Kiwis at War 1917. Machines of War by Brian Falkner.
Kiwis at War 1917. Machines of War by Brian Falkner. Pub. Scholastic, 2017.
Seventeen year old Bob Sunday took his dead brother’s identity and signed up to be a pilot in the newly formed Air Corps in WW1. He was made an observer instead with his back to the pilot in a new Bristol fighter handling a Lewis machine gun but he will be made a pilot later.
His first encounter with action won him the Military Medal without even leaving the ground, but he was still put on a charge. In the coming weeks he learned that newcomers were not treated very well because of their high attrition rate. Many did not last a week, nobody wants to get to know a man who is going to die. His survival and bravery ensured that he made friends and enemies as the Flying Corps is revealed as elitist and tarnished with the social structure of England.
The highlights of this superbly told story are the airborne dogfights and the parties around the piano in the evening as the pilots mourned those that never came back and toasted victories. The Red Baron and Herr Voss the German Aces in their tri-planes, featured in the fights as did the contrast between the war in the air and that of the soldier in the trenches, the PBI or poor bloody infantry.
Told between April and November 1917 the War is still very much even culminating in the bloodiest battle of all Passchendaele. The view of the battle from the air is a revelation as is the use of the new technology, Tanks.
An on going controversy through this period was the non use of parachutes by the airmen even though the technology existed. Top brass cared little for the parachute as they considered the pilots would fight harder if the knew they would die. It was the sort of decision making that was a feature of WW1 made by heartless officers who had never fought themselves and cared nothing about casualty rates.
Brian Falkner does not miss a beat in this superb novel for intermediate and high school students. YA,s and adults will also get a lot out of this excellently researched novel.