Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Recommendation: 'When our Jack went to war' by Sandy McKay

Jack McKay enlists in the army in 1917 to fight in World War One.  His younger brother Tom is envious and they vow to write to each other.  Jack tells the stories about his life through his letters home; training at Trentham, travelling on a troop ship, England then France and war.  Tom writes back with details of his life at home with his mum and sister in New Zealand; learning to knit, getting a puppy, hunting with his uncle.
This is a fictional story based on research into the author’s uncle, who died at Passchendaele.  I knew the ending was not good, but I couldn’t help hoping Jack would make it.  When he survived the Battle of Messines, I began to hope but then Tom wrote a moving letter to Jack.  It described the arrival of the telegram man that so many families faced.

This is a powerful book that lets you see close up how war affects soldiers, their families, and communities.  The descriptions of characters were compelling and they became real.  I hope this book is selected for the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards in 2014.  It deserves recognition.

Passchendaele was New Zealand’s worst military disaster, with hundreds of lives lost that day.  Around 17000 New Zealanders died in the First World War, with 41000 wounded.  The population of New Zealand was 1 million at the time.

They shall not grow old,
as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them,
Lest We Forget.

Title: When Our Jack Went To War
Author: Sandy McKay
Published: Longacre, 2013
Reviewer: Jan


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