The Tortoise And The Soldier
On the battlefield humans have often had the company and help of
four footed or winged beings. Before tanks and other mechanized
vehicles horses bore warriors into combat. Carrier pigeons delivered
vital strategy messages. Dogs did and still do everything from
detecting dangerous devices to providing much needed companionship.
But a tortoise?
Yes, a tortoise. Young Henry Friston survived World War I with
a reptilian roommate (actually shipmate but I never pass up a chance
to alliterate) he named Ali Pasha. Michael Foreman brings us their
incredible story in his The Tortoise And The Soldier: A Story Of
Courage And Friendship In World War I.
As a lad, Friston was mesmerized by the world map on his
schoolroom wall, daydreaming of going to places that even had exotic
names. He left school at thirteen. (Many boys did then.) He became a
deckhand on his fourteenth birthday. When the North Sea became too
small for his daydreams he joined the (British) Royal Navy.
A year after Friston enlisted, now an able seaman and one of the
caretakers of Number Two Gun, war is declared on Germany. Instead of
hauling fish he's shelling and trying to not get shot. His ship heads
out to Belgium and continue on to Gallipoli. Landing--wading through
an ocean full of floating corpses and then dashing for cover--he
becomes a stretcher bearer, bringing the wounded to the beach for
evacuation "with bullets whistling past our ears."
One day, thrown off his feet by the force of an explosion, he is
alone and terrified. Something hard hits him on the head...something
with four stubby legs and a head it can pull into its shell.
"We lie like that for ages, the tortoise and me, side by side.
Somehow having another living, breathing thing next to me in that
crater calmed me right down. The python [fear] relaxed its grip on my
heart, and I was able to imagine myself far away from Gallipolli,
lying in a cornfield back in Carton instead, dozing and waiting for Ma
to call me in for my tea, with the summer sun warming my body."
That was the start of a beautiful friendship...one that lasted
longer than most marriages these days.
The Tortoise And The Soldier beautifully evokes a time before
the Internet and television when a young man could go off to war with
a knowledge of foreign lands limited to grammer school maps, when
contact with home was limited to cherished letters, and when combat
was up close and personal. The pictures, I believe watercolors, are
perfectly suited to the narrative. I would recommend it not only to
the targeted demographics, but to some more vintage folks with war
experience like my friend Paul Lucy who flew a Corsair in World War II.
On a personal note, Artsapalooza is coming up fast. It's an Orono
tradition: a festival of music, writing, and the visual arts. Last
year, my first year as a performer, I read 40 minutes of my poetry.
This year I'm back with Thai Orchid restaurant as a venue. I've gotta
get ready to entrance my audience who deserve nothing but my best.
A great big shout out goes out to the folks who make Artsapalooza
Sent from my iPod