One of my favourite children’s books from 2018 was the wonderful Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer. On 2nd May his latest book, D-Day Dog, is published in time to mark the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings. It is another extremely thoughtful and powerful story. Tom has kindly written about his inspiration for D-Day Dog here. Thank you very much, Tom, for this interesting insight.
Putting Animals to War
How reading another animal at war story, The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico, inspired me to write D-Day Dog
This was going to be a blog about why authors write about animals in war. There are a fair few children’s books that combine war and animals. Michael Morpurgo comes to mind, but there are others. Kate Cunningham. Megan Rix. Sam Angus. But I should let them speak for themselves and just say why I wanted to write about an animal’s role in war.
It was The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico for me. I didn’t read it until I was in my thirties, but when I did it got to me in a way none of the war films I’d watched or war comics I’d read as a kid got to me.
The Snow Goose is about a boat-owning solitary man, Rhayader, who lives out on the salt marshes of Essex. It’s set in 1940. With the help of a local girl he rescues and rehabilitates an injured goose. Then the call comes for small craft to save what is left of the stranded British Army. Rhayader has a boat. He works with the goose – who guides his boat – to help rescue stranded soldiers from Dunkirk.
For me it was the girl and her take on the man and the goose that drew me in. The emotional power!
I wasn’t a big children’s book reader until then. This changed my reading. And therefore, my writing.
So when I set about writing D-Day Dog I had that reading experience in mind.
My book is about a man, an animal and what happens to them on D-Day. As seen through the eyes of an eleven-year-old boy. I took Paul Gallico’s lead for this. For me Gallico’s story works because you see the adult-in-war and its relationship with an animal from a child’s point of view.
One of the big questions in D-Day Dog – for me – is whether it is acceptable to use animals in war. I was torn. I still am. If a pigeon can save a dozen soldiers’ lives – and survive itself – then why not? Ferrets are being used today to help rescue people from bombed buildings. But dogs with bombs strapped to them going under tanks? Never.
I wanted to explore my feelings and attitudes in D-Day Dog through a boy called Jack. Jack goes through the range of reactions I went through, thinking through his ideas about war.
I do my best not to sugar-coat animals’ involvement in war. The last scenes in D-Day Dog include Jack going to visit the grave of Glen, a Paradog, in France. And you hear – second hand – how Glen and his handler came to be buried there.
I’m still torn about whether animals should be used in war. But writing the book has helped me get my head round it.
Tom Palmer’s brilliant website includes interviews, chapter excerpts and a wonderful range of resources.