Jack Cock was a footballer, who joined the Footballers’ Battalion to fight in the Great War and his story is told in simple, stark prose with very black type and tremendous illustrations by Ollie Cuthbertson marching along the bottom of each page. A great deal of care has gone into the production of this book and it shows.
Jack was the footballer who scored England’s first international goal after the war, but his story starts with his love for football and a match. There is pressure on fit young men to join up and he chooses to join the Footballers’ Battalion and go with his friends to the trenches. Some of those friends do not return and there is much detail of life in the mud, with the rats and lice, and of fighting and death. The pictures painted by Tom Palmer are graphic and ring true, and do not pander to the young age of the readers. At one point Jack bayonets a German soldier turning the bayonet as he pushes it in, and there are gruesome details of no-man’s land and the bodies which lay there. A note at the front of the story says reading age 8+ interest age 10, but this is a story of a real and bloody war and not really for an 8-year-old and perhaps not even a ten-year-old but a teenager able to cope with the reality of war.
Descriptions of Jack’s emotions while playing the game he loves so much are honest and true, winning is all. But true also are the feelings of comradeship and looking after your friends amongst the soldiers living in such filthy and dangerous conditions. This is a very good addition to what will be many stories of the Great War in this centenary year and would appeal to boys, particularly those for whom reading is not easy, and would read aloud well.