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Brave Boys and Girls in Wartime

In this and the next three issues of Books for Keeps, Geoff Fox introduces texts published for children during the Great War. His intention is to let the books speak for themselves – sharing their content rather than offering a critical appraisal of these little-known and often surprising works.

The first extract is the more typical of John Lea’s Brave Boys and Girls in Wartime (Blackie, 1918), but the second confirms that childhood rather than adolescence is his intended readership. In its format, the book is a conventional illustrated children’s book of the time, measuring 210mm by 260 mm, with nine colour images (three of them double page spreads) by H.M. Brock (1875-1960) and additional black and white line drawings by Brock and Gordon Browne (1858-1932) decorating its 71 pages. Both illustrators were prolific and highly-regarded, especially for their work in classic and children’s texts.

John Lea (1868-1952, aka John Lea Bricknell) wrote poems, novels and non-fiction for young readers. Between 1910 and 1930, he contributed more than 100 poems to The Boy’s Own Paper; in March, 1915, he encouraged B.O.P. readers to rally to the call to arms. The opening verses of ‘The Drum’ read:

The Drum – the Drum – one August day Spoke in its own assertive way, And Men stood hushed to hear anew The solemn call of its low tattoo.

From ‘Nova Scotia’s misty shore’, the tattoo sounds across Canada by way of ‘the Laurelled Heights of Abraham,’ until its urgent beat is heard on the Pacific Coast among the ‘Battalions of Columbian pines’: and so across the oceans to Australasia, Hindustan and Suez, summoning a willing response from Britain’s colonial sons:

We hear the call of the Empire’s Drum! Mother of Nations, see! – we come.


he brave boy closed his lips. In the hope of rousing fear in such a valiant heart, they bound him firmly to a tree, and turned their fire-arms upon him, threatening instant death if he did not reveal the facts they wished so much to know.

But the silence remained unbroken. The land he loved was safe in his keeping. He died – faithful to the end.’ So the Huns execute a diminutive French Boy Scout, captured as he carried messages for the Army. Back on the Home Front, even the smallest children are doing their bit. ‘Yet many tiny boys did good work last year collecting chestnuts in the woods and gardens, because chestnuts were wanted by the Government to help in the making of munitions. When I tell you what a great, great number of chestnuts were thus gathered together, you will say: ‘Upon my word, that was worth doing!’ It amounted to 5000 tons.’

4 Books for Keeps No.206 May 2014

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