Digger, the dog who went to war by Mark Wilson
Lothian, 2015. ISBN 9780734415745
(Age: 7+) Recommended. War, World War One, Animals, Animals in war, Friendship. Mark Wilson has the knack of distilling a story into its bare bones making it accessible to a younger audience, but also nourishing those older students picking up this book.
With the tale of a small dog smuggled aboard a troop carrier headed for Europe during World War One, Wilson adds to the many stories of animals in war that have appeared in recent years. Digger accompanies his friend, Matthew, a stretcher bearer, adding another level of knowledge to the readers as they absorb the tasks carried out by these men. They share the knife edge existence of the soldiers, risking their own lives to spend days and nights going into the battlefield to retrieve wounded and dying men. Early in the story we are shown the men fashioning a small gas mask for the dog and this figures prominently later in the tale.
Digger accompanies his master doing his work, always there to help the wounded pull through adding a level of comfort to those brought back.
This most touching of stories has illustrations to match. Wilson has a recognisable style using a variety of techniques to augment the emotional tone of the story. Oil on board and canvas along with etchings reveal and complement the story. I spent a long time pouring over the battle scenes, taking in the detail, absorbing the emotional impact of these drawings.
In a class or library this adds to the array of books being published giving an insight into the horrors of war and the small things which added comfort to the men deployed. The story is based on a true tale of a dog smuggled overseas, and is one of many researched and offered in books recently.
For further stories of animals in war, see The Literature Base, Volume 24, Issue 1 (Animals in war, by Fran Knight), Animal heroes (Anthony Hill, whose page has an excellent website giving more stories) and M is for mates (Australian War Memorial, with an excellent website accompanying the book)