Review Blog

Mar 06 2017

1917 by Kelly Gardiner

cover image

Australia's Great War series bk 4. Scholastic, 2017. ISBN 9781743622506
(Age:12+) Recommended. The fourth in Australia's Great War series and published on the 100th anniversary of 1917, this novel concerns Alex, a young airman making reconnaissance flights over the trenches in Belgium.
I really like this series because these novels tell plausible stories based on historical fact, using authentic characters who reflect the real people revealed in the letters and documents researched for the story. Gardiner continues the style, creating a solid, captivating story which educates young Australians and allows them to feel proud of those who served, without ever glorifying war.
Alex and his comrades are heroes, but they are very much afraid of dying horribly in the ghastly war which seems without end. Flying above the trenches and photographing everything in detail for military analysis, the airmen observe the hellish conditions endured by the infantry even though they return to relatively clean, safe and warm billets upon landing. Their lot is no safer however as the life expectancy of airmen was measured in days as they fell prey to the enemy fighters flown by the likes of the famous Manfred von Richthofen (Red Baron), and the anti-aircraft fire from the ground. Sadly, a great many of their number also perished in flying accidents, either in training or during active service on the front.
The narrative is carried along via letters between Alex and his sister Maggie but this is balanced by descriptive passages in the author's voice. Alex's family are pacifists who actively protest Australia's continued participation in the war and particularly the campaign by Prime Minister Billy Hughes to introduce conscription.
The family's aversion to the war places them in a vexing position when Alex enlists for service, yet they of course share the same fear for his safety experienced by every other family of soldiers, sailors and airmen of the time.
The novel presents the Australian homefront very well. Civilians are jaded and completely fed up with the war and suffer from shortages and restrictions. Most of all, the population is sick of the endless call for men to serve the war machine which kills so many and returns the rest broken in body and spirit.
Content is not too gruesome for younger readers and I recommend the novel for twelve years and over.
Rob Welsh

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