It is always interesting to watch the growth of an author, and I have been able to do this with Sam Angus. I have reviewed all three of her books to date. Captain is a huge leap forward from Soldier Dog, and A Horse called Hero, both of which were about war and animals. Captain is a raw novel about war, in all its gory detail sometimes, but also about a friendship which survives war and the hero, Billy’s actions.
Billy is an under-age soldier who discovers quite early on that he is not treated as one of the boys because of his age. He encounters Captain in Egypt tending to his donkey called Hey-Ho, and witnessed Captain’s father being stripped of his Corporal’s stripes and the boy’s distress. They are about the same age, and encounter each other again at Gallipolli where Captain’s father is killed. From then on throughout the time there and in subsequent theatres of war, Sinai and Palestine, Captain and the donkey faithfully and doggedly supply soldiers of the Yeomanry. Finally Billy makes a dreadful mistake which colours the end of his war and bows him down. There is a happy ending however.
Billy is a rounded character and his feelings of loneliness at being so young amongst the men is well drawn, and therefore his need for his friendship with Captain who is much the same age. Billy’s fear of using his bayonet in close combat is well portrayed, and the reader feels his sense of disappointment with himself when he treats Captain badly, despite the other boy’s faithfulness to him. There are many graphic descriptions of battles and the aftermath of them, the fear, the stench, the wounded and the dying and it is this which moves Sam Angus’ growth on as a writer. She has felt able to really describe for her reader the reality of war, with the adrenalin flowing, but also the fear and the chaos. Captain transfers his love to Billy after the death of his father, loyally following Billy and his regiment, supplying water and food to them in the trenches at Gallipolli, and in the desert. There are some very good pieces about the difficulties of using camels which give a little light relief to a sombre story.
Soldier Dog graphically described the conditions in the trenches of France during the Great War and the use of dogs to carry messages. This book moves away from the animal story to one of humans in all their frailties facing the enemy, and is a very good book indeed. I just wish that the cover reflected the story more as this is definitely not a story about a boy and a donkey. This is at the top end of the age range 10-14 and with a different cover would sit well in any teenage library. There have been many novels about the war in the trenches, but this highlights in particular Gallipolli, and the war in the desert during the 1914-18 conflict.