Tuesday 27 October 2015

Caesar the Anzac dog by Patricia Stroud, illustrated by Bruce Potter

Caesar the Anzac dog by Patricia Stroud, illustrated by Bruce Potter (Harper Collins, 2003)

40 pages with sepia illustrations

Subjects: World War One, France, dogs, animals, mascots, junior fiction (Year 2-6)

This book is based on the true story of Caesar, which was told to the author, Patricia Stroud, by her mother, Ida. 

Ida (aged four) was in the crowd when Caesar the bulldog, as official mascot, led the Rifle Brigade down Queen St in Auckland to board the ships that would take them to Egypt and the Western Front. As described in the book, Ida donated her blue ribbon for Caesar to wear. She gave it to her uncle Tom who was Caesar’s handler and he tied it onto Caesar’s collar.

Caesar worked during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 as a Red Cross dog. These dogs helped the stretcher-bearers to rescue wounded soldiers at night from No man’s land, the area in-between the trenches of the two opposing sides. They were trained to look for something that belonged to the man, such as a coat or cap, bring that item back to the stretcher bearers and then lead them to the wounded soldier.

Caesar was shot and killed in action. His handler, Tom, was temporarily blinded by mustard gas and sent to hospital in England. He married one of the nurses and they returned home on a hospital ship.

The family history aspect of the story is underlined by the way it is told to three boys, James, Brendon and Michael, who are visiting their great-grandmother (Ida) in the summer holidays. She tells them about the parade, and how her other uncles also went off to war.

The book was reprinted in 2009, with extra content, as Caesar: The True Story of a Canine ANZAC Hero ("A recount of the life of the bulldog that became the official mascot of the 4th Battalion of the NZ Rifle Brigade").

About the author
According to the Harper Collins website: “Patricia Stroud is a mother and grandmother, who has researched the facts behind a much loved family story to record a little-known aspect of New Zealand’s military history. As a volunteer, she spends many hours interviewing war veterans and recording their stories for the oral history archives of her local museum. Patricia and her mother Ida both live in Auckland.”

There is an interview with Patricia in the New Zealand herald, and here she is visiting the children of Botany Downs school

About the illustrator
Bruce Potter (here is his Storylines profile) has illustrated many other books, including The Donkey Man by Glyn Harper, Grandad's Medals by Tracy Duncan, Soldier in the Yellow socks by Janice Marriott and My Grandfather's War by Glyn Harper. (And who knew he is also "an internationally ranked powerlifter"??)

Other books you might like 
The Anzac puppy by Peter Millett and Trish Bowles is an appealing picture book based on the true story of a World War One mascot. The red poppy by David Hill, illustrated by Fifi Colston, tells the story of Nipper the messenger dog. 

This unusual vintage clip shows a French Bulldog working on the Western Front in France in 1917.

The article about Caesar on the NZ History website includes this photograph of his collar (with an incorrect spelling of his name), now held at the Auckland War Memorial Museum (where you can also buy a soft toy Caesar!).

Jack, the New Zealand Engineers' canine mascot in France, World War I
Jack, the New Zealand Engineers' canine mascot in France, World War I. Ref: 1/2-013104-G. Alexander Turnbull Library. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23171041

Bull, George Robert, 1910-1966 (Photographer) : Maori Battalion soldier and dog Paddy the mascot, Christmas Day, Maadi camp, Egypt
WW2 Maori Battalion soldier and dog Paddy, the mascot, share some pork from the hangi on Christmas Day at Maadi Camp, Egypt; Ref: DA-04880-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22812710

Have you read it?
Have you read this book? Let me know what you think!

Wednesday 7 October 2015

My brother’s keeper by Tom and Tony Bradman

My brother’s keeper by Tom and Tony Bradman (A & C Black, 2014)

11 chapters; 111 pages including a few pages of historical notes

Subjects: World War One, France, deserters, boy soldiers, junior fiction (Year 5-8? but shelved in the YA section at library so maybe meant for older but less proficient readers.)

Set in Flanders in 1915, this is the story of young Alfie Barnes. We suspect he is very young right from the opening sentence, when he stands on the fire-step of the trench and “wished he were taller”. He’s been working in Covent Garden markets since he left school at 12, but still looks young for his actual age of 15. When he signs up, claiming to be 19, the sergeant at the recruiting centre grins and says, “I suppose I’ll have to take your word for it.”

In the trenches, his older mates Ernie, Cyril and George look after him. They’ve been in action long enough to learn to keep their heads down, but Alfie is naively excited, hoping to have a go at “the Hun” and yearning for action. When it comes, of course, it’s not what he expects.

There’s not much to tell Ernie, Cyril and George apart, and I wasn’t convinced that a 15-year-old in the army would have spoken up as Alfie did. But there are good, clear descriptions of exactly what life in the trenches was like: how the men boiled their kettles, for example, what they ate and what they wore.

This is not a long story and there are other books that explore these issues more deeply. Perhaps it might serve as a good easy-to-read introduction to the topic. Our local library shelved it in the young adult section, so maybe it is meant for older but less confident readers.  

You can read an extract from Chapter One here.

Author’s website
Tony Bradman writes poetry and fiction for children, including the Dilly the Dinosaur and Swoppers series. He now writes in partnership with his son, Tom Bradman.

Other books you might like:
Other books that I've reviewed about boy soldiers include Valentine Joe by Rebecca Stevens, The last Anzac by Gordon Winch, illustrated by Harriet Bailey, One boy’s war by Lynn Huggins-Cooper, illustrated by Ian Benfold Haywood and My mother's eyes: the story of a boy soldier by Mark Wilson.

Things I didn’t know
Every book, no matter how short, can often tell you something you didn’t know about WW1. I learnt from this one that soldiers didn’t have to salute the officers in the front line (but they did if they were sent with a message to HQ.) And I learnt about applying camouflage before a night raid: how they mixed a black powder (burnt cork) with wet mud from the walls of the dugout and smeared the resulting thick paste over their faces.   

Have you read it?
Have you read this book? Let me know what you think!