The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico

The Snow Goose cover

I’ve read quite a lot of books by Paul Gallico and I have a feeling that I read The Snow Goose a few decades ago, but when I saw this lovely edition of the book for sale at an antiques fair for all of £3 I decided it had to come home with me. It was first published in 1941, not long after the Dunkirk evacuation.

It’s a very short tale, just 55 pages long but has some lovely illustrations by Peter Scott, the famous wildlife artist who was the son of Scott of the Antarctic. A lot of the illustrations are black and white woodblock prints but there are a few lovely coloured illustrations too.

The story is about a lonely man who lives in an old lighthouse on the Essex coast, he has always felt like an outsider, someone who doesn’t fit in to ‘normal’ society. His problem is that he’s deformed, with a hunchback and also has a disfigured hand. It seems that people are unnerved by his appearance. But the sea birds aren’t judgemental and he forms a bond with a damaged snow goose which is brought to him by Frith a young girl from the nearest village.

When Rhayader the man hears about the British army being stranded on the beaches around Dunkirk he decides to use his very small boat to sail over to France and manages to save a lot of lives by ferrying men on the beaches to the large ships standing off the beaches.

This is a lovely but sad story, it feels like a fairy tale or maybe more closely a parable, and I can imagine it must have been very moving for people reading it when it was first published.

Dunkirk – the film

This afternoon we went to see the new film Dunkirk. It has been getting rave reviews but we would have gone to see it anyway as Jack’s father George was one of the soldiers lucky enough to be rescued from the beaches. Which is just as well because if he hadn’t been then there would have been no Jack!

The film is very tense, there’s no preamble, it begins with soldiers running through French streets under fire then switches to one of the small rescue boats being kitted out for the journey over to France – to save the British army. The action keeps cutting between that boat, the beach at Dunkirk and the battle going on in the air. There’s really very little dialogue, compared with most films anyway and that probably adds to the atmosphere. Mark Rylance is particularly good as the small boat owner but all the acting is good.

The only thing that sort of annoyed me was that there seemed to be a distinct lack of soldiers on the beach. I’ve seen photographs of it and it was absolutely packed out, as you would expect with up to 330,000 British men waiting to be evacuated, and later 150,000 or so French soldiers. If they didn’t want to pay for so many actors they could have computer generated them easily.

The Guardian film critic wasn’t impressed by the film although he was mainly annoyed by it focusing on one small boat rather than on some of the more dashing real life stories involved, but I don’t agree.

You can see the official film trailer here.

The photo below is of my in-laws George and Nancy on their wedding day which was arranged very quickly when George thought that he was going to be part of the D-Day invasion force four years later. I suppose they thought that the odds were against him surviving and as they had been going out with each other for years and years it might be now or never.

A Dunkirk Survivor

Meet my in-laws, George and Nancy.

George had been in the Territorial Army when war broke out in 1939, so he was one of the very first ones to be called up into the army.

As we have had the 70th commemorations of the Dunkirk beach evacuations all over the television at the week-end, I thought it would be appropriate to write a wee bit about George.

In 1940 he was in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, one of the Scottish regiments, and as he was the company clerk he was given the task of staying behind to burn all of the paperwork, orders and such to stop any information falling in to the hands of the Germans who at one point were in tanks only one field away from him.

After completing the job he legged it as fast as possible to join the rest of the British army waiting patiently on the beach at Dunkirk, despite the fact that they were being bombed and strafed by the Luftwaffe.

Luckily, he was one of the thousands who did manage to get on to a ship and get back to Blighty. Which is just as well really because if he hadn’t, there would most likely have been no husband for me and no Duncan or Gordon either.

The photographs were taken in the family garden after George and Nancy’s wedding which wasn’t until May 1944. Everything was done in a hurry as the whole battalion had been given leave prior to them taking part in the D-Day landings. They thought that it was very likely that he wouldn’t survive it so decided to get married. (As it happened his battalion didn’t land in France until two or three weeks after D-Day.)

The ceremony took place in the bride’s home which happened to be the Episcopalian Rectory as her father was the minister, although it was a colleague of his who officiated.

Nancy always said that she knew as soon as she saw the new choirboy (George) walking down the aisle that she would marry him. They were 9 years old then. They were 24 when they married. I suppose they might have married earlier if he hadn’t been away in the army for nearly five years.