Bessie's war by Krista Bell

cover image

Ill. by Belinda Elliott. Windy Hollow Books, 2017. ISBN 9781922081667
(Age: 5+) Recommended. War, Women's role in war, World War One. Bessie is frustrated that she cannot be overseas with her father and brothers as they fight in the trenches in France. Even eighteen year old Maud from next door has joined the Australian Infantry Service and sailed for Europe as a nurse. Bessie dreams of what she is missing, much to the chagrin of her teacher who often sees her day dreaming. But one day Bessie has an idea. A letter from her father talks of trench foot and she sees that knitting woollen socks will help the men avoid this disease. She enlists the help of her class mates and together they knit scarves and socks for the men overseas. When their teacher hears of what they are doing, she too joins the efforts by reading to them as they knit each afternoon. Finally they have enough to send and these are supplemented with tobacco, biscuits and sweets at the Australian Comforts Fund headquarters before being sent overseas. The soft edged illustrations support the story admirably, and I love the image of Bessie knitting surrounded by mounds of wool, emulating The Sock Knitter by Grace Cossington Smith, held in the National gallery.
Krista Bell presents a snippet of the war effort involving women that is usually unseen. In presenting this book, she has brought to the fore the efforts of the many who stayed at home, the women who could not participate but were desperate to support their families overseas. Young readers will see that everyone has a role in such an event, everyone can participate and that everyone's efforts will help bring an end to the conflict. And it may encourage classes to think of a way of supporting one of the many causes needing help today.
Fran Knight