Monday, June 21, 2010

Blitzcat by Robert Westall

Robert Westall’s novel Blitzcat is the story of a female black cat named Lord Gort* who travels across England during the war in 1940-41 in search of her special owner and of the people she meets along the way. It is based on the phenomenon of psi-trailing. This is the ability of animals to find their way back to their owners, even over thousands of miles when they have become separated from one another for some reason.

Lord Gort and her family have moved from Dover, Kent to Beaminister, Dorset because her owner Geoff Wensley, a pilot in the Royal Air Force (RAF), has been transferred there but is now flying missions in France. But Lord Gort hates her strange new living situation and she instinctively knows that her special person is far away in the west and she decides to find him: “Somewhere ahead, there was endless happiness again. And she knew how to get there.” (page 8)

On her journey to happiness, Lord Gort has many experiences. Her instincts help warn a lonely, disabled plane spotter in the Observer Corps when an enemy air attack comes. Later, she finds herself at a train station where she stays because the trainloads of soldiers returning from the evacuation of Dunkirk, believing black cats are lucky, feed her well for the chance to rub her back: “’Christ, look, a bloody black cat. That’s the first bit o’ luck I’ve seen since Abbeville…’ And suddenly they were reaching out, stepping on to the platform to touch the lucky black cat. “(Page 31)

But when the trainloads of soldiers stop after 4 June, Lord Gort ends up on a trainload of soldiers heading for Dover. Back in Dover, she senses that her real person is now far away towards the east (He has indeed been transferred.) Nevertheless, she stays there a while in the billet of a Sergeant, and again her instincts warn of an air attack. Eventually, she and the Sergeant get separated in Crewe, Cheshire while traveling to Scotland and the cat begins another journey back to Dover. On the way, she has a litter of kittens on a farm outside Coventry, where she witnesses the devastating bombing of Coventry on 14 November 1940.

When it is time for her to move on, one of her kittens follows. During a bitter cold snowstorm, they wind up in the barn of a suicidal woman whose husband has been killed in the war. Leaving her kitten with the woman, she resumes her search in the spring. En route, Lord Gort unknowingly get too close to a UXB, which goes off, causing her to temporarily lose her sense of smell, sight and hearing. Getting all but her hearing back, she continues on and lands at an RAF base, where she becomes a companion of a lonely rear-gunner named Tommy. Because of her deafness, she is able to fly many successful missions with him. The pilots believe she is good luck until she refuses to fly a plane, which crashes on takeoff. After that, they turn on her and try to get rid of her. She manages to sneak on a plane headed for Germany, but she and Tommy end up parachuting out of it over France. They eventually make it back to England, and Lord Gort continues her journey, making one more stop at the home of a NSPCA worker, where she has another litter of kittens. One day, she senses her real owner is near, towards the south-west in the direction of Dorset and she sets off again on a last journey.

This is only a bare-bones outline of Lord Gort’s adventures, and there is so much more to each person’s story, including that of her real owner and his family, giving the reader a well rounded picture of life during the war. Westall manages to successfully convey the sense of fear, loss and pathos war brings to people, as well as the tenacity and strength the people of Britain must have had in order to endure and carry on.

To his credit, Westall never wavers from keeping Lord Gort a cat that acts on her instincts and senses, and does not endow her with human qualities or abilities. It is one of the things that make Lord Gort so endearing. But this is definitely a YA novel because descriptions within the story can be a little raw at times, but it is definitely worth a read.

*Lord Gort (her owner thought she was a male kitten) was named for the real Lord John Gort, who was the Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Forces that ultimately ended up being evacuated from Dunkirk just before the fall of France.


  1. it is not a bad book but it is not a brilliant book. i would recommend you give it a try and see if it suites your taste.

  2. I think it is a bit slow at the start but once you get into it it is very good!