Jack navigates the smoky, ash-covered streets of London amid air raid sirens and falling bombs, dodging shrapnel and listening for cries for help, as a bike messenger for fire crews. When Jack finds a dog, miraculously still alive after the latest Nazi bombing of London, he realizes there's something extra special about the shaggy puphe can smell people who are trapped under debris.
With his new canine companion, nicknamed Rip because of the dog's torn ear, maybe Jack can do more than just relay messages back-and-forthhe can actually save lives. And if Jack's friend Paula is right about the impending Nazi invasion, he and Rip will need to do all they can to help Jewish families like hers.
There's just one problem: Jack has to convince his ill-tempered father to let him keep Rip.
Based on true episodes during the London Blitz in World War II, this action-packed and touching story explores the beginnings of search-and-rescue dogs and the bravery and resourcefulness of young people determined to do their part for their country.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
|Age Range:||8 - 12 Years|
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1. Messenger Boy
"It’s down to you now, Jack," said Warden Yates, scribbling on a report form. "The line’s gone dead to the fire station. Get to Skinner Street soon as you can."
Jack and the warden both ducked as a cluster of incendiary bombs exploded across nearby rooftops. Jack could hear shrapnel jingling down the slates like a tune he could almost whistle.
"Close," he muttered, stuffing the message into the pocket of his blue overalls. Then he tightened the strap under his helmet and mounted his bike.
"Keep your head down!" cried the warden as Jack rode off, swerving to avoid the bomb crater at the top of the road.
There was a shop on fire up ahead, lighting up the road in the blackout. Jack raced past as fast as he could, hoping sparks wouldn’t set fire to his clothes. That’s what happened to Tommy Shepherd last week, and he was still in hospital with serious burns. Tommy was fifteen, almost two years older than Jack. They’d both lied about their ages to get into the messengers. You were supposed to be seventeen.
"What an adventure," Tommy had murmured to him as they stood in line at the Town Hall two months earlier.
Jack was a full head taller than Tommy and the wardens accepted them both into training without a murmur back in July. Now it was the end of September and London had been bombed every night since the seventh.
Even if they found out I was only thirteen, they wouldn’t chuck me out, Jack told himself, freewheeling past a pile of rubble. Especially since Tommy got hit.
The thought spurred him on, dreams of making heroic rescues in burning buildings chasing him down the street.
= * =
The Blitz was bad that night. The German bombers were dropping showers of incendiaries all over London, and St. Pancras Station was a target once again. Incendiaries were small, but they were dropped in baskets containing hundreds. The fires they caused lit up the streets like a beacon for the bombers to then drop high explosives. In between, the streets were pitch dark in the blackout made worse by the constant swirl of thick smoke. Jack rode with a wet handkerchief tied around his mouth like a mask to stop breathing in the choking air.
It was bad around Camden, Holborn, and the West End, but Jack knew the East End was getting the worst. A great blanket of smoke sat permanently on the horizon toward the river, and every night the bombers tore into the docks and the homes in the narrow streets. Hundreds were killed, thousands wounded, and the hospitals were so blocked up that the Warden told the boys to use the first-aid post instead.
"If you just need a few stitches, don’t go the hospitals, boys. There’s them what needs it more."
Jack had been up the top of Parliament Hill fields with Mum to see the damage.
"Those poor people," was all Mum said in a quiet voice.
The wardens said a lot more, and in not such nice language.
"You wouldn’t believe it when they drop them high-explosive bombs," Warden Yates had told them. "I was visiting my sister in Bermondsey just as they started on the East End. The air was so wild it pushed and pulled me every which way. I thought my eyeballs would be sucked out my head. Couldn’t even get my breath that night, there was smoke like acid all around us. The neighbor’s shirt was ripped off by the blast."
"What about our boys on the river?" put in another man. "They had the fireboats pumping water onto the docks, and the fires were so hot the paint blistered on the side of the boats."
"My cousin’s crew said the fire leapt the river, burning on both sides. Cranes was crashing over and the whole dock’s on fire," another man said. He shook his head and stared at his boots.
Jack wanted to ask what happened to the man’s cousin, but he didn’t dare.
Warden Yates knocked his pipe out against a wall and said, "All those homes on fire, people staggering around the streets with kiddies—how much more can they take?"
No one answered as they turned back to work.
= * =
Now as Jack rode toward the fire station he concentrated on just getting through in one piece to deliver his message. Do your job, he told himself, as he swerved to avoid a shaft of fire swooping down.
He’d never been so needed in all his life.
At the top of Skinner Street the dark was worse than ever. He couldn’t see the road at all and slowed down to avoid getting a puncture from broken glass. Hot pieces of shrapnel were falling all around him from the shells fired by anti-aircraft guns. There was a massive thump on his helmet, and a red-hot piece of metal slid down onto the ground. His heart leapt in his chest and he wobbled on his bike, nearly tipping over.
No one was out except a couple of air raid wardens making sure that people had gone down into the bomb shelters.
Suddenly a figure loomed out of the smog, hand up in front of him, crying, "Halt!" He said something else, but the anti-aircraft guns hammering away blocked out the words.
Jack could just make out the tin helmet with WARDEN printed across the front. He pulled down the handkerchief over his mouth and gasped, "Messenger."
"Good lad," the warden shouted and waved him on with the shrouded light of his torch.
Hope he doesn’t know Mum and Dad, thought Jack as he set off again. Shrapnel rained back down onto the streets all around him as he pedaled on, his bike skimming through the Blitz.
It wasn’t the bombing that scared Jack Castle. He was one of the best riders in the team. The terrifying noise all around didn’t bother him either—the only advantage of being deaf in his left ear. It had taken a war for anything good to come of that.
But if Mum and Dad found out, then he’d be in deep trouble. Whatever happened, he had to keep his place in the Messengers secret, especially from Dad.
Just a few more yards, legs pumping like mad, and then he pulled up his brakes and skidded to a halt. Bert Jones and the other men glanced over their shoulders.
"Where is it lad?" barked Bert, his blackened hand stretching out.
"Here. Warden Yates says…"
"All right, all right, give it over." Bert snatched the paper, read it quickly, and snapped, "Harrington Square. Let’s go, boys!"
Jack pulled his bike over to the wall as he watched the men leap onto the fire engine and take off, bell ringing, winding their way ’round the cratered road at top speed.
Then he rode back to the wardens’ post, avoiding Skinner Street and the fires.
They can’t do without me, he thought, smiling to himself as a shower of ash settled like gray snow over the road.