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Animals Beyond the Call of Duty

Edin ZooIf you find yourself at Edinburgh Zoo, and you can tear yourself away from the pandas, we heartily recommend heading to the Rainforest Room in the Education Centre for a fantastic exhibition called ‘Animals Beyond the Call of Duty’. The exhibition aims to tell the story of animals in war, and includes two very close to Birlinn’s heart.

BamseBamse was a St Bernard dog who served aboard the Norwegian mine-sweeper Thorodd during WWII and became a global mascot for the Royal Norwegian Forces and a symbol of freedom and inspiration for Allied troops throughout Europe. He was a familiar and much-loved sight around his adopted home of Montrose, shepherding his fellow crew members home after nights out, travelling on the local buses and even intervening to save a man overboard and a victim of a robber. In 2006 a statue of Bamse was unveiled in Montrose and his life story was told in Sea Dog Bamse: World War II Canine Hero by Angus Whitson and Andrew Orr.

WojtekJust as brave and cuddly as Bamse, if even larger, was Wojtek, a 500-pound cigarette-smoking, beer-drinking brown bear who was adopted as a cub by the Polish Army in Iran also in WWII. He became an enlisted soldier so he could accompany his comrades onboard ship to Italy – bears weren’t allowed on boats – but he did more than just keep morale up with his cute antics. During battle, and under fire, Wojtek carried heavy shells to the soldiers operating the guns without flinching. After the war Wojtek joined other Polish exiles in Scotland, finally retiring to Edinburgh Zoo where he never failed to get very excited at the sound of Polish being spoken. Aileen Orr, whose grandfather met Wojtek on active service, tells his remarkable story in Wojtek: Polish War Hero.

Zoo event Bamse Wojtek

LTR: Angus Whitson, Aileen Orr, Andrew Orr

Aileen, Angus and Andrew all took part in a special event to launch the exhibition, talking about Wojtek and Bamse and their lives.The exhibition itself is kindly sponsored by the Royal Norwegian Consulate General to celebrate the links between Scotland and Norway and the 40th anniversary of a penguin at the zoo, ‘Colonel-in Chief’ Nils Olav, being adopted by the Norwegian Kings Guard. It runs until 31st August, and copies of Sea Dog Bamse: World War II Canine Hero and Wojtek: Polish War Hero are available to buy at the zoo.

Delete This At Your Peril!

3D S.Delete

Last week was a cracker for press coverage at Birlinn books. Neil Forsyth started it all with an interview on BBC Breakfast News on the subject of spam email and a great little plug for the hilarious Delete This At Your Peril (did you follow this on BBC Radio 4? VERY funny programme. Still on catch up if you hurry!). Six days of coverage for Alistair Moffat’s the Scots: A Genetic Journey followed in the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday; an interview with Alistair on BBC Radio 4’s the Today programme AND on STV’s The Hour; plus of course an episode of his radio programme based on the book on BBC Radio Scotland.

And the unique and quite fabulous Alexander McCall Smith was on fine form with an exhausting schedule of events and interviews. Monday saw Alexander with his publicist in Hexham for an event with Cogito Books. Tuesday was Newcastle for interviews and an event with North Words at the Tyneside Cinema. Wednesday was London and interviews followed by our annual event for Daunt Books in Marylebone High Street and dinner at the very nice Galvin Bistro de Luxe on Baker Street. Thursday morning took us to the BBC studios for Breakfast Television interview with the lovely Bill and Sian, then a lunchtime event for supporters of Pelican Post with the lovely Clemency Burton-Hill and a quick drive over to Bath for the Bath Festival and an event with Decca Aitkenhead. Friday was a signing in Bath at Toppings Books before a flight back to Edinburgh in time for a packed house at an event in St Mary’s Cathedral. We finished the week with an event and interviews in Glasgow for the Aye Write festival. All went incredibly well.