Percy: A Story of 1918, by Peter Doyle with illustrations by Tim Godden. London: Unicorn Publishing Group, 2018. ISBN: 978-1-911604-81-5
Percy is a collaboration between a distinguished British historian of the Great War, Peter Doyle, and illustrator Tim Godden to tell the story of a young lad who left his life in a coal mining village in Wales to serve in the infantry in the final year of the War. It is a true story, told thanks to the discovery of the young man’s letters to his sweetheart Kitty, which turned up years later in a flea market.
While aimed at older children and young adults, I thoroughly enjoyed Percy. The first chapters make an accessible social history of what life was life in the coal pits of Edwardian Britain. Suffice to say that the men and boys who went into those mines required just as much courage as they would have needed to face the trenches. It was a dangerous and dirty life, and Doyle tells the story with realism and sympathy while never sliding into sentiment.
We then follow Percy into the Army as a volunteer, wanting to do his bit like his brother and the other men of his village. Doyle takes us through the disorientation of his training and deployment to France, all the while comforted by letters to and from his sweetheart Kitty. The tale is told with great empathy not only through Doyle’s words but through Tim Godden’s wonderfully vivid watercolours. Godden is a noted artist, specializing in the Great War and in sports figures of the early twentieth century. there isa wonderful charm and simplicity to his work, and it is perfectly suited to this project.
I won’t tell you how the book ends, except to say that I found it immensely powerful and moving. Percy Edwards was just one of millions of boys and men caught up in that vast conflict, and in this little book Percy becomes a kind of Everyman, speaking for all of them.
Percy: A Story of 1918, is available on Amazon. I ordered mine from Amazon UK, and it took a while getting to me in Canada, but it was worth the wait.