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Ken Catran's latest novel for teenagers is a poignant romance set during World War 1 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 assistance 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

10 thoughts on “Letters from the Coffin Trenches

  1. says:

    This is a fictional personal account of the Gallipoli Campaign from two young New Zealanders It is written in the form of a packet of documents rediscovered and sent to the Alexander Turnbull Library Most of the documents are letters exchanged between Harry an idealistic young New Zealand volunteer and his girlfriend JessHenry Wainwright is not quite 18 but he can't wait to join up Instead of going back to his boarding school he runs away and enlists in the army His sweetheart Jessica assists him in this venture Both are respectable young Edwardian people and in love with the romance of it allTheir letters begin enthusiastically and idealistically but gradually Harry and Jess begin to lose their illusions as the reality of the war and its cynicism bites home Both young people have to endure tiresome training Harry as a soldier and Jess as an army nurse They both then find reality horrifying than anything they could have imagined They cope well but are changed forever 'Both of us have learned things we once knew nothing of' writes HarryThe in depth research done by Ken Catran into this subject is again evident in the authentic ring of the letters They are full of convincing details of civilian life in New Zealand of the hospital routines and the military life in the time of the Great War After Chunuk Bair the narrative moves swiftly and with little sentiment to its tragic conclusion The last few letters really strike at the emotions of readers There is a link here to an earlier novel written by the author about WWI ‘Jacko Moran sniper’As was the case in Australia this war had a tremendous social cost to a small young nation and it has also played a part in the development of New Zealand’s national awareness Ken Catran’s books always assist readers in developing their understanding of the consequences of such major upheavals in ordinary life

  2. says:

    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 GallipoliAt 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

  3. says:

    I find the first World War a fascinating period and thought this book did justice to the subject Well written if a little muted at times the main characters drew me in and the ending packed a wallop Tissues are definitely required I did think the ending was a little too severe even if this reflected reality but on the whole I thought this very good

  4. says:

    I read this for a school project and did not expect to enjoy it but I really did It's a nice little read short enough to devour in one sitting and deep enough to make you think a little And cry I cried