Posted in Uncategorized

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 5 Of the Best

Five of the Best (January 2011 to 2015)

5 Star Reads

As I have now been reviewing for over five years I thought I’d highlight my favourite book for each month from 2011 until 2015 to remind myself of the good ones. When we are talking five years ago, they must be good if I still remember them!

2011

This Perfect World by Suzanne Bugler a book which is all about consequences and one that horrified me as I read it on a freezing cold January evening wrapped up in my duvet!

This Perfect World

Blurb

Heddy Partridge was never my friend. I have to start with that. Heddy Partridge was never my friend because I was pretty, popular, clever and blonde and my friends were pretty, popular, clever and generally blonde, too. Heddy Partridge was none of these things.
Laura Hamley is the woman who has everything: a loving and successful husband, two beautiful children, an expensive home and a set of equally fortunate friends. But Laura’s perfect world is suddenly threatened when she receives an unwelcome phone call from Mrs Partridge, mother of Heddy – the girl Laura and her friends bullied mercilessly at school. Heddy has been hospitalized following a mental breakdown, and Mrs Partridge wants Laura’s help to get her released.
As Laura reluctantly gets drawn back into the past, she is forced to face the terrible consequences of her cruelty. But, as her secrets are revealed, so too is another even more devastating truth, and the perfect world Laura has so carefully constructed for herself begins to fall apart. This Perfect World is the debut novel from a brilliant dark new voice. Goodreads

2012 yr

In January 2012 I read The Missing by Jane Casey a standalone read by the author of the fantastic Maeve Kerrigan series.

The Missing

Blurb

Jenny Shepherd is twelve years old and missing…Her teacher, Sarah Finch, knows better than most that the chances of finding her alive are diminishing with every day she is gone. As a little girl her older brother had gone out to play one day and never returned. The strain of never knowing what has happened to Charlie had ripped Sarah’s family apart. Now in her early twenties, she is back living at home, trapped with a mother who drinks too much and keeps her brother’s bedroom as a shrine to his memory. Then, horrifically, it is Sarah who finds Jenny’s body, beaten and abandoned in the woods near her home. As she’s drawn into the police investigation and the heart of a media storm, Sarah’s presence arouses suspicion too. But it not just the police who are watching her.

2013yr

Worthless Men by Andrew Cowan is a mesmerising and thoughtful book about World War I, one that deserved far more prominence than it received in my opinion.

Click on the book cover to read my review

Worthless Men

Blurb

It’s market day in an English city two years into the Great War. The farmers are coming in from the country, the cattle are being driven through the streets and that evening a trainload of wounded soldiers is due to arrive.
At the local mansion, its new hospital tents to the ready, waits Montague Beckwith, himself a psychological casualty of the war. In the town’s poorest quarter, Winnie Barley prays that Walter, her missing son, will be on the train (but that her violent husband is not). In the pharmacy, Gertie Dobson dreams of romance while her father keeps unsuitable men at bay. And everywhere is Walter, a ghostly presence who watches as the girl he loved from a distance is drawn into Montague’s orbit.
Weaving together multiple viewpoints, Andrew Cowan creates a panoramic, extraordinarily vivid portrait of a place as individual as it is archetypal. Here is a community where the war permeates high and low; where the factory now produces barbed wire, the women are doing the men’s jobs, and the young men are no longer so eager to answer the King’s call. And here is the tragic story of a casual betrayal, and a boy who proved that those at the bottom of the heap – the worthless ones – could be the most valiant of them all. Goodreads

2014yr
A psychological mystery about a stalker is 2014’s favourite/most memorable read and my choice has now been endorsed making it a Spring 2015 choice for the Richard and Judy Book Club! The Book of You by Claire Kendal

Click on the book cover to read my review

The Book of You

Blurb

Clarissa is becoming more and more frightened of her colleague, Rafe. He won’t leave her alone, and he refuses to take no for an answer. He is always there.
Being selected for jury service is a relief. The courtroom is a safe haven, a place where Rafe can’t be. But as a violent tale of kidnap and abuse unfolds, Clarissa begins to see parallels between her own situation and that of the young woman on the witness stand.
Realizing that she bears the burden of proof, Clarissa unravels the twisted, macabre fairytale that Rafe has spun around them – and discovers that the ending he envisions is more terrifying than she could have imagined. Amazon

2015yr

My top read for 2015 is The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins picked for the compulsive reading experience. The story is told from the viewpoints of three women. The main plot unfurls over a gripping month and a half where the reader is treated to a twisty turny read full of suspense.

Click on the book cover to read my review

The Girl On The Train

Blurb

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.
Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.
Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train. Amazon

Posted in Books I have read

First World War Centenary

One Hundred Years ago today World War I started and changed the lives of a generation.

I found this poem which unusually for poetry we know from this time, is written by a woman, Jessie Pope. I think this perfectly illustrates the thoughts of the women who were at home hoping and praying for the men they knew and loved.

Socks – Jessie Pope

Shining pins that dart and click
In the fireside’s sheltered peace
Check the thoughts the cluster thick –

20 plain and then decrease.

He was brave – well, so was I –
Keen and merry, but his lip
Quivered when he said good-bye –

Purl the seam-stitch, purl and slip.

Never used to living rough,
Lots of things he’d got to learn;
Wonder if he’s warm enough –

Knit 2, catch 2, knit, turn.

Hark! The paper-boys again!
Wish that shout could be suppressed;
Keeps one always on the strain –

Knit off 9, and slip the rest.

Wonder if he’s fighting now,
What he’s done an’ where he’s been;
He’ll come out on top somehow –

Slip 1, knit 2, purl 14.

Two books that brilliantly illustrate the lives of those living through the war are: Wake by Anna Hope and Worthless Men by Andrew Cowan.

Click the book covers to read my reviews
WakeWorthless Men

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Worthless Men – Andrew Cowan

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

Worthless Men transports the reader to an unnamed market town in England in the year 1916 where many of the men have gone to fight in World War I and the war has changed everyone’s lives. This town could be anywhere in England with a butcher, a chemist, the wealthy family who dispense largesse to the poor, the crowded damp houses and the men who settle disputes in the pub or with their fists.

The book is split into very short chapters which link together in an almost whimsical way, following each of the five characters memories of the past, as well as showing us the present. This device means that as the book progresses the reader has built up a picture of the town and its inhabitants in a similar way we usually get to know people by putting the facts of what they say and do together with the `reading between the lines’ for the unsaid.

The book is written in the third person and two of the five main characters are interested in eugenics. Eugenics was respected at the beginning of the twentieth century and it is shocking to realise that some thought that the war was a way of cleaning up the gene pool thereby removing the worthless men. The theme of worthless men is strong throughout the book and different types of worthlessness are scattered amongst its pages.

I loved the style of this book; the gradual building up of a picture was immensely satisfying with every page of this 260 page book adding detail to this well-known historical period. After finishing reading the book I discovered that Andrew Cowen had recorded some oral histories earlier in his career which is probably why the feeling of authenticity is so strong.

I think this book would be an excellent for a Book Club. I received this book from Amazon Vine.