People who lost dogs in World War II  

The BBC used to send personal SOS messages on its radio stations, often naming individuals and alerting them to the news that one of their relatives was "dangerously ill" in hospital. They would often come just before a news broadcast, and were a regular feature of my childhood listening. There was a ritual air to their content. Typically, one might hear, "Now here is a message for Ivy Sutherland, believed to be on holiday with her family in Yorkshire. Will she contact York General Hospital, where her mother, Sarah Sutherland, is dangerously ill."

In the years immediately following the end of World War II, when I was 6 or 7 years old, many of the broadcasts concerned people who had lost touch with relatives in the confusion of war. Some might have been killed in bombing raids. Again, there was a ritual to the messages. "Will anyone knowing the whereabouts of Jane Smith, last heard of five years ago in Glamorgan, please get in touch with her mother by telephoning the BBC." There were very many such broadcasts at the time.

It might have been the posh accents that all announcers had in those postwar days, but as children, both myself and my sister misheard the phrase "last heard of" that appeared in every such message. To our young ears it sounded like "lost her dog," and we wondered how it came about that all these missing persons had lost their dogs years previously before going missing, and why the BBC was reporting that.