Category Archives: War

See you again, Vera

The first of several versions of We’ll Meet Again was recorded in 1939, when the 22-year-old Vera Lynn ‘really does not know where or when a reunion will be possible. British war nostalgia derives from the knowledge of victory. It’s the possibility of defeat that distances the 1939 version from Churchill kitsch and Blitz cosplay and represents something truly worth remembering: resilience in the face of the unknown.’

The above is by Dorian Lynskey in the New Statesman, stating the very obvious, but probably also mostly overlooked, fact, that no one knew how WWII would end. Not when it was happening. And still Vera Lynn sang, keeping up morale.

I’d begun to believe that she would live forever. Hearing the Queen mention Vera in her speech at Easter brought home to me the fact that Her Majesty is younger than the Forces’ Sweetheart. I wonder how that feels; to be so old yourself and then have someone else who is older still and who has sort of matched your every step in the public eye.

In the end Vera Lynn didn’t live forever, but 103 is pretty good going. We’ll meet again, but hopefully not too soon.

Looking back some more, and forward

When I had the idea to cover more [than my average] black fiction during June, I came up with a lot of titles and authors. And then I realised that many of these authors were white, which is what much of the criticism of books featuring black characters has been about. So I vowed to avoid those books, however great they may be.

I also came up with a list of books I wanted to read, but was unable to fit into one month. If nothing else, it would have been unfair to the books, as I wouldn’t have given them the time they deserved.

Two ‘recent’ books were Mare’s War by Tanita S Davis, and Home Home by Lisa Allen-Agostini. The former is about black American women serving in Europe during WWII, and the latter is about being an immigrant in a very white part of Canada. Neither is typical and I enjoyed them. Also, the two authors are not really household names, which adds to the fun.

Speaking of household names, I am getting a lot closer to reading Toni Morrison. And despite her being very well known, I have to admit to wanting to read Michelle Obama’s autobiography. And Kwame Alexander’s The Undefeated which, while being a picture book, is so much more.

Mohinder’s War

Bali Rai’s short novel set in France during WWII is in one way an ordinary war adventure, showing the courage so many displayed while fighting the enemy and hoping to survive.

But the hero here is Mohinder Singh, a Sikh pilot with the RAF, who crash-lands his plane somewhere in occupied France. He is found by 13-year-old Joelle, who with her parents feed and shelter people who need help, be they members of the Resistance or as in this case, a foreign soldier.

This is what’s important. You learn, if you didn’t already know, that Indians fought for Britain in the war, flying from England. And you discover that the hero of a story like this can be a Sikh pilot, which will feel good for not just young Sikhs, but for anyone who might believe that the British don’t take ‘immigrants’ seriously, and who don’t know that many of them died for what was someone else’s country.

Mo is as brave as any RAF hero, and he brings with him his Sikh values, which he teaches to Joelle, as they run from the Germans.

The book begins with Mohinder’s funeral, at the grand old age of 105, and Joelle is there too. This helps, because at least you know that the two of them survived the war. The bad things they encountered were bad enough, and you don’t want to worry about whether they will make it.

I could do with more stories like this one. We might know that all sorts of people fought in the war, while not really understanding, unless it’s spelled out to us.

They Called Us Enemy

Not being a trekkie I didn’t know who George Takei was when his interesting snippets turned up on social media. I simply liked them.

Now I have read his graphic, well, I suppose, autobiography, from WWII onwards, about the interning – imprisonment – of American citizens of Japanese background after Pearl Harbour. It is a great book about this atrocious and shameful history. (The only thing I knew about this before came from watching the film I’ll Remember April some years ago.)

George was four when his family were more or less removed from their beds in Los Angeles in the middle of the night, and taken on a long journey to Arkansas at the other end of the country, where they were to stay for most of the war.

I have deep admiration for George’s father, who worked hard, kept the peace and made himself useful to his fellow ‘prisoners’ for the duration of this wrongful treatment. His behaviour also meant that this whole period seemed like an adventure to George, and possibly as almost normal to his two younger siblings.

Through George’s later fame, some of this unfair treatment has reached more people than might otherwise have been possible.

And I was reminded of what I read on Normblog some years ago; something which made me want to cry again. But mostly good crying. In a world of many really very bad people, and leaders, there are good ones too.

(Almost as an afterthought, I have to comment on how easy it was to read this graphic novel. They aren’t always, but this one worked perfectly.)

Enigma reading

And for publication day of The Enigma Game, Elizabeth Wein reads a chapter of her book.

If you’re very worried about spoilers, maybe go straight for the actual book book. But if not, let this be an appetiser, complete with fake pub and everything.

The Enigma Game

By about page 4 of Elizabeth Wein’s new novel, The Enigma Game, I turned to the end to check that there really were another 400 pages for me to read. I knew there should be, but wanted to make sure. What is a witch to do when reading a prequel to her second most favourite book in the world? Other than explode with contentment, I mean.

This is so good. It’s a second prequel to Code Name Verity, taking place after The Pearl Thief. This is a book for meeting old friends. Jamie, aka James G. Beaufort-Stuart, is back, and so is Ellen, with a mention of her twin. They are doing their bit for the war, at an airfield up in the cold north eastern corner of Scotland.

And there’s Louisa Adair, nearly sixteen and a recent orphan. And half Jamaican. I only mention this because life is harder when you have brown skin, and you need a job. Louisa is an expert at identifying different kinds of planes by sound. She’s also into music, which is useful when she gets a job as assistant to an old German opera singer, Johanna von Arnim.

