Letters from the Coffin-trenches

Poignant YA historical romance between a teen who runs away to fight in World War One, and his sweetheart back at home. Harry Wainwright is 17, not quite 18, but he can't wait to enlist for the Great War - so instead of going back to boarding school he runs away to war. He does this with the help of his sweetheart, Jessica. They are a wholesome Edwardian couple, steeped in all the respectable morality of their age. Both are in love with romance. Their letters begin idealistically and enthusiastically but gradually both young people learn of the horror of war and its associated cynicism. Rather than a depressing read, this is an interesting chronicle of the times and a charming portrayal of innocent love. Finalist in the Senior fiction category of the NZ Post Children's Book Awards 2003.


Reviewed: 2016-06-02

This book is an exchange of letters, mainly between seventeen-year-old Harry and Jessica. When war breaks out, both want to serve their country, New Zealand, against the Huns despite being under-aged. Jessica drops out of school to become a nurse’s aide, while Harry enlists in the army instead of going back to boarding school. Before long he finds himself at Gallipoli.

At first the letters Jessica and Harry exchange are carefree and romantic, but gradually there is a shift in tone as they both come face-to-face with the stark realities of war and death. 

For letters supposedly written by seventeen-year-olds they were extremely articulate and showed a great depth of maturity, which I didn’t find totally believable. However, I still enjoyed the book and felt that it captured the essence of the time.

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