Enemy Camp by David Hill
The Featherston Incident has become known as a shameful event in New Zealand history but after reading David Hill’s junior story of this event I would say it was inevitable and understandable.
Whether he intended this is another matter.
Featherston was home for up to 600 Japanese prisoners from 1943 to the end of the war. The prisoners were a mixture of civilians and soldiers and sailors captured by the Allies.
This story is narrated in diary form by Ewen a standard 5 boy whose father works in Featherstone camp and had been a soldier in Greece who lost part of his arm in war against the Germans. His humanitarian stance throughout the story is a highlight and an example to all.
Ewen has friends Clarry and Barry Morris with Clarry suffering from polio. His story is also an example to all of us. The boys attend school at a time when you had ink monitors who filled the inkwells from a large bottle and teachers who would rap you across the knuckles for holding your pencil wrong.
The boys are given Japanese lessons from an English speaking Japanese officer called Ito. From him they learn that for the Japanese in the camp “for us to be prisoner is to be dead person”.
Throw in the Americans seeking information from the Japanese, Japanese pride and loyalty and hostile reactions from those who have fought the Japanese and been tortured and you have a mixture primed for conflict.
Superbly written in short diary entries that primary and intermediate students can easily read, coupled with David Hill’s easy style and you have great historical fiction. The account of the event itself with the boys looking on is sensitively done. A very readable novel.