‘Only Remembered’, edited by Michael Morpurgo ***

‘Only Remembered’ (Jonathan Cape)

Only Remembered, edited by Michael Morpurgo, is part of what will undoubtedly be swathes of First World War-based literature and non-fiction published in this, its centenary year.  This particular volume is aimed at children, and has been illustrated by Ian Beck.  The book’s subtitle states that it presents ‘powerful words and pictures about the war that changed our world’.

A wealth of different takes on and elements of importance in the conflict can be found within the pages of Only Remembered.  Many different sources have been used as inspiration too, from poems to extracts from comic books like ‘Charley’s War’, and from musings about what it would have been like to be a pilot in the RAF, to a critique of the trench-produced newspaper, ‘The Wipers Times’.  Famous contributors can be found amongst the ranks – politician Lord Paddy Ashdown, actors Joanna Lumley, Tony Robinson and Emma Thompson, and writers Richard Curtis and Jacqueline Wilson, the former children’s laureate.  Oddly enough, there is no material here which has been penned by Michael Morpurgo, despite the novels which he has set against the backdrop of the First World War.

Whilst some of the contributions are rather simply written – to suit a much younger audience, one feels – others feel far more poetic and well-rounded.  Actor Jeremy Irvine, for example, talks about fighter planes ‘jousting in the sky… a chivalry that couldn’t be found in the bloody slaughter of trench warfare on the ground’.  The random ordering of the work suits the style of the book, as does the way in which the authors have adopted different styles to present their information.  Some of the contributions take the form of mini essays, which show how the war impacted upon those who fought within it.  Others merely introduce poems and comics by using just a paragraph or two.  In this way, the book does tend to feel a little uneven.

Only Remembered hascertainly had a modern twist put upon it at some points.  In one of the first contributions in the book, Shami Chakrabarti, who introduces Wilfred Owen’s haunting poem ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, refers to the poet as ‘perhaps… an original “emo”‘.  I found this an incredibly odd analogy, and hoped that the rest of the book would not follow the same pattern.  Thankfully it does not, and all of the other personalities who have contributed do seem to take the First World War a lot more seriously.

There is certainly some thought-provoking work of quality here, and my favourite pieces were Jeremy Irvine writing about fighter pilots, Richard Curtis talking about the World War One-based sketch on Blackadder, and Jacqueline Wilson’s musings on author Noel Streatfeild’s war.  To conclude, Only Remembered is quite a short book, but it feels as though it will be an important one, which is sure to answer questions that children may have about the conflict.

Purchase from The Book Depository

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