the alfmeister

a figment of reality's imagination

Book Review; The Digger’s Menagerie…


the-diggers-menagerie-mates-mascots-and-marvels-true-stories-of-animals-who-went-to-warBefore heading away on holiday to spend some quality time with the wife and kids I got a bunch of books out of the library to read…so pretty much sealed the fate of the holiday. Well, no, not really, I just love to read and also (before you start flaying me alive) had plenty of fun with the family.

So this was the first book I read while away which I wasn’t sure if I would get into; I love animals, no doubt being some sort of Dr Doolittle myself, and I love books on war too. However combining the two didn’t grab me, but this book is a very good read.

While the title (in full, “The Digger’s Menagerie – Mates, Mascots, and Marvels – True Stories of Animals Who Went to War) suggests it is a historical account of Aussie fauna doing its bit against evil and tyranny it does also drop the odd tale of famous animals from other nations, amongst them an American dog famous for sniffing out a German soldier and then chasing him down on the run, Napoleon’s Poodles (yep, you heard right), ‘Unsinkable Sam’, the survivor of no less than three sinkings at sea and so on.

Starting with the Boer War this is a very good record of the cost that our four-legged and winged friends also paid in the theatre of war – the stats of Aussie’s sought after horses in Sth Africa and WWI are shocking to say the least, the life expectancy (if they survived the trip) was less than six weeks alone. And those that did survive were left abroad due to Australia’s tough quarantine laws.

Pigeons had it tough too, used extensively in WWI and II it seems that both sides not only had a Pigeon Corps, but an anti-Pigeon Corps ranging from a barrage of rifles to trained falcons to bring them down in flight. The humble pigeon, the bane of town councils the world over is actually a remarkable bird. Second fastest in flight, it is also able to navigate its way by following actual roads and junctions!

The book continues into Korea, Malaya, Vietnam and finally into Afghanistan and Iraq where the horses and pigeons have moved aside for the most adaptable combat animal – the dog. As an owner of two dogs I am well aware of just how clever they can be, and trained right we see them as disposal experts, drug sniffers, guards, and rescue animals, but the thought of them actually being faced with enemy fire, being blown apart by mines or shells, or shot as spies can be beyond belief – we make a conscious decision to fight war, what choice do they have? However, unlike with previous wars, of late Aussie restrictions on overseas travel has allowed dogs of war to return home, to be repatriated with families after retirement. The anguish as handler and mutt are separated is traumatic, if necessary, and it is this bond between man and beast which makes this book…

A good, easy read, a recommendation for any animal lover.

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