September 11, 2015 | Posted in War Dogs

288px-Jacques-Louis_David_-_The_Emperor_Napoleon_in_His_Study_at_the_Tuileries_-_Google_Art_ProjectInnumerable are the tales of war dogs who discharged their duties with grit and courage that would make humans proud. Of these, the name of Moustache the gallant barbet who fought in Napoleon’s army shines brightly.

Moustache was born in 1799 and lived till 1812. This black barbet had the honor of participating in two history-changing wars. These were the French Revolutionary War and the Napoleonic War. At the age of six months, Moustache decided that life as a grocer’s pet was not for him and ambled behind the 40th Regiment, a regiment of French grenadiers, which was passing through his town, Caen. After waking behind the regiment for three days, he was accepted by the drum major and thus began the extraordinary journey of this doughty Gallic warrior whose exploits are a source of inspiration for the French even today.

The young barbet, though never trained to work as a military dog, took to life in the armed forces in the most natural manner. Soon, he was marching with the regiment to Italy where the French were to fight the combined forces of the Austrians and the Italians. It was during this campaign that Moustache gave evidence of his alertness and big heart. In June 1800, when the regiment was camped in the valley of Balbo, the dog alerted sleeping soldiers to approaching Austrians, who taking advantage of the dark, were in the act of mounting a sneak attack. The attack was repulsed by the French and the soldiers knew that they had Moustache to thank for saving their lives. Incredibly, this was the second act of note by Moustache in less than twenty four hours. Earlier in the day, he had tried to warn the French about the presence of an Austrian spy who had succeeded in infiltrating the camp. He was in the thick of action, a day later, at the Battle of Marengo, where he saved a Warrant Officer who came under ferocious attack from the enemy’s dog – a pointer that was bigger and stronger than Moustache. Undeterred, the barbet engaged with the enemy dog till the pointer was shot dead, Moustache had an ear torn off from the musket ball that put down the Austrian dog. Moustache was now officially a grenadier who was entitled to a grenadier’s rations and was also to be groomed once a week by the unit’s barber.

His finest moment came at the Battle of Austerlitz, when he ran into a group of Russian soldiers who had just felled the French standard bearer and came back with the regimental standard, thereby preventing its capture by the enemy. This act of bravery by Moustache served to galvanize the French. Austerlitz is considered as one of Napoleon’s finest victories. For the incredible courage shown in saving the regimental banner, Moustache was awarded a specially minted silver medal.

Moustache died as he had lived, bravely and for his country. He fell to a cannonball at the Battle of Badajoz in Spain. He was a true dog of war, except that he did not sell his services to the highest bidder. His maverick spirit was driven by that streak of nobility that only dogs and horses are capable of displaying.

The exploits of Moustache are in the realm of legend; partly because these happened quite some time back; a good 200 years ago, and over time fiction often segues into fact to create a seamless and interesting narrative. He was already being written about in 1826 and that too in publications in England. If we consider that Anglo-French relations back then were anything but cordial, then such literature is a real tribute to what the brave barbet achieved.