Author(s): David Hill
'We knew straightaway that something was happening. Extra men in khaki uniforms stood at the main gates. Behind the wire, figures in blue sat on the ground. None of the usual moving around, washing up, wrestling, anything like that. Just rows of prisoners, sitting silently.' It's 1942, and the tiny farming town of Featherston is about to receive hundreds of Japanese soldiers into its prisoner-of-war camp. Ewen, whose dad is a guard there, can't stop wondering about the enemy just down the road. Some say the captives are evil and cruel and should be treated harshly - or shot. But when Ewen and his friends ride out to the camp to peep through the barbed wire, the POWs just seem like . . . well, people. Then a new group from a captured warship arrives and the mood in the camp darkens. Guards and inmates begin to clash. As tension builds the boys are told to stay away. But on 25 February 1943, Ewen and his friends are there at the moment the storm breaks - and terrible, unforgettable events unfold before their eyes. A compelling novel by a master storyteller.
Shortlisted for New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults: Junior Fiction 2016 and New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults: HELL Children's Choice Junior Fiction 2016.
Enemy Camp by David Hill
Penguin Random House New Zealand 2016
In his book ‘Enemy Camp’, David Hill takes us on a journey that tackles the tragedy of war and the conflict of cultural difference from the perspective of a group of young children growing up in war time New Zealand. Cleverly using a young boys school project to create a diarised recording of events, the author focuses his attention on the thoughts and deeds of 12 year old Ewan MacKenzie to narrate us through the events of the time.
The book focuses on the town of Featherston in the Wairarapa and the Japanese Prisoner of War camp that was a major part of the area for much of the second WWII. Ewans father, having been injured himself, is unable to serve overseas and instead works as a guard at the camp, giving Ewan and his friends a unique access and perspective of those held captive within the wire.
The dated entries make the story easy to follow and provide effortless reading and an straightforwardness of progression through the tale. We follow Ewan and his friends through the trials of being children in the most trying of times, dealing with everything from attending school and thinking about girls, to watching friends suffer from debilitating illness and coping with the looming shadow of death that war casts over them all.
At the back of all this is the presence of the Japanese in their midst’s and the evil enemy on their door step. The nervousness and seething hatred of some in the community crossing swords and ideals with the compassion and understanding of others.
This book is a great introduction for the young adult reader to the complex emotional history of Featherston in the war years. Its content is rich with messages between the lines and yet whilst it presents an accurate reflection of tensions and difficulties on both sides, batting the reader back and forth with an emotional turmoil caused by the clash of two cultures, it neither seeks to take sides nor make judgement on the outcomes.
The book culminates in the devastating Featherston incident of 25th February 1943, where so many Japanese prisoners lost their life in the tragedy that unfolded that day, and during which the only New Zealand soldier to die on active service in New Zealand also fell. The book doesn’t linger over the event though, it simply occurs and leaves the reader to wonder “If only and what if?” The fact however remains that this event did happen and the perspective provided by the author encourages the audience to understand better and want to know more.
All in all, a gentle way to draw an inquisitive