Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 15, 2018

Smoky the Brave, by Damien Lewis, guest post by Amber the Silky Terrier #BookReview

The arrival of Smoky the Brave has prompted a departure in guest reviewing on this site.  Since the book is about the heroism of a Yorkshire Terrier during WW2, it seemed appropriate to invite Amber the Silky Terrier, a most perceptive pooch of my acquaintance and a close cousin to the Yorkie, to comment on the merits of the book… since she comes from the same family of tiny but courageous and indefatigable dogs, who could be better to review this heroic tale?

A brief introduction is in order:

Amber is a three-year-old Australian Silky Terrier who has adopted a human family of bookish tastes. (You can see her in this photo, guarding the household collection of recipe books).  She weighs just on four kilos, and like all Silkies is brave and ferocious, fleeing in panic only at the unmistakeable signs of a forthcoming bath.

(She doesn’t like to be reminded about the time she was watching Game of Thrones (Series 1) with her humans and Summer the Direwolf leapt across the screen to save the paralysed Bran from an assassin…Summer’s snarling teeth filled the screen and Amber fled the room in terror.  Well, she was only a pup at the time.  She has watched this scene several times since and remained totally sanguine).

Her taste in books developed at an early age.  As a pup, she appropriated some reading glasses and began devouring reading journals.  Her tastes have matured from junior fiction such as Dodie Smith’s 101 Dalmations and Jack London’s The Call of the Wild to evolve into a preference for non-fiction texts such as Steven Miller’s Dogs in Australian Art which traces the long-neglected pivotal role of dogs in Australia’s history and cultural life.  So this biography of a war hero attracted Amber’s attention immediately.

She does have some concerns about the appropriation of Smoky’s story by the human biographer, because this is always happening to canines.  There is far too much in this book about humans, and not enough about dogs, and the heroic dog Smoky in particular. Of 16 photos in the book, only three are of Smoky, though this imbalance is partly ameliorated by the cuteness of the images, particularly the one of Smoky sitting inside a serviceman’s helmet.

However, the book is authentically researched and sympathetically told.  The blurb summarises the story quite well:

The World’s Smallest Dog with the World’s Biggest Heart Smoky the Brave is the extraordinary, touching and true story of a heroic dog and her adoptive masters in the jungles of the Pacific War. In February 1944, as Japanese military advances threatened to engulf Australasia, a tiny, four-pound Yorkshire terrier was discovered hiding in a Japanese shell scrape amidst the thick jungles of Papua New Guinea. The GIs who discovered her presumed she had been some kind of Japanese army mascot, but it soon turned out that she understood neither commands rendered in Japanese nor English. A mystery, she was adopted by Corporal William ‘Bill’ Wynne, an air-crewman with the US 5th Air Force’s 26th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron. Living in Bill Wynne’s tent, sleeping on a piece of green felt salvaged from a card table,and sharing his rations, Smoky became the de facto mascot of the regiment. She went on to fly numerous photo-recce and air-sea rescue missions, cocooned in a soldier’s pack hanging next to the machine-guns used to repel marauding Japanese fighters. She was awarded eight battle stars, surviving dozens of Japanese combat raids on Papua New Guinea, and braving a typhoon that ravaged Okinawa. After saving Wynne’s life by warning of a falling shell, as their landing craft approached an enemy-held beach – a shell that killed the eight men that Wynne was standing beside – he nicknamed her the ‘angel from a foxhole’. In one of her most famous exploits Smoky parachuted using a special rig designed to fit one of the world’s smallest but toughest dogs. In perhaps her most heroic exploit of all, Smoky ran a cable through a seventy-foot pipe no wider in places than four inches, to enable telephone lines to be run across the recently occupied airbase of Luzon. Her efforts saved hundreds of ground-crew from being exposed to enemy bombing, preventing injury and loss of life. Amongst her many other awards,she was given the PDSA’s Certificate for Animal Bravery or Devotion in 2011, a relatively new class of PDSA award.

