I was drawn to this book first by its exceptionally evocative cover. The artist, Stewart Easton, drew on the style of the embroidered silk postcards made by French and Belgian women during the First World War. It shows symbols of peace and remembrance – poppies and doves – surrounding a soldier’s cap. In fact the whole book is beautifully presented with exceptionally clear print on creamy pages. Linda Newbery tells a story stretching from the outbreak of war to its end from the viewpoint of Tilly who served as a nurse in London and then in France. The story is told in straightforward language and uses dialogue to show how ordinary people living at this time thought and spoke. Alarmed when her young brother, Georgie, is called up in spite of his learning difficulties, Tilly asks her boyfriend to look after him while they are both at the front. This promise is to cause serious problems for her later in the story.
The changes to everyday life that occur so quickly when the war begins are well described. Tilly is soon confronted by the human cost of war; after some months of nursing in a French hospital she becomes exhausted, explaining that her nose ‘was full of the reek of blood and mud, pus and sweat and carbolic soap’. She is obliged to nurse soldiers from both sides and comes to realise that the young wounded German soldiers were just as much victims of the war as the British soldiers. More personally, she also realises that she has made an unreasonable request that her boyfriend look after her brother. Promises cannot always be easily kept as she herself finds when she is unable to keep her word that she will stay to comfort a soldier in his dying moments. The characters are well drawn. Linda Newbery was inspired by Siegfried Sassoon’s poem about a simple soldier boy in creating Georgie. Tilly is a character who changes and matures and who learns from experience. The book would appeal to children in the upper primary school and to those aged ten and older who need a story at an appropriate level of complexity for their age group, but suitable for those with a slightly lower reading age than average.