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Remembrance Day 11 November 2018

This week on the memorable occasion of the Centenary of the end of World War I. We hear a lot about how this war has now passed out of living memory and the fantastic efforts to pass on the lessons learned to the next generations and so I’ve shamelessly re-posted my thoughts from 2013 about how books help embed those lessons bringing the stories down to human experience.

Armistice Day (which overlaps with Remembrance Day and Veterans Day) is celebrated every year on 11 November to commemorate the armistice signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany at Compiègne, France, for the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of World War I, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.

If I’m completely honest I despite being taught about both World Wars at school I think that reading books has helped me put what I had learnt into context. I find books that tell the stories of what it was like during wartime captivating and this interest started early on in life.

My knowledge of the First World War pretty much began with the set texts of war poetry we learnt as part of our O’ Level English Literature course and the haunting words that were sent down the decades from young men, many not significantly older than I was at the time, have stayed with me over the years.

Anthem for Doomed Youth by Wilfred Owen

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Without the endless dissection of those poems by my excellent teacher I don’t think I would have had anything like the understanding that I gained during those months. Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke all bought to life exactly how great every soldier’s sacrifice was.

The Soldier by Rupert Brooke
If I should die, think only this of me;
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.
There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

But before that the effects of war had been through fiction, heavily based upon fact, to give a feeling what war meant for the wider population. Children like books that have links to their own lives but given the right texts that doesn’t mean that they have to be modern stories, there are some great books about children in war-time, here are a few of my favourites.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by the wonderful Judith Kerr was an early favourite. My father is Jewish and I was fascinated by this heritage even as quite a small child, although it was only on the death of my Grandfather that I realised that our surname had been anglicised on the birth of my Uncle in 1938.

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

Partly autobiographical, this is first of the internationally acclaimed trilogy by Judith Kerr telling the unforgettable story of a Jewish family fleeing from Germany at the start of the Second World War
Suppose your country began to change. Suppose that without your noticing, it became dangerous for some people to live in Germany any longer. Suppose you found, to your complete surprise, that your own father was one of those people.
That is what happened to Anna in 1933. She was nine years old when it began, too busy with her schoolwork and toboganning to take much notice of political posters, but out of them glared the face of Adolf Hitler, the man who would soon change the whole of Europe – starting with her own small life.
Anna suddenly found things moving too fast for her to understand. One day, her father was unaccountably missing. Then she herself and her brother Max were being rushed by their mother, in alarming secrecy, away from everything they knew – home and schoolmates and well-loved toys – right out of Germany… Amazon

Link to Amazon UK

Another childhood favourite was Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden, another of my favourite authors for children.Carrie's War

‘I did a dreadful thing…or I feel that I did, and nothing can change it…’
It is the Second World War and Carrie and Nick are evacuated from London to a small town in Wales, where they are placed with strict Mr Evans and his timid mouse of a sister.
Their friend Albert is luckier, living in Druid’s Bottom with Hepzibah Green who tells wonderful stories, and the strange Mister Johnny, who speaks a language all of his own. Carrie and Nick are happy to visit Albert there, until one day when Carrie does a terrible thing – the worst thing she ever did in her life…
Based on her own childhood, Nina Bawden’s enchanting story Carrie’s War has delighted readers for almost 40 years. Amazon

Link to Amazon UK

When I read this as a child I used to wonder how all those children coped being sent away from their parents. Now as a mother, I wonder how on earth those poor women managed to carry on with their children far away being looked after by people they didn’t know.

Although the lives for those fighting the war doesn’t even bear imagining the effect it had on everyone’s view of life changed forever. Those that were around for both World Wars must have seen more pain and hardship than any other generation.

At around ten I came across The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank, written while Anne and her family were in hiding in Amsterdam.Diary of a young girl

Anne Frank and her family fled the horrors of Nazi occupation by hiding in the back of a warehouse in Amsterdam for two years with another family and a German dentist. Aged thirteen when she went into the secret annexe, Anne kept a diary. She movingly revealed how the eight people living under these extraordinary conditions coped with hunger, the daily threat of discovery and death and being cut off from the outside world, as well as petty misunderstandings and the unbearable strain of living like prisoners. Amazon

Link to Amazon UK

I was moved by the everyday writing depicting the horror of a life lived in secret. Years later I visited Anne Franks house, by now aware that my family were Dutch Jews and saw both my paternal parents surnames repeated over and over in the book of names of those who died in concentration camps. I will never forget that moment when I realised that it was due to a decision made years before, that I was even alive.

Anne Franks House

Anne Frank’s House Amsterdam

Books about the wars are still a staple of my adult reading and I’ve picked just a couple of those that I think stand out as exceptional examples of books that make you think and really appreciate the sacrifice that was made by all those young men.

My preference tends towards those books which look at society as a whole and . Andrew Cowen’s book Worthless Men published in 2013, is a particularly strong example. This book depicts life in an anonymous English market town in 1916, where many of the men were missing, fighting for King and Country.

Click on the book cover to read my review

worthless-men

Link to Amazon UK

Wake by Anna Hope also looks at the period just following Armistice day in an exceptional novel that uses the progress of the journey for the internment of The Unknown Warrior at the Cenotaph. Each chapter is a day and each of those days follows the journey of the coffin from France to Britain for the ceremony. So moving and a brilliant illustration of a war and what it meant for those who fought and those who were left behind.

Remembrance Day 1920: A wartime secret connects three women’s lives: Hettie whose wounded brother won’t speak; Evelyn who still grieves for her lost lover; and Ada, who has never received an official letter about her son’s death, and is still waiting for him to come home. As the mystery that binds them begins to unravel, far away, in the fields of France, the Unknown Soldier embarks on his journey home. The mood of the nation is turning towards the future – but can these three women ever let go of the past?

Link – Amazon UK

To the Grave by Steve Robinson has a different way of looking at the lives left behind during World War II


To the Grave

Our American Genealogist Jefferson Tayte aka JT has been employed by Eliza Gray who has received a suitcase with some effects telling her that she was in fact adopted. JT travels to Leicestershire to discover who the mysterious Mena Lasseter was. The story of Mena is based towards the end of the war in 1944/45 but the current day story has just as much, if not more to offer.
The characters are well drawn and Mena’s story is an emotional one but at the same time there is a lot of intrigue in the present day. JT finds himself in danger but who wants to cover up what happened all those years ago.

Link to Amazon UK

I just want to finish by saying that we shouldn’t forget the effects the two World Wars had not just on the soldiers who fought in them but a whole generation.

Lest we forget

Posted in Blog Tour

The Roald Dahl Collection #BlogTour


September 13 is Roald Dahl Day so put it in your diaries. As a child I adored Danny the Champion of the World, was fascinated by the awful characters in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and as I made my way through a predictably turbulent adolescence was delighted and terrified by Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected. I was particularly lucky as Roald Dahl continued to create brilliant stories for children and The BFG was a huge hit with my daughter who read this as her first chapter book at the tender age of four. From then on our trips to London referenced The BFG although her exceptional love of this book didn’t mean that she could visit the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Seeing the delight my own children gained from his books just meant that my admiration for the author grew and grew so imagine my delight when I was given four of the books in the adult collection as part of the celebrations.

Recollected for the first time since their original publication; FEAR, INNOCENCE, TRICKERY and WAR depict some of Dahl’s most sinister tales, including those he greatly admired, focussing on aspects of the human condition that he found most fascinating. Complete with stunningly thought-provoking illustrations, courtesy of renowned artist Charming Baker, Britain’s most seminal author reveals even more about the darker side of human nature.

Fear – Tales of Terror and Suspense.

Following an insightful introduction to this collection by Roald Dahl of how he read all the ghost stories he could lay his hands on marking each one out of ten. He’s not one to fool his audience and cheerfully admits that many received nothing at all so you can be sure that this collection is the cream of the crop of ghosts. Not being a great lover of ghouls and ghosts I was easily tempted in when I saw that the first story was written by the author L.P. Hartley of The Go Between fame.

L.P. Hartley’s story called W.S. features a writer who receives postcards signed off with the intials W.S., coincidently the author’s own initials his name being William Streeter but he brushes this aside commenting that Shakespeare also shared them. Then the pictures on the postcards get closer until they get to Gloucester, very close to where William Streeter lived. The police are convinced they are a hoax, the author wonders whether he is schizophrenic but what is there is another explanation – when the doorbell rings William Streeter finds out. Although I declare myself immune to ghosts and ghoulies I must admit there was a frisson of fear to accompany my delight at this clever tale.

Blurb

These fourteen classic spine-chilling stories are collected from Dahl’s extensive research of over 700 ghost stories. Fear includes timeless and haunting tales such as Sheridan Le Fanu’s The Ghost of a Hand, Edith Wharton’s Afterward, Cynthia Asquith’s The Corner Shop and Mary Treadgold’s The Telephone.

Innocence – Tales of Youth and Guile

The largest part of this book is given over to Roald Dahl’s autobiographical book Boy which I had previously read but some years ago now. If anything I enjoyed this re-reading far more, being charmed all over again by the stories from childhood that would work their way into his books for children. brilliant to read the flashes of inspiration as he plundered his own memories of mice and gobstoppers and chocolate tasting to create the wonders of The Witches and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The illustrations that accompany the stories give us more hints and a glimpse at the author’s Norwegian heritage.

Blurb

What makes us innocent and how do we come to lose it? Combining autobiographical stories from his childhood – such as the much-loved, Boy – as well as four further tales of innocence lost, Dahl touches on the joys and horrors of growing up. Among other stories you’ll read of the wager that destroys a girl’s faith in her father and the landlady who has plans for her unsuspecting young guest.

Trickery – Tales of Deceit and Cunning

The ten stories within this book vary in length from a single page to far more substantial ones and they all tell of the kinds of daring deeds that don’t rely on strength and brute force but the cunningness of a fox. Once again my favourite was the story which was clearly the forerunner to Danny the Champion of the World – a story I loved when it was read aloud to my primary school class aged seven or eight. Once again I chuckled as two grown men in Champion of the World (no Danny in this version) doctored the raisins to poach the pheasants thereby neatly outwitting the gamekeeper and giving the pheasants a far better send off than being blasted by a gun!

Blurb

To what depths of deception would you stoop to get what you want? In these ten dark and twisty tales, Dahl reveals that we are at our smartest and most cunning when we set out to deceive others – and sometimes ourselves. Here you will read of a husband and wife and the parting gift which rocks their marriage, the light fingered hitch-hiker and the grateful motorist, and discover how sleeping pills can aid a little bit of serious poaching.

War – Tales of Conflict and Strife

The last of the four books I received is again given over to Roald Dahl’s autobiographical work with Going Solo detailing his career as a trainee fighter pilot and then his time in active service. As the book progresses you can’t help but visualise the harsh reality of war which the author punctuates with brilliant descriptions of the people and places he met along the way. Although incredibly moving in places and much darker than the other books in the collection for dint of this being real life I was once again amazed at the breadth as well as depth of Roald Dahl’s story telling prowess.

Blurb

Including famous short stories such as Over to You, War presents the gripping
autobiographical account of Dahl’s experiences working in East Africa as well as his life as a fighter pilot during WWII. As he travels across the British Empire, you’ll read about the pilot shot down in the Libyan Desert, the fighter plane lost in mysterious fog and the soldier who returns from war irrevocably changed.

Roald Dahl, the brilliant and worldwide acclaimed author of Charlie and the Chocolate
Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda and many more classics for children, also wrote scores of short stories for adults. These delightfully disturbing tales present a side of Dahl that few have seen before; this stunning collection is most certainly a darker side of Dahl.

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War on Wednesday (21 August)

A Commonplace Killing

Having just read Sian Busby’s crime novel, A Commonplace thrilling, set just after World War II made me think about my top 5 novels either set in war-time or about living with the legacy of war.

One set in a small English town during World War I is Worthless Men written by the talented Andrew Cowen
Worthless Men

Another favourite of mine from World War I is the weepy from Jojo Moyes, The Girl You Left Behind

Historical Fiction 5*'s
Historical Fiction
5*’s

From War II my favourite has to be The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
The Secret Keeper

My final offering is a poem from the poet Wilfred Owen

 

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Wilfred Owen

What are your favourite war stories or poems?
Please feel free to link to your blog using the comment box below