First Chapter Book Award Finalist/Historical Fiction Goes to Janice Ernest

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Animals Who Served in World War I as Told by Sgt. Stubby by Janice Ernest is a Finalist in the Historical Fiction category of Works in Progress for the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.

Award-Winning First Chapter

Hi there. My name is Stubby, known as ‘Stubs’ for short and I am one of the many animals who served during World War I. It is an honor to get to share my story with you but, before I get started, let me raise a paw in salute to all the many four footed and two footed heroic creatures that represented their countries during the war years.

A list of them follows:

Horses, and there were lots of them. Men have told me there were more than one million horses in use during the war. They did everything from taxi Calvary soldiers into battle, pull carts, carry artillery, and even bring supplies to the men in the trenches. One of the bravest things I saw them do was to lie down and become a barrier behind which their soldier could hunker down, lay his rifle across their body, and fire at the enemy. There were many days when we in the 102nd were glad to see the horses arrive with medical supplies, food, and other necessary items.

Janice Ernest
Janice Ernest

Camels were also used as transportation, and transporters.

Although cats are not my favorite creatures, they did a mighty fine job of keeping down the pest populations in our trenches, and they were a great attraction for insects and pests. Thus sharing that burden with me and others.

Other creatures which abounded during the war were dogs, much like me. We had a very special purpose, but I will get to that in a minute. There were also pigeons and chickens who were most useful but, that too, is another story.

Not to mention, glowworms. Yes, glowworms. The men would capture a few of them, put them in a jar and use the light they produced to read maps or even letters from home.

And while we were all at war there were animals serving on the home front. When all of the horses were sent overseas the farmers had to make do with circus animals. Their animal of choice was the elephant. Elephants were able to pull large carts, and even replaced horses to pull plows through a field. There is even a famous elephant named, Lizzie, who served for ten years. Ah, but alas, that is another story for another time.

I sense your thoughts. You’re putting your paw down and saying, “Enough about all the other animals, I want to hear your story.” So, I’ll not delay any longer.

When I was a pup, just weaned from my mother’s teats, I found myself lost and alone in a massive green grassy field. Although the grass was plush and fun to play in, soon loneliness set in. I was lost; a stray is what you people would call me. Nighttime came, and with nowhere to sleep and no one to feed me I curled up in a tight ball and whimpered and moaned my way to sleep on a tuft of grass near the base of a big tree. My dreams were filled with a mother who nosed me and loved me, and a human child who carried me about, but upon awakening my situation again became apparent, I was lost, hungry, and scared. Starting to get up, I heard a loud noise. It was a man, and he was with other men, they were all wearing the same colors.

“Ten Hut!” The man said, and all of the others stood up real straight, and got into neat lines. I know now that is called being “at attention” The command was made, “And March!” The men began to walk along side by side in neat rows. Not wanting to be alone, I bounced over and joined them. It felt good to be going along with them. One of the men looked down and saw me. I wagged my tail and bumped my nose into his leg, but he continued to move forward, ignoring me. Keeping up was hard and soon I was tired and sat down to watch the parade continue on.

The man who was leading them hollered out, “At Ease, men.” The men fell out of their lines and began to mill about. One of them spoke to another who turned and pointed in my direction. They laughed and began to jog toward me. I knew I should be afraid, but they slowed down as they got near.

“Hey little fella.” The tall skinny one said as he kneeled down beside me and stuck out his hand so I could sniff. He smelled of sweat and soap, and…so many new smells. I licked his hand, it tasted of salt. He reached to me and picked me up from the ground and put his nose to mine. “Well, hi there, pup. You sure are a cute little mutt.” I couldn’t help but respond with a dog kiss and a wiggle.

He held me for a second. His heartbeat made a slow, regular rhythm through his shirt. The lub-dub sound comforted me. I pressed tightly to him and looked up at him.

The man with him said, “You know, J.R., we can’t keep him, not here at the college.”

He looked down at me and smiled gently as he squatted and set me on the ground. “You go home now, okay? Go on, now. Go home.”

He turned to walk away. How could I get his attention? How could I let him know how much I needed his help? I sat back on my haunches, stretched my neck out and howled as loudly and mournfully as possible.

At first he didn’t turn, but after the second howl the deal was sealed. He retrieved me from the ground and carried me to his dorm room and that’s just the beginning of my journey into the war. I guess you could say I was college trained since I attended Yale University and soon became the mascot to the military guys there. There was even a rule that allowed me to drink out of any toilet bowl on the campus. The whole school adopted me. The best times there for me were spent rising early in the morning to bugle call, following the troops out onto the field, standing at attention, passing inspection, and drilling with the men. During my training I learned how to use my right paw to salute, by lifting it to just above my eyebrows and pulling my paw out and away from my face. You know, respect is very big in the military and rank means a lot.

***

 I am with is my best friend and battle partner, J. Robert Conroy of the 102nd. I owe him my life, since he found me and gave me a home and a purpose. It is because of his loving care for me that I can sit here before you today and tell you the rest of my story.

Life was going quite well, three meals a day, learning my drills and how to follow orders, getting pets and comforts and treats from all the guys on campus. And the supply of fresh water was never ending. But, in one day that was all to change when the order came.

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