Rats were not the only critters

FANYs with their dogs

FANYs (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) with their ambulances and their dogs.


It was time to take my cocker spaniel to the vet for his annual checkup. I reflected, as I lugged him onto the table, what good he would have been to a platoon in the trenches.

None. He is deaf now and incurably mellow.

I did have a rat terrier. She’d have been a small terror in the trenches. Rats on the battlefields grew to be the size of cats, but a good terrier could kill quite a batch in a short period of time. See the result of 15 minutes’ work by the Jack Russell in the soldier’s arms.


Dogs had many jobs in and out of the trenches. Some were police dogs, some were messengers.

Military police dogsMessenger dogs

These dogs, with the German Red Cross, helped get the wounded in.

German Red Cross dogsRed Cross dogs at work

The most famous working dog of the war was the much-decorated Sgt. Stubby, the mascot of the U.S. 102nd Regiment, who served in France with the Yankee Division.  In his eight months of service in combat, he participated in 17 battles. He gave warnings of gas attacks and incoming shellfire and found and comforted the wounded. He himself was gassed and wounded by hand grenades. This is Stubby with his medals.

Sgt Stubby
Eerste Wereldoorlog, Verenigde Staten. De Amerikaanse legerhond Stubby die de rang van sergeant had, overleed in 1926.

Stubby could respond to salutes with salutes of his own, but he wasn’t the only dog in the army who recognized rank. Here is the divisional commander with the divisional dog.

Divisional commander with divisional dog

As well as any jobs they might have had, dogs and other animals were a source of love, comfort and entertainment.


This dog was wounded in a gas attack.

Dog injured in gas attack

This dog would not abandon its owner.

Refugee woman with dog

Is this dog about to take to the skies? Not if that cat has anything to say about it!

Pilot dog with cat


Here are pet cats, bunnies and a surprise.

Canadian with catsailor with cats

Soldiers with bunnies

Soldier with kangaroo Mena Camp Egypt

And this is my very ferocious, steal-pizza-off-your-plate rat terrier, Starburst.


He did what??

zander belinda

My hero did something that completely astonished me. How could he?!? How do we writers think these things up, these bits of story that seem to come out of nowhere? Is it just our subconciouses at work, or is there some font of imagination that we tap into?

However, it happens, it happened to me, and now I have to deal with the consequences. What comes next, what, what?

I am trying that technique where you write down a question — “What happens between this event and the next? What fills that gap?” You write the question on paper: tactile sense, visual sense. You read it aloud: visual sense, auditory sense. I suppose you could lick the paper or smell the ink, but that seems kind of silly. Read it to other people, type it on your keyboard. Read it aloud to yourself just before you go to bed. And when you wake up, you have the answer.


24 hours later: Got it.



tommy writing home

The new project, which bears the unfortunate name of that Gypsy thing, is going well. I’m at the stage where research is so much fun, it takes over my writing time. I have no idea where this story is going, or even what it’s about, but I keep writing, one scene at a time, and trusting that the answers will come organically and any meaning I try to force on it now will only distort the work.

I’m keeping a chart: date, scene(s), word count, time of writing, and how I feel. So far, my predominant feeling is “What is this about?” and my hot time of day is late afternoon, during what I have always thought of as the dead time. 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. is the dead time. If you don’t get something going, you will sit in a meaningless state for two hours that can linger into the evening. It’s the loneliest time of day. Maybe it goes back to Marion — I can remember feeling this way when I was 6 — and the time between getting home from school and supper, when I was waiting for my daddy to come home from work.

We always had supper at 6 p.m., always. After I left for college, I would look at the clock at 6 and feel so homesick. I was lonely after I left home, even when I lived in the sorority house. No one was ever around during the dead time there.

I miss my mother.


Photo: I don’t think this guy needs to do any research. National Library of Scotland.