1917: Machines of War by Brian Falkner, Scholastic NZ
The latest title in Scholastic’s Kiwis At War series, this follows the story of a 17-year-old New Zealander (initially named Keith, and therein lies a story) who is determined to become a pilot. He trains as an observer (flying in the rear seat of the bi-plane, back to back with the pilot, operating the Lewis gun) and the story opens when Keith is posted to La Bellevue Aerodrome just behind the lines on the Western Front. He arrives while the Germans are bombing the airfield, and manages to rescue a man from burning rubble, assist with pushing some Bristol Fighters out of a burning hangar, and prevent the armoury from exploding.
It’s not till the next day that Keith is able to report for duty, sporting bandages on his burned hands. He’s berated by the Squadron Commander for being late, and promised a disciplinary hearing. But he has no time to ponder on the unfairness of this – he’s asked to go up with one of the flying aces, and soon they spot and engage with an enemy aircraft.
The flying adventures come thick and fast after that, and it’s not long before Keith trains as a pilot. The death rate of these air crews in their flimsy aircraft was horrifyingly high, and the author has no compunction about telling it like it was – many of the characters we meet disappear from the story. But the focus stays firmly on Keith and his reactions to the fighting – his excitement turns to fear and disgust and then to cold-blooded determination. Every day he has to face the likelihood that he will be shot down.
A form of light relief is provided by the escapades of the youthful air crew, the descriptions of the engagements with the great German air aces such as the Red Baron, and a friendship/romance with a British nurse.
It’s a great read for teens (probably boys) who are interested in aircraft, war history, and the technology that eventually won the war – fighter planes, tanks, and armaments. Highly recommended. (Teacher Notes available at http://resource.scholastic.com.au/resourcefiles/8502259_62314.pdf )
ISBN 978 1 77543 280 7 $19 Pb
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman