Damien Lewis is best known for his ‘living history’ style of writing, his sources are the people involved in the actual events, his last book Zero Six Bravo is a great example. The Dog Who Could Fly is a little different, the story begins in 1939 with the onslaught of the Second World War and unfortunately the people involved are no longer with us. However, Damien did indeed get the story directly from the source, airman Robert Bozdech! No seances were involved, just a dusty blue long forgotten blue binder containing Robert’s strange story written in 1960 and typed by his daughter.
So indeed The Dog Who Could Fly has been based on a first hand account, kudos Damien. Along with the blue binder Robert’s family managed to come up with a treasure trove of photographs and documentation.
Robert Bozdech was a Czech airman, on a dark and snowy night in 1939 he and his pilot are shot down, crash landing in no-mans-land. They find an abandoned farmhouse where they make a strange discovery, a puppy, a small fur ball only a few weeks old. The airmen had enough to contend with dealing with their own survival, but Robert could not abandon the poor helpless puppy, and so began a 15 year story of a man and his dog Ant.
Robert, the pilot and Ant made it out of no-mans-land and finally to England, the journey was a perilous one for both airman and dog. However through guile the pair made it, even managing to dodge the rather arcane British quarantine rules for importing pets.
The RAF readily accepted both man and dog and contrary to ‘the rule book’ the pair were a flying team, Robert in the gun turret and Ant laying at his feet.
Ant was finally grounded after suffering a shrapnel injury. This did not however derail his RAF career. For a period of time he was assigned guard duty for a four year old girl.
He was also the bases best source of information about incoming Nazi Luftwaffe attacks, radar was in its infancy, but Ant had an uncanny ability to hear what the radar could not. He saved countless lives.
The question I asked Damien Lewis was why did such a great story languish in a blue binder for over 50 years? Why didn’t Robert Bozdech publish this fascinating and largely unknown story? His answer was both simple and complex and had much to do with the Cold War. Robert Bozdech still had relatives in Czechoslovakia and feared that publication might endanger them.
It is my theory that Robert Bozdech wanted the story documented, maybe as an artifact to be shared after his death with his close family. Ant, or as became known Antis died at age 15, in 1954. Ant was the only dog for Robert, his friend could not be replaced, for the rest of his life there would not be another dog in his life.
The Dog Who Could Fly is a truly wonderful read. Damien Lewis has used his literary magic to bring a long lost true story back to life. I wish I had a time machine, I would have loved to have the opportunity to meet Robert Bozdech and his faithful companion.
The Dog Who Could Fly is available in better book stores everywhere or by clicking on the Amazon link above.