World War I Tales: The War Game
France, December 1914. Private Albert Watson is on his way to the Western Front. His mate, Charlie, an experienced soldier, tells him that the bayonet practice they have been doing is useless in this new kind of war, and the generals’ battle plans won’t work in the trenches. Albert is not reassured by the muddy waste filled with craters and derelict tanks between the two armies: No-man’s-land.
But on Christmas Eve, something extraordinary happens; they hear music coming from the German lines – it is Silent Night – and then a line of twinkling candles appear along the top of the German trench. The guns on both sides fall silent. Some German soldiers venture out into No-man’s-land and call out, ‘Happy Christmas, Tommy!’ Soon Albert and some of his mates are out there, too, shaking hands and saying, ‘Happy Christmas, Fritz!’ There will be an unofficial truce of forty-eight hours.
The following morning, there is a game of football between the British and the German troops. Albert manages to score a goal making it a draw. As he shakes hands with the German scorer, he realizes that Hans is a man like himself with a family at home. He wishes him ‘Good luck.’ When the British generals hear about the football game, they are furious, and the war continues.
Terry Deary’s retells this poignant, and true, story in a way which will help children of seven plus, especially boys, understand something important about war: even enemies are human beings. The War Game is obviously published in time for the Great War centenary next year and would make an excellent introduction for primary schools about to tackle the subject. James de la Rue’s illustrations are clearly pitched to show the discomfort of everyday life in the trenches and perfectly complement Deary’s story. Recommended.