Review: Pied Piper by Keith Stuart

In September 1939 the British Government launched Operation Pied Piper. To protect them from the perils of German bombing raids, in three days millions of city children were evacuated – separated from their parents.

This story tells of two families: one whose children leave London and the other which takes them in. We share the ups and downs of their lives, their dramas and tragedies, their stoicism and their optimism. But. unlike many other stories and images about this time, this one unfolds mainly through the eyes of Tom, the father whose children set off, to who knew where, with just a small case and gas mask to see them on their way.

My Review:

The whole Operation Pied Piper is so foreign to the American mindset that it’s almost inconceivable. This is where the government ordered children to be shipped off to the country for their own safety while cities were threatened by German bombing.  And yet it happened in 1939. (I’m not sure whether parents could have refused.) This novel is a human interest story, where we get to see how this situation impacted both the senders and the receivers of these refugees. I was relieved to discover that the children in a neighborhood were sent together, along with a volunteer teacher or two. At least they weren’t totally without a familiar face. Our London parents, Mary and Tom, were understandably distressed over sending their children away. They were very fortunate; the unwilling family that took in both sister and brother quickly absorbed the newcomers, despite the fact that there really wasn’t any room for two more children (they had two of their own). Before long the city kids acclimated to country living and their parents visited them at Christmas. Not only was the reunion glorious, but now their parents had a new thing to worry about: would their kids prefer their new home over their old one?

Micky had talked himself to exhaustion and was almost asleep. The two children had talked at both of us separately, simultaneously, trying to tell us of all the things they had been doing. It was Mr and Mrs D this, Bobby and Beckie that, a catalogue of learning and discovery, lambs being fed, eggs collected, falling in muck, herding of cows with Bobby, dressing dolls with Beckie, baking cakes with Mrs D and sharpening an axe with Mr D. I was envious. Envious of the place, of the life, envious of the children’s relationship with their hosts.

However, there are two sides to every story. It appears that the hosting family was not reimbursed for their trouble. It seems rather unfair to me. How does a struggling family make ends meet with more mouths to feed? The new kids can help out, but farm work can be dangerous, especially to the uninitiated. Although Micky was enthusiastic and adored his foster-brother, he was also in the way and exposed to unexpected mishaps. What to do when an accident happens? There’s no money for a hospital visit. How does the host father explain a misfortune to the distraught parent—especially when that parent is ready to collapse, emotionally. By the end, my sympathy was more with the hosting family; they did their best in an unenviable situation. This is a very good read and quite sympathetic.

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Meet Keith Stuart

Keith Stuart (Wadsworth) taught English for 36 years in Hertfordshire schools, the county in which he was born and has lived most of his life. Married with two sons, sport, music and, especially when he retired after sixteen years as a headteacher, travel, have been his passions. Apart from his own reading, reading and guiding students in their writing; composing assemblies; writing reports, discussion and analysis papers, left him with a declared intention to write a book. Pied Piper is ‘it’.  Starting life as a warm-up exercise at the Creative Writing Class he joined in Letchworth, it grew into this debut novel.

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