1914 by Sophie Masson
Australia's Great War series. Scholastic, 2014. ISBN
Sophie Masson is to be congratulated for writing about Australians in the Great War without feeling an obligation to open with Gallipoli in 1915. She introduces brothers Louis and Thomas Julian who are French on their father's side and Australian on their mother's, and places them in 1914 Sarajevo where Mr Julian is posted as a diplomat. Significantly, moving in diplomatic circles, the boys have firm friendships with an English boy, a Russian brother and sister, a Serbian boy and an Austrian boy. These relationships prompt a deeper consideration of later events.
The Julian brothers yearn for careers as journalists and the visit of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand affords them the opportunity to write for publication via a newspaper friend of their father's. The boys witness the assassination of the Archduke by the Serbian Gavrilo Princip and submit a photograph with an article which are printed in papers hungry for news. The complex geo-political history prior to this event and the subsequent invasions by Austria and Germany which lead to war are explained by the author using narrative and dialogue.
When France is threatened, Thomas enlists, to the great sorrow of his mother, and he cautions Louis, still underage, to resist the temptation to follow him as this would be too great for her to bear. Other factors come to prevent Louis' enlistment, yet he finds his own place in the conflict as a war correspondent. This enables him freedom and mobility to witness and report various battles and is a clever device used by the author to present a much broader view than could be gained by an ordinary soldier.
Historical fiction is a great teacher and Masson works hard to explain the military tactics and chronology of battles taking place in Belgium and France. The monstrous scale of destruction and the unrelenting misery for civilians and soldiers enduring the new trench warfare is admirably depicted. This story teaches that courage and service to one's country and fellow citizens do not have to be demonstrated through warlike activity. Readers will think deeply about the real and perceived pressures which influenced young men to serve when most of them had no concept of the unspeakable ways they could be killed, wounded or mentally traumatised.