Saturday 27 July 2013

Le Quesnoy: the story of the town New Zealand saved by Glyn Harper

Le Quesnoy: The story of the town New Zealand saved by Glyn Harper, illustrated by Jenny Cooper (Puffin, 2012)

32-page picture book with lots of full page colour illustrations

Subjects: World War One, France, Le Quesnoy, sophisticated picture books (Year 1-8)

Le Quesnoy is a historic town in northern France, surrounded by walls and moats. This book tells how New Zealand forces liberated it in November 1918, right at the end of the First World War, from the Germans who had held it for the past four years – and how they managed to do that, with bravery and ingenuity, so as not to destroy or damage the town itself.

The story is told through the eyes of a small girl living in the town, who makes sure to tell us at the beginning how to pronounce its name: Ler kay nwah.

Jenny Cooper’s warm and beautiful watercolours catch the feel of the French town, complete with bicycles and baguettes, hats and berets, shuttered windows and French flags. I like the careful way she has shown us that only the women, children and old people are left behind, once the young men have gone off to war, and how they look hungrier and thinner as the war goes on.

There is a map of the town on the endpapers, and a page of factual information on The liberation of Le Quesnoy at the back. “The latest research indicates that 130 New Zealanders were killed and another 300 were wounded in the military action that captured the town.”

Storylines Notable Picture Book for 2013

Three new picture books for Anzac Day, reviewed on the National Library’s Create readers blog.
Here is a review by John McIntyre on Nine to noon, 20 April 2012.

About the author:
(From the Penguin website):
“Glyn Harper is Professor of War Studies at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand. He is now General Editor of the Centenary History of New Zealand and the First World War. A former teacher, he joined the Australian Army in 1988 and after eight years transferred to the New Zealand Army, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Glyn was the army's official historian for the deployment to East Timor and is the author of eighteen books …[including] his most recent Letters from Gallipoli: New Zealand Soldiers Write Home. Le Quesnoy is his seventh children's book.”
Some of the others include The donkey man (Reed, 2004) and My grandfather’s war (Penguin, 2007).

About the illustrator:
This is Jenny Cooper's page on the New Zealand Book Council site. 

NZ connections:
This has become one of the most famous stories in New Zealand military history and the relationship between Le Quesnoy and New Zealand continues to this day. You can read more about it on pg 40 of Anzac Day: the New Zealand story

Capture of the walls of Le Quesnoy

National Collection of War Art, Archives New Zealand
Reference: AAAC898 NCWA 535
Artist: George Edmund Butler
New Zealand troops marching through the bombed town of Le Quesnoy, France
New Zealand troops marching through the bombed town of Le Quesnoy, France. Ross, Malcolm 1862-1930 :Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Today, Le Quesnoy even has street names with a kiwi theme (e.g. Place des All Blacks) and is twinned with Cambridge, here in the Waikato.

This is a detail of the war memorial window in St Andrew's Church, Cambridge, New Zealand. The image shows New Zealand soldiers scaling the walls at Le Quesnoy. The caption reads 'Le Quesnoy 4 Nov 1918'.(New Zealand history online, taken by Jock Phillips)
There is more information about the relationship between New Zealand and Le Quesnoy here on the New Zealand online site. 
And more images here on the New Zealand and Le Quesnoy Media gallery.

Welcome to Le Quesnoy: useful information for visiting the town. 
Information on Le Quesnoy from the New Zealand Embassy in Paris.
The friendship association between the towns of Cambridge and Le Quesnoy.

An aerial view of the town today. 
The school is named after the commander of the New Zealand troops, 
Lieutenant Averill.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo

Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo (Harper Collins, 2003)

187 pgs; told in 13 sections over the course of one night.

Subjects: World War One, England, Belgium, Flanders, Ypres, deserters, junior fiction/junior YA (Year 7-10)

Also made into a film (2012) and a one-man stage show (although from what I've read, this has a different ending).  The film has a study resource which includes interviews with Michael Morpurgo and screen writer Simon Reade, as well as a trailer.

The story is told in a series of flashbacks by Private Tommo Peaceful, aged nearly 18, who spends one long night waiting for the dawn and remembering back over his life so far. The reason for his night-long vigil is hinted at but contains an unexpected twist at the end.   

Tommo grew up in a small village in Devon with his two older brothers, Charlie (whom he idolises) and Big Joe, who is mentally handicapped. The first half of the book deals with his childhood: schooling, his father’s death, his mother’s desperate efforts to keep the family together and the girl – Molly – whom both he and Charlie fall in love with, although it’s Charlie who wins and marries her. The pressure put on young men and boys to sign up for war is clearly shown when the sergeant major comes to town with his band of soldiers, “splendid in their scarlet uniforms.”

Both Charlie and Tommo (aged nearly 16) sign up and are sent to the trenches near Ypres, where they soon realise there is nothing splendid about war at all. The bullying behaviour of one of the army sergeants, and Charlie’s refusal to kowtow to him, is a constant theme, as is the fierce loyalty between the two brothers. At the end these two themes coincide, with fateful results.   

