Four-Fisted Tales


Books about war … some people like to read them, others don't.


But … even though I belong to the latter group, the graphic novel Four-Fisted Tales by Ben Towle approached the subject from such an original angle that it kept me totally hooked from beginning to end!



Animals have always partaken in wars.
Everyone knows about the more common examples like war horses, courrier pigeons, …
And most of us have heard of Hannibal's elephants during history lessons or Latin classes.


But did you know that …

… boats often had a ship's cat to hunt rats and keep their food reserves safe?
... one of those felins even got a war medal for his heroism?

… dolphins are trained since the '60s to accomplish several important military tasks?

… seagulls can be conditioned?

… rats are very efficient mine-detectors?

… their training program was founded in Belgium and I didn't even know this about my own country?


Ben Towle did a magnificent job to give all these and other war animals the credits and honours they deserve.

This four-time Eisner-nominated cartoonist even adapted the colour palette of his drawings to give the reader a more authentic feeling. Camouflage colours like khaki, brown, ochre and black set the tone. Curious to see it for yourself? Some preview pages are available here.

As you can read in his biography he's from a Navy family himself, which adds an even more personal touch to the whole.

More information about this talented artist and his works can be found on the website:


Four-Fisted Tales is definitely a book that will appeal to lots of readers.

Not only because of the attractive graphic novel format, but also because of the many interesting facts evoked throughout the book.

As such it would also be perfect to use at school, covering different time periods, geographical places, interesting animal trivia, ….


Although every animal is discussed rather briefly, lots of specifics are given: their exact names and the rewards they received, names of places and specific regiments who fought there, …

Thus this book forms a very good starting point for those whose curiosity is piqued to look up further information.

As this was absolutely the case for me, I gathered some of the most interesting footage and articles (see below).


There's only one downpoint to be mentioned: the book ends with a section about courrier pigeons.

Of course, these deserve a part in this book as their role has been very important. But it seems to me that this is more common knowledge and that consequently the book had better started with this information. That way it would've been possible to build up to the lesser known - and therefore more 'spectacular' - war animals towards the end.

This is the reason why my end rating is actually 4,5*.

But the original subject, interesting information and beautiful graphics are definitely worth rounding up!



*Thanks to NetGalley and Dead Reckoning (imprint of the Naval Institute Press, the book-publishing division of the U.S. Naval Institute) for providing a digital uncorrected page proof of this book in exchange for an honest review.


"They had no choice."

-- Inscription, Animals in War Memorial, London


This first phrase immediately learned me about a monument I never heard of before.

Apparently it lies next to Hyde Park.

If you want to take a look:



Do you know the only dog ever to be traded as a prisoner of war?

Jack was a member of the 102nd Pennsylvania Infantry during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

If you want to learn more about his adventures, you can discover them here:



Not only dogs, but cats can be real war heroes as well.

Ships' cats were very common, but in the UK for example they were no longer allowed since 1974 (see article).

One of them, Simon, is the only cat ever to have won the Dickin Medal (in 2018), the highest British honor awarded for animal displays of bravery in battle! 

Read more about his heroic deeds in this article.



As dolphins are extremely intelligent animals, they were trained in different military programs since the '60s.

In following movie you can see how they're used to protect the U.S. Navy.
But if you prefer a shorter version in which you can see several of their duties, you can read this article.


On a more funny note, let's meet the world's most famous penguin!



And then there's the story of the giant African pouched mine-detecting rats.

In this very short movie, you can see how those relatively small animals are of great importance in post-war environments and how one of them, Magwa, has been awarded the PDSA Gold Medal:


At the end there's a mentioning of APOPO, the animal charity who trains these HeroRATs.

Can you imagine my surprise when I discovered that they are located in Belgium?

Even though they exist already more than 20 years, I never heard of their important work!

You can read about their interesting history and how it all begun in 1995 here.


To finish this article let's discover the heart-melting story of Wojtek.





  1. Fascinating, Tau, but at the same time somewhat gut-wrenching in some cases. Animals have no place in the business of men when that business is warfare. Some soldiers of the first World War, who had seen all kinds of gruesome carnage, afterwards told that it was the fate of the horses on the battlefield that got the better of them: innocent creatures who met their end alongside the soldiers. Dolphins and penguins seem to have more luck. Beautiful tribute with that war memorial, though.

    Again, most of the stuff you dug up is new to me. How does she manage it, one wonders?

    1. As I don't believe that war is the answer to any kind of problem, I totally agree with you on the fact that animals don't have a place in the stupidity of human behaviour, Bohse.
      But as they nevertheless got involved, I'm convinced that this kind of books really do shine a light on their (imposed) lives and thus pay a tribute to their experiences.

      It's a special gift to have a nose for talent, I guess 😋
      That's why I encourage you to write your columns.
      Even though I joke a lot, I'm totally serious when I say that you've really got an exceptional humorous writing talent and that you could be a very successful author.
      Mark my words!

    2. Well now, Tau, that is an extremely nice thing to say and since I had an exhausting day at work (as we all have occasionally), I will accept the compliment most gratefully and with good grace.

      But as Sheldon Cooper would say: " that's my spot - you're sitting on my spot." Well, Tau, this is your spot, World of Tau is the place where we talk about your uncanny tales of the unexpected, not mine. And my, Oh, my, uncanny and unexpected they most certainly are.

    3. It's the whole truth and nothing but the truth, Bohse 😉

      And yes, I totally know those kind of days. Had one like that myself yesterday and fell asleep on the couch. Hence this later reaction 😄

      Never watched The Big Bang Theory. Maybe I should try it some day 😊

      Actually I don't consider this spot to be about me.
      It's about putting the spotlights on inspiring people, places, artworks, …
      Thus the tales are not mine, but theirs 😉

  2. Wat een heerlijke column Tau! Proficiat!

    1. Dankjewel, Nathalie!
      Het doet me echt plezier om te lezen dat je er van genoten hebt 😉