Thursday 25 June 2015

Carrie's war by Nina Bawden

Carrie’s war by Nina Bawden (Puffin, 2005; first published by Victor Gollancz, 1973)

ISBN 0-140-36456-0

15 chapters; 192 pages

Subjects: World War Two, England, Wales, evacuees, junior fiction (Year 5-8)

There are several different covers. The book I read had this cover, but in orange, not purple.

Now published in the Puffin Modem Classic series, this book is set in war time, when 11-year-old Carrie Willow and her younger brother Nick are sent to live in a mining village in Wales. But the “war” in the title is Carrie’s own internal war as well. The closest the actual war comes to this remote village is when an American soldier arrives to visit Auntie Lou, or when Mr Evans’ son Frederick comes home on leave. 

It is a lovely story, beautifully told, with a vivid setting and unforgettable characters. The main narrative is bookended by the story of the grown-up Carrie, coming back 30 years later to the oddly named Druid’s Bottom with her own children. She recalls the people who lived there: Albert Sandwich, Dilys Gotobed, Hephzibah Green and Mister Johnny, but then describes something as “the worst thing she ever did” and won’t go any further.    

One reason this story seems so firmly anchored in the past is that Carrie doesn’t know what happened to Druid’s Bottom and its inhabitants for 30 years, and it’s hard to imagine that being the case today, in a world of Google, texts, instant communication and information overload.


The annual “Great Reading Adventure” tries to get people in the English city of Bristol reading and talking about the same book.  For the 2005 Great Reading Adventure, they also chose Carrie’s war to get younger readers involved. The activity pack has some excellent info from pg 14 on about British evacuees and how the evacuation process was organised:
  • The British Committee of Evacuation was set up on 26 May 1938
  • Evacuation areas (places likely to be bombed) included London, Portsmouth, Southampton, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow
  • Those evacuated were children aged 5-15, mothers with children under 5, pregnant women and disabled people. Most children were sent away in school groups with their teachers
  • Britain and her Allies declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939. By Christmas 1939, half the children who had gone away returned home as the expected air raids hadn’t happened. However, in June 1940, the Germans occupied France. Evacuation began once more and many children did not see their homes again until the end of the war in 1945
  • Parents were given lists of what to pack: a gas mask, identity card, ration book, woolly jumper, warm coat, handkerchief, socks and shoes. The evacuees had labels tied around their necks with their names and addresses on. They left the cities on trains and buses
  • Over three million children were evacuated during the war in Britain.

About the author
Nina Bawden was herself evacuated to Wales in the war. ‘Carrie’s story is not mine, but her feelings about being away from home for the first time are ones I remember…the sense of not being watched, brooded over by concerned adults, was heady.’ She says (in The Great Reading Adventure notes): ‘I like writing for children. It seems to me that most people underestimate their understanding and the strength of their feelings and in my books for them I try to put this right.’

She was seriously injured in the Potters Car rail crash in 2002, in which her husband died.  

Nina Bawden wrote more than 40 novels. She died in 2012, aged 87. 

This article in the Guardianwritten after her death, talks about how Carrie’s war “has had an incendiary impact on our imagination not because it is explosive in any military sense – the guns and bombs of the second world war are not much in evidence in Druid's Bottom” but because “the novel speaks with painful truth about the ripple effects of war.

Other books you might like
Nina Bawden writes about her childhood in her autobiography In My Own Time (1995) and her book Keeping Henry is also about evacuees who are sent to Wales.

Other books on this blog that cover different aspects of the evacuee experience are Archie’s war, Lord of the nutcracker men, When the siren wailed and Ronnie’s war.   

Have you read it?
Have you read this book? Let me know what you think!

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