Do you think Charlie did the right thing when he refused to leave Tommo? What would have happened to him if he had left Tommo? What would have happened to Tommo?
The motto on the cover says “Innocence and love, courage and cowardice.” How are each of these qualities dealt with in the book?


Here is a review of the book from the Booksellers New Zealand blog. This review on the Independent website talks about "Why children should see Michael Morpurgo’s ‘Private Peaceful" (the movie). 

Author’s website:
Michael Morpurgo's website includes worksheets, posters and book covers to download.
He has written a number of other war-related books, notably The war horse (also made into a film.)
Here he is talking about writing on BBC Authors Live.

Other books you might like:
The silver donkey by Sonya Hartnett also deals with the topic of army deserters and how they were treated.  
So does My brother's war by David Hill (NZ author). 
My review of The silver donkey includes some information on  the Shot at Dawn Memorial in Britain which is a memorial to some of these young men from Britain and the Commonwealth. 

New Zealand connections:
Desertion was treated as a crime by the army and could be punished by  court-martial and execution.  On pg 47 of Anzac Day: the New Zealand story is a section called “Pardoned at last”. This tells the story of the men who were court-martialled for mutiny or desertion, often because they were suffering from undiagnosed shell shock. Many of these men had fought bravely in other parts of the war but had just reached the limit of what they could endure. Their deaths were seen as terribly shameful for their families and often they were not talked about for years.
In 2000, the Pardon for Soldiers of the Great War Act was passed to pardon the five NZ soldiers who were subsequently shot. You can read more about the Act here.
The medals and certificate of pardon for one of the soldiers, Victor Spencer, were later gifted to the Bluff Maritime Museum

The story of two of the five soldiers, both born in Australia, is told further in this transcript: "ANZAC tragedies revealed after 80 years: the stories of Private John Sweeney and Frank Needs / John King , both Australians who signed up in NZ, and served bravely in Gallipoli but were charged with desertion in France and shot."

(It’s interesting to note that Australian never allowed its own soldiers to be shot, perhaps because the AIF was only ever made up of volunteers  - conscription was voted against twice by the Australian public during WW1 – and the public outcry would have been huge. But these two men had signed up for the NZ army.) 


Thursday 4 July 2013

Harry and the Anzac poppy by John Lockyer

Harry and the Anzac poppy by John Lockyer, illustrated by Raewyn Whaley (Reed, 1997)

New Zealand author and illustrator. 

Picturebook; 24 pgs, with text facing full page illustrations

Subjects: World War One, France, Anzac Day, poppy, letters, New Zealand, grandparents, junior fiction (Year 3-6)


Harry and his Great-Grandma Kate go through her special box of letters, sent to her as a child by her father (Harry’s great-great-grandad) when he was away at World War One in 1917 and 1918.

TKI notes are available here

How many generations away is a great-great-grandfather? How many great-great-grandfathers are on your family tree? Do you know any of their names?

Harry is named after his great-great-grandfather. Are you or anyone else in your family named after another family member? Do you know why?

In his letters, Harry’s great-great-grandfather compares himself to different animals: a pack horse, a rat, a rabbit in a hole, a crayfish. What does he mean in each case?

What do the letters tell you about conditions at the Front: the weather, the food, the sleeping arrangements and other living conditions?

What was happening in World War One in 1917 and 1918?

Where does the poppy first appear in the story? What significance does it have for us now?

Info on the author:
New Zealand Book Council biography
Christchurch City Libraries interview

John Lockyer’s other titles include Lottie Gallipoli Nurse (1998) and The Anzacs at Gallipoli (1999). Willie Apiata VC (2009, Puffin), written with Paul Little, was a finalist in the Non-Fiction category of the 2010 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards.

Info on the illustrator:
You can read a short bio of Raewyn Whaley here
Other books you might like:
War game by Michael Foreman also talks about Christmas in the trenches.

New Zealand connection:
Letters were very important to the soldiers at the front, and to their families back home.  On pg 14 of Anzac Day: the New Zealand story is a section called “How do we know about the war?” This explains how the soldiers’ diaries and letters home tell us a lot of what we know about  the war. “Word from the front” on pg 15 explains how the Turkish soldiers, many of whom could not read or write, got their news from home. 

Delivery of mail to New Zealand soldiers, Etaples
Delivery of mail to New Zealand soldiers, Etaples. World War 1914-1918 albums. Ref: PA1-f-102-0416. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Sorting letters for troops at the NZ Army Post Office in Cairo, Egypt
Sorting letters for troops at the NZ Army Post Office in Cairo, Egypt, about 1941. NZ Dpt of Internal Affairs. War History Branch : Ref: DA-01414-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Sometimes the mail arrived back home with black marks where the censors (usually officers)  had crossed out anything that they thought might be secret information. The soldiers would often censor what they wrote themselves, not wanting their families to know the worst of what they were going through. 

Lieutenant A R Martin censoring mail outside his bivy near Sora, Italy, World War II - Photograph taken by George Kaye

Lieutenant A R Martin censoring mail outside his bivy near Sora, Italy, World War II , June 1944- Photograph taken by George Kaye. NZ Dpt of Internal Affairs. War History Branch : Ref: DA-06115-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

You can read an interesting account here about New Zealand prisoner of war mail in World War Two.