Book review

War Dog by Martin Booth (1996)

This is a story about Jet, a black Labrador cross bitch, who is requisitioned by the army at the beginning of the Second World War. Jet starts life as a poacher's dog. Her first master, Fred Parry, gives her a superb training as a gun dog, but she has an ideal nature as well. She is gentle, trusting and highly intelligent.

Her training and nature stand her in good stead when her master is arrested for poaching and sent to prison, for who will look after a poacher's dog? Fortunately, the army will. She is requisitioned and sent for training as an infantry patrol dog with her new handler, Lance-Corporal Turpin:

On her first test, Jet was sent to locate a man hiding in a field of long grass. She and Turpin advanced through the grass with Jet ranging ahead of him on a long pilot rope. At first she had no idea what she was looking for: all Turpin had said was, 'Seek.'
As they reached the middle of the field, however, she caught the strong scent of a man upon the light breeze tickling the grass-heads. She stopped and faced upwind. As a patrol dog, she should then have remained pointing towards the source of the smell, but with Fred's training behind her, once she had the direction identified, she set off after it, intent on retrieving it for her master.

Well, Jet has a bit of re-training to do, but man and dog soon understand each other perfectly and form an unbeatable partnership.

They are sent to Calais with the British Expeditionary Force where they support a platoon whose job it is to map out an an area of no-man's-land between the British and German front lines. Lives depend on the effectiveness of Jet's training, but things do not go well for the British Expeditionary Force and they are forced into a retreat at Dunkirk. Turpin and Jet stay steadfastly together during the days of queuing on the beach waiting for the little boats to take them off. They are chest-high in the water when they are strafed by German planes, Jet draped round Turpin's shoulders:

'They're coming back!' someone yelled needlessly.
This time, they flew lower, faster. Turpin could see the guns mounted in their wings sparking. In the sky around the aircraft appeared little puffballs of smoke as the anti-aircraft gunners on the warships brought their sights to bear. A parallel row of little water spouts raced towards the queue.
Tiny whistling sounds filled Jet's ears. A searing pain cut through Turpin's shoulder. Jet let out a yelp and began to thrash about. It was all he could do to keep her in place. He had to fight to maintain his balance. Both Jet's struggling and the impact of the shell fragment almost knocked him over.

So man and dog return to England wounded and Jet never sees Turpin again. But her career in the army is not finished. After a spell of recuperation in the kennels she is returned to active service with a new handler.

This is an emotional story about the bond between man and dog. Her new handler, Ken Hogan, loves Jet too but Fred Parry, the poacher, has never forgotten Jet either. See how the story re-unites them.

What can I read next?

Martin Booth has written other books set in the Second World War. Have a look at this one:

Another realistic view of the war, for younger readers, is this one by Gaye Hicyilmaz:

Or you might see a connection in this adventure story by Michael Morpurgo:

If animals are the main attraction for you, you could look at this one by Geoffrey Malone:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

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