Tank boys by Stephen Dando Collins
Random House, 2014. ISBN 9780857981301.
(Age: 12-16) This highly-charged story is about three teenage boys, actively engaged in the historic first battle between tanks, in WW1 France. Seeing the enemy up close and mates slain before their eyes was a very sobering and emotional experience for likeable Australians Frankie & Taz, who lied about their ages to enlist, and German boy Richard, who grew up in the USA.
Assigned to the massive German tank Mephisto as an artillery loader, Richard's job in hot, cramped conditions, was to feed the deadly shells into the firing cylinder of the hulking machine as it lumbered across the picturesque Villers-Brettoneaux countryside. The 16 yr-old felt sickened at the thought of the formidable war vehicle firing enormous guns at the enemy, towards whom he felt no animosity.
British and Australian troops fought valiantly side by side against the Germans in the smaller Whippets, much less powerful than their immense German counterparts. However the German vehicles were difficult to manoeuvre and many, including Mephisto, broke down or floundered in craters left by the barrages of shelling. Mephisto became hopelessly stuck in this manner and its crew abandoned the machine to shelter in a nearby crater, fearing the allied forces would attempt to destroy the tank. Ultimately all were killed, except Richard, who was eventually discovered by and surrendered to Frankie & Taz.
Tank Boys is an engrossing, but at times distressing story of courage, mateship, innocence and heroism. Boys aged 12 to 16 would revel in this superbly crafted story, composed with a mix of plenty of amiable, youthful humour.