Friday 29 July 2016

Soldier in the yellow socks by Janice Marriott

Soldier in the yellow socks: Charles Upham, our finest fighting soldier by Janice Marriott, illustrated by Bruce Potter (HarperCollins, 2006)

8 chapters; 48 pages with black and white illustrations

Subjects: World War Two, Greece, Crete, North Africa, prisoners of war, non fiction (Year 5-8)

I didn’t know anything about Charles Upham before reading Janice Marriott’s book. In 1939 when war broke out, Upham was a Canterbury high country farmer. By the end of the war he had fought in Greece, Crete and North Africa, been awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) twice - a very rare achievement, been taken prisoner, escaped (sometimes from moving trains) and taken prisoner again several times, and finally ended up imprisoned in the top-security Colditz Castle.

Charles Upham’s reaction to winning the VC was similar to that of Cyril Bassett in World War One. Both insisted that the award was as much for the men as for themselves and were almost embarrassed to be singled out. (I don’t know if that is a peculiarly New Zealand reaction.)  Cyril Bassett famously said, “All my mates ever got were wooden crosses”.

I thought the yellow socks in the title might have more importance, but they were only mentioned once; however, they did seem to symbolise his non-soldierly qualities (we are told several times how bad he was at marching) as opposed to his amazing bravery, courage and calmness under fire.

The book was shortlisted for the NZ Post Children's Book Awards in 2007.

Was Charles Upham our "finest fighting soldier"? What makes a fine soldier? What do you think?

About the author
On Janice Marriott's website, she has this lovely description of herself and her current work: 
"After years spent writing fiction, plays, memoir, gardening books and newspaper columns, I became a grandmother, a very involved grandmother. Now life is a discontinuous narrative. Time for writing is unpredictable and starts with clearing clutter off the dining room table. Increasingly I spend my non-family time teaching others what I have learnt about writing and the publishing industry. And in my own writing life I have turned to poetry to express my new self. I think of the poems as small wild animals I have captured for a few moments in my hands and then released."

About the illustrator
You can read more about Bruce Potter and his impressive output of work here on his website

Things I didn’t know
After the war, Charles Upham bought a farm in North Canterbury, married and had three children. He lived on the farm until the year he died, in 1994. Crowds of more than 50,000 people lined the streets of Christchurch for his funeral.

His obituary in the Telegraph has a comprehensive overview of his life and the actions which won him his VCs, and includes his statement that "the military honours bestowed on me are the property of the men of my unit". 

There is more info about him on the nzhistory and te ara sites. 

Here is a list of the 22 New Zealand VC winners (Willie Apiata is the only post-WW2 VC winner. I didn't know that Charles Heaphy won one in the New Zealand Wars!)

Sunday 17 July 2016

Brave Bess and the Anzac horses by Susan Brocker

Brave Bess and the Anzac horses: a true story of courage and loyalty by Susan Brocker (HarperCollins, 2010)

12 chapters; 160 pages with black and white photographs

Subjects: World War One, Middle East, Egypt, Palestine, Mounted Rifles, horses, animals, junior fiction (Year 5-8)

Bess was a real horse, one of the thousands sent overseas in World War One, of which only four (including Bess) returned to New Zealand. Susan has told the story of the horses and the men who rode them and cared for them, using the facts of the campaigns backed up by descriptions of the land and scenery, seen through the eyes of both Bess and her master.  

As well as Bess, we meet two other horses – Jack and Flame, the mascot, a dog called Hawker, and a lot of smelly camels.

Susan’s research is impeccable and she includes a map, timeline, historical notes, bibliography and glossary, as well as short summary notes at the start of each chapter.

Bobs books blog calls it “A well written, well researched novel about a little known battle field of World War One in which NZ soldiers and their horses took a vital part.” 

About the author
Susan is a wonderful writer with a real love for horses, as shown in her other books such as 1914: riding into war, The drover’s quest and Dreams of warriors. You can read more about her and her work on her website.   

Other books you might like:
Other books I have reviewed about horses in WW1 include The horses didn't come home by Pamela Rushby and Light Horse boy by Dianne Wolfer.

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