Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thursday extracts. Paul Gallico's war stories.

One of my favourite stories when I was growing up was The Snow Goose, by Paul Gallico. I was introduced to it by my dad, who had been in the Royal Navy and served in WWII. A lot of Gallico's work was whimsical and gentle, although it never ignored the realities of life. The Snow Goose is about a recluse whose isolation is caused by a disfigurement. "For he was a hunchback and his left arm was crippled, thin and bent at the wrist, like the claw of a bird."
But he was a sailor, and the evacuation of Dunkirk gave him chance to prove he was also a hero. The goose of the title is one he adopts because it is hurt, and it chooses to stay with him, rather than rejoin its wild cousins.
Spoiler alert.... this extract is rather the point of the whole tale. But it's still worth reading, even when you know what's going to happen.
A naval-reserve officer, who had two Brixham trawlers and a Yarmouth drifter blasted out from under him in the last four days of the evacuation said: ‘Did you run across that queer sort of legend about a wild goose? It was all up and down the beaches. You know how those things spring up. Some of the men I brought back were talking about it. It was supposed to have appeared at intervals the last days between Dunkirk and La Panne. If you saw it, you were eventually saved. That sort of thing.’
‘H’m’m’m,’ said Brill-Oudener, ‘a wild goose. I saw a tame one. Dashed strange experience. Tragic in a way, too. And lucky for us. Tell you about it. Third trip back. Toward six o’clock we sighted a derelict small boat. Seemed to be a chap or a body in her. And a bird perched on the rail.
‘We changed our course when we got nearer, and went over for a look-see. By Gad, it was a chap. Or had been, poor fellow. Machine-gunned, you know. Badly. Face down in the water. Bird was a goose, a tame one.
‘We drifted dose, but when one of our chaps reached over, the bird hissed at him and struck at him with her wings. Couldn’t drive it off. Suddenly young Kettering, who was with me, gave a hail and pointed to starboard. Big mine floating by. One of Jerry’s beauties. If we’d kept on our course we’d have piled right into it. Ugh! Head on. We let it get a hundred yards astern of the last barge, and the men blew it up with rifle-fire.
‘When we turned our attention to the derelict again, she was gone. Sunk. Concussion, you know. Chap with her. He must have been lashed to her. The bird had got up and was circling. Three times, like a plane saluting. Dashed queer feeling. Then she flew off to the west. Lucky thing for us we went over to have a look, eh? Odd that you should mention a goose.’

The Snow Goose
Paul Gallico


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Anne .. I know of the story Snow Goose, and am certain I didn't read it because of the War connotation - which I didn't understand then.

Now since I wrote my post at the end of May about Memorial Day and mentioned "The Little Ships" and Dunkirk that I again knew nothing about (shows how much I wanted to know about War, I suppose) - Paul Gallico's story has a resonance .. and I must read his book.

Interestingly and I don't know whether you picked this up .. but a similar evacuation occurred after 9/11 .. when ships were commandeered to help rescue people from the lower tip of Manhatten?

I am learning new things all the time .. thanks - Snow Goose I must definitely read. Hilary

MorningAJ said...

It's a lovely story and you won't regret it. Yes, there are war connections, but it's not really what the book was about. Simply when it was set. It might well be in a book with his Small Miracle - another lovely book that I'm sure you'd love.

Damyanti said...

Thanks for posting this extract, enjoyed reading it :)

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