This chunky novel is the first for young readers by the well-known historian James Holland. He convincingly and evocatively describes life for the troops, rather than that of the High Command and politicians, in the days leading up to the evacuation from Dunkirk. Through the eyes of Private Hawke, who faked his age to join up, we learn how he had ‘thought only of excitement and Glory… No one mentioned how exhausting it was fighting a war, or how filthy a soldier became. Or that it wasn’t really very glamorous at all.’
As you might expect, Holland achieves a high level of realism in the many battle scenes and the degree of fine detail is impressive, even if gory. So too is the depiction of the close bonds between the Tommies and with their Sergeant, who happens to be Hawke’s future brother-in-law. Even amidst the appalling carnage these young men look to a future and to realise their dreams. Notably the enemy is not vilified and Holland portrays them as being essentially the same as the Brits, only on the other side.
This may be about WWII but it has a lot to say about any war at any time, which conveys much that is relevant for our young men in the 21st century. Good for any competent reader, especially if they are into war and army, or, better still, studying the 1940s.