Dambusters Dog
has Unspeakable Name

What shall we call the dog?

That’s the dilemma facing the makers of the new Dambusters movie, who must choose between historical fact and racial sensitivity.

Oscar-winning movie producer Peter Jackson of New Zealand is preparing to remake the classic 1955 flick. Read more in last week’s blog post by clicking here.

The old movie dramatized the true story of a daring bomber raid on three German dams by Royal Air Force Squadron 617, led by twenty-four-year-old Guy Gibson.

The squadron’s mascot, also featured in the original movie, was Gibson’s black Labrador retriever named (brace yourself) “Nigger.”

Here’s a shot from the original film of actor Richard Todd with his movie canine.

Altogether the objectionable word is spoken twelve times in the original movie. You can view a clip from the 1955 movie by clicking here.

Guy Gibson himself looked like a movie star. He was a handsome, pipe-smoking lad who won the Victoria Cross for his part in the Dambusters raid. Sadly, he was shot down and killed two years later.

However, you may notice that Gibson’s dog was given a makeover for the 1955 movie. In real life, he was an adorable but somewhat scrawny little guy. Here he is with some of the aircrew.

He was much loved by the whole squadron and often accompanied his master Guy Gibson on training flights.

Here the curious canine comes close to the camera while the crew stand by their Lancaster, awaiting their next mission.

 (To read my blog post about this iconoci aircraft, click: Love Those Lancasters.)

Unfortunately, the poor Labrador (you will notice I’m avoiding his name) was run over by a car and killed the same morning of the raid.

This was terribly demoralizing for the squadron. Superstition was rife amongst the airmen, and their beloved mascot’s death seemed a bad omen. There were even mutterings of sabotage.

Aside from this drama, there is another historical aspect to the dog’s name. It was the code word Gibson used to confirm the breach of the Möhne Dam. Changing it for the movie involves changing a piece of history, and that has diehard historians fuming.

In vain have they insisted that the dog was named for the Latin word “nigra” meaning “black,” and carried no more racial connotations than a dog named Blackie.

When the movie was shown on British television in recent years, the dog’s name was erased altogether. And when shown in the United States, the dog’s name was overdubbed with the word “Trigger.” (Wasn’t that a horse?)

Movie producer Peter Jackson says he’s caught between a rock and a hard place.

“It is not our intention to offend people. But really you are in a no-win, damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don't scenario. If you change it, everyone's going to whine about political correctness. And if you don't change it, obviously you are offending a lot of people inadvertently.”

Scriptwriter Stephen Fry is more definite on the subject. He says the dog’s name will be Digger, and that’s his last word on the subject.

“There is no question in America that you could ever have a dog called the N-word. It's no good saying that it is the Latin word for black or that it didn't have the meaning that it does now - you just can't go back, which is unfortunate.

“You can go to RAF Scampton and see the dog's grave, and there he is with his name, and it's an important part of the film. The name of the dog was a code word to show that the dam had been successfully breached . . . but obviously that's not going to happen now. So Digger seems okay, I reckon.”

The dog’s body was buried at midnight, just as Gibson was leading the famous raid. His grave is located at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire.

There’s another twist to this story. According to Bruce Barrymore Halpenny in his book Ghost Stations, the dog’s ghost has been spotted on numerous occasions. You can read the article here by clicking here.

As for me, I support the decision to rename the dog.

This is a movie, not a documentary, and I can’t imagine that any viewer today would hear that ugly word without a thrill of revulsion.

Changing the name won't detract from the tremendously exciting subject of the Dambusters raid, which will be a blockbuster if Jackson does his usual stellar job.

But it’s a very controversial decision, especially in Britain. I would love to hear YOUR opinion – historical accuracy, or simple sensitivity?

                            * * * * *

            MY FAVOURITE VETERANS

I have now collected twenty-eight original stories from Wartime Wednesdays and made them available in printed book form.

To read more about the book, click: My Favourite Veterans: True Stories From World War Two's Hometown Heroes. To order a signed copy for $35.00 Canadian, email me at elinor1@telus.net or call me at 250-342-1621. Shipping costs drop if you order two or more sent to the same address.

This book would make an ideal Christmas gift for veterans, seniors, or history buffs -- and if you request, I will giftwrap it and send it straight to the recipient.

You may also purchase a copy from Amazon by clicking here: My Favourite Veterans: True Stories From World War Two's Hometown Heroes.

         About My Novel, Bird's Eye View

  • Bird’s Eye View is fact-based fiction about a young Canadian woman who serves as an aerial photo interpreter in World War Two. In 2016 it was named a Canadian bestseller by both The Globe & Mail, and The Toronto Star. It's available as a trade paperback through any bookstore, and also as an ebook. To order online from Amazon, click Bird's Eye View. It's also available from Amazon's U.S. and U.K. websites.

                    About My Website

  • All blog posts are indexed by subject and title on this page. Scroll to the top of this page to see the list, and enter your email address to subscribe to Wartime Wednesdays. If you enjoy it, please share through Facebook, Twitter, email or just an old-fashioned phone call!

                     About My Events

  • You can see a complete list of my upcoming events on my Events page by clicking the link at the top of this page. You can also see a list of discussion questions for Book Clubs by clicking: Events.

    

Share this post  

Read More:

Back to the Blog

comments powered by Disqus

Greetings

During my research into Canada’s wartime past, I uncovered some fascinating facts and anecdotes. I’ll share them here and welcome feedback and stories of your own.

Follow me by Email

For your convenience, enter your email address and have my weekly blog post sent straight to your inbox. (You will receive a confirmation email: if you don't see it in your inbox, check your Junk Mail folder or contact me for help.) I won't give your information to anyone else.

Pre-order the Book

Recently, on Wartime Wednesdays

What Did You Do in the Air Force, Grandma?

Read it here