Pied Piper by Nevil Shute was first published in 1942 and the subject is World War 2, I generally love books about the war that were written at the time, and I loved this one.
The story begins in a London club where an air raid is in progression. Two members get into conversation, John Howard is 70 years old and he tells the much younger club member – a naval officer – of his recent exploits in France. John Howard had gone to France to have a fishing holiday but to his horror the Nazis began their unbelievably fast march through European countries and before long they were in France. John had to get home to England – fast. But a couple of English guests in his hotel ask him if he could take their small children with him when he goes back home, they think that will be much safer for them. The children’s parents are diplomats and intend to travel to Switzerland on their own.
Things start to go awry almost immediately when one of the children falls ill and so begins a suspenseful journey with John Howard gathering more children along the way and having to join the vast numbers of refugees on the roads as the Luftwaffe bombed and strafed them. What should have been a simple train journey home to blighty turns into a complete nightmare when the trains are unavailable as the French army runs from the advancing German army.
Considering the subject matter I can hardly believe that it has taken me so long to get around to reading Pied Piper, I think I enjoyed this one even more than The Chequer Board which had been my favourite. I now want to tread his book Most Secret (1945) as it also has a wartime plot. Have any of you read that one?
I had to laugh at the author’s portrayal of the French rural/country people as being money grabbing and avaricious – nothing changes, that has been exactly our experience of them over the years on various holidays.
The North Wind Blows by Anne Hepple was published in 1941 but my edition dates from 1956 and it’s the first book by Anne Hepple that I’ve read. I’ll definitely look out for more of her books as I enjoyed this one despite it being fairly predictable romance wise.
Hetha and her mother have escaped from Austria where the Gestapo had shot Hetha’s Austrian step-father. In the mad scramble to get away Hetha’s identity papers have been left behind and her mother had stupidly written her daughter’s name down as Hetha Fischer – the step-father’s surname instead of Montrose as it should have been. On Paper Hetha is an ‘alien’ and she lives in fear of being deported or imprisoned. In an attempt to dodge the authorities she takes herself off to work as a dogsbody on a remote Scottish farm, she loves farm work and ideally would have wanted to join the Land Army, if she had had her own papers.
The farm she works on is owned by Drem but although he owns the land his step-mother has the money and owns all the stock and is furious that her own son didn’t inherit the farmland. The atmosphere on the farm is awful and Hetha is treated like a Cinderella, not that she minds as she enjoys the work and is just glad to be out of the clutches of the Gestapo and also the British police. The locals aren’t exactly friendly to Hetha and things get worse over time as rumours that she is a spy circulate the neighbourhood.
I think the storyline is very authentic as people in Britain did get a bit over-excited about any strangers in their midst, and let’s face it – there are always miserable people who choose to think the worst of anyone, especially if they’ve got a hint of anything different about them.
I’ve always preferred people who are different as they’re more interesting – to me anyway. What about you?
I realised recently that the reserve stock books in Fife’s libraries are now available to borrow after being unavailable for a few years due to the refurbishment at Dunfermline, so I requested a couple of old D.E. Stevenson books from the catalogue, I’m not sure if they have been reprinted recently. She was of course born in Edinburgh and was related to Robert Louis Stevenson.
The librarian seemed quite amused that I was borrowing these books – more fool her! The English Air turned out to be a great read, first published in 1940. The setting is mainly England although the story does take us to Scotland a few times and to Germany briefly.
Sophie Braithwaite is a well-off widow, living in a house big enough to allow her brother-in-law to inhabit his own wing. She has a grown up daughter and son and they’re waiting on Sophie’s sister’s son Franz to arrive, he is half German and has been brought up by his father in Germany, his mother died young. It’s 1938, a time when Neville Chamberlain was going backwards and forwards between London and Munich, trying to avert war. He was criticised for this ‘appeasement’ but in reality it gave us breathing space and a year to ‘tool up’ for war. Something that Nazi Germany had been doing for the previous five years.
I really enjoyed The English Air, Franz becomes part of his cousins’ social group, their sense of humour is often a mystery to him, he’s really very German as you would expect, especially as his father is a Nazi. But as Franz becomes more comfortable in the free and easy atmosphere of Britain he begins to see the advantages of not having to look over your shoulder all the time as Germany is being ruled by fear and violence.
I suppose this is a bit of propaganda, the lesson being that not every German is a bad German. It’s not surprising that writers all wanted to write their own book about the beginnings of the war. I seem to have been reading a lot of them recently and bizarrely I always find that scenario to be a bit of a comfort read, this is one of my favourites by D.E. Stevenson so now I’m keen to read her other wartime books. The other one of hers that I borrowed was Vittoria Cottage, published in 1949. I’ll be chatting about that one soonish.