Friday, February 03, 2006

B for Buster

B For Buster by Iain Lawrence, 2004

B For Buster
is a WWII story of courage and duty. Kak has lied about his age and traveled half way around the world from Canada to be part of a Bomber Command squadron in Yorkshire. His excitement and anticipation are viewed with weary dismay by the veterans.

The Halifax bomber, B For Buster is battered and patched together. Nobody can tell them what happened to the previous crew, the flight engineer landed the plane and then died in the cockpit; the rest of the crew just vanished. In one of the eeriest scenes, Kak visits the plane at night and suddenly encounters the ghosts of the previous crew.

Their first op over Germany is a flight into terror. As in all young-man-at-war novels, Kak comes to fully understand the horror of war and has to face the draining fear that overtakes him on every operation.

As the wireless/radio operator, Kak is responsible for the crew's pigeon. Homing pigeons were carried on the planes as a "last resort" communication device. Bert, the disheveled and generally despised pigeoneer takes a liking to the boy and Kak finds refuge from fear working with him in the pigeon loft. His special bond with Bert's prize pigeon, Percy, becomes his salvation when Bert allows him to take Percy along on their missions. In his mind, Percy is a talisman of good luck that will protect the crew and Kak is able to do his duty and fly.

Lawrence accurately captures the danger, the fear and the anguish the fliers faced with each sortie. We can only respect their real bravery as they did the job that was asked of them.

As a librarian, I would want to make sure my WWII guys found this book.

In the excellent author's note at the end Lawrence gives additional history on Bomber Command and the uneasy choices that had to be made trying to balance the safety of the crews against the accuracy of the bombing runs.

I learned also about the Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross. Thirty two pigeons have received this award. I did not realize the animated film, Valiant, was about these homing pigeons.

There is a fascinating series, the Animals' VC, on BBC 4 about the medal. If you are an animal lover, do not miss this program. The stories of these animals will leave you with a smile and a huge lump in your throat. The story about a guide dog who got her partner out of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 is moving beyond belief. Oh my! Needs RealPlayer.

This information would be good to share with students reading Letters from Wolfie by Patti Sherlock, a book on this year's Lonestar list.

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