Written by North East Judge Lucy Carlton-Walker. Lucy is the Children & Young Person’s Librarian at Stockton Central Library, Stockton-On-Tees.
If you used all the titles of the books on the CKG shortlists what story would you come up with? This is mine….
Once upon a time, as the First World War ground on into another year, there were five children arriving to take up position on the Western Front. They had walked a long way to get there, trying not to tread on the footpath flowers along the way, and entertaining themselves by listening to some of Willy’s stories as they weaved their way along country lanes and over snow covered fields.
As they approached the trenches, a man caught sight of them and began to walk towards them. “Nice to meet you lads, I’m Captain Jack” he said, shivering as her turned his collar to the cold. “Those lads over there are part of your company, we call them the Pirates”. Just as the first of the boys opened his mouth to introduce himself, there was a tremendous bang, louder than thunder, followed by fire, the colour of brimstone and burning light. “Get down!” yelled Captain Jack, “It’s the Jerries!”. As the boys flung themselves to the ground the barrage intensified, deafening explosions and blinding flashes all around them. One of the boys thought to himself how he couldn’t have imagined something so terrifying; “Oh, the lies we tell ourselves” he thought.
When the barrage was finally over, Captain Jack, seeing that a horse had been killed by the shelling, shouted over to two of the boys, who had finally managed to introduce themselves. “Sam and Jack, you two get over there and dig a hole” he bellowed. Dusting themselves down, the boys walked towards two massive British field guns to collect some shovels. “A couple of beasts these two, don’t ya think lads?” called a surprisingly cheerful Scotsman who was stacking ammunition nearby. “That’s the Sleeper, and that’s the Spindle” he said, pointing to the guns, “Not long now ‘til we open up on ‘em ourselves now, then we’ll show ‘em, they won’t stand lads!” he cried, waving his fist over towards the German lines. Sam turned to Dave, slightly bemused: “so he gets all the action then does he? The rest of us just live here!” he laughed, as Sam rolled his eyes. “We’ll see our fair share of action soon enough, I don’t doubt” Sam cautioned.
Having finally found some shovels, the boys headed back to where they had left their rest of their company. As they walked, they past a truly terrible sight. There, curled up in a ball at the bottom of the trench, was a gaunt-faced figure, rocking slowly backwards and forwards, eyes staring bleakly of into some unknown distance. “Are you alright mate?” Sam asked, crouching down beside the eerie figure. Without shifting his gaze, the figure answered in a quivering tone “There’s a bear in my chair!… all the ghosts of heaven… over there by the lie tree… THERE WILL BE LIES!” he screamed, grabbing Sam by the collar and shaking him violently, staring straight through him with his bloodshot, unblinking eyes. The soldier relaxed his grip, returning his gaze to the distance and Sam stood up. “What the heck was all that about?” Dave asked. “Something about a bear, I have no idea, but I think that chap has been out here too long” said Sam, making a mental note to tell Captain Jack of the man’s predicament when they got back to the company
Later on that evening, when the company had dug in and the boys settled down to get some sleep. Whilst the rest of the boys were snoring away, Sam couldn’t help but think back to the poor soldier he had spoken with before. “Jeeze, I hope I don’t end up like him” he thought to himself, “What a truly awful place this is”. Sam’s mind spent the next hour racing back and forth, trying to make sense of all he had seen, all he had heard, all he had smelt on his first day in the trenches. “It’s going to be a long, miserable war this is” he thought. At that moment, he decided the only way he could deal with it was to try to survive each day, one day at a time, and to check them off in his head as he went. “One…”.