Review Blog

Feb 02 2017

Flapper VC by Mark Wilson

cover image

Lothian, 2017. ISBN 9780734416759
(Age: 6+) Highly recommended. Animals in war. Pigeons. Australia at war. On Manos Island, north of Australia's mainland a patrol of Australia's soldiers were fighting an enemy advance. In dire peril, they released two of the three pigeons they were carrying only to see both shot down by the enemy. The last one, the smallest of the three, Flapper, flew above the clouds to find a gap in the rain and shell fire to get back to base with his message. For his bravery he was awarded the Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.
Mark Wilson has expanded on these basic facts to give a story of this bird, born as war broke out and trained to be a homing pigeon. When the call went out for homing pigeons, Flapper was one of the 13,500 donated to the war effort and he was trained to be carried by a soldier and given experience in the jungles, so different from the range he had at home. He was trained to return to the mobile hutch and to carry messages on his leg and so sent to the islands north of Australia.
The stories of many animals used in war, are being written for a wide audience, bringing their courage and tenacity to a reading public. The Australian War Memorial's M is for mates: Animals in wartime form Ajax to Zero (2009) gives a brief outline of the range of animals that served during the war, and shows what probably happened to Flapper and his mates under Q for Quarantine.
Wilson's distinctive illustrative style is most appealing, using a range of pencil and acrylic paint to give a sweeping view of the jungle and intensive war met head on by Flapper and the patrol. The crayon and lead pencil drawings show the range of animals and people who were part of the war effort, bringing another level of understanding to the younger reader. Each element of this amazing tale is distinguished by illustrations worth more than a second look, and I found myself poring over many of them, taking in the detail given, and I love the framed illustrations on the cover and elsewhere, with the high flying pigeon on the endpapers. With Anzac Day coming up as well as commemorations for the 75th anniversary of the battles of Milne Bay, El Alemien, Kokoda and the Fall of Singapore this is a splendid book to have available for classes studying the realities of war.
Fran Knight

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