.PEACHTREE BOOK BLOG TOUR
By Alison Hart
Michael Montgomery, illustrator
Back Cover: When the British military asks for dogs to help the war effort, Darling’s family reluctantly sends her off to be trained as a mercy dog. She travels to Belgium with the 10th Battalio Worcestershire Regiment and learns how to locate injured soldiers on the battlefield, despite gunfire, poisonous gases, and other dangers. Darling is skilled at her job, but surrounded by danger. Will she ever make it back to England?
Opening: “Darling is going to be a nurse,” Mistress Katherine said. I felt a tug on my collar as she pulled me toward her.
“Darling is going to be a soldier!” Master Robert declared. A harder tug yanked me toward him.
About the Story: Darling, a mischievous collie, must leave the children she loves, and who love her, to become a soldier for the British. The tax on dogs rose once again and the family could no longer afford to feed her. The military will train Darling as either a messenger dog or a sentry dog, depending upon her skills. Darling’s best skill is her ability to run away. She likes to meet up with her friend Rags, who is a stray living alone in the chalk pits to avoid the dogcatcher who wants to send him to Battlesea Dog’s Home, and the farmer out to shoot both dogs for trying to herd his sheep.
After a long train ride from her home in the village of Cosham, England to Shoeburyness, England, Darling is the last to exit the train. Her first thought was to memorize her surroundings. The first chance she had to run back home she would. Darling got that chance several weeks later at a final test, but turned around when she heard her handler and knew he was hurt. She failed the test, but a new position had been established and Darling seemed a perfect fit. The mercy dog worked on the front line–in “no man’s land.” The dogs were sent into the battlefield to find wounded soldiers. The dogs would return and then lead the medics out to the injured man. They brought the injured back on stretchers, following the dog’s lead to return safely.
Darling worked the front lines magnificently, until she was hit with a bullet, several times. She was taken to the vet clinic set up back at the base camp. But if Darling did not get better, if she grew lame, if she could no longer perform the duty she was trained for, the military would reward her previously courageous acts that saved many men by shooting her. This happened to the horses as well. Rather than returning the dog to its owner. This is the saddest reality that many of the more than 7000 dogs that served in British military in WWI.
When Darling first arrived at training, the handler found a note attached to her collar. The note was from the two children telling the soldiers Darling was a great dog, she liked to run off, please keep her safe and bring her back to them. This note and saving her handling at training, grabbed at the soldier. When Darling was hurt and could no longer serve, the keeper agreed to push back the date of demise for Darling long enough to be sneak out, get a chance to see her trainer–who she had saved on the battlefield–and participate in a photo op with the trainer/hero and a general. This photo was Darling’s key to going home, alive. The photo, sent all around the world, boxed the general in and saved Darling. The book does not give the details of Darling’s return home. Darling narrates the her story.
What I Thought: Mesmerized by Darling’s story from the first time she ran off to play with Rags I could not put the book down. There were no other dogs in a village that had many before the First World War and the subsequent dog tax families had to pay in order to keep a dog. Most could hardly afford to feed their dog. The police shot all strays they came upon. The dogcatcher put the dogs in the Battersea Dog Home, a place Darling does not describe with endearing terms. Nearly every dog put into the home were recruited into the War Dog School.
This is new to me. I had no idea dogs played such a crucial role in the war. Considering the dogs’ vital roles as messengers, mercy dogs, and sentries, how could they not be in our children’s history books? Darling, Mercy Dog of World War I is the book to supplement history texts. Narrated by Darling, her point of view is much less harsh than any human’s would have been, making it easier to present this material to kids. The war and all its horrors are still in the story, mainly from Darling’s less graphic perspective.
After Darling’s story, the author writes about the history of military dogs, a soldiers life in the field, some “Cool Facts,” and more about the Battle of Messines Ridge in 1917, on which this story is based. The pencil drawing illustrations fit in nicely with the text. Darling is an amazing dog who never forgot about the two children she loved, and who loved her. This historical fiction book should be on every required reading list for kids age eight and up.
By Alison Hart website
Michael Montgomery, illustrator website
Released October 1, 2013
Ages 7 to 12
© 2013 by Peachtree Publishers, used with permission
Text copyright © 2013 by Alison Hart
Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Michael Montgomery
PEACHTREE BOOK BLOG TOUR
Darling, Mercy Dog of World War I