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Lofty's Mission

00:16

Hello, my name is Carolyn and I am an Education Officer here at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne.

00:22

We look forward to sharing some stories with you during the school holidays.

00:27

Today I would like to read Lofty's Mission by Krista Bell and beautifully illustrated by David Miller.

00:39

Lofty's Mission

00:43

‘No Dad! Please don't take Lofty. I bred him to be a champion racer!’

00:49

Tears trickled down Harley’s cheeks.

00:53

Harley's father was putting six baby pigeons into the cane hamper.

00:59

Lofty would be one of them.

01:02

'Couldn’t you take Number 368 instead of Lofty? Please!'

01:11

'Sorry, lad.' Frank McNamara was firm. 'The army needs top homing pigeons as messengers.

01:19

Your Lofty, number 371, is our best squeaker.

01:25

He’ll be a big, strong adult bird—just what they need up in New Guinea.

01:31

Everyone has to make sacrifices for the war effort.’

01:36

Frank locked the hamper securely.

01:39

'Harley, while I deliver these birds, would you clean out the stock loft? Won’t be long.'

01:48

He strapped the pigeon hamper onto his motorbike and rode away.

01:56

Harley stared down the empty driveway.

01:59

'Maybe the war will finish next week,' he murmured. 'Then the army will send you home, Lofty.

02:06

I’ll train you, just like I promised. We’ll go in races—and you’ll win.

02:13

You’re the best pigeon ever.'

02:16

His mother held him tight.

02:19

‘Give me a hug, dear. Don’t be sad. There’ll be other squeakers.’

02:25

‘I don’t want another squeaker,’ Harley sobbed. 'I just want Lofty.'

02:35

Lofty was being trained by the army up north, in Queensland, where it was hot and wet.

02:41

The sergeant who worked with the pigeons was teaching Lofty to fly back to his mobile loft.

02:47

One soldier would stand next to it and shake a tin of dried peas.

02:53

A few feet away the sergeant would gently toss Lofty into the air and he would fly to the loft.

03:02

At first Lofty was only a short distance away but, as the toss distance increased,

03:09

he learnt that, no matter how far he had to fly, the mobile loft meant food, water, rest and safety.

03:20

The loft was home.

03:25

Months later, in the New Guinea jungle, Lofty flew hundreds of miles on long-distance missions for the army.

03:32

At dawn one morning, he was placed in a carry box with another pigeon.

03:38

The platoon was going out on patrol behind enemy lines and the pigeons would be their only communication with headquarters.

03:46

But before they reached their destination, the enemy surrounded them—the entire platoon had walked into an ambush.

03:58

The captain wrote an urgent message on rice paper.

04:01

The sergeant rolled up the note and placed it in a tiny cylinder, which he strapped to Lofty’s left leg.

04:10

Then he attached a copy of the note to the other bird, in case Lofty didn’t reach headquarters.

04:20

In his gently cupped hands, the sergeant held Lofty up high, then lowered his arms, opened his fingers and tossed the bird into the air.

04:30

'God speed, 371. Without reinforcements, we’re goners.'

04:39

Lofty pushed strongly up into the air. Enemy gunfire whizzed around him, cutting into his wings and threatening to bring him down.

04:48

But he flew on bravely, until finally he reached the safety of his loft.

04:53

'It’s 371,' yelled the loft sergeant.

04:56

'He’s exhausted and badly wounded. Corporal, take this message from the platoon to the Lieutenant. Hurry!'

05:06

Poor Lofty!

05:09

Down south, where it was cold and wet, Harley was in hospital. He was very ill.

05:16

‘Once he recovers completely,’ the doctor explained to Harley’s parents, 'I’m confident he’ll walk again. It’ll just take time. The polio shouldn’t affect him permanently.'

05:33

Weeks passed. Harley was home from hospital but still in bed.

05:38

Through his bedroom window, he watched his father’s racing pigeons circle the house as they came home from their daily flying sessions.

05:49

Lofty’s been gone so long, Harley thought.

05:52

Maybe he’s never coming home from the war.

05:59

Harley’s mother was sitting on the end of his bed.

06:02

‘There’s a bird in this book I’m reading, Mum,’ said Harley.

06:06

‘Not a pigeon—a robin—and a girl called Mary, and a boy called Dickon. They find a secret garden.’

06:17

‘That book was one of my favourites when I was your age,’ said his mother.

06:22

His father came into the room. ‘Look what the postie just delivered, lad.’

06:28

Harley opened the parcel. 'It’s a medal!'

06:37

Frank McNamara scanned the letter.

06:40

‘It says here that number 371 has been awarded the Dickin Medal for gallantry. Seems he saved an entire platoon of soldiers.

06:50

The Dickin Medal is a bravery award for animals—a bit like the Victoria Cross for soldiers.

06:57

Your name is on the certificate as his breeder, Harley. Congratulations, lad. Your Lofty is a hero!'

07:07

‘Ripper! A bravery award!’ said Harley.

07:11

‘Hang on, did you say Dickon? Like in my book?’

07:14

His mother checked the certificate.'The award is spelt d-i-c-k-i-n.

07:22

It’s something to do with a lady who runs a clinic for sick and dying animals in England. I heard about her on the radio.’

07:34

‘Lofty’s dead, isn’t he?’ Harley slumped back onto the pillows.

07:38

‘The army sent this because Lofty’s dead.’

07:42

'No. Quite the contrary, lad.' His father pointed to the letter.

07:48

‘It says here that 371 was wounded in action and the loft sergeant stitched him up.

07:55

He’s okay now, but he won’t ever fly again.

07:59

We can write to the army and ask for Lofty to be discharged. They’ll send him home. It’s happened with other birds from the pigeon–racing club.’

08:11

Harley grinned as his mother pinned the medal onto his pyjamas.

08:15

‘It’s okay that Lofty can’t fly, isn’t it, Dad? Our stock birds don’t fly anyway.

08:22

Lofty can be my number one stocky. Lofty’s squeakers will grow up to be the best racing pigeons ever!

08:30

They’ll be bonza flyers, just like Lofty—and they’ll win lots of races.’

08:36

Harley moved to the edge of the bed, lowered his feet to the floor and stood, for the first time in months.

08:43

‘Can I go out to the stock loft?’ he asked his parents.

08:47

'I have to get things ready. And we need to choose the best hen we’ve got to mate with Lofty.'

08:56

A year later, Harley and his dad stood together in the backyard.

09:01

‘Look, Lofty! Your son is first home by miles,’ said Harley.

09:08

‘Quick, Dad. Let’s get the race ring off his leg and into the tin lizzie to record his time.

09:16

What did I tell you, Lofty? I knew Nifty would be a champion—I just knew it!'

09:26

And that is the end of our story.

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