Peter the Sheep (1914-1928): Eccentric Pet and Much-Loved Military Mascot

Located just outside of the castle’s walled gardens is a small yet poignant memorial. Within the carefully enclosed area, amid the flowers and plants, you will notice a single stone slab with the name ‘Peter’ inscribed. But who was Peter and why do we have this memorial in the castle grounds?

Peter’s grave, photograph author’s own.

In August 1914, war was declared and Colonel Claude Lowther, owner of Herstmonceux Castle and MP for Eksdale (Cumberland) was granted permission by Lord Kitchener to raise the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Southdowns Battalions, who went on to become the 11th, 12th and 13th Battalions of the Royal Sussex Regiment.[1] In the following months Lowther’s name was more closely associated with recruiting in Sussex than that of any other public figure.[2]

On 9th September 1914 the first men joined Lowther’s Battalions. Lowther’s success in his recruitment efforts lay partly in the established age-old expectation that the lower classes and agricultural labourers would simply follow their ‘betters’ to war.[3] However, Lowther also won over his recruits with his campaign to pay all enlisted men one pound per week in addition to the separation allowance.[4] Lowther’s support for minimising the financial implications of local men going off to war was recognised throughout the county.[5]  The Battalions raised by Lowther soon became known as ‘Lowther’s Lambs’ and a local Sussex farmer, Mr Passmore, gave them a young sheep named Peter as their regimental mascot.[6]

Since the eighteenth century animals have been kept as mascots by the British Army to bring luck and strengthen morale. Some mascots are working animals who share in the dangers and camaraderie of army life; others, like Peter, are for ceremonial purposes only. The British Army has both official and unofficial mascots. Unofficial mascots, including Peter the Sheep, are fed and housed at regimental expense, whereas official mascots are entitled to the services of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps and looked after with public money. Official mascots also have a regimental number and rank and, as with human soldiers, they can be promoted and demoted. Luckily for Peter (who was notoriously undisciplined) this did not apply.[7] While Peter never saw the Western Front, he was involved in Lowther’s recruitment campaigns, accompanying the Colonel on his recruiting tours which promised the young men of Sussex an opportunity for adventure with their Pals. 

‘Lowther’s Lambs’ with their mascot Peter the Sheep, image available under the Creative Commons Licence.

The 11th, 12th and 13th Battalions raised by Colonel Lowther went on to form part of the 116th (Royal Sussex) Brigade of the 39th (New Army) Division. On 30th June 1916 the Brigade was sent to Richebourg l’Avoue as part of a series of diversionary attacks in preparation for the Somme offensive. Just like the catastrophic first day of the Battle of the Somme, this attack, which became known as the Battle of Boar’s Head, was poorly planned and resulted in  tragic consequences. In the space of just five hours, seventeen officers and 365 men were killed with another c. 1,000 men injured. This event became known as ‘The Day Sussex Died’: the horrors of the massacre touched families across the county.[8]

Unlike many of his comrades, Peter survived the horrors of the First World War living in comfort and splendour at Herstmonceux Castle with Colonel Lowther who had been invalided out of the army before the tragic events of 1916. Allowed to roam the hallways, Peter was known for headbutting guests whom he was not fond off and terrorising the staff. Peter lived to the ripe old age of fourteen, passing away in 1928. He was buried with full military honours in the grounds of the castle with the surviving members of Lowther’s Lambs present.[9] 

Over the intervening years, Peter’s grave became overgrown and all but forgotten until it was rediscovered by Fiona Wingfield, one of our gardeners at the castle, in 2004. Twelve years after her original discovery was made, and with the centenary of the ‘Day that Sussex Died’ approaching, the decision was taken to host a memorial service at Peter’s grave for Lowther’s Lambs. While the Lambs have been commemorated on local war memorials, there was no single memorial dedicated to them and for such an important moment in Sussex’s history it was agreed that something should be done. In November 2016 the first of what would become an annual remembrance service, was held. Following the playing of ‘The Last Post’ was a minute’s silence to commemorate the fallen which was accompanied only by the noises of our own flock of sheep that still live on the castle estate today, a moving reminder of what Peter the Sheep represented. 

The sheep of Herstmonceux Castle Estate today, photograph author’s own.

In 2018, following a dedication, the site of Peter’s grave became the Sussex Memorial Garden of the Royal Sussex Regimental Association (Eastbourne and District Branch). Fallen members of the regiment are commemorated on a wooden bench located nearby and with plaques placed on the fence enclosing the garden. The planting in the memorial garden is blue and orange to represent the regimental colours and through the flora, Peter’s grave remains visible. 

Dr Claire Kennan, History Lecturer and Research Coordinator at the BISC.

With thanks to Fiona Wingfield, Gardener at Herstmonceux Castle, David Lester, Military Historian for the Royal Sussex Regiment and Christian Lloyd, Academic Director at the BISC. 


[1] Keith Grieves, ‘Lowther’s Lambs: Rural Paternalism and Voluntary recruitment in the First World War’, Rural history: Economy, Society, Culture, 4:1 (1993), 55-75 (p. 60); The Times, 3rd September 1914. 

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid, p. 55. 

[4] Ibid, p. 62; The Times, 27th August 1914.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, p. 63. 

[7] ‘Army Mascots,’ National Army Museum Army mascots | National Army Museum (nam.ac.uk) [last accessed 07/10/21].

[8] For more information see ‘A History’, The Royal Sussex Regiment The Regiment | The Royal Sussex Regiment (theroyalsussexregt.org.uk) [last accessed 07/10/21].

[9] Verily Anderson, Castellans of Herstmonceux 1911-2010 (Herstmonceux: Bader International Study Centre, 2011), p. 26.

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