The children in Dan Smith’s book My Friend the Enemy fully believe that their own British soldiers would shoot captured German soldiers in cold blood. And if you believe that, then your actions won’t be the same as if you knew that there are (were) rules of what happens, even in war time.
Because Peter and his new best friend Kim (who looks like a boy and mostly acts like one too, but is actually a girl) do find themselves a German parachutist in the woods. Peter’s father is a soldier and Kim’s brother is a pilot, so they have lots of feelings invested in the enemy. But eventually they come to the conclusion that if they look after their captive soldier well, then someone might do the same to their loved ones if they are captured by the Germans.
But the adult reader can see the complications of keeping an enemy secret. They can’t stay hidden forever. Food is already scarce, so what to feed their soldier? Hygiene needs and clothes and medicine are other considerations.
The local soldiers seem an aggressive lot, so it’s not surprising they fear Erik’s death. And with some older bullies also roaming the woods and fields, there’s plenty to fear.
This is an exciting way of learning more about WWII at home, in England. Much of it we have already encountered in other war novels, but Dan has added new stuff, and his story doesn’t go quite where I expected it to go. This is an ever fascinating topic, I’m afraid, and I really enjoyed the book.
Not everything ends happily. There’s a war going on, and some people simply will have to die, or be injured. There’s injustice and deprivation, but above all there is hope. And whatever has happened to hope these days, we seem to know – a little – more about enemies. They are normal people, too. And they don’t necessarily want to take part in war any more than you do.