Posts Tagged ‘World War 2’

Dunkirk. The History Behind the major Motion Picture by Joshua Levine. Pub. William Collins, 2017.

April 25, 2021 Comments off

It is appropriate that I review this excellent historical account of the Dunkirk evacuation, on ANZAC Day because this evacuation meant as much to the British as Gallipoli does to New Zealanders and Australians. If the British Expeditionary Force had been captured or destroyed at Dunkirk it is almost certain that Britain would have been forced to surrender and the world would have been a different place.

Reading this book also meant much to me because my father was at Dunkirk and wore a bullet for his troubles. He never talked about it except to say that it was a complete shambles and terrifying. This book confirms that.

The book begins with an interview of Christopher Nolan who made the motion picture which I saw and astonishingly he made it without putting any Germans in it. Read it and find out why, it’s not important but an interesting position. Joshua Levine then looks at the social history of Britain since WW1 and the Depression and concludes that there was vast change. There was a strong sense by the working class that they had been let down after being promised a land fit for heroes after WW1. There was a growth of a youth culture reflected in the music, clothes and the way youth spent their money. There was also the growth of Mosely and his Hitler supporters who didn’t want a confrontation with him. Dunkirk changed all this.

Dunkirk was a military defeat brought about by the twin German tactics of Blitzkrieg from the air by Stuka bombers who had Jericho sirens on their wing struts and on their bombs. This terrified both civilian and military personal. Secondly the swiftness of the Panzer tanks so swift were they that Hitler couldn’t believe it had worked so well.

The quick capitulation by Belgium and the rapid movement of panzers without opposition into France stunned everybody. Should the British Army have left Britain in the first place and were they ready for war? The fall of the Maginot Line completely demoralised the French and allowed the Germans to get in behind the British Army and squeeze it from both sides. There was fighting and opposition of course and the beauty of this book is that tunes into live and documented accounts of the skirmishes from men on the ground.

It was chaos, nobody knew what was going on, many soldiers didn’t know where Dunkirk was, they thought it was a place in Scotland. Discipline broke down and survival took over. Rank lost its influence with meritocracy and natural leadership won over rank.

The fact that more than 300,000 men were evacuated off the beach and off the mole that went almost a mile around the port of Dunkirk was a miracle of course and the small boats astonishingly brave. Some 15,000 Frenchmen were also evacuated in a desperate struggle on the ground. Meanwhile politically Churchill came to the fore in spite of have little faith in him from both sides of the House of Commons.

Joshua Levine pieces it all together in a quite compelling account of what went on. As the soldiers returned many felt they had failed and were astonished that the British public treated them like heroes. Britain had changed thanks to the Dunkirk spirit and it was that that began the real opposition to Hitler.

An outstanding book, if you miss this you will kick yourself.

Categories: Non Fiction Tags: ,

Code Name Bananas by David Walliams, illus. by Tony Ross. Pub. HarperCollins, 2020.

November 19, 2020 Comments off

Another great novel of madness, mayhem, laughter and fun from the man the Telegraph have said “Dahl finally has a worthy successor“. No wonder children love it. Just in time for Xmas. Parents should take a look too.

Eric is an 11 year old boy with sticking out ears and glasses who stays with his grandma. He is an orphan and it is about to get worse. His main love is visiting the zoo in Regents Park London where he has developed a friendship with Gertrude the gorilla.

He is also friends with zookeeper Uncle Sid who has tin legs because his real ones were blown off in WW1. Sid has sticking out ears too but is as kind as a person can get especially to animals.

Every night the German bombers fly over London blowing smithereens out of the city during the Blitz in WW2. The animals are terrified but Corporal Batter with his rifle and Sir Frederick Frown with his pompous upper class manners are both ready to eliminate any animal that escapes or proves a problem. Gertrude is seen as a problem and set down to be put down by the nasty Miss Gnarl and her long needle.

Eric and Sid plot to release Gertrude and what an adventure it proves to be. Read it and find out what happens. but first read the ten possible plots of how to effect the escape.

Hilariously funny with lots of true history about WW2.

Katipo Joe: Blitzkrieg by Brian Falkner.

March 31, 2020 Comments off

katipoKatipo Joe: Blitzkrieg by Brian Falkner. Pub. Scholastic, 2020.

This action filled war story of World war 2 is a novel to rival the Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz. I make this comparison because it is totally world class writing from, in my opinion the best action writer in New Zealand.

Based on true events it is set in Berlin in 1938 as the Nazi machine was taunting the world with threats and it’s anti Jewish programe. Joe is 12 years old and his parents work as diplomats and also spy on the Nazis. Joe goes to school in Berlin and mixes with Martin Borman’s nephew Klaus. Joe is a blue eyed blond youth and speaks fluent German , a fact that makes him a target for espionage.

