'We were one of those lucky families. Six of us and we all survived
the war. And yet one knew of other families who lost all of their
children.' Ruth Walker This is the story of the Walkers, six
siblings (including the author's grandfather) who survived Blitz,
battle and internment and lived to tell the tale. This ordinary
family's extraordinary experiences combine to tell a new social
history of World War Two. Harold was a doctor who spent a week in a
coma after being bombed whilst conducting an operation in St
Thomas's hospital. Glamorous Beatrice married an American airman,
and was widowed just weeks before the end of the war. Peter
suffered terrible torture as a Japanese POW. Edward fought with the
1/8 Punjab regiment in India. Ruth performed pioneering skin grafts
as a nurse for soldiers returning from Dunkirk. And Walter fought
with the 8th Gurkhas against the Japanese in Burma. Together, the
stories of these ordinary yet extraordinary siblings tell the story
of WW2 from the home front to Italy, Burma and Malaya, North Africa
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Review This Product
Tue, 3 Sep 2019 | Review by: Breakaway R
A panoramic view of a family at war.
This is the remarkable true story of six siblings, written by one of their granddaughters, who has had access to an extensive personal and public archive.
During World War Two the Walker family were an energetic part of the war effort – two as medics on the home front, the other brothers as serving officers in Italy, India, Burma, Malaya and Thailand.
On the home front and on the battlefield their wide-ranging experience spans victory and defeat, military glory and injury, lives torn apart by the dictates of war, and the horror of being a Japanese Prisoner of War, half-starved and seriously ill, building the bridge over the River Kwai and taking part in the notorious death marches.
This is a history book that sometimes reads like a novel. It is well-researched and knowledgeable, not merely of the historical facts but also of the human toll, both physical and mental, that war exacts and how it changes everything.
The Walker family were tea planters in India who had returned to the UK to live modestly in a suburban semi. Like others, they were the backbone of Empire, and when war was declared, they all rallied to the flag.
At times the narrative gets bogged down by too much detail. It is hard to sustain empathy in the face of so much military minutiae – in providing such an encyclopaedic overview, the author sometimes fails to provide a point of view and sympathy and interest is lost. But where she soars is in her evocative descriptions of the hardships and glamour of colonial life, and the poignancy of young men, barely out of school, pitted against the most ruthless and effective army in history. Her account of Dunkirk and the build-up to it, the Blitz in London and the horror and desolation of the battlefield are excellent – pacey, vivid and engaging.
The scope of this book is so vast from the Japanese POW camps to pioneering plastic surgery on burn and bomb victims, to the surrender of Singapore, to eventual victory in Europe and Asia – there is little in this war not witnessed and lived through by the Walker family.
The author also writes with knowledge and insight into the psychological toll of war and its aftermath. Isolated and alienated, the returning POWs were told not to discuss their experiences. It is hard now to imagine such an utter lack of compassion. Also, the entrenched racism of the colonials is hard to stomach. But it is - unfortunately, an accurate description of the mores of the times and the author should be commended for not flinching from describing it.
This is not an easy read, but it is a worthwhile one. This book should be read because, in the microcosm of one extraordinary family, Annabel Venning gives us a real depth of understanding of the world that went before and the war that destroyed it.
Breakaway Reviewers received a copy of the book to review.
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