Since you might be harbouring some speciesist doubts about the role dogs might play in the military, Amber thinks you should know that not only could messenger dogs be trained to carry urgent communiqués across the field of battle using two handlers to both of whom he or she demonstrated a fierce loyalty:

… one would give the dog a message to be carried, while the other would await its delivery.  Such messenger dogs could cover great distances at high speed, presenting an elusive target to enemy snipers (p.39)

but also their superior senses of hearing and smell made them invaluable for identifying hostile forces:

Depending on the conditions – wind direction, vegetation cover, dampness of the ground – they could be used in amphibious landings to detect enemy positions on the shoreline, or on reconnaissance and combat patrols. But in all cases the dogs’ effectiveness would depend upon how accustomed they were to gunfire and explosions.  (p.39-40)

It will come as no surprise to readers to learn that dogs selected for the K9 Corps, were large dogs like German Shepherds.  The Japanese used them too – in fact they were well ahead of the US Army in training and used some 10,000 dogs as messengers, sentries, trackers and sled teams, as early as 1937 in their invasion of China.  So the discovery of a small starving and neglected Yorkie that didn’t respond to either Japanese or English commands didn’t immediately suggest a military role for Smokums, except perhaps as a mascot.  But as we all know, soldiering can be a lonely job, and traded for two pounds to settle a poker debt by the man who found her, the Yorkie captured the heart of 20-year-old Private First Class Bill Wynne of US Air Force’s 26th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron:

Just as soon as he had signed off duty Wynne hurried down to the motor pool.  The reception he received from Smokums – Smoky now she was his – was everything that he’d been hoping for.  She bounded about at the end of her lead, clearly overjoyed to see him again.  Sure enough she seemed to have a new lease on life and was bubbling with energy and spirit.  […] she had made a miraculous recovery. (p.41)

Smoky went on to pioneer the role of therapy dog for wounded and combat fatigued soldiers, to alert troops of incoming bombs at the base, to survive flights in a monster Pacific storm, to give birth in a war zone (losing her good conduct medal in the process) and to use a parachute.

Amber’s favourite anecdote is about how Smoky learned to lie still and quiet and undetected in Wynne’s haversack so that she could be smuggled into Australia for some well-earned R&R.  While she was there the good ladies of the Red Cross made a special coat for her to keep warm, complete with corporal’s stripes to match Wynne’s after his promotion.  While they were in Brisbane they visited the wounded, but under a publicity blackout so that authorities would not know she had been smuggled in.  You can see a photo of her in this coat along with the cup she won for being awarded Best Mascot by Yank Magazine, a forces’ newsletter designed to keep up soldier morale.   A stint of R&R in Sydney however, was not so fortuitous, because a woman  tried to steal him.

You can check out Smoky’s exploits at this website, but Amber says that’s no substitute for reading the book.

BTW there is a permanent memorial and statue of Smoky at the Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital, and you can see it here.

Author: Damien Lewis
Title: Smoky the Brave, The World’s Smallest Dog, The World’s Biggest Heart
Publisher: Quercus Book, London, 2018
ISBN: 9781786483089
Review copy courtesy of Hachette Australia

Available from Fishpond: Smoky the Brave

 


Responses

  1. As a puppy dog ‘tragic’, I was not only delighted to read the review but to read it from Amber’s own pen. What a delight. I can’t stop smiling.

    • I’ll pass on your compliments *wink*

  2. A lovely review Lisa, and thanks Amber. Last year at the school where I volunteer I saw a puppet show with the children called Messenger Dogs Tales of WW1. “‘Messenger Dogs’ Nell, Trick and Bullet and see WWI through their eyes. Their tales are of courage, determination, endurance and mateship on the frontline working alongside the Australian Imperial Force.” The children loved it.

    • And by the strangest coincidence, I heard on RN today as I was driving down to the Williamstown LitFest, an interview with an author who’d researched the role of pigeons in surveillance in WW2!

  3. I’m glad Amber enjoyed this, people and I’m guessing, animals, always enjoy seeing themselves in books and films. Not sure I agree with Amber about Call of the Wild being a children’s book, though I was a child when I read it. I used to be a big London fan, perhaps I should revisit that.

    • Yes, I was a child when I read it too (about 12? 13?) but it’s not a book for little kids, that’s for sure….

  4. Amber certainly had good tastes in books at an early age. I hope she is going to get a permanent spot on your blog???

    • Fear not, she will certainly be commissioned for all pooch-related posts from now onwards *wink*

      • Hooray for Amber…..my new woofer blog friend

  5. Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  6. I enjoyed this post Lisa – very entertaining. Fascinating that such a small dog played such a role. As you say, it’s usually bigger dogs.

    • And by coincidence… (as I said above) driving down to Williamstown for the Litfest, I heard an interview with a British writer about the role of pigeons in war. Now that I’m home again I’ll have to hunt around on the ABC to find the name of the book and the author …


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