When his father is arrested by the gestapo, Joe and his mother escape from berlin in a thrilling piece of action.

The scene shifts to London during the Blitz with Joe living in the ruins of the city looking for his mother. he meets friends on the street and the tragedy of wartime Britain. He gets involved in a Nazi spy ring that involves his mother and when his mother is allegedly  killed in a Nazi bomb plot, Joe is seconded by MI6 special forces and trained to be a spy.

The scene then shifts to occupied Paris with Joe flown into France to infiltrate the Hitlerjugend or Hitler Youth movement to effect an assassination of a prominent Nazi general. The action is thrilling.

Splendidly written by Brian Falkner who is at the top of his game. The action is astonishing and tragic. War is like this. Don’t miss this one it is superb.

For readers between 12 years and 16 years. Adults will love it too. Photographs in the back plus a glossary giving all the aircraft, guns and Nazi terms. Easy to read and compelling.

Cloud Boy by Marcia Williams.

June 18, 2019 Comments off

cloud boyCloud Boy by Marcia Williams. Pub. Walker Books, 2019.

This very memorable novel for middle school readers is written in diary form by Angela Moon. She has an artistic bent, has a pet goldfish called Edith and is extremely fortunate to have a Great grandma called Gertie.

Angie’s best friend is a sickly boy called Harry Christmas. He is a very determined soul who watches and records clouds on a daily basis in his journals. Angie and Harry were born 2 days apart and are inseparable.

With their fathers’ help they build a tree house which they call Artcloud and they spend much of their spare time there looking at clouds and doing art work. Then Harry gets seriously ill. Read it and find out what happens.

Much of the drama of this book are letters written by great grandma Gertie to her cat when as a young girl she was imprisoned in Changi jail after the fall of Singapore in 1942. The letters tell of the cruelty of the Japanese captors to the women and children. It tells of a real life quilt made by the women and girls to pass time in the wretched conditions of Changi Jail.

A superb story of human endurance from the past and in the present as Angela deals with the illness of her best friend. Very easy to read with short diary entries.

Flight Path by David Hill

March 30, 2017 Comments off

flight pathFlight Path by David Hill. Pub. Puffin NZ, 2017.

This excellent novel about Bomber Command in World war 2 is released tomorrow and if I were you I would get down and get it because you will not read a better novel about this topic than this one.

Jack is a NZ boy of 19 years and he can’t wait to get off the ship and join in the fight against Hitler. He is allocated to F Fox Lancaster bomber sitting in the freezing cold perspex nose cone as a bomb releaser and gunner. He sees all the action front on.

After two raids Jack was scared and felt like he had been doing the job for ever.

The Lancaster has a multi national crew of seven and they are told if they get shot down to head for the dirtiest cafe in town sit in the corner and wait. Jack hopes it will never happen.

The crew take part in bombing raids over Germany, France and the English channel at night time. Starting after 10.00 o’clock and sometimes out there for 6 hours. Every mission has major risks from flack from ground fire or attack from German night fighters and even from their own bombers who are flying in close formation. There are missions at the D-Day landings and a hunt for the Battleship Tirpitz.

The dogfights and descriptions of the bombing raids are superb and after each mission a white bomb is painted on the nose of the Lancaster. However with each mission the tensions get higher. When will it be F Fox’s turn to be shot down or suffer casualties.

A superb novel that could be compared to Brian Falkner’s novel of 1917 reviewed below. David Hill is equally superb in his observations as Brian Falkner especially when the English pilot says things like what-ho and wizard. There is also a bit of romance so read it and find out.

Intermediate readers could easily read it but it is essentially high school and Young Adult.

The Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky.

March 18, 2017 Comments off

blue catThe Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky. Pub. Allen&Unwin, 2017

This novel for Intermediate and junior secondary readers is set in Sydney after the fall of Singapore in 1942 to the Japanese when great grey warships sat in the harbour like a herd of tired elephants.

It is an absorbing and lyrically novel with a sense of dread about it and ends in a surrealistic way. It recreates Australian life before World War 2 that prompted the then Prime Minister of Australia to observe “Australia is a British land of one race and one tongue”

Columba and her best friend Hilda are about 11 years old and they live on the North Shore of Sydney. Their neighbours are two elderly sisters Miss Hazel and the harp playing Miss Marguerite who say things like “people are ignorant they don’t know any better”.

Daylight saving has been introduced and it is lights out after dark to stop the enemy seeing in the dark. Darwin is bombed in the middle of the story.

Ellery a young boy from You-rope comes to town with a watch on his wrist, a bearded father and without a word of English.

At the same time an archangel blue cat wonders into the lives of Columba and her neighbours. This cat sees all and is important in providing the serendipitous ending to this story.

Easy to read with primary sources of literature, advertisements and Government directives of WW2 Australia spread throughout the novel that will intrigue the reader and provide an insight into life at that time.

