A review by Peter Smith
John Howard who is 70 years old finds himself not wanted at the beginning of the war and decides to go for a fishing holiday in France as Europe is falling to Nazi Germany. As the tragedy of Dunkirk unfolds, he desires to return home and finds himself in charge of 2 children. His journey back becomes progressively more difficult as the number of children in his charge increases to 5. Slowly the war becomes more and more real until it suddenly and terrifyingly forces itself on the elderly man and his small charges. The book ends with a remarkable and unexpected twist.
This is, and remains, one of my personal favourites by Nevil Shute. In the backdrop of cataclysmic events, the tragedy of Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain, who else could write a war book about an elderly man who feels unwanted by the British war effort and goes on a fishing trip to France. As the full extent of the war unfolds, he find himself increasingly wanting to go home. However he has (almost) thrust upon him two small charges. This increases to three and what starts out as a rather comfortable adventure of an elderly man in charge of 3 children suddenly and within a few pages, terrifyingly changes as they find themselves on the road with thousands of refugees being bombed and strafed by a Stuka. As the book progresses, he takes on more and more children and it ends with a remarkable twist as he takes on the seventh and final child, who is German. Little wonder, that I remember Nevil Shute first and foremost as a writer who looked first and foremost at the human element in war.