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Customer Review

on 2 November 2010
There have been one or two books in recent years written about animals in war, but across all wars and not specific to the 1914-1918 conflict. Even then, they have tended to look purely at those animals in service to man, and in no great depth.
What I found so fascinating about Tommy's Ark is that it looks at all creatures great and small on the Western front, from those animals and insects that were indigenous to the land, right through to those kept in private collections and zoos and whose `homes' were overtaken by the war. Many of them ended up as pets and mascots, others were humanely shot or sadly left to starve.
The thing that gripped me was how the book relates the animals to the human condition and experience, so one man watches the struggles of a spider as the percussion of the exploding shells knocks it repetitively from the dugout roof, while another watches a worm climbing up his trouser leg during a severe bombardment and tells the worm how his own body is not quite ready to be consumed. Simply amazing human observations during intense periods of stress.
Trench life was mainly static and so men were inactive for long periods of time. They were entranced by the wildlife about them; the birds that adapted to trench life and lived in dugouts alongside the men; the frogs that became trapped in communication trenches that were trodden into a slippery slime, although one officer went out of his way to lift them from the duckboard floor. Men, longing for home, watched birds that flew west and speculated how they might soon be sitting on garden gates in England, others watched butterflies as they flitted along the trenches, entranced by their beauty.
The seamier side is well covered too: the bleeding to death of a panic stricken horse in transit to France is shocking, as are the descriptions of maggots trailing from the bodies of dead Germans. Horses and mules have their stories told as do the dogs and pigeons, as you would expect, but then so do the voles, robins, wasps and bees. That is why I feel that the book breaks totally new ground. The chapters are divided chronologically into each year of the war, with the author looking at how the landscape changed with each passing year, and how the creatures adapted to the changes. There is also an excellent collection of photographs, almost all of which are new to me. A really excellent read and one to be dipped into many times. Really recommended.
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