Throughout the nineteen-forties my paternal grandfather had a shaggy black and white dog called Joe, a friendly and affectionate companion. He was my playmate when we went to visit. Whilst the grown-ups were involved in their long convoluted stories of who had died, married, had babies, done this or that, and what she said to him and he said to her, Joe was a welcome distraction.
He was a playful but gentle dog, and I was told he was a French poodle. I was impressed. French poodles were posh: they had to be clipped into fancy shapes. You needed money to pay for a poodle’s haircuts, and most people I knew needed all their income to keep their families in food and clothing, not for luxuries like canine grooming. Joe was definitely never taken to anything as sissy as a dog barber, and there may have been a poodle somewhere in his pedigree, but as far as I can recall he was just a shaggy black dog with white splodges.
When I was older, I found out that he really was French. How did a French dog come to be living in a Yorkshire mining village? My father filled in the story for me. Joe had been brought to England by a soldier during the evacuation of Dunkirk in June 1940, on one of the little boats that risked everything to rescue the battered remnants of the Allied army after that terrible defeat. Soldiers befriending dogs is nothing new, by the way, and still goes on today: a special convoy of dogs adopted by American soldiers in Afghanistan was shown arriving in the USA on TV last November.
So that explains his presence in Thurnscoe.
But how did he come to be living with my grandparents? My grandfather was a sapper stationed in France during the First World War, but he was too old to be in WWII. He certainly wasn’t at Dunkirk. Eventually I learnt that Joe’s rescuer brought him back to his village, took him to the pub and there he met Granddad. The soldier was due to return to service, and needed someone to look after Joe, so Granddad adopted him. What my Granny had to say when Granddad brought him home I don’t know, but I imagine that, soft-hearted as she was, his sob-story will have won her over.
Among the scraps and oddments in Dad’s Ditty Box is a small article torn from the local newspaper telling Joe’s story. Not only was Joe a genuine French poodle, he was also famous!
On the back of the clipping is news of the surrender of the Italian fleet in Malta, which dates it to September 1943.