I have never read a children’s novel like this before.



The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

December 16, 2016 Comments off

war-saved-lifeThe War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. Pub. Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016.

This excellent novel for intermediate and junior secondary students is one that will evoke every emotion that you have. You will by happy, sad, joyful, angry, frustrated, disbelieving and everything else.

Set in London and the countryside between 1939 and 1940 during the phoney war in which not much happened, until the retreat from Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain.

Ada is 10 years old although she doesn’t know this. She has a clubfoot which has never been treated and gives her enormous pain. She cannot walk and gets around on her backside and her knees. Her mother is a horrible woman who says she is cursed by the devil and that she is too disgusting to mix with other people. She is not.

Ada has a brother Jamie who is about six and goes to school. Ada looks after him although she can never leave the house. Both children are physically and emotionally beaten and are traumatised by their poverty and treatment from their mother.

When the children of London are evacuated to the country by Government decree Ada and Jamie are allocated to a wonderful woman called Susan who has to deal with their trauma. She educates them and heals the wounds in this stunning story that will eat into your soul. Not unlike Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mr Tom.

Easy to read with short chapters and you can’t help but be with the children all the way. This book was recommended to me by Elizabeth Cross from St Margaret’s College and everything she told me about this book was true. Thank you Elizabeth.

The Bakehouse by Joy Cowley.

June 3, 2015 Comments off

bakehouseThe Bakehouse by Joy Cowley. Pub. Gecko Press, 2015.

Bert is in his 80’s when his great grandson comes to visit, wanting to know of an incident in his life during World War 2 that involved an abandoned building they called the Geronimo Bakehouse.

It awakens feelings and memories in Bert that he would rather forget and a decision he made that altered the course of many of his family’s lives especially his sister Betty who was 15 years old at the time.

The year was 1943, Bert was 11 years old and playing war games in his head and in the playground. It was a time when a Japanese invasion was feared, the men were overseas fighting and the Americans had come to town with their candy, nylon stockings and their swagger. The girls were hooked..

Bert imagined air raids like he heard on the BBC Radio News and decided to set up a secret shelter in an old bakehouse. It is to be used by a soldier who has gone AWOL and doesn’t intend to return. Bert and his sister help and feed him but Bert has misgivings about it all. You will have to read the novel to find out what is going to happen.

An excellent short novel. Sophisticated, no nonsense writing that recreates the war time atmosphere in New Zealand, a time when young women painted lines on their legs to simulate stockings, we all sang “bless them all Bless them all, the long and the short and the tall” and said such home spun philosophy as “what the eye don’t see, the heart can’t grieve over” and loose lips sink ships.

Family life during war time is portrayed very well and poor Bert carries his secrets around with him like a heavy unexploded bomb.

Superb reading for intermediate and junior high school students.

The Red Suitcase by Jill Harris

May 9, 2014 Comments off

red suitcaseThe Red Suitcase by Jill Harris. Pub. Makaro Press, 2014.

A novel with much depth. A contrast, between a society that had to fight a war, World war 2, with men and women that paid the ultimate sacrifice, and today’s society where young men fight for bravado, getting the pictures on YouTube, and where cultures align themselves against each other in a God verses God struggle.

Fourteen year old Ruth and her family have forcibly been returned to New Zealand after a suicide bomber destroyed a University lecture hall in Indonesia because of the content of the lecture. She returns to live  with her Nan on the  North Shore and starts to have “episodes” in which she goes back in time to World War 2  when bomber command were bombing German cities.

These “episodes” disturb her and she confides in a serious boy, Thomas,  about what they mean. There are some surprises about the nature of the “episodes” and who is involved, but  you will have to read the book to find out what they are.

A red suitcase may hold the key to everything or maybe it heightens the mystery?

There is a sting in the tail of this neatly structured novel for high school students.


A medal for Leroy by Michael Morpurgo

October 8, 2012 Comments off

A Medal for Leroy by Michael Morpurgo. Pub.HarperCollins, 2012.

“If you tell a lie often enough, and for long enough, particularly if you live it, in the endyou forget it’s a story altogether”. In a nutshell this is what this book is all about and it is a scenario that Michael Morpurgo tells so well.

Michael is a dark skinned boy born to a French mother and British pilot who is killed in the Battle of Britain. He has two old aunts living near Folkstone who he visits with his mother several times a year. They have a dog called Jasper who he adores but nobody ever talks about his father or any of his father’s relations.

The death of his aunt Snowdrop precipitates a major flood of information that will change Michaels life forever. A story of bravery of racism and love during wartime. The ending will melt your heart.

Brilliantly told in the easy manner that Michael Morpurgo is famous for. Who said children don’t like history?

Will appeal to primary and intermediate students but junior high should take a look too. This is outstanding writing and a superb story.