Like many people my age, I grew up with films about World War 2, usually black & white and watched on a Sunday afternoon. My particular favourite is The Dambusters, and I also read the story of Barnes Wallis in one of the books my Dad used to get from Reader’s Digest.
In history lessons at school we covered many subjects including the Reform Acts in the nineteenth century, and contemporary history which included the 6 day war in the Middle East. But we were never taught about the two world wars, and my knowledge of these was pretty basic.
This all changed when I read a truly captivating book called War Dog, which tells the story of a Czech airman called Robert (or Jan) Bozdech and his flying dog of war, Antis. When their plane crashed in no man’s land in 1939, Robert and his French pilot Pierre Duval took shelter in an abandoned farmhouse. There, Robert found a tiny German Shepherd puppy with a real attitude, and despite the precarious situation they were in, he refused to leave without it. The two men and the dog were luckily found by a French patrol, and Robert was reunited with his Czech squadron. At the time of the Dunkirk evacuation when the German army was advancing, Robert and his fellow comrades made their way to England via Gibraltar.
The story takes you on a roller coaster ride of emotions, telling the tale of the amazing bond between one man and his dog; how Antis became the mascot for the squadron, cheating death on several occasions, and the struggle for them to not be parted while Robert played his part in the war. Antis was among many animals to receive the Dickin Medal, the ‘Animal VC’, and he remained Robert’s faithful companion for almost 14 years.
The book was written by an award-winning author called Damian Lewis, using diaries and transcripts written by Robert himself. Aside from the emotional aspect, this book is so well written that it has given me the best insight into the second world war. I have learned far more than ever before about the Allied Forces, aircraft, bombing raids, and more importantly the camaraderie of these young men and women.
I’ve since watched both the old and the new films about Dunkirk, and more recently Darkest Hour which is about Winston Churchill’s appointment as Prime Minister; I now have a much better understanding of this period in our history, and it is all because of Robert & Antis.