I don’t know much about WWII, and even less about the American campaign in the South Pacific. I learned a lot, and felt it, reading about a Yorkshire Terrier. William Wynne’s book about his dog Smoky takes you to the war with him. He explains it so clearly, the geography of battle, the military sorties and the day-to-day existence of the soldiers.
Military history was not his purpose in writing Yorkie Doodle Dandy. The book is the story of a dog he acquired in New Guinea while he was stationed there as an aerial photographer. One part of the story of how Smoky came to be with Bill really struck me. Another soldier found her alongside a road, trying to get out of a foxhole. He didn’t like dogs, but he couldn’t leave this little scrap of a being to fend for herself. So he brought her back to camp even though he wasn’t even remotely tempted to keep her. That, in an environment where death, killing and suffering are part of everyday life, is the act of a truly good man.
When Smoky came to Bill soon after, he did basic obedience training with her for her own safety. Then, out of boredom and seeing how quickly she learned and enjoyed it, he began teaching her tricks. She became a star performer, providing entertainment for his mates and putting on shows for troops and in hospitals for wounded soldiers. While not an official war dog, she performed military duty, becoming a mascot of his squadron and given the honourary rank of corporal. She logged many hours of flight time, in reconnaissance and combat missions. Her most important military action was pulling telephone wire 60 feet through an underground drainage pipe. It took her minutes to do what would have taken men days.
He brought her back to the States where she became a celebrity both as a war dog and as a performer with him. With Bill’s wife Margie, they spent time in Hollywood in the movie dog training business. He tells us about kennels and trainers known to all of us who love watching dogs in movies. They returned to Ohio when Bill was offered an aerial photography job in NACA (National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics), later NASA. But performing was in Bill and Smoky’s blood. They entertained children and adults in circuses, in hospital wards, in variety stage shows and later on their own live television show called Castles in the Air.
Yorkshire Terriers were not common in the US at that time and, with her, Bill became involved in dog shows and the Yorkshire Terrier Club of America. Smoky lived to a good old age, happy and pampered and forever the star, also forever the war hero. There are monuments to her for her war work and her irrepressible spirit of fun.
The greatest tribute to her, I think, is this wonderful memoir about her life with a man who deeply loved her. It also is a tribute to the soldiers who loved and protected their official and unofficial war dogs. He tells the stories of several of them and the extraordinary measures they took to make sure their dogs were part of ‘bringing the boys home.’ He didn’t intend the book as such, but it’s also a testament to him – a good man and a great veteran. Thank you, Mr. Wynne, for sharing your war and your dog with us.