The Dog With No Name

For those who are not old and sere, this is a Lancaster bomber, as used in World War II and in the foreground is the canine mascot of one of the squadrons – 617 – whose men flew them over Germany and occupied Europe.

Casualties were high…nearly half in Bomber Command as a whole, just under thirty per cent of those who flew Lancasters. My mother, sent for a break from her job in London to the East Anglian countryside, watched in horror as an American bomber unit returned to base…the line of ambulances awaiting them, the broken bodies carried out on stretchers, the smell of blood…These men paid the price for the overthrow of a foul regime.

I think that, now, we would class those airmen who took part in the bombing of Dresden, of Hamburg, as war criminals – all the more so those who engendered the project and gave the orders, but at the time, well, war was war, propaganda ruled – and the victor’s justice of the Nuremburg Trials was yet to impose itself.

It was a period when emotions were repressed…when one coped with what arrived on one’s plate…and this was exaggerated among the fighting forces. As my father said after a rather nasty firefight…if you can’t take a joke you shouldn’t have joined. Not that there was much choice in the era of conscription. You were called up and you went where you were sent.

There was comradeship, of course, though not a given….but an animal could permit the expression of emotion that was frowned on in human contact. I think all those who have served in the armed forces could give witness to the importance of a dog – for example – in giving an outlet to the human emotions. Just look at the lengths to which servicemen will go to bring home an animal with whom they have served.

This dog gave those who served with his owner a great deal of comfort…

He was their mascot…their good luck charm.

617 squadron, made up of British, Canadians, Americans, Australians and New Zealanders, was given the task of breaching the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams, which supplied water and power to the highly industrialised area of the Ruhr, using a special ‘bouncing bomb’ developed to address the topography of the dams. To accomodate the bomb, which hung in the bomb bay below the fuselage, much of the internal armour of the ‘plane was removed.

Two of the dams were breached, more than a thousand people were killed, including French, Belgan and Russian prisoners of war. By Protocol 1 to the Geneva convention, passed in 1977, such action is outlawed except in exceptional circumstances, which, by the speed of German recovery, would not have met the criteria – had they been in force at the time.

Of the one hundred and thirty three aircrew involved, fifty three were killed.

But one other met his death. The dog, the squadron mascot, was run over and killed just before the operation took place. His owner, the squadron commander, ordered that his pet should be buried as his aircraft started the attack, and used his name as the confirmation that the dams had been breached.

The dog was buried as he had ordered…a tombstone was placed over his grave.

And there he was laid in peace, though his owner died later in the war as a result of friendly fire and the world resumed its diurnal round.

Except that now the dog has lost his name. The Royal Air Force has replaced the stone with another in which he is referred to simply as ‘the dog’.


Because he was known and loved by his name…..Nigger. And that might give offence in this era.

What should give offence is the deliberate pauperisation of the less well off….the wilful starvation of the National Health Service…the ruin of state education, all of which affect the underprivileged, of whatever race or colour they be.

Divide and rule has always been the measure adopted by the powerful….and it works! You can feel yourself to be LGBT, black, brown, muslim in the society of Great Britain or wherever else you be, all of which works to reinforce your disadvantage….but what the oligarchs fear is that you should feel solidarity…to work together to make your childrens’ lives better.

To live with the past, not try to relive it.

To accept that a much loved dog had a name of its time and in its place and understand that the world has moved on and we need to fight today’s battles – oligarchy, modern slavery, wars for control of a fossil fuel that nobody nowadays needs – without dividing ourselves at the behest of those who seek to keep us divided.


58 thoughts on “The Dog With No Name”

  1. Once upon a time, in return for facilities and security and stability, the individual fitted in with and accommodated the needs of society at large. In these broken times society at large now has to (try to, impossibly) accommodate the whims of every individual – and for less than no return.

    It’s not going to work.

