'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Sunday 30 December 2018

Review: Soldier Dog

It’s May 1917 and the Great War to end all wars is still raging.
Not sure of his place in the world, 14 year old Stanley spends most of his time with the horses and dogs his father looks after, his closest friend is his father’s beloved greyhound, Rocket. 

But when Rocket escapes and returns home pregnant, his father becomes extremely angry, causing a rift between father and son.

Their relationship deteriorates when his father sells all the puppies but one, Soldier, the puppy Stanley named after his brother Tom who is away in France fighting. 

After a blazing argument, Stanley watches his father confiscate Soldier with the intent to drown him.

Heartbroken and disillusioned, Stanley runs away in an attempt to find Tom. In doing this, he enlists even though he is clearly under age; however like so many before him he is still accepted. Placed in the Royal Engineer’s regiment, he states his speciality is in looking after horses.

Enduring basic training, Stanley makes friends with brothers James and Hamish McManus and Fidget who look out for him. An opportunity arises to be part of the Messenger Dog Service, a division of the Signals Service where he becomes Keeper Ryder. 

The keepers are given 3 dogs, except for Stanley who is only given Bones, a Great Dane in an effort to not send him to the front. The dogs are then trained for a further five weeks where they must become accustomed to the sounds of battle and to their master’s voice. The dogs must be so loyal to the keepers that they use their last breath to get back to them, always ensuring the message gets through.

However the front is badly in need of the service and he is sent to Etaples near Villers Bretennaux. Boy and dog prove themselves against the odds, but unfortunately Bones is heavily gassed and does not survive.

Despondent, Stanley refuses to take another dog until he is convinced otherwise to take Pistol, a mixed breed of a dog, who is clearly loyal and the two are sent off to the front once again.

All the time searching for Tom, but aware the censors read every bit of mail – he finally receives a letter from Tom, ordering him to return home which Stanley ignores, but to his dismay learns his father has enlisted to search for him. It changes the whole dynamic of what he believed of his father.

Arriving at British HQ Signal Station, near Villers-Bretonneux, Stanley discovers how desperate the war has become, with the nearby village surrounded and under siege with several regiments trapped, including his brother Tom’s.

At the same time Stanley receives a letter from his father informing him that he has found his beloved dog Soldier who he had previously given away to the Messenger Dog Service and that regrets the way they parted. Stanley discovers Soldier is Messenger Dog 2176, which confuses him as that, is the same number of his current dog, Pistol. They are one and the same.

Reunited, Stanley must now use Soldier to save Tom while potentially losing Soldier again. In the end Solider runs the artillery gauntlet, but is badly injured as is Stanley, when he risks his life to call Soldier back to safety. With both Stanley and Solider badly injured they are torn apart once again – will they see each other again?

Author Sam Angus has written a war novel with a difference, highlighting the history of the messenger dog service, while portraying a typical family affected by a destructive war and its aftermath. The reader will want to know what happens to both Stanley and Soldier as you become invested in the story.
Title: Soldier Dog
Author: Sam Angus
Publisher: Pan Macmillan, $14.99
Publication date: 1 October 2012
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781447220053
For ages: 10 -14
Type: Middle Grade Fiction