CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 1 . . . . August 29, 2008
Desperate Glory: The Story of WWI. (Stories of Canada).
Toronto, ON: Napoleon, 2008.
96 pp., hardcover, $20.95.
World War, 1914-1918-Juvenile literature.
World War, 1914-1918-Canada-Juvenile literature.
World War, 1914-1918-Pictorial works.
World War, 1914-1918-Canada-Pictorial works.
Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.
Review by Thomas F. Chambers.
For most of December 1914, it rained over Northern France, but late on Christmas Eve, the skies cleared and the ground froze. As darkness fell, all along the front, British and French soldiers were amazed to see small, candlelit Christmas trees appear along the German trenches. Then the singing began-“Silent Night” and “O Tannenbaum” from the Germans, “Good King Wenceslas” and soldiers’ songs from the British.
The next day, the guns were silent. Somewhere, a soldier stood up. No one shot at him. Soon thousands of men from both sides were meeting each other in no man’s land. Cigarettes, food, brandy and schnapps were exchanged.
As the subtitle indicates, Desperate Glory tells the story of the First World War, and it does so from a distinctly Canadian perspective. Instead of chapters, bold headings, such as Von Schlieffen’s Plan and a page or two of text are used to cover the many World War I topics. There are also small inserts with photographs and brief explanations of important topics, places and events, such as the battle of Verdun and poison gas.
Desperate Glory has 20 excellent maps as well as a great many black and white photographs, with both maps and photos being spread throughout the book. The book also has a timeline for the war years, a bibliography, a list of useful web addresses, plus a detailed index. There is, however, no Table of Contents.
Desperate Glory also contains many unusual, and very interesting facts. The French, for example, gave a medal to a pigeon for carrying the last message from soldiers in a fort before it was destroyed. Another concerns conscription in Canada. After the government passed the Military Service Bill in 1917, which introduced conscription, some men on Vancouver Island refused to enlist and went into hiding. One, Albert “Ginger” Rogers, was hunted down and killed.
Author John Wilson has an illustrious literary history having previously written 16 novels and five nonfiction books. These cover a variety of topics, including coal miners and arctic explorers. He is a gifted writer whose prose, at least in Desperate Glory, makes history meaningful and relevant. It is also very easy to read.
Desperate Glory is an excellent introduction to the First World War and ideal for classroom use. Young readers, as well as older ones with little historical knowledge, will enjoy it.
There is one error in the text and one in a photo caption. The text states that Lester Pearson, who was in the Canadian Army Medical Corps during the war, “was elected prime minister in 1963.” Prime Ministers, are in fact, appointed by the crown and need not even be Members of Parliament. Liberal leader John Turner, for example, became Prime Minister in 1984 without having a seat in parliament. When he called an election, he won a seat, but his party was defeated. This is a common error but should not be repeated. In a photograph of the victorious allied leaders at Versailles, Prime Minister Orlando of Italy is identified as Britain’s David Lloyd George. This is a simple mistake, which readers will realize if any of Wilson’s illustrated references dealing with Versailles are examined.
Thomas F. Chambers, a retired college teacher, lives in North Bay, ON.
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