I was smitten by this story from the first time author Damien Lewis mentioned it to me. A true tale of derring do and the bond between a man and his dog during World War II.
One of the things I love about Damien Lewis is the level of research that he puts into his books. The Dog Who Could Fly is no exception. WWII airman Robert Bozdech is no longer with us, but his children Robert, Pip and Nina most certainly are! They proved to have a treasure trove of their father’s possessions, pictures, log books, and incredibly a typed manuscript of Robert Bozdech’s adventures with his dog Antis.
There is not a book written that I do not have questions about. I suppose that is why I love to read. The Dog Who Could Fly is an amazing story and long overdue in being told.
It is rare that I get to scoop a famous author such as Damien, but I think I have him this time! What could possibly be in this old and battered box?
The answer is a manuscript.
This is a picture of a page of the original version of the story by Robert Bozdech, complete with his handwritten edits!
I have to admit that I was somewhat envious of Damien, he had that dusty blue binder with the retyped manuscript, but I have a picture of the original!
People tend to overlook the prologue of any book, indeed I am guilty as charged. Last week I received the audio book version. The prologue leapt out at me.
I needed more about the background, Damien Lewis agreed to ask his sources if they would talk to me. They agreed!
As I am in the US and they are in the UK, email was the medium used. My questions were simple, the answers were more complex. They would not have fitted in the book, but most certainly they add to the story of Robert Bozdech and his faithful companion Antis.
Robert: Your father was a remarkable man, a man with a mission, a mission shared with Antis. Did he talk about it much as you were growing up?
Like so many Czech RAF Air Crew sadly my Father never talked about what had happened to him during WW2 and having to escape from the Communists in Czechoslovakia after the War. I never heard him mention Antis. I understand why. He had lost so much during that period of his life. After writing his manuscript called ANTIS V.C I think it was just too painful to talk to us about it. If Damien can write the Sequel telling the rest of the story you will see what I mean.
Pip: As I understand it, you were the typist of the manuscript. The story is that you were learning to type and you volunteered for the task. This was before the age of computers and as the ex owner of a collection of (30) typewriters I have a huge respect for the effort that this task must have taken. I for one am very happy that you took the time. How grim a task was it and how long did it take you?
With regard to my typing of the manuscript – it was actually a pleasure!! I had learnt to type whilst at college some years before and always considered myself quite ‘speedy’ although often my fingers got a bit confused! It was my choice to retype Dad’s manuscript. I had discovered it in his old suitcase. The type print was beginning to fade and there were lots of amendments, mainly written in pencil in Dad’s beautiful but miniscule handwriting. I started to read but then decided that my Mum, brother and sister really needed to read it also and that it would be a lot easier for them to do so if I retyped it including all the amendments as I went. I made them each a copy. It wasn’t an onerous task at all – I actually enjoyed it and the more I typed – the less confused my fingers became!
This was a revelation! I knew that Pip was the typist, but not the background behind it.
Nina: Your father didn’t ever want the family to have another dog, as I understand it. Were you sad about that or did you understand why? Did that persist until the time your father passed away? And do you have a dog in your life now?
During the early years of my childhood we didn’t question Dad about having a Dog, didn’t really think about having one, and I don’t ever recall him talking about Antis (I so wish he had)
I think we were all happy with the animals we had at the time. We always had cats and I remember massive aviaries with chickens, ducks and even pheasants milling about. Dad also had incubators with little fluffy chicks running around glowing under a red lamp. Many years later after Dad had died I visited his childhood home in Czechoslovakia (his sister still lived there at the time) they had the same large aviaries with chickens and ducks, and loads of rabbits! So I guess he needed a reminder of his homeland, but having a dog would have been too painful.
Now I feel a bit guilty; when Rob, Pip and I were a little older (about 7,9 and 10) we started to talk about wanting a dog, Dad of course refused, but one day Mum overheard someone talking in the butchers about puppies needing homes. Against Dad’s wishes (sorry Dad) we bought one of the puppies. Mum felt it was unfair to us as we really wanted a dog by now. When ‘Charlie’ was introduced to Dad his only words were “Get this dog out of the house”. We persisted and pleaded as kids do and eventually Dad relented. Dad accepted Charlie into the family but never treated him as his dog, though every now and again we would catch him offering Charlie titbits of food under the table whilst we weren’t looking! Embarrassingly Charlie was a very badly behaved dog, he would chase joggers up the road, worry the sheep and disappear for days on end. He hadn’t benefitted from Dads expert training!
Now I wouldn’t be without a dog, I have had two of my own. The first one sadly passed away 4 years ago, but our latest, Roxy is currently lying at my feet fast asleep. I am happy to say both dogs were reasonably well trained, I think Dad would have approved!
Robert: I can’t help but ask this question. Your father’s story is one that should have been told many years ago, yes it got some interest right after the Second World War, but languished for decades. How surprised were you when Damien Lewis started contacting you?
Damien had sent my mother who had recently passed away a letter saying he was interested in Dad and Antis and would like to write a book .At the same time there was a letter from a military historian wanting to do the story as well, this other chap didn’t even provide a contact phone number so I threw it in the bin very quickly.
Damien on the other hand had left phone numbers and email and also his website address and I thought “this is very cool” so I checked out his website and I was very impressed and I thought ;”bloody hell, we have hit the Jack pot !!” So yes I was surprised and very thrilled that Damien had made contact. This has been a life changing experience for me and I thank Damien very much for making this book happen and hope a Film or two comes out of this story.
Pip: Your hard work paid off, are you happy with how Damien Lewis has told the story of your father?
You’ve asked me if I am happy with the way Damien has told Dad’s story. My answer to that is – yes!!! I love the way Damien writes. He brings animals to life. Also the way in which he has told the story is very similar to Dad’s style therefore I am doubly pleased! It’s funny – I know Dad and Antis’s story so well and yet as soon as I opened the book and started reading I was completely sucked in and couldn’t wait to hear what was going to happen next!!
I am now a total fan of Damien’s. I’ve read lots of his books and have enjoyed them all. I’ve just finished reading ‘Judy’ – the latest and wow – what a story!
I have to admit that I enjoyed being part (very small) of a very large and important story. Damien Lewis had told me how gracious the family had been to him, they were just as gracious to me. I would love to meet them and offer them a toast na zdraví (Cheers) and děkuji (Thank You).