Based on a real-life dog, The Anzac Puppy is the fictional tale of Freda, a Great Harlequin Dane and while it is a story backgrounded by the New Zealand war effort, it is a poignant story for five to 12-year-olds.
As mascot for the NZ Rifle Brigade during World War 1, Freda provided friendship for those departing and comfort for those returning from the horrors of war. Author Peter Millett wants his young readers to embrace these friendships and asks: “What if your pet became part of the armed services?”
The story focuses on the bond between a soldier who ‘just wants to go home’ and Freda. Through the book the boy becomes a man and the puppy becomes a dog, both growing for different reasons.
The real Freda spent the war as a camp dog for the New Zealand Rifle Brigade based near Birmingham. The Brigade didn’t fight as one. Men from the 2000-strong unit were sent out as replacements to decimated front-line battalions fighting in nearby France.
As a camp dog Freda became part of the brigade and even marched with the troops, standing to attention on parade.
In producing the book Millett teamed up with illustrator Trish Bowles, both working hard to pack in as much historical detail as possible while subtly conveying metaphors of loss and hope for young readers.
Though the book is a readable 32 pages, it took almost ten years of research. Work started in 2001 after the author had read a newspaper article about English commemorations for the long deceased dog. One fascinating aspect was to find that Freda’s collar somehow ended up in the New Zealand Army Museum in Waiouru. Meanwhile, Ms Bowles discovered a relative of hers, Jack Judson, had actually served in the Brigade during the war, so dedicated her artwork to him.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War 1.
The Anzac Puppy is a new release and is in store at Mangawhai Books and Gifts, Wood St.