The tears started falling right from the start of Tom Palmer’s new book, After the War. I missed The Windermere Children on television in January, so had been looking forward to Tom’s book. To say it’s an enjoyable book would be wrong. It’s very good, as always with Tom, and so important, especially now.
We meet three Jewish, teenage boys, who along with three hundred other children came to the Lake District in the summer of 1945, straight from the concentration camps.
The automatic reaction for the modern reader is how lucky these boys are, and how they must know that things will be OK from now on. But what you tend to overlook is what has been done to them during the war. Yes, we know about the camps and the loss of their families and the general awfulness of everything.
But here the boys are worrying whether they can really trust these people, whether they will really be all right now. Because being transported in large groups to somewhere new, where they are being promised better lives, food, and so on, has been done to them already. And we know what happened then.
When they arrive, the many buildings they see look a bit like the concentration camps. They have to remove their clothes, for obvious reasons, and they are told to wash, and they are deloused, etc. But this too rings a bell for the children. It has all happened before.
On the other hand, they have been given a piece of chocolate, for the first time since before the war. Maybe things will be OK?
To begin with they hoard the food they are given, in case they aren’t fed again. They even steal potato peelings, just in case.
But slowly, slowly, they learn to trust, they stop being hungry, they learn English. In fact, they are allowed lessons, which is something they’ve not been permitted for six years.
This is a beautiful book, telling us about something real. Until quite recently we would have taken this kind and decent behaviour by the British for granted. But whatever our future holds, I am so glad these children were given a future after all they went through in the war. And I hope there was much chocolate for them.