When the Guns Fall Silent
Jack Loveless, veteran and war hero, takes his grandson to visit the allied cemeteries in Northern France, 50 years after the end of the First World War. While there, Jack recalls how, as a 17-year-old soldier, he is sent to fight in the trenches. His very personal and moving story covers the early months of the war. It is told in a colloquial style, and some of the language is strong. The graphic details of death and the squalid conditions in the trenches are harrowing, and Riordan does not spare us the full horror of the soldiers’ often brutally short lives. The book does not tackle the wider sweep of the war or its politics but focuses on Jack and his friends, and packs a much greater punch because of it.
The story ends with the extraordinary events which happened on Christmas Day 1914, when peace broke out on the battlefield. The British and German soldiers called a truce for a few wintery hours, to sing carols and play football in No Man’s Land. Jack and his comrades share a brief friendship with the German soldiers and gifts of cake, cigarettes, German sausage and chocolate are exchanged. The story is all the more extraordinary because it is true.
Each chapter begins with an excerpt from a war poem. The poets add their sombre voices to Jack’s earthy, plain speech. His letters home to his sister Floss are scattered through the narrative and are carefully cheerful and full of wry observations.
I would highly recommend this book to older readers. The graphic content and strong language make it unsuitable for younger children, which is a shame. This is a moving account of the reality of war and the terrible personal cost to a 17-year-old recruit.