This book features a true story about your not so typical war hero. Sergeant Billy was a goat who was adopted by a platoon of soldiers in the First World War. Throughout this story, students come to be inspired by Sergeant Billy’s bravery as they read about his journey as a goat who traveled from a small town in Saskatchewan, all the way across the ocean, to help fight in the trenches of the First World War.
Why use this book:
- Showcases the significant impact that animals have on the well-being of people through loyalty, trust and helping to keep up morale. The book demonstrates the strong connection and relationships people have with animals, known as the human-animal bond.
- Highlights the different roles animals can play in our lives and that some animals have jobs. This story could serve as an introduction to service animals and emotional support animals.
Animal Welfare Considerations:
- This story takes place over 100 years ago during the First World War. How we view animals and our knowledge of their physical and emotional needs have changed a great deal over this time, so some aspects of this story (sneaking a goat on a boat, hiding a goat in a small crate, etc.) would likely not be allowed to take place today.
- In the story Billy was arrested for nibbling on some important secret documents. Exploring and nibbling are part of a goat’s normal behaviours and not something that should be punished. More so, putting Billy in jail would not change his behaviours. Ask students who they think was responsible for the secret documents being destroyed? Do they think putting Billy in jail was fair?
Ask your students:
- Why did the soldiers ask Daisy if they could take Billy with them?
- If you were Daisy, would you have agreed to let the soldiers take Billy? Why or why not?
- If you were Billy, would you have wanted to stay with Daisy or go with the soldiers? Why or why not.
- After Daisy agrees to let the soldiers take Billy, the author writes, “And that’s how Billy’s extraordinary story began.” Do you think Billy’s story is extraordinary? Explain.
- To get Billy on the front lines, the soldier smuggles Billy in a small crate. Do you think Billy enjoyed being in the small crate? Why is it important to consider how animals feel when transporting them?
- How would you describe the relationship between Billy and the soldiers?
- Why do you think the soldier were unhappy when Billy was taken away? How would you feel if you were the soldiers?
- Billy showed many signs of bravery. What are some examples from the book?
- Sometimes true events can be embellished to make for a more enjoyable story. Do you think all the events in this story are true? Explain.
- Billy was a mascot for the soldiers of the Fifth Canadian Battalion. There were many animals just like Billy who were also mascots and helped raise the spirits of the soldiers while keeping them company. Do you have any animals in your life that help to lift your, or your family’s spirt?? What do these animals do to help raise your spirits and/or keep your company?
- Animals who participate in war are considered military service animals. Can you think of any other types of service animals? What are their main jobs? In what ways do these animals help the community and people?
- The Real Billy – As a class, watch the short videos “Sergeant Bill the goat hailed as a war hero from WWI” (2:33) and “Saskatchewan Goat from Broadview a war hero” (1:10) on the real Billy. In partners or small groups, have students research the real Billy. Have students compare and contrast the events of the book with the information they find, using a Venn diagram.
- Animals with Jobs – The Canadian Armed Forces has had many military service animals that assisted in the First and Second World Wars. Tales of Animals in War is an resource from Veterans Affairs Canada that features the role different animals have played in war. Some of these animals were mascots, like Billy, and some animals had other important jobs (working animals). Using the Tales of Animals in War as a starting point, have students research animals in the Canadian Armed Forces. Each student can pick one animal to research and present their findings through a slideshow, poster, pamphlet or bookmark.
- Being Brave – In the story, Sergeant Billy is awarded the Mons Star for his service and bravery. Have a discussion with students on what it means to be brave. Ask students:
- What does bravery mean?
- When is a time when you were brave?
- Are there times when being brave is harder than others? If so, why do you think this is?
- Can animals be brave? Explain.
- Then individually, have students reflect on a time they were brave and how it made them feel. Students can write a short journal entry or draw a picture to express their thoughts. Encourage those who feel comfortable, to share with the class.
Additional Resources Related to Book:
- The Canadian War Museums – Information and examples of animal mascots and pets in war.
- The Canadian Encyclopedia – Information on animals that serves in the First World War.
- Animals in War Dedication Project – Information on Military Mascots and Service Animals.
- The Atlantic – Photos of animals in war
*Thank you to Kendal Sasvary for her contribution to this book review.