1941 was a momentous year in the history of the small industrial city of Belfast.
It's remembered by many as the year war came to our shores, bringing horrific terror and unimaginable destruction.
But not for me, Tom Hall.
And that's because the contents of a wooden crate making its way across the sea to our shores was about to make that year simply the most unforgettable year of my life.
The zoo is closed today, ladies and gentlemen.
Yes, just while we settle the elephant.
Come back another day.
No, no, you got no business being here today.
Off you go. Not today. Not today, moppet.
Would you like to meet him?
Is he okay?
You're the first person he's done that to.
Got a special touch, eh?
Chip off the old block?
Special touch indeed.
This one's had a difficult time where he's come from, and needs considerable attention.
And that's what we do best here in Belfast Zoo.
Sir, Tom has a name for him.
Well, yes, I-I-I suppose we needed someone to name him.
Nobody better I'd say, eh, sir?
Yes, quite, yes.
Oh, well, very well, then.
I knew you'd choose Buster.
Orders have been issued this evening at 1600 hours as a precaution, calling up officers and men of the Anti-Aircraft and coast defense units of the Territorial Army.
This is, as yet, not a measure of general mobilization to include the Territorial Army.
As a further precaution, officers and men on leave from the Royal Air Force and the defense units of the Auxiliary Air Force, and also the Observer Corps...
There's no use crying.
Every morning we'll be doing this drill.
I expect everyone to be in attendance.
Bombs or no bombs, this school remains open.
War does not halt education.
Uncle Hughie's going off to win the war, sir.
That's great, Peter.
I'm sure there'll be lots of men...
Auntie Ethna says she'll be glad at the peace.
We all want peace.
Oh, no, sir. She means from Uncle Hughie.
Right. No more silliness now, Peter.
Have you not heard?
We've been called up.
I go Friday.
This happened to me when I was your age.
My Grandpa Bill went off to war.
He sat me down, too.
I'll be coming home in no time.
Look after him for me, won't you?
I'd say a couple of tons or so.
He's just a small one.
Still, you're in charge?
So this is new elephant I heard you lying all about, Hall?
Leave him alone.
You need a girl to save you, Hall?
Just leave him.
Or what? You'll tell your DA?
Piss-head the drunk.
I've been asked to look after an animal too.
What happened to it?
We found it outside Wi...
I killed it, what happened.
Outside witch woman's house.
She'll hardly miss one of her millions of stinking animals.
Let's leave this weirdo.
Oh, sorry. Sorry.
Oi, oi! Get back here, you toe rag!
Hey, Adam. Hey, John.
Hello, Tom! Hello!
Come here, Gilbert.
Still got it, old boy.
Like that, don't you?
All right. Here we are.
What are you doing in here?
Oh, this is Jake.
He's replacing your father.
Apprentice vet, Lockleys.
Nice to meet you.
Here for Buster?
Proper vet, Tom.
You allow him in here, sir?
Dad said he's fine. Well... one a day keeps the doc away.
Do you want me to...?
This isn't some wee pet rabbit, son.
Now, give us our cloth.
Dad usually does it by...
This one isn't backward at coming forward.
Dad always warms it up first.
Behind that door is a real-life witch.
Her house is full of stinking animals and birds.
And you know what?
She keeps them for one reason.
She eats them birds, rats, rabbits, the lot.
Now you are going to throw that against her door right now.
It's not safe out here, little fella.
Hello, Mrs. Austin?
What...? Who are you?
I'm... I'm Tom. Tom Hall.
Trespasser, get out.
But your door pushed open. It can't have. Get out.
I was just returning your guinea pig.
No, I didn't.
I would never harm an animal.
I just thought you'd like it back.
Not you again.
But I've got money.
Go on. Enjoy them.
Won't be here much longer.
I was worried about you last night.
Were you frightened?
We've a lot to organize today.
Yes, I'm afraid so.
Why aren't you at school?
Are the animals being moved or something?
Charlie said... Tom.
Go now, please.
Your father doesn't work here anymore.
What are you doing?
Oh... tying grass or something.
You really in charge of that new elephant?
My dad's away to war.
What's your dad do?
He... he's going to war, too.
Want to see a picture?
Picture of what?
In the picture house.
You've never seen a picture on the big screen?
You coming or what?
Today was, beyond question, the most costly for the German Air Force for nearly a month.
Up to 10:00 this morning, 175 German aircraft have been destroyed in raids over this country.
Approximately 400 enemy aircraft were launched in two devastating attacks against London and southeast England.
Officials estimate over half of them were successfully shot down.
Oh, I-I better...
Get in that house, ye!
You keep your damn piehole shut.
What? You know what.
You saw my brother, you turd.
Nobody knows about him.
I won't tell.
The list from the Ministry is as follows.
The hyena, the wolves, the puma, the tiger, the black bear, the Barbary lion, the polar bear, the lynx and the giant rat.
What's happening? Zoo's closed today, son.
Charlie, what are they doing?
Potentially dangerous animals must be destroyed.
Please, you have to stop them.
Back away, son!
Hey, you can't go up there!
What'd you say, Alpha?
Say again. Repeat, say again.
This is 23 Alpha, receiving you loud and clear, over.
All zookeepers have been fully briefed, and the veterinarian will confirm all kills.
Standby for further orders.
It's okay, Buster. It's okay. I'm here now.
So, what do we do with Buster?
He wasn't on the list, but it doesn't look good.
You have to be quiet now.
You stay away.
I saw you. You killer.
It was a government directive.
We had to do it in case the animals escaped during the bombings.
If they bomb again, you'll bring the guns back?
Will you? Tom, I have to follow orders.
Stay away from me and Buster.
Why didn't you go to war?
Only thing you can shoot is poor, defenseless animals?
You don't know shit, boy.
Now, get the hell out of here.
What are you going to do?
Shoot me too? Go on.
If anything happens to Buster, anything, I promise...
Emily? I saw your Tom at the entrance.
He was there five minutes ago.
What are you doing here, son?
What happened? You're bleeding.
They shot the animals, Mum.
What are you talking about, love?
In the zoo. They shot loads.
The gunmen will come back if they bomb again.
Nurse Hall. You're required on Ward Five.
Stay away from that zoo.
Do you hear me?
What are you doing here again?
What are you doing here again?
Tom. What's wrong?
Did you not hear?
They shot the animals in the zoo.
Lots of them.
Because of the bombs.
Did they... shoot Buster?
But if they come back...
Buster will get...
I have to get him out.
Could I help?
Sixty-two thousand Empire troops have now arrived in Greece, including the British First...
"They went from cage to cage shooting the big cats.
Jake helped, too.
He shot Gilbert.
They even shot Hugo the giant rat.
Not the birds, monkeys, reptiles and some others.
You would've stopped them, Dad.
But I couldn't."
It's only me.
I'm sorry about the animals.
Send Dad my letter, Mum.
He needs to know.
Go to sleep, son.
It's not even budging.
And how we going to get him past the guard anyway?
That's why we have to get this gate open.
Charlie doesn't even know it's here, so it's the safest way to get Buster out.
We need to do it before the weekend.
Last raid was at the weekend, so I'm thinking Hitler does weekends, when everyone's home.
How long can we keep him there?
Until my dad gets home.
Until the war is over? That could be a while, Tom.
What if somebody finds Buster there?
Nobody will ever find my place.
I've been going there for years.
I found it.
Yeah, but me and you are... a bit different.
Tom, we aren't strong enough.
I will get that gate open.
Tom, we need help.
Nobody can know.
I'm not saying adult help.
Patty-cake, patty-cake, baker's man...
No, no. Who, Pete?
No chance. He's a nutcase.
But he's strong, Tom.
You two lovebirds writing love letters?
Right, come on.
Out to the yard with the rest of the children.
We are not lovebirds, Tom.
All I'm saying is, unless you've got a better idea...
I don't trust him.
Buster won't care about you trusting Pete... whenever the gunmen come back.
They must be planning for another raid.
They're checking everybody's gas masks work.
Right, you two next. And no messing, Peter.
Yeah, yeah. I promise, I won't.
Sweet Jesus, are there snakes in here too?
Surely this isn't on the curriculum.
Gassing the pupils.
I mean, gassed by your own teachers?
Pete, uh, do you want to help me with something?
Me and Jane, we need someone strong.
You and Jane?
Come on, Jane.
Did you ask him, Tom?
Are you helping Tom with something?
Might be. Why?
Tom's an animal-loving weirdo!
Do you want me to help, Jane?
That'd be a delight.
Hold on. Did you just say that I'd be shite?
I'd love you to help, Pete.
Back to your seat, Vernon.
We all have to do it.
We have to be sure we can trust you, Pete.
I swear on my mother, my father, my Uncle Sammy, my Aunt Lydia, my... my go-kart, my Meccano, my...
Hey, look, Pete, there's an eagle.
What about the streetlamps?
Lamps won't be on.
We should wear dark clothes.
No, I don't even have dark clothes.
Tom? What, Pete?
We should bring our gas masks.
Tom? What, Pete?
Will Buster need a gas mask or something?
Well, he can breathe, can't he?
What if he decides he doesn't want to come with us?
Have you ever walked an elephant before?
I have a special touch.
But I bet he's strong, though.
We're going to need an adult to help us.
No. No, Pete.
That's why we have you.
It's just, I thought the real reason I was recruited was, well, you know...
All right, you two.
No chance. No chance.
♪ He wakes each morning Bright and early ♪
♪ To wake up All the neighborhood ♪
♪ To bring to every boy And girlie ♪
♪ His happy serenade on wood ♪
♪ Hear him picking out A melody ♪
♪ Peck, peck, pecking At the same old tree ♪
♪ He's as happy as a bumblebee All day long ♪ It's peck, peck, pecking, not pick, pick, picking, Pete.
It's the woodpecker song.
I thought it was a wood picker.
For Buster. For Buster.
I didn't even hear you, Jane.
You're like a ghost.
I'm sorry I'm late.
I'm not great in the dark.
Oh, yeah. I had to bring my brother.
He was making too much noise when I was getting up.
He would have woken my mother, and she'd have killed me.
His name is...
My name is Mickey.
He thinks because I'm like this that this doesn't work.
I didn't even know that you had a...
He didn't tell you? You told me not to, Pete.
And I keep my word.
I don't really talk about Mickey.
People laugh at him just because he's different.
Tell me a kid that isn't different.
I'd say he's more different than me.
Don't worry. We'll be much faster when he's on my back.
He likes to wander off.
Jane! Come on, you two.
Do what? Stop.
What are you two doing out here?
What are you doing out here?
He just got out of the house.
He's not all there.
Well, get him back in.
Get back in.
And is that your dog barking?
And why is your dog barking?
Well, shut it up, too.
Shut it up.
Rover, shut your piehole.
Get out of my yard!
Are you okay, Jane?
Did he hit you?
Didn't even feel it.
Now, come on.
We've got to help Buster.
Shit a dog.
That's a real elephant in there.
He's so perfect.
Much bigger than I expected.
He's an elephant, Pete.
Jane, grab those keys and run around and open the double doors.
Tom, throw me your dad's keys.
Wrap that around your wrist and hold on tight, but don't yank it.
You two coming or what?
Lead the way, lady.
I'm walking an elephant!
Would you shut it, Pete?
Oh, my God.
Is that for us?
That's for us?
We are kill't.
Mickey. Where's Mickey?
I need to pee.
He won't budge until he goes.
Yes, this is security up at the zoo.
Well... whatever's happening, it's... well, it's happening.
Come on, Mickey, please.
Wait. Wait. Wait.
Hurry, quick, come on.
That's really sweet, Pete, the way you care for your brother like that.
Pete, the gate. Quietly.
Stop. Pete... where are my dad's keys?
I left them in the pen.
I'll go get them.
I mean, no.
Jane, you'll get caught.
The zoo will be swarming.
You boys steer him to the tree.
I'll go get the keys.
Tom, I want to do this.
Stand very still.
Well, well, well.
I see what's going on here.
And you're going to need these.
Off you go, Buster.
Come on, quick. We'd better go.
Buster, this way.
We did it.
We did it.
Stay in your houses.
Trying to make yourselves a target here.
Stay in your houses.
Is there somebody in there?
I'm going to be awhile, Mister.
It's a two-flusher.
Right, well... carry on, then.
He was with us at Floral Gardens.
I better go find him.
You want me to come with you?
I need to get in before my dad.
Are you okay with Buster?
See you at school.
Thank you, Tom.
We all stole an elephant tonight.
We're going to have to split up.
You go that way. I'm going to go this way.
I'm not good with the dark.
Now then, young man.
You're going to tell me what you're doing out after curfew.
Do you hear me?
Where to begin, Mister?
Well, it's been quite a night.
Didn't we meet earlier tonight?
That's neither here nor there.
See you tomorrow, Buster.
What was that?
Did you hear that?
Strange sound... Shh!
You're hearing things now?
Why so damn tight, Pete?
Oh, there it is again.
It's me, Tom.
Holy sweet Jesus and the apostles.
It's okay. He's really tame.
That's a bloody elephant.
I need help.
You got your own home, haven't you?
I can't take him home.
My dad works at the zoo. He'd be sacked.
Well, you can't keep him here. You're not my responsibility.
You like animals.
I had nowhere else to go.
Please, just, until my dad gets back from war.
Let me and Buster in and I'll explain.
Will you stop that damn noise!
It's the middle of the night, for God's sake!
She's as blind as a cat.
You better get in this house!
Where are you?
How can you let a two-ton elephant simply vanish, Charlie?
Animals do not vanish from my zoo.
The public must be informed.
Did you sleep well?
You seem tired.
Where were you last night, son?
Did you get the dinner I left out for you?
Mum, did Dad...
We never found Mickey.
We looked everywhere.
Where's Pete now?
Probably still looking.
Jane, there was a slight change of plan last night.
We are so dead.
We are so dead.
What's he saying?
He's telling them about Buster.
Oh, we're so dead.
Peter, Mickey is not allowed to play with the swans in the lagoon anymore.
I'm sorry, Mother. It was...
What's she doing?
You don't actually trust her, do you?
Lock the door after me, Tom.
It's a trap.
I know it is.
Now you know how to get in.
We need her.
Now we're all in this together.
I seem to have... made some... little friends.
And a large one.
We'll need a lot more straw.
Oh, just leave it in there.
Would you like me... to do your hair?
It's all right if not.
You have beautiful hair.
Ever been to the zoo, Mrs. Austin?
It's okay. I've only been once, with Tom.
It's just, with these knees... and that hill.
You look nice. Thanks.
You want me to do yours? No, no, no.
Thank you, love.
If you ever need your hair brushed again... or anything else... don't you hesitate from coming down here.
You okay, Buster?
What is wrong?
Are you feeling okay, Buster?
It's all right. It's okay. It's okay, Buster.
I thought you were at work.
From your dad.
Yours is on the other side.
Is this all he sent?
I think he did well.
He's not the writing type.
He said nothing about the zoo.
Well, maybe he hasn't got your letter yet.
Anyway, you should be happy to hear from your father.
Maybe you only care about people.
But I care about animals, too.
Of course I care.
I have to work.
I've no choice, son.
People really need nurses at the minute.
Don't be sorry.
This isn't your fault.
This is war, son.
I'm sorry for this whole mess.
You are not responsible for that zoo.
Your father wouldn't want that.
Buster, you need to eat.
Eat, Buster, please.
Buster, you're going to get sick if you don't eat.
See if he'll eat these.
There have been multiple calls to date from your neighbors, all saying there's strange noises coming from your backyard.
Strange noises coming from your backyard.
They're bloody animals. They're going to make a noise.
We have orders, missus.
We're looking for an elephant.
May we come in?
No, you can't.
This here is the veterinarian from the zoo.
I don't care where he comes from, you're not coming in.
Oh! Oh, how dare you?
How dare you force yourselves into my property?
This is disgraceful.
I'm sorry, ma'am.
I'm Jake McClune.
This is a disgrace!
Bertie, look at that.
It's like a zoo in here.
Like a zoo.
So sorry, Tom.
Well, don't you need a license for all these?
She needs a license... or something.
No. They're all just household pets.
So, what'll happen to this elephant, if found?
If they find that elephant, they'll destroy it.
So much for your new elephant keeper job, Hall.
A reward for its capture, too.
There's an elephant out there, Hall.
And we are going to find it.
A big fat reward. We'll be rich.
Pete won't help Vernon to find him.
It's not Vernon I'm worried about.
Everybody will be looking for Buster.
"Having been forced to admit the disappearance of the elephant, a red-faced Mr. Shawcross, zoo manager, has offered a substantial reward for any information leading to the recovery of the elephant."
We're going to be so famous.
"Of grave concern is the fact that Buster suffers from elephant degenerative disease due to maltreatment in his previous location.
If not treated, the condition can be fatal.
The public are warned not to approach the elephant, but to immediately inform the police."
One a day keeps the doc away.
Jake was giving it to him from the cupboard.
We have to go back in.
Oh, no, no, no, no.
There's no way we're going back in there.
My nerves just couldn't take that again.
If I could take your place, Pete, I would.
We go in tonight.
Maybe I should go in alone.
They'll be on high alert.
Not a chance.
Buster's ill, and we're a team.
There's always hard times, Buster.
But you'll get through it.
No matter how hard things get, the birds always sing in the morning.
I always tell myself that.
Are you all right?
Jane. Run, Jane. Come on.
We have to get Buster's medicine.
Not tonight. It's too dangerous.
Tom, come on! Run, love! Run!
There, there, Buster. I'm here.
Sorry. Are you okay?
I knew you'd come, Tom.
They've changed the padlocks.
There's a window.
Jane, let's get to the shelter.
I need to check my dad's safe.
But I'll see you at school, Tom.
This way, Buster. Come on.
Are you okay, Mrs. Austin?
We got the medicine. What?
Last night. Me and Jane.
We got the medicine.
Have you seen Jane?
Did you see the bombing last night?
Pete, me and Jane, we got the medicine.
What? Last night?
Just... just you and Jane?
Tom... Tom, why didn't you ask me?
Can you come here, please?
Peter, take a seat, please.
We pray for the men and women who helped the injured.
And we pray for the brave firemen from all over Ireland who came to help us.
Our very brave little friend Jane Berry died last night in the bombings.
She was only a few yards from home.
the troubled little soul... will have... peace.
She adored her dad.
It's not your fault, son.
Jane never had a real family... like you have.
You gave her some fun in her little life.
That's what you did.
You made her part of something, something very special.
You also made me a part of something very special, something I'll never forget.
Tom... it's not your fault.
Some malt and jam.
He's perking up.
He blames me for Jane.
You have a job to finish.
A job you bravely started.
She was the only brave one.
Too many terrible things have happened, and too many people have been hurt.
You and us have to make sure that not a single hair on Buster's back is harmed.
We have to finish this.
For Jane. That's right.
I didn't mean to.
It's just a letter.
A letter from my son.
You've got a son?
Had a son. He was a brave soldier in the Great War.
This is the last photograph I have of him.
And the last letter from him.
He used to write me every week.
He used to write on everything he could lay his hands on.
This one... this one here, it's written on a Gitanes packet.
Did you write back to him?
I post him a letter every week.
How did your son...?
A bomb hit their camp in Belgium.
There's not a day goes by when I don't have a think about him.
But I'm all right.
I've got my animals to keep me company now.
The strange thing...
I always picture him at your age.
Very like him in many ways, Tom.
He's looking better.
You tell me what.
Where were you?
I was just walking about, you know.
Looking for something bad to do.
Yeah, well, I was looking for you.
I said I was looking for you.
Yeah, well, you found me.
There you go, Buster.
Good boy. Good boy.
He ate a whole cart full.
I went back to the tree the other day with Mickey, and repainted our three initials and added Mickey's.
I hope that's okay with you, Tom.
Of course it's okay, Pete.
Did you repaint it with your blood?
Are you kidding?
Painted it with my Meccano pen.
Come on, you two.
Tom? Yeah, Pete?
I never want those initials to fade. Neither do I.
How was that? You all right?
I saw the elephant, Hall.
That's right. I saw it.
And you know what?
Not only am I going to get a fat reward and get famous, but you're dead when the police find out you were involved, Hall.
And your dad'll be sacked!
Pete, why are you speaking to him?
What are you? Deaf and dumb like your dopey brother?
Petey? I didn't mean...
Never, ever speak about my brother again.
Come here, you.
Pete! Pete! Pete! Pete! Pete!
I found the elephant!
I found the elephant!
Could you reach me that?
One a day keeps the doc away.
I guess now you know why I never made it to war.
I need to talk.
Hopefully... hopefully these will help him get...
Hello again, ma'am.
He's part of our team now.
Let's finish what we started.
Shortly after the last devastating raid, the Allied forces took control of the skies.
It was then we knew our job was done.
"Awsofer," I need to report something.
It's the zoo vet here.
The elephant has returned. The what has returned?
Buster. The missing elephant?
How? Don't know.
It's a mystery.
It just returned?
Buster's here now.
You can call off the search...
You will not believe what has just reappeared.
I need to talk to somebody about the missing elephant.
That missing elephant is... no longer missing.
It's in my dresser drawer.
The green leather one.
Shortly after we returned Buster, I discovered my letters to Dad.
Did you find it, Tom?
The little gray one.
I decided my mum's secret should be kept a secret.
And I grew to understand why she never sent the letters.
Whose idea was this anyway?
I heard that.
I'm sorry, boys, but I like my Paris buns.
Sometime later, Charlie was reinstated to his rightful place.
You're going to have to pay, just like everyone else.
And he quickly returned to his old self.
No problem, Charlie.
It's Mister to you.
Oh, grow up, Mister.
Have a wonderful afternoon.
Oh, look, boys.
I know. I know.
Oh, look, a giraffe!
There's my little boy.
He has grown.
There were two major bombing raids on Belfast.
Over a thousand souls lost their lives.
A while later, Dad returned safely from the war.
Pete, against all odds, went on to become a doctor in London, specializing in children with disabilities.
We write to each other often.
And he tells me Mickey is as bossy as ever.
Mrs. Austin died peacefully in her sleep in 1962, finally and eternally reunited with her beloved son.
I visit Jane's grave every year on her birthday and retell her the story of how we saved an elephant.
Well done, son.
I'm proud of you.
Dad is going strong.
Still working up at the zoo.
And still my hero.
There was only one place in the whole world I wanted to work.