Once they’re all ‘gathered’ at the pub near the airfield, the action can begin. Well, Jamie and his pilots are kind of busy all the time, but then a German defector turns up with a stolen Enigma machine, which in their innocence they put to good use. This is more dangerous than you might think. But at least, it matters a lot less if you are brown-skinned, or a traveller or a posh pilot. Or German. They are in this together, and it being the early part of the war, you know that whatever happens ‘now’ there will be more danger later on.

Not everyone survives, even at this point.

I need more. Lots more.

Ships, and paradise

It was the ‘Ship with no harbour‘ I thought of first. Was it last month? Time is strange right now. But anyway, those cruise ships that weren’t allowed to put into harbour in the Far East because of the contagion on board.

I felt there were many parallels with Lisa Tetzner’s novel set in the late 1930s, where poor, and ill, Europeans tried to start a new life in South America. But no country wanted them so they sailed on. And on.

Closer to home [Scotland] we have Teri Terry’s Contagion from three years ago. That was pretty terrible. I’m not even going to mention percentages here. I was only able to like it because it was so very fictional.

And that witchy feeling I had about the current Bookwitch Towers? I wasn’t sure what bad stuff I was expecting until Brexit happened. Then I ‘knew.’ That’s what was going to forcibly remove me from here. Maybe.

Then there’s the television drama from 2003, Virus au Paradis. I loved it at the time. It, too, was fictional. It was, wasn’t it? But I feel a lot worse about it now.

At the moment, I can only read nice fluffy books. I can only bear watching nice fluffy films. Before long I’ll be nothing but nice and fluffy.

Out of Berlin

When Daughter moved to Berlin for work after the summer, there were all the normal feelings you have about that kind of situation. Plus, I had one more. I could visualise her being stranded in war-torn Berlin, unable to get away.

As some of you may know, I am a witch. I see things, but don’t necessarily know exactly what my seeings mean. I told myself repeatedly that this scenario was pretty unlikely, and that I was using old prejudice and mixing up WWII and Berlin with… I don’t know what with, actually.

But the image stayed in my mind.

And then she decided to move back home and I felt that was it, then. No more war in Berlin. She returned to Scotland for a couple of weeks, before finalising the moving out. I was to go with her to help pack, and we booked the flights. (Out this coming Sunday, and back early April.)

Then Friday evening last week, I felt it would be much better to go sooner. Like on the Sunday morning. Because the travel issues to do with that other war, on the virus, made everything look almost undoable. We re-booked.

When he dropped us off at the airport the Resident IT Consultant looked like he’d not be seeing us again for a very long time. And I knew we couldn’t be certain of getting out in time, so we packed while keeping in mind that we might very well be stranded in the company of many, many boxes. Although for a pessimist I was a bit optimistic.

But I couldn’t un-see my premonition of being stuck in Berlin. I just hadn’t seen myself there as well.

After 24 hours we’d made enough progress that we re-booked our return travel on the first flight to Scotland, which was for two days later. Fingers were continuously crossed as more and more borders were reported closed.

With unprecedented optimism we threw out the last fish fingers the night before, and slept very little. Checked really carefully that the outbound flight had left Glasgow, feeling that this would almost guarantee that the plane would fly back as well.

It did, and I’ve never before been so pleased to see the pretend Scottish landscape at the airport, complete with birdsong and a ‘view over the loch.’ The Resident IT Consultant had made the most of his drive there, picking up coffee beans at IKEA. The way you do.

I understand the last scheduled flight to Scotland is some time today.

A close shave.

Speculating on Liz’s new book

I frown on speculation. People can write a lot of words on stuff they know very little about, guessing as they go.

But piecing together news from more than one source, I am hoping that the new novel by Liz Kessler – Chasing the Light – that Simon & Schuster will publish next year is based on a story Liz has told several times, about her own family’s past. (Yes, you are quite right. It is a long wait.)

The Bookseller says it’s set in the 1930s, it’s about three children, and it’s got something to do with an event in ‘her own family’s history.’ I forget the exact details of the story I have heard, but if that’s what we are dealing with here, it’s a tiny coincidence; the kind that happens all the time, but which in this case saved lives. Without it we wouldn’t have had Liz, or her books.

I hope this is what it is. And I’m looking forward to it. We are now back in darker times, and need all the help we can get from that period we believed we had long ago put behind us.

Remember them

At the back of The Missing Michael Rosen recommends many excellent books, both fiction and non-fiction, mostly on WWII related topics, but also books in a similar vein from later on. Because we never learn, and someone, somewhere is always doing something bad to another human being.

I thought I’d mention a few books here too, before we start forgetting again. It’s anything but an exhaustive list, and I have tried to choose books that are seen more from the German or European side of the war, and actually during the war.

One I share with Michael is The Children of Willesden Lane, by Mona Golabek with Lee Cohen. Admittedly, this one is set in London, but not being fiction it shows the fates of unaccompanied German minors.

The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monika Hesse. This is about the resistance in Amsterdam.

A Winter’s Day in 1939 by Melinda Szymanik, begins in Poland and then turns into that awful kind of forced transport of innocent people to somewhere a long way away.

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein, which features Ravensbrück as seen from the inside.

Once, Then, Now, After, Soon, Maybe, Always. All by Morris Gleitzman. All – probably – wonderful. I say probably, because I’ve not managed to keep up with the last ones. But there are ways of remedying that.