Remembering a faithful friend

DOUG THE DOG

There are no photographs of Doug the Dog just some family recollections that are in part contradictory. Whatever the exact truth for some twelve years he was a much loved and fondly remembered part of his adopted family. I say “adopted” because according to one family story it was Doug who decided where his loyalties lay.

During the Second World War, my father was in the RAF and regularly moved from one posting to another across southern and eastern England. My mother followed him from camp to camp with their two small daughters finding lodgings wherever possible. Travelling through Black Out Britain, along railway branch lines that Dr Beeching consigned to history, to remote villages deep in the English countryside. In 1944 a posting at RAF West Malling in Kent meant that my mother and my sisters were able to stay with one of my father’s aunts.

It was here that they met Doug. According to one family story, it seems that Doug may have been neglected. Perhaps he was seen an unnecessary mouth to feed during the shortages of wartime, or maybe his owners were unable to give a young black and white collie cross sheepdog the attention and exercise he needed. In my two infant sisters, he found some playmates who would give him the all the attention he craved. In return, he acted as a canine air raid warden who could hear the approach of the “Buzz Bombs”, Hitler’s V1 rockets, before human ears could detect their approach. The girls soon learnt that if Doug suddenly went indoors and sat under the dining room table that meant that they had to find shelter as well.

After the end of the fighting in Europe in May 1945, my father was sent to Italy to be part of the operation to bring the troops of the 8th Army back home so my mother remained in Maidstone and the bond between Doug and my sisters grew stronger. At the end of 1945, the time came for my family to leave Maidstone and follow my father to his new posting at RAF St. Athan. The story is that when the taxi arrived to take my family to the railway station Doug jumped into the vehicle and refused to budge. Doug had made up his mind about his future and so he went with my Mother and sisters to South Wales and with them experienced the bitterly cold post-war winters that struck Europe. Even in South Wales, my mother recalled that coal was in short supply so their lodgings were warmed by briquettes of coal dust mixed with cement.

In 1948 my parents, who were married in 1936, acquired their first proper home together in married quarters and shortly after my mother gave birth to a son. That summer dog, mother and baby would be often be seen on walks together around the camp. Doug would join in with my sisters and their friends as they all played together in the fields and open spaces between the houses. Doug was there when the family, having gone to meet my sister coming back from Sunday School, found her cold and wrapped in towels, in the company of a WAAF and a young airman called Ray who, it transpired, had dived in and rescued her after she had fallen into a water tank on the base.

In 1950 we moved to RAF Northcoates in Lincolnshire and Doug was now my play companion as much as my sisters’. He was a patient and gentle playmate who was happy enough to let me sit on his back without protest. I remember that he would look on in wonder and at the freshly caught flounders splashing about in the bath before providing that evening’s meal.

In January 1953 the camp, along with many communities along the East Coast, was flooded when the North Sea, whipped up by strong winds, came pouring across fields and roads and into homes. I remember looking out of my bedroom window and seeing the dark water coming towards us. As the water started coming under the front door Doug took one look before bolting upstairs for safety. With my father away on a training course it was left to my mother and my eldest sister to try and save what furniture they could before the water became too deep. Sadly my clockwork train set and Doug’s lead were lost to the North Sea. Wading through the bitterly cold water in the kitchen my mother made us all a hot drink, wading back again when she realised she had forgotten the milk. Then all four of us, plus Doug, dived under the covers of my parents’ bed for warmth and reassurance.

When the lorries arrived to take us away to a rescue centre at RAF Hemswell Doug repeated his taxi trick and was one of the first to clamber aboard. In one of the hangars at Hemswell, we were all allocated bedding and some floor space. Doug, unfortunately, didn’t really recognise boundaries and wandered off to explore this strange environment. I went to find him and had my first experience of anger towards our much-loved dog when I found him walking nonchalantly over other people’s bedding. Thankfully it wasn’t too long before the RAF arranged for us to have train tickets back to our relatives to Maidstone where we arrived after an overnight journey unwashed, unchanged leading Doug on a piece of rope. The family was then split up amongst aunts and uncles until our home back at Northcoates was habitable again.

In 1954 we were once more on the move. This time to Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire and finally a year later back to Kent when my father left the RAF after 25 years’ service. We had a much bigger garden in our new home in Maidstone, with apple trees and plenty of room for a boy and dog to play. By now Doug was getting old and one day I couldn’t find him in the house or in the garden. Eventually, I found him by the front gate asleep in the sun, asleep for the last time.
My sister who has more memories of Doug than I have remembers his deep bark and his loyalty. Not asking for much and just wanting to be one of the family. Just being there and being part of everything Until one day he wasn’t and we were just left with memories. No photos, just memories.

Doug was buried in the garden at Maidstone under one of the apple trees.
Two years later we left Maidstone for the West Country leaving Doug behind. It was the first time in my lifetime that I would move to a new home without him.
He was the first companion animal we had. Since then my family have had another dog and several cats. My wife and I are now providing bed and board for our seventh cat, Georgie. All loved and all remembered with great affection. Every one of them bringing something different to our lives and leaving fond memories when they go.

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