Skip to main content

Grave of Nelson the mascot



The grave of Nelson, a mascot at Burnham camp during the Second World War.

Below is an article about Nelson sent to us by Major B.P. Wood, Defence Training Institute:

Member of Allied Forces Mascot Club

Final resting place - In memory of "Nelson" - to illustrate the bond that can exist between the soldier and his close and loyal friend.

There is some corner of the Burnham field that is forever "Nelson". It is a very small corner, close to the "dry" canteen, (in 2007 this was on the grassed strip between the Burnham Admn Centre and Pioneers old building) and could be described as a cemetery. We are not sure whether a single grave does qualify it as a cemetery but there is a headstone there (now located on the opposite side of Bell Rd. to the west of the Camp library) and we wish to show our reverence for the grave's occupant.

Some time in October 1939 there appeared in the Camp a scrawny looking beast which some say was an Airedale while others prefer the term "of doubtful origin". However, all could see that he had only one eye so, inevitably, he was named "Nelson". For the next five years Nelson became a Camp institution - everybody's friend, especially to those who fed him - and nobody's enemy.

In the course of time he was given a regimental number, was included on the ration state to ensure a constant food supply, and eventually promoted to Corporal. He was provided with a jacket complete with Corporal's stripes and was paraded at formal dinners in the Officers' Mess to be accorded due ceremony. (I trust this attendance had prior approval of the Camp Commandant?) But Nelson was not one to simply bathe in the glory of such attention. When those training for war, in the echelons and reinforcements, went on route marches, Nelson went too. On field exercises and range shoots, there was Nelson contributing his share to the war effort.

Everybody's friend - how could he be anything else?

On the night of 16 June 1944 somebody took him to a nearby plantation and shot him. Only that person can know what mental turmoil induced him to commit such a senseless crime - neither we nor anyone to whom we have spoken can contribute an answer.

Nelson was accorded a full military funeral and now rests under the headstone on which is recorded:

In Memory of "Nelson"
Member of the Allied Forces Mascot Club
Marched in Oct 1939
Willfully Shot June 16, 1944
A True Friend of All Soldiers "

Here is a an account of Nelson from the Bay of Plenty Beacon 2 Feb 1945:

Death of Nelson
From New Zealand comes the news of the death of 'Nelson.' He was shot "by some person or persons unknown." He was a one-eyed camp follower who presented himself confidently at mess parades and turned up to morning sick parade to the minute, since he had a sore eye and needed it dressed at the regimental aid post. During a visit to a grenade range he did what all good retrievers would do. He went to retrieve— but was unfamiliar with the nature of a grenade. He was whistled off just in time. A piece of the exploding grenade caught Nelson in the rear, and he at once streaked to the regimental aid post for first aid.


Francis Vallance, 2011

How to cite this page

Grave of Nelson the mascot, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated