Help young children to never forget
Lest We Forget For some reason I believe strongly that today's children should be reading about the past wars - most especially World War I and World War II. These wars are still recent enough that some children may have grandfathers who fought in World War II - this relationship can put a human face to the experience of these soldiers. I guess I hope that by reading about war and learning about the horror of war that it may go some way toward preventing future war - and trying to find a resolution toward peace in the world today.
There are several new novels for children ages 9-14 this year. They are well written and make the characters of the men involved very human. I especially recommend the following titles.
The Desert Hawk by Barbara Hehner is the true story of J.F. “Stocky” Edwards, Canada's World War II Flying Ace. Jim Edwards was going to high school when war was declared. He joined the RCAF in 1940 and arrived in Grenoch, Scotland on a troop ship - as did my own father - and by that November he was a skilled fighter pilot and stationed in Takoradi, Ghana, and then Cairo, on his way to fight in North Africa. Jim realized that the German fighter pilots were doing the same job that he was - fighting for their country - but with a difference "he believed Germany's leaders had to be stopped. To keep Adolf Hitler and the Nazis from spreading their vile beliefs across the world, he would shoot down as many Luftwaffe planes as he could, without hesitating”. After the North African Campaign ended Jim joined the Canadian Squadron in Italy - he was only 22 years old. Eventually he was part of the sorties across the English Channel into France. Jim chose to stay in the Air Force after the war and retired in 1972, and was awarded the Order of Canada in 2004.
Also by Barbara Hehner is The Tunnel King, the true story of Wally Floody and The Great Escape. Many of us know the famous story The Great Escape written in 1951 by Paul Brickhill, an Australian member of the group, and the film of the same name starring Steve McQueen. Wally Floody was an advisor on the film shoot - because he was there for the real thing. When Wally graduated as a pilot in the RCAF it was made clear that if he were ever taken prisoner by the Germans, it was his duty to try to escape "You've been trained at great expense, and you ought to get back to your squadron and fly again". On his second raid Wally’s plane went down and he was captured near St. Omer, France and transported from one camp to another until he was in a camp in the far east of Germany. There had been many unsuccessful escape attempts at this camp and the plan to dig a tunnel was very organized and considered - it is a fascinating plan.
Wally had been a miner in Northern Ontario, a skill now of great use in this ambitious plan. The guards, however, became suspicious shortly before the escape, Wally’s involvement was suspected, and he was moved to another camp. Ironically this probably saved his life, as almost all of those who escaped were captured and executed.
Thank you to Barbara Hehner. She has made these books absolutely captivating, the reader proud to be a Canadian, and an honour to these men and other who gave their youth - and their lives in some cases - for our freedom today.
Two volumes of historical fiction are also new this fall. Battle of Britain - Harry Woods, England 1939-1941 by Chris Priestly, is the fictional story of a boy who wanted to fly and becomes a pilot during World War II. Harry's sister Edith is a nurse in London and he becomes a Spitfire pilot. We read about the stress of the mission and the frustration and exhaustion.
There are descriptions of the bombing of London, the beauty of flying over the English countryside, and the downing of German planes over the Thames. There are the Polish pilots coming to England after escaping from Europe so that they can fight with the British.
There are wonderful quotations from Churchill’s speeches that Jim and his parents listen to on the radio. This is a very vivid picture of the British experience of the war - and their great fear that they would not succeed in defeating Hitler.
The companion book is a World War I story - The Trenches - Billy Stevens, The Western Front 1914-1918. The young men are enlisting - boys really - going off to war. Defending their country is the manly thing to do - and an adventure. They very quickly, however, discover the misery of life in the trenches - the cold, the wet, the mud, and the dead. Their own dead, and the enemy. “What struck me about these dead Germans, though, was how young many of them looked. So many of them were just boys of about fourteen and fifteen, some even younger. Then it struck me that me and so many of the others on our side only felt old. I was just seventeen. Some of our soldiers were only fourteen or fifteen. We were still just boys.” Morale becomes poor as months become years - there is a great divide between the officers and the enlisted men. Billy Stevens is wounded, but not killed as so many of his friends are. These books all are complete with historical notes and timelines, and a few photographs.
Lest we forget. Don't let the human face of war become only history.