The Chequer Board by Nevil Shute

The Chequer Board cover

The Chequer Board by Nevil Shute was first published in 1947 and it was my friend and one time neighbour Christine who pointed me in its direction, and I’m glad she did as it was a really good and interesting read.

John Turner, a flour salesman has been having health problems for a while, he had been badly wounded during the war and it was thought that he wouldn’t survive his wounds. He does get better but the fragments of shrapnel still lodged in his brain years later have started to give him problems, the upshot being that he is given around one year to live.

John married just before the war but over the years he and his wife have grown apart, his prognosis brings them together again and when John decides to track down the men he feels had given him the will to live again when he was in hospital, his wife helps him track them down.

It was a very disparate bunch of chaps who talked to John when he was unable to move and having to lie flat in a hospital bed. One was a very snobby RAF pilot, another was a young black GI who had been based in Cornwall, and a young corporal charged with murder. Their stories and experiences have been in John’s mind since the war. He feels they saved his life and before he dies he wants to know what has happened to them over the years.

I think the most interesting story is the one about the experiences of black GIs in Cornwall. The black soldiers were given the task of setting up camp before the white GIs turned up in Cornwall and the black men caused quite a sensation in the small town, making themselves very popular as they were very obliging, helping people to fix things that had been left neglected and broken due to the fact that most of the local men were off at war.

Everything changes though when the white GIs turn up and take exception to having to share the local pub with ‘niggers’. The US high heid yins decide that the pub will be off limits to the black GIs but the pub owner objects to that and bans the white US soldiers.

According to this book there had already been trouble in two other English towns where there had actually been shoot-outs between black and white US soldiers.

The Chequer Board goes some way to explaining Daphne du Maurier’s attitude towards the US in her book Rule Britannia. (1972)

This is the first book I’ve read by Nevil Shute and I’ll definitely be reading more.

10 thoughts on “The Chequer Board by Nevil Shute

  1. I think A Town Like Alice will always be my favorite of Nevil Shute’s books, but I do like this one. I was interested in Dave’s story, because that was the first I’d read about the experiences of black US soldiers overseas, and I got quite attached to Jackie and his wife.

    • Lisa,
      I plan to read A Town Like Alice soon. I think coming over to the UK must have been a revelation for all the US military. For any British girls who married black soldiers it must have been a nightmare when they went to the US with their husbands after the war, life can’t have been easy.

  2. I’m very interested in reading this book. I read A Town Called Alice and liked it very much. I had forgotten about Nevil Shute, so thanks for the reminder.


  3. Nevil Shute is a favourite author for me.
    Pied Piper, The Far Country, What Happened to the Corbetts, On The Beach – all spring immediately to mind. Many others on my shelves as well.

    • Valerie,
      For years I assumed he was Australian so was surprised to discover he was born in England. I have a lot of catching up to do. I hadn’t even heard of What Happened to the Corbetts.

  4. Nevil Shute is synonymous with my father for me. Dad enjoyed his books and when I felt I wanted to be ‘grown up’ I started reading them. I don’t recall this one but I know I read A Town Like Alice and On the Beach. The former I didn’t properly understand and the latter terrified me! Heaven knows how old I was – clearly very young still! A year or so ago I read A Town Like Alice again and of course this time around it was a whole knew experience.

    I’d not heard of The Chequer Board but it particularly interests me now because of being at least partially set in Cornwall. It’s amazing how many books seem to feature Cornwall and/or Scotland isn’t it!

    Thanks for the review, Katrina.

    • Sandra,
      I know we had A Town Like Alice in the house when I was growing up. It was all Nevil Shute, Denis Wheatley and Alistair McLean, but I only gave McLean a go.
      It is amazing how many books are set in Cornwall (I think it’s a dream destination for a lot of people) – and Scotland I suppose, but Scotland is a lot bigger!

  5. Oh definitely. I keep hearing (sort of) he’s a forgotten author, but he keeps popping up. I read a LOT of his books in my dewy youth, and still dip into my favourites. He is quite simply a wonderful storyteller, often depicting ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances (and being quietly heroic about it).

    I find him a tad uneven, so if you hit a clunker, don’t worry. Just go on to the next.

    Best bets: A Town Like Alice, Pied Piper, No Highway. And if you can get your hands on the 1981 Aussie miniseries of A Town Like Alice, it’s well worth a watch.

    • Susan D,
      Thanks for that information. As it happens I’ve just borrowed No Highway from the library so I should be getting around to reading that one soon. I’ll look out for that miniseries.

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