Children’s books have always been full of adventure, as far back as Enid Blyton with her Famous Five, Secret Seven and Adventure books. By the time the 1970s rolled around, some books were quite topical, like The Tiger Gang and the Hijackers.
The author, Dafne Bidwell, seems to have had an adventurous life herself. She was born in England, grew up in Ireland, joined the British Secret Service (MI6) and operated in Asia, lived in Malaysia and finally settled in Australia.
The Tiger Gang And The Hijackers
What is the book about? Well, the back cover blurb puts it succinctly. “The six members of the Tiger Gang, en route to Ireland from Australia, discover that their flight destination has been abruptly altered to a Middle Eastern desert. The kidnappers are desperate men; this is an emergency which calls for the utmost in courage and quick thinking on the part of the Tiger Gang.”
Lots of aircraft were hijacked in the late 1960s and early 1970s, making this quite a topical subject to cover. In fact, the author has gone to great lengths to ground the story in realism. The place they end up going is Dawson’s Field in Jordan. Ring a bell?
Dawson’s Field Hijackings
Between 6 and 13 September 1970, several aircraft were hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. First a TWA Boeing 707 and a Swissair Douglas DC-8 were flown to Jordan. An attempt on an El Al Boeing 707 was foiled, with one hijacker killed and another captured. Two other hijackers who didn’t make it onto that flight hijacked a Pan Am Boeing 747 instead. That ended up in Beirut and was blown up on the runway.
As the captured hijacker from the El Al flight was in British custody, a sympathiser hijacked a BOAC Vickers Super VC10 and it also went to Dawson’s field. The passengers from the aircraft were hostages exchanged for the release of prisoners and the empty planes were eventually blown up.
This Is In A Children’s Book?!
In the book, the children take a Qantas flight to London and then an “Air Leinster” plane to Dublin. On the way, it is hijacked and they end up in the Middle East at Dawson’s Field. The remains of the three destroyed aircraft are integral to the plot.
The story is quite gripping in parts, with the hijackers threatening people with guns, tying up a pilot, having hand grenades, trying to blow up the plane the kids are on, among other things. When I first read it as a kid, I remember the part where the aircraft almost stalls as a heart in the mouth moment!
With things such as catapults, a great find of a cricket ball in the BOAC Super VC10, a pen knife and general resourcefulness, the children naturally save the day. Everything is presented quite realistically, as though it could really have happened.
Clearly Aer Lingus declined to give their permission to use their name in the book. Not surprising, since it’s one of their planes that is hijacked. The Irish airline became Air Leinster instead, though the illustrations clearly show an Aer Lingus BAC One Eleven!
For some reason, The Tiger Gang and the Hijackers popped back into my mind recently. I picked up a copy on Amazon and re-read it once it arrived, which only took a couple of hours. It struck me how different children’s books are today. Not a wand in sight here!
The author did her research very well, with everything pretty much accurate as to how it would have been had it actually happened. You can’t really ask for more than that and it makes for a decent read.
Have you read The Tiger Gang and the Hijackers? Perhaps you have other examples of gritty children’s adventure books you may have read? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.