Hutton (Sgt. Reckless, 2014) collects the true tales of World War II’s gallant animal participants in this nonfiction work.
World War II produced heroes of all stripes, but as Hutton shows in this zoological volume, not all of them were human. The best-known animal soldiers were war dogs, drawn straight from the homes and farms of the American heartland: “Dogs for Defense recruited America’s first canine army, known affectionately as the K-9 Corps. Radio announcements and newspaper articles nationwide made the extraordinary pitch for people to donate their personal pets to the war effort.” These dogs served in all branches of the military as sentries, scouts, messengers, and even medics, quickly locating wounded soldiers on the battlefield. Hutton recounts stories about Chips—“the most highly decorated dog in U.S. military history”—a collie-shepherd-huskie mix who helped guard FDR and Churchill at Casablanca and later disabled a machine gun nest in Sicily. She includes tales of British dogs as well, like Bing, an Alsatian-collie mix that dropped into Normandy with the 13th Parachute Battalion on D-Day. While most of the animals covered in the book are dogs, there are also a number of pigeons, who served as messengers and spies and had wonderful names like Burma Queen, Lady Astor, and Wisconsin Boy. Horses were also used (primarily by the Coast Guard on America’s beaches), and mules served as pack animals in the war’s various theaters. Hutton even tells the story of a Royal Navy tomcat known as “Able Seaman” Simon who served with distinction during the postwar “Yangtze Incident” in China. Hutton’s prose is light and warm, just as one would expect in such a pet-centered book: “As a puppy, Peter—a beautiful Scotch collie born in 1941— was purchased for twenty-five shillings by Mrs. Audrey Stables of Birmingham, England. His path to glory was a surprising one.” This is a work meant for animal lovers, particularly those animal lovers who happen also to be WWII buffs. Younger readers may also enjoy these stories, which thankfully keep descriptions of death and violence to a minimum.
An earnest, comprehensive account of British and American animal service in wartime.