Sky

& Bullets

Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.

 

With reviews of books that cover these topics

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sandb@paulsmiddy.co.uk

Of impeccable American pedigree, being able to trace both sides of his family back to those first Englishmen to set foot on Massachusetts shores, Johnny Bigelow Dodge was born not with a silver spoon in his mouth but a golden one. With that patrician background Dodge lacked for nothing in his youth, and had connections that spurred his adult career. That background also gave him not just self-assurance, but an easy wit, and concern for his fellow humans that shines from every page.

 

Two putative biographers had died before they could complete their books on Dodge. That is Carroll’s gain and our resulting delight. Within the first few pages the reader can be in no doubt of the fascination of the subject, and the fluidity of the author’s writing style. Dodge’s sister received amorous advances from their step-father, before marrying a German-born banker a week before the outbreak of WW1. There are many events in this book which would stretch credulity in a novel.

 

So part of The Dodger’s delight is that he is terribly well-connected. His uncle was an old friend of Prince Wilhelm, the last German Kaiser. His step-father was Churchill’s cousin, and the great leader managed to smooth the Dodger’s commission into the Royal Naval Division, which saw him wounded in the catastrophic landings at Gallipoli.  After having been in the burial party for his colleague and friend, Rupert Brooke – of course. The ceremony is movingly described.  

 

Dodge’s British patriotism knows no bounds, and he again uses his connections to ensure he is transferred into the Army proper in time to participate in the first battle of the Somme; wounded again he is mentioned in despatches in early 1918. There is a rare description of the state of Flanders immediately after the Armistice, as both his parents join him for a battlefield tour.

 

Post war his career takes an unlikely turn: round the world ramblings end in Russia. Ostensibly investigating trading opportunities, Dodge appears to have been doing some spying for HMG (reminiscent of Greville Wynne in a later age, I thought), but Carroll unfortunately cannot find positive proof of this employment. Certainly the Cheka seem to believe he is up to no good for Dodge is imprisoned more than once, sometimes again needing to pull family connections to aid his liberation. The Russian sojourn quashes his previous regard for communism.

The Dodger

The extraordinary story of Churchill’s cousin and the Great Escape

Tim Carroll

Mainstream, 2012

ISBN 9781 845967994

Rupert Brooke Rupert Brooke 2

Rupert Brooke

Dodge 1

Johnny Dodge in WW1