The last surviving mule troop in the British army notched up 25 years continuous service in the British colony of Hong Kong this month.
The last surviving mule troop in the British army notched up 25 years continuous service in the British colony of Hong Kong this month. For a quarter of a century, they have hauled 200-pound (90 kilos) packs up and down the hills of Hong Kong's New Territories.
But the defence cuts under review for the British Army garrison could spell the end for the 36 members of the 414 Pack Transport Troop. If their demobilisation is part of the outback, it will end a tradition of pack mules transport going back to World War One.
The current troop was recruited in Cyprus and others have come from Pakistan. But when the troop was first formed in Hong Kong 25 years ago, its mules came from Australia.
The mules are recruited when they are about six years old and normally serve for about twelve years. Each mule can carry a load of 200 pounds.
When the first came to Hong Kong, there were few roads, particularly in the New Territories and out towards the border with China.
Even today, with vastly improved roads, there are many hills with nothing except tracks loading to the top -- and it is on the hilltops the British Army carries out most of its exercises.
So the mules still have an important part to play in supplying and feeding the army.
At first sight, it may appear that a line of mules moving at four miles an hour hardly fits the modern conception of mobile and fast-moving armies. But, as the commanding officer of 414 Pack Transport Troop put it: "They can keep going -- even in bad weather when the helicopters can't fly."