June 6th was the 71st anniversary of D-Day and the Normandy landings of 1944., dubbed the largest amphibian military assault in history. 156,000 troops landed on a 50-mile stretch of the French Normandy coastline on the morning of June 6th. A large complex deception plan was enacted to deceive the Germans about exactly where and when the invasion would take place. This plan included fake equipment, a phantom army and fake radio transmissions. (Read more here.)
How much do you know about D-Day? Take a quiz here (I got 60%. How about you?)
I recently read some excellent children’s stories about the European theatre of WWII, but first, here’s a remarkable video of statistics about military and civilian deaths in WWII:
I recommend the following books about WWII:
- Ian Serrailler’s “The Silver Sword”, a fictional story but based on real accounts, this tells the tale of 4 children from Warsaw, Poland, whose parents are suddenly arrested by the Nazis, leaving the children to fend for themselves. The father is sent to a prison camp in the south of the country, but he escapes and makes his way back to Warsaw where he hears that his wife was packed off to work as a slave in Germany, and his house was blown up by the Nazis. And the children? Nobody knows anything about them, but while visiting the site of his home, the father finds a small silver sword, a paper knife he’d given to his wife, and then he meets a strange wild boy named Jan who picks his pockets of food and demands the silver sword. On a hunch, the father gives the sword to Jan on condition that if ever Jan meets his children, he will tell them to go to Switzerland where his wife’s parents live, and where they had agreed to meet should the family be separated. Jan later does meet the 3 children and gains their trust by showing them the sword. The four of them decide to go to Switzerland. The rest of the book is about their extraordinary journey. Written for children, it avoids over-graphic descriptions, yet remains grim and realistic and does not sugar-coat anything. As such, it makes a moving and enjoyable read for adults as well. Serrailler was a school teacher, and during the war was a conscientious objector, yet his descriptions of war-torn Poland are remarkably detailed and convincing. I first read this story when I was 11, and never forgot it.
- Parallel Journeys, by Eleanor Ayer. The personal experience of WWII, told by a German teenager who joined the Hitler Youth then the Luftwaffe, and a German Jew who “escaped” to Holland in 1939. Author Eleanor Ayer ties the two stories together and acts as an editorial voice connecting quotes from the original books by each participant, Alfons Heck and Helen Waterford, in their own words. Each chapter recounts the events in one of the two’s lives. The chapters alternate between the two characters and are in chronological order.Points that struck me: the fatal hesitation on the part of so many Jews even after the writing was on the wall; the shock when Helen realises this talk of “labor camps” must be a lie; the sickening yet totally believable naivety and fanatic enthusiasm for Hitler and his mad plans on the part of teenaged German youths; the angry good-sense from… (read the rest of my review on Amazon Japan).
- Resistance 1, a graphic novel by Carla Jablonski (story) and Leland Purvis (illustrations), about some children living in “Free” France who hide a neighbouring Jewish boy when his parents are arrested by the Nazis. Realizing they can’t keep him hidden forever, they decide to contact the Resistance to see if they can help get him to Paris where he learns his parents are in hiding. The book is a light read for adults, but may be a good introduction to this period of French history for younger English readers. There is just one death – a Resistance fighter is killed right in front of the children – but the brooding menace of the times is felt, and the difficulties of getting children to understand the situation.
- There’s No Escape, by Ian Serrailler. This is more of an adventure story than a war story, and everything is fictional, although the countries’ are obviously similar to European countries in the time of WWII. I inlcude it here because it is a thoroughly enjoyable read and showcases Serrailler’s extraordinary powers as a story-teller. The story is a string of upsets and unexpected twists (more or less believable). A British scientist is persuaded to rescue another scientist from behind enemy lines in Europe. He is trained in parachute-jumping and given false papers and a rendez-vous in 10 days. Everything goes wrong: he lands in a tree and wastes valuable time extricating himself. He buries his parachutist’s clothes, only to discover that he has left his map in them by mistake. He hurries back, but his clothes have disappeared! He is given refuge by a local farmer and tells them of his plans, hoping for their aid, only to fall ill and be laid up in bed for a week! One day, a “doctor” pays a visit; the doctor turns out to be the scientist our hero was supposed to look for! The farmer’s son found him. The rest of the story describes how the two manage to get themselves to the rendez-vous, only to be arrested there and miss the plane that comes to pick them up. There is another way out of the country, but it involves a high mountain pass, and the two must bring along the farmer’s wife and children or leave them to certain death.