10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
The Children who Fought Hitler, 1 Nov. 2009
Sue Elliott has written a truly excellent, and lively, chronicle of a unique group of children and their families living in extraordinary times. The style is engaging, extremely readable and will have a wide appeal to anyone interested in the day-to-day activities of the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission, during the period between the two World Wars - as well as to those who enjoy reading more generally about the human experience.
Essentially this book recounts the story of the children of the ex-servicemen, who worked for the Commission creating and maintaining the vast number of First World War cemeteries and memorials in `Flanders Fields'.
The children were part of an expatriate community who attended the British Memorial School in Ypres, studying a very British curriculum but living in a wider multilingual community - often spending spare time amongst the cemeteries tended by their fathers. One of these children was Jimmy Fox who spent at least a decade tracing former pupils, and gathering their stories, to provide the core of this story.
The book is packed with fascinating anecdotes and facts - I had not appreciated just how soon the Commission got to work to establish the gardens around the growing number of graves. The moving pilgrimages of relatives of the dead in the immediate aftermath of war are described, as well as the experiences of those with the grim task of recovering bodies.
At the heart of this story are the extraordinary, and very different, travails of the children, with their families, as the German invasion of Belgium in 1940 loomed - and then engulfed - the community. Whilst many escaped to Britain in good time, others joined fleeing groups of refugees to undergo terrifying moments. But many remained in Ypres - some of the Commission staff were still hard at work as the Panzers poured around them.
The eye-catching title `The Children who Fought Hitler' comes from the stories of many ex-pupils whose knowledge of Flanders and their multilingual ability fitted them superbly to join the struggle against Hitler's forces; like Elaine Madden, who made it back to Britain and joined SOE, and Stephen Grady trapped in Belguim who fought with the Resistance.
There is much, much more - all in all, a `cracking good read'!