The no-man’s-land puppy who took to the skies
“In the winter of 1939 in the cold snow of no-man’s-land, two survivors met and began an extraordinary journey that would bind them together for the rest of their lives. One was an orphaned puppy, abandoned by his owners as they fled the approaching Nazi forces. The other, a lost soul of a different sort – a Czech airman, flying for the French Air Force but soon to be bound for the RAF and the country that he would call home”.
So begins the third book written about the remarkable story of Robert Bozdech and his Alsatian dog Antis. The earlier works – “One Man and his Dog” by Anthony Richardson, and “Freedom in the Air” by Hamish Ross – were published respectively in 1960 and 2007. All three books describe – in varying detail and emphasis – Bozdech’s journey from his homeland in Czechoslovakia, set amidst the history and politics of Central Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.
Through contact with the son and daughters of Robert Bozdech, the author of this latest work was permitted access to Bozdech’s own manuscript which he had called Antis VC. This unpublished work revealed to Damien Lewis a gripping account of the most celebrated partnership between man and dog of the Second World War, a tale that remains unparalleled to this day. Through this document and other material provided by the family Damien Lewis has, where possible, told the story of Robert Bozdech and Antis in Bozdech’s own words.
The story commences during the winter of 1939-1940 in France where Bozdech was serving as a gunner in the French Air Force, having escaped Czechoslovakia at the time of the Nazi invasion. Shot down with his French pilot, they took cover in an empty farmhouse where Bozdech discovered an abandoned Alsatian puppy. Not having the heart to leave him to a certain death, Bozdech took along the small puppy when they made their escape; over the coming years Bozdech and Antis were to save each other’s lives on numerous occasions.
When France fell Bozdech and his compatriots fled to the south, eventually reaching Gibraltar, where they boarded a ship for England. Antis was hidden on board and, with no money for quarantine, smuggled into England! Bozdech was posted to 312 Czechoslovak Fighter Squadron at Duxford, but soon volunteered for 311 Czechoslovak Bomber Squadron, anxious to get into the war.
In early 1941 Bozdech began flying bombing sorties into Europe. Antis would wait in the dispersal area – until the day that Bozdech was injured and hospitalised. Antis waited for days in the cold and rain beside the runway for his master’s return, refusing to move or to eat. On Bozdech’s first sortie following his recovery, Antis was nowhere to be seen. It was only as the plane approached the bombing target that a touch on Bozdech’s elbow revealed the stowaway. The enlightened Wing Commander turned a blind eye to this breach of regulations, and Antis was fitted with his own oxygen mask; from this time on he would accompany his master in the air until Bozdech completed his tour of duty and was sent to the gunnery school to train a new generation of bomber crews.
A second tour of duty with 311 Squadron followed, in the role of radio and radar operator. Now in Coastal Command with 12 hour patrols – and rigorous enforcement of rules – Antis had to remain behind. He continued, however, to serve as 311 Squadron’s mascot, and his fame as a veteran of countless sorties and injuries at the hands of the enemy continued to spread.
The book concludes at the end of the war, the epilogue describing briefly Bozdech’s homecoming – with Antis at his feet – and his return to England after only three years, when he was again forced to flee Czechoslovakia due to the communist purges. A year later Antis was formally recognised as a War Hero and awarded the Dickin Medal – the “Animal Victoria Cross”. Antis died in August 1953 aged 14 years and is buried in the Animal Cemetery in Ilford.
A truly remarkable story of brave and courageous airmen fighting to avenge their homeland, enriched with the extraordinary tale of the inseparable bond between Bozdech and his war dog hero, Antis.
|Published:||26 September 2013|