephant on the books of the Wehrmacht. But then, towards the very
end, in 1918, Walter was badly wounded. She then returned home,
herself unwounded. She died in the thirties, pensioned off in the
Animals Are My Life, by Lorenz Hagenbeck
Sources, among others
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