It felt like sitting down to a proper English tea served by an erudite and entertaining host, reading Grant Hayter-Menzies’ new book Muggins: The Life and Afterlife of a Canadian Canine War Hero. Victoria, BC in the 1910s was a bastion of British ex-pats, so it is no surprise they were caught up in the fervour of the war happening nearly half a world away. One of those at the forefront of war support in Victoria was a charming little white dog wearing cocoa tins on a harness, collecting coins for relief efforts. Transitioning from the pampered spoiled pet of a millionaire philanthropist, Muggins became a hard-working war hero in 1916. Over the course of two years, he raised the equivalent of a quarter-million dollars, visited and comforted wounded soldiers recovering in hospital, mingled with the highest echelons of military society and with royalty, and became known all over the world. As with many aspects of the Canadian experience of the Great War, Muggins’ story was nearly lost to history until Hayter-Menzies dived into his life and resurrected Muggins—for the second time, it turns out.
But this book is so much more than merely one dog’s life story. Hayter-Menzies explores the lives of those left at home during the 1914-1918 conflict. It is an essay on Canadian life on the home front, and of women’s very active roles supporting the war effort. Muggins would not have become the celebrity he was without the drive of women, who used all means possible to raise funds for everything from small comfort packages for prisoners and the wounded, to purchasing ambulances and hospital ships.
The book also explores the roles of dogs at home and in the trenches and the human/canine bond that drives their need to please us. It feels deeply personal; Hayter-Menzies’ own dear Spitz dog, Freddie makes more than a cameo appearance. Hayter-Menzies treats the story of Muggins with the respect and love he obviously feels for “man’s best friend”.
This book is a warm, chatty kind of conversation between the reader and author. It is entertaining, funny, poignant, and deeply touching. Muggins, with his “speaking gaze” and plumed tail wagging happily, lives again through Hayter-Menzies’ masterful prose. While moving, the book is never mawkish or sappy, but a clear-eyed reminder of how much we owe them for the unconditional love dogs hold for humans. This is definitely a recommended read for dog lovers, those interested in the 1914-1918 conflict and those who just want to time travel back 100 years to a unique period of Canada’s history.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Grant Hayter-Menzies is a biographer and historian specializing in the lives of extraordinary and unsung heroes of the past, notably the role of animals in times of war. He is also the literary executor of playwright William Luce. He lives in Sidney, British Columbia, with his dog, Freddie, and partner, Rudi. For more information, visit grantmenzies.wixsite.com/author.
- Publisher : Heritage House (Oct. 19 2021)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 224 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1772033715
- ISBN-13 : 978-1772033717