Book Review: 1918 Broken Poppies, by Des Hunt

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_1918.jpg1918: Broken Poppies is the latest (and final) book in the Kiwis at War series, where well-known New Zealand authors write fictionalised accounts of the war for the YA market. It marks a departure from Des Hunt’s other books, which are usually modern-day, dealing with topical issues (such as bullying etc), and with a strong ecological or scientific bent to them. However, all of the trademark characteristics are there: short chapters, lots of action, and a wry sense of humour, designed to appeal to boys. It is based on the experiences of two of his uncles.

Henry Hunt starts life as a farmer’s son, working the land in the North Island of New Zealand. He’s hard-working, diligent and has a penchant for exploring. One day, he and his cousin George are exploring a cave on their property, when the roof collapses. Henry is buried, and almost dies, and only his cousin’s quick actions save his life. The fear of being buried alive, however, never quite leaves him. Then World War I happens, and George enlists. Henry follows him a year later, determined to fight by his side, but finds himself assigned, not to the Wellington group, but to the Otago. Here he makes friends, and catches the eye, and ire, of a superior officer, who seems determined to prove him a coward.

Whilst passing a group of refugees in France, Henry’s regiment pass a cart bearing a young girl and a small terrier. With little warning, bombs start raining down, and the child and dog become separated. After the shelling has stopped, Henry finds the dog – but is unable to return her to her owner. Poppy soon becomes a mascot for his squad, and her ratting skills earn her infamy. She provides comfort to the soldiers, keeps their tents free of vermin and delivers fresh meat to the cook (in the form of rabbits). Despite tragedy, the hardships of war, and suffering several life-changing injuries, Henry never forgets the promise he made to Poppy and her girl: that he would see them reunited.

The First World War was an horrific affair, and 1918: Broken Poppies spares few details on the unpleasantness of the terrain, pitted with crater holes, corpses and mud – a lot of mud – as well as the rats, the lice and many other obstacles the young soldiers had to endure even before facing off against the enemy. It truly brings the war to life, painting a vivid mental picture in the mind of the reader, without getting bogged down on descriptive prose. Brutally sad and undeniably engrossing, the easy language and fast moving plot should immerse anyone with any interest in military history, and should especially appeal to fans of Michael Morpurgo. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

1918: Broken Poppies
by Des Hunt
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775432821

Previous books in the series:
1917: Machines of War, by Brian Falkner (not on our site)
1916: Dig for Victory , by David Hair
1915: Wounds of War,
by Diana Menefy
1914: Riding into War,
by Susan Brocker

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