    1. I suspect that you grew up in the [eriod of the post war settlement…decent education, good health services and provision of housing fit to live in and a sense of solidarity. That’s long gone and egoism isn’t going to solve anything soon…

  2. Identity politics gets headlines and votes. After that it gets pretty complicated. Identifying others as The Other is surely not the way forward. Nor is, as you say, rewriting the past. Apart from tending our own gardens, it’s hard to know what to do.

    1. One thing not to do is to vote for the dominant political parties either locally or nationally. Apart from that we need to start talking about our society and not be frightened by political correctness from discussing any and everything.

  3. Bloody well said.

    My father built fighter planes during the second world war, and his dog was called Nigger.
    He would be absolutely appalled by the current state of world politics, deliberarely stirred up racial tensions and the “woke”, statue toppling, rewriting of history.

    1. Between fat finger and cataracts you should see what I type!
      When I was young my father explained that one was not to call people niggers – it was rude, as was calling people wops, wogs, spics, etc……but I didn’t associate nigger as a colour with a race. Nigger brown stockings were still on sale into my twenties…

      1. My grandmother, who named the dog, was the epitome of innocence and not at all racist, and apparently it was a very common name for black dogs at the time.
        We also had a cat called Sooty some years later, which would probably be deemed dodgy nowadays.

        1. Sooty? Sooty! Hi thee to a re education camp on the double!
          My parents had a cat – by its choice, not theirs – which they called Hitler, not just for its black moustache but for its generally obnoxious behaviour. They’d probably be hauled in by the thought police as covert
          Nazis these days…

  4. Helen, that was a sad story that then got me angry to learn the dog lost his name. The people who complained about a dog from 77 years are the problem and THEY offend me! Dogs are known for the unconditional love they give their owners, why is it we find it so hard to return that feeling?

    1. Give me dogs any day!
      The worst thing about it for me was that the some goon currently serving in the RAF saw fit to deny a part of that service’s heritage….didn;t even wait for a complaint!

    1. This tribalism will destroy any remaining decency in our society if given free rein. We are being divided, labelled and rendered powerless.
      Mother saw a great deal on the home front…and she and her generation were not going to permit pre war conditions to return after the misery they had undergone.

        1. I grew up in a political household…in the sense of participating and feeling both entitled and obliged to do so, even to the extent of, when looking young and innocent, accompanying my grandfather carrying a wicker basket of potatoes to shove up the exhausts of opponents’ cars the evening before polling day to delay them in carrying their supporters to vote.

    1. The information on Guy Gibson doesn’t give much of a hint on that score, which I suppose is only to be expected from the period. Nigger was a common name for black dogs, but nigger was also a colour description – for fabrics, shoe polish, etc., and I’m not sure that there was a racist element to that, either overt or covert. One thing, though…when black American troops were stationed in the U.K. during the war, there was no colour bar and, after the first shock in some rural areas, they were accepted on the same level as any other men fighting to free Europe…probably by a few chaps with dogs called Nigger. I have a feeling that the term has more cultural resonance in the U.S.A. than it did until recently in the U.K. – but could be mistaken.

    1. It can also bring out the best in people…the sense of being there for each other…but yes, war is hell and politicians should think long and hard before embarking on it – especially when it seems nowadays that their children are exempt from conscription by some dodge or other.

      1. Alas today’s people have very little idea what war means. They don’t know about sacrifice; heck, they feel grossly put upon when asked to wear a mask. The “Greatest Generation” was really that and knew they all had to pitch in. Nowadays we’re too often led by self entitled, arrogant morons who know nothing about how their domestic or foreign policies impact those they lead.

          1. Being such imbecile voters doesn’t help-we get exactly what we vote for with no demand for better. The party system simply underscores and enhances power while not being held accountable for making the positive changes they’ve said they would.

          2. We seem to have abdicated power to the parties, but retrieving it will take some doing. We need to get together to do things for ourselves, in our own neighbourhoods…but increasingly anything we might want to do is hedged round by legislation stopping us from doing it!

  5. I was in college with a student from Scotland. I accompanied her on a shopping trip for shoes, which she described to the clerk as nigger. I said “brown”, and I corrected her out on the sidewalk. I also corrected he use of rubbers, which she used to erase pencil marks.So much changes.

    1. Doesn’t it just!
      A good job she had you with her
      .I can remember buying nigger borwn stickings into my twenties…never occurred to me that it was anything but a colour in the range iffered.

  6. Nigger brown was, until quite recently, the term for a very rich, dark chocolate brown.Until post-war (kiddies, I’m talking here of WW II) it was a very common shade and popular because it teemed with so many other available colours.Then, when the boffins found ways (besides as killing agents) to use the recent chemical products, a new line of colours came into common use.
    But saying “nigger brown” never bothered me. Why? Well, my parents brought me up not to refer to any person of darker skin as a “nigger” as it was just plain rude.Our first family cat, a glorious, big black-furred giant, was called Nigger.
    What seriously irks me in this is that some prat in the RAF pushed to have Nigger’s name removed.How the ^%$#@!!ing hell did he/she manage to get into the RAF at all!

    1. I suspect that he she or – these days – its nose is probably nigger brown, keen for promotion on the grounds of equality and diversity rather than flying a bloody ‘plane..

  7. I dare not speak my mind -enough to say I am more than shocked. History CANNOT be erased and I am in tears for Nigger typing this.
    Stay safe you two. Diane

    1. I cannot say how sorry I am that you feel that you cannot say all you wish…what a society we live in when one has to look over the shoulder before speaking – or deciding not to.
      The lickspittle person responsible should be cashiered…..that labrador, that pet, that mascot, was not ‘ the dog’, he was Nigger and so he should remain.

  8. Whilst visiting our mixed-race family in the US I was hauled across the coals and required to explain myself for using the phrase ‘chocolate soldiers’. Being an old and very ex para, chocolate soldiers were ‘gobbins’ or guardsmen/women/persons – over there I was denigrating (and I must be careful here to use the correct label) service persons of colour! Mostly stayed out of conversations after that!

  9. I agree with you that the dog worthy of being honored by name continues to be worthy of that honor, despite later awareness that the name is offensive. That is no fault of the dog’s! By all means, add a smaller plaque of apology and explanation.

    However, I find it a example of inadvertent ethnoblinderism to deny that the word “n*gger” for a brown color may have held negative connotation for some people during its period of use. It reminds me of when I moved to England in 1966. Horribly-racist caricatures of black people with giant bright red lips and goggly eyes were printed on the jam jars at the grocery stores. To my stunned expressions of horror, this response:

    “Oh, those are just ‘Golliwogs’. No one minds them.”

    I was certain many were bothered, as indeed many were. Charming though Ms. Upton was to her time, class, and color, time and awareness should have expanded more than it had.

    1. I am of a later generation than that of those who were adults during the war but clearly absorbed the ethos of my parents, their friends, their references to their contemporary culture. As far as I am aware, the term of opprobrium for negroes was ‘blacks’, as in the adverts for rooms to let – ‘no dogs, no blacks, no Irish’. I think that ‘nigger’ has much more resonance in the U.S. than it did until recently in the U.K. given the higher proportion of negroes in the population and the historical background.
      I am not ‘denying’ negative connotations, I am ‘stating’ that there do not appear to me to be so, though a friend has pointed out to me that Dorothy Sayers uses the term in a derogatory fashion…and there were, of course, Nigger Minstrels on the music halls, thugh I suggest that the latter apes what was thought to be American culture.
      Ah, Golliwogs! They are as offensive to negroes as Barbie dolls are to white women, giving a false picture of their characteristics, I never had the Enid Blyton books, but I gather that the golliwogs were always the trouble makers. No wonder people felt them to be offiensive though their familiarity from the Robertson’s marmalade jars seemed to have divorced them from the books until they became just another type of toy. You, coming from another culture where race was a live and burning issue would well have been shocked….in the U.K., in a period of less tension, disapproval was more common.

    1. I wish people did not centre on one word….to the exclusion of the whole picture.
      Of course there was racism at the period…but, to my mind, ‘nigger’ related to a colour and not a race, unlike in the U.S.A., and it appears to me to be a mistake to push the attitudes and experience of one culture into another. Just as now the bombing of Dresden is regarded as a war crime, and the bombing of the dams probably in breach of Protocol 1 the use of the word ‘nigger’ is now regarded as derogatory….but to deprive a much loved dog of his name to appease people who have not even made a complaint seems to be the giddy limit of the ancient art of arslikhan.

      1. I think this was done to avoid future fuss. That is, to avoid future fuss for desk bound officers who wish to avoid such responsibility, and have been encouraged into the PC attitudes. Totally needless.

  10. Indeed, you could retain the now-offensive name, since that was the name he was always known by, and have a small plaque explaining that the name is now controversial. Simply to obliterate the name is absurd.

    As you say, casualties among the armed forces in WW2 were enormous. My mother’s brother was a Spitfire pilot and went missing on one of his flights. I don’t think my mother ever stopped grieving for him.

    1. It is an absurdity…to wipe out an identity.
      Mother’s best friend’s fiance was a Hurricane pilot. He did not make it. She remained single all her days.
      What I was trying to point out is that we think differently of things now to then…Dresden is a war crime,,,,the bombing of the dams probably a breach of Protocol 1…we now would not call a dog Nigger. But the past is a different country.

  11. Apparently all it takes is one person to make a comment or a complaint and there is a rush to do something, and without consultation of sensible people. Why are some people allowed to take offence and have their whims pandered to whilst others do not??
    It makes my blood boil, this woke snowflake totally fanatical shutting down of discussion.

  12. I was thinking of this post only the other day. The picture of the Lancaster bomber gives me the creeps. Something about the size and shape of it made me feel weirdly panicky . Then I remembered that as a small child I lived near an aerodrome and the roaring and droning of the horrid old planes they had in those days used to terrify me – they came in awfully low. I looked up where we used to live then and see it is directly in the flight path of one of the runways of Sydney international airport. Ugh! I also went inside one of the few extant Lancasters years ago and it was horrendously claustrophobic. Altogether a beastly old thing. But an interesting post. I remember my great aunt once sent me out to get her a reel of cotton at the ancient haberdashers by the station. “Ask for a reel of Nigger Brown, please,dear,” she said. Even at the age of 8 I was shocked and said I wouldn’t. She was very surprised.

    1. It is odd how things long ago and far away can still affect us, isn’t it?
      I took mother to see the Dunkirk film and she could recognise every ‘plane by its engine noise having heard them during the war.
      It wouldn’t do to be claustrophobic to fly in those ‘planes….nor, com to that , in sardine class in modern ‘planes.
      I wasn’t aware of ‘nigger’ as a perjorative when young and took the colour for granted – I suppose like Chinese white in the paintbox. The perjorative term that I remember was ‘blacks’ which I assume meant negroes.

  13. Colors have names. Simply that.
    Dad was a medic in WW II – he was one of the first inside a German concentration camp that they liberated. He used to shake his head and say “it was appalling how horribly people could treat other human beings.”
    And people now are so sad because someone called someone a name that hurt their feelings…or someone told them that it might hurt someone’s feelings.
    Thank you for writing this post. A sign there is commonsense still out there

  14. Good to catch up with you again…a long time since Rough Seas left us, always to be regretted.
    Remember the playground rhyme?
    Sticks and stones can hurt my bones
    But words can never hurt me.
    They can, of course, but clutching your pearls because you think someone else might or ought to be offended takes matters too far.

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