Jackie Was a Hero by Lawrence Harris

1996  Paperback, 147 pp.

£6.99 incl. postage from

The Cartoon Cave

P.O.Box 9138

London W3 7WQ.

ISBN 0 9526834 0 7

[This review first appeared in Stand To! No.47 September 1996] 

Aimed at young people aged 10-15, this story of a journey back in time by two schoolchildren visiting Picardy brings an extra depth to National Curriculum studies of the Great War. By way of a clever tim e-travelling device, twins Polly and Tommy track down the story of their great-great-uncle killed on the Somme. There is a further excursion into the Occupied France during the Second World War.

Issues of courage and cowardice are explored, in what seems to this age parent a readable and accessible way. 

There is a child-friendly map of the area, and a most attractively designed cover. Teachers parents  grandparents amongst Stand TO! Readers will welcome this book, an ideal Christmas present for our younger fellow-travellers. Below, one of them gives her verdict. 

Review by Ann Clayton

This book tells the story of twins, Polly and Tommy Matherson. When they are given a second-hand camcorder for their birthday they realise it can transport them through time. On a school field trip to France they try to do some research into the life and death of their great-grandfather's brother, Jackie Matherson, who at the age of sixteen had enlisted and gone to war.

He was believed to have been killed in action and had no known grave, but was he a hero or was he guilty of cowardice and desertion?

This is a children's book but I am sure that some adults would enjoy reading it and it would be very useful to teachers who may be teaching the First World War to their class. This story is really a mystery, with the twins acting as detectives, trying to solve the family puzzle. The final part of the story is provided by a long-lost French relative, also called Jack.

This would not have been my usual choice of  book. The cover gives the impression that it is an adult book but as the story went on I was pleasantly surprised. The only point I would make against the book is that if a child reading the story had no knowledge of the army, the Great War or the Western Front, and had no adult they could ask, they might not understand it completely. The author uses abbreviations and adult language which I sometimes found difficult to understand, and had to ask for an explanation. Perhaps a glossary would have helped.

Review by Fiona Bratherton, aged 10 years

Revisiting old book reviews

Reading 'Jackie Was a Hero' in 2021 one is struck by how dated it is, first of all in its somewhat Enid Blyton view of boys and girls but of course the way technology has moved on - a camcorder that takes video tapes isn't going to wash with a readership in the 2020s. For someone with knowledge of the era and how things were done, the suggestion that a 16 year old would need to go to a recruitment office with a forged birth certificate is of course nonsense, while a teenage civilian making it to a clearing station to hold the hand of her injured boyfriend is somewhat far fetched too. That said the effort to involve and engage a young adult readership with events of both the first and then the second world war is commendable.

The 10 year old reviewer is right to be critical of the cover - a copy from a well-known photograph of men in the trenches. What she hadn't noticed, nor I until just now, is that on the horizon there are two characters on bikes - each a pot shot for a sniper until you learn that those able to time-travel courtesy of the magical camcorder are rendered invisible to those around them (yet in Tommy and nurse outfits nonetheless).

An imperfect volume, of its time with a limited readership then and none now. 

2021 Review by Jonathan Vernon (Digital Editor)