Friday, October 9, 2015

ReadItDaddy's First Book of the Week - Week Ending 9th October 2015 - "Flo of the Somme" by Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey (Strauss House Productions)

As we respectfully mark the centenary of The Battle of the Somme, one of the most terrible battles of the First World War we explore a book honouring the often unsung animal heroes of the terrible conflict. Our first Book of the Week this week is "Flo of the Somme".
We're completely in awe of the fine work that Hilary Robinson and Martin Impey have put into their fantastic books based on The First World War. Previously they've chronicled an amazing true story of "The Christmas Truce" early on in the conflict, and have also brought home the importance of remembrance in "Where the Poppies Now Grow".

They have now focussed attention on The Battle of the Somme - one of the most terrible and tragic battles of the whole conflict, resulting in a huge loss of life on both sides.

The story this time touches on an aspect of the war that is sometimes overlooked, but is nonetheless a vital and important part of the conflict's history. Many animals were used on both sides, from pack animals and horses who were required for moving personnel, supplies and heavy armaments around the battlefield, to carrier pigeons who were vital to communications on both sides and also dogs who were used for various duties including carrying medical supplies and also a vital boost to morale.

"Flo of the Somme" tells the story of a medical rescue dog who would often run into battle carrying medical kits, through treacherous terrain and often under enemy fire. Working with an ambulance driver named Ray, brave Flo becomes a vital part of the war effort.

"Mercy Dogs" were a real part of the conflict and on both sides medic dogs would be used to reach wounded soldiers, with their keen senses and swiftness making them ideal for relief duties.

A British Border Collie "Mercy Dog"

German Shepherds were used extensively as "Mercy Dogs" on both sides because of their strength and agility
The story reads a lot like a war poem, gently lyrical paying mind to its intended audience, with fantastic illustrations fitting the verse absolutely perfectly. We see other animals in the conflict (including an incredible carrier pigeon who still managed to deliver a vital message despite being shot through the wing), each one with a heroic part to play that is (thankfully) finally being realised and recognised as the centenary of the beginning of the war and key battles in the conflict are remembered.

The "Animals in War" memorial in Park Lane, London
The book's solemn footnote - "They Had No Choice" strikes an important chord and for children who grow up in a world where animal rights are largely recognised, it's important to draw from history the importance of the creatures we share our planet with and in this particular case, animals who gave their lives so that others could live.

Charlotte's favourite bit: The wonderful closing scene of the book (very very difficult to read without a lump in your throat).

Daddy's favourite bit: Once again, Hilary and Martin have produced a beautiful book reminding us that even in our darkest hour, hope could take the most unexpected form. A timely and vital reminder of how important animals were to the war effort and how many animal lives were lost during the terrible conflict.

(Kindly sent to us for review by Strauss House Productions)

"Flo of the Somme"

Written by Hilary Robinson

Illustrated by Martin Impey

Published by Strauss House Productions

Release Date (Paperback): 15th October 2015

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