The regions in Northern Italy that the Germans wished to protect were separated by a natural barrier – the Apennine Mountains. Sitting on this mountain range, the heavily armed Gothic Line stretched approximately from Massa to Pesaro. The mirrored Allied line stretched from approximately Pisa to Fano. The Canadians were situated on the Adriatic coast near Coriano, Italy with the objective of capturing Rimini.
On the night of September 15th, the Canadians had been fighting continuously at Coriano Ridge. Although they were slowly advancing, the Germans were persistent and the sweltering heat was intense. The Canadians felt as if they may never see an end to the fighting. That night, in a moment of silence on the battlefield then men could hear an animal’s cry in distress. They came across a young foal of about 2 or 3 months old pacing around her dead mother. The foal was hungry, injured and confused. It was no question for these young men from New Brunswick that they must save her.
The 8th Hussars now felt as though they had a purpose. They had a young, distressed animal in need of their help. The responsibility of looking after the foal was given to the mechanics, while this encouraged the soldiers to continue fighting. Gordon Bickerton was one of the mechanics who helped care for her. He recalls that she was very friendly and easy to take care of. When it came time to choose a name for the friendly foal, the men chose Princess Louise, after Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter who had given her name to the regiment in 1882.
The fighting continued for another 3 or 4 days before the Canadians took Coriano Ridge. This was one of the bloodiest battles fought in Italy during World War II and was the most action that the 8th Hussars had seen in the history of the regiment. The men had created a banner that said “Princess Louise” on it for the horse to wear on her back. Princess Louise was seen as the inspiration and a morale booster for the Canadians at Coriano Ridge, a true Canadian war hero.
At the end of the war, Princess Louise was not able to travel home with the men on the troop ships. She remained in Britain for about 3 months with the British Army’s Royal Army Veterinarian Corps, before being shipped to New York aboard the Dutch liner Leerdam. She then travelled by train from New York to Saint John, New Brunswick where she was met by cheering crowds.
She was later reunited with the 8th Hussars, the men who cared for her throughout the war. She was met with an honour guard in Saint John and marched in a parade with full regalia. She was wearing her service medals which included the 1939-1945 Star, The Italy Star, The France and Germany Star, The Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, and 3 wound stripes. People came from all over to welcome the beloved war hero. School children in Rothesay were even given the day off from school to attend the parade.
Princess Louise served as the Regimental Mascot for 27 years. Throughout her career she participated in ceremonies, church services, Remembrance Day parades and met various dignitaries. On her 25th birthday, a party was held in her honour complete with a large cake. The beloved mascot died at age 29 in 1973. She had 3 foals, Princess Louise II and 2 sons, Prince and Hussar. Princess Louise II took over for her mother after her death.
Gordon and Mary Bickerton cared for Princess Louise for most of her life in Canada, and were referred to as the horse’s parents. They recalled that the horse wasn’t only friendly, but was a comic as well. She enjoyed eating cigarettes and drinking whisky and beer. Sometimes during parades Princess Louise would fall asleep and Bickerton remembers having to tug on her ear and yell “Princess Louise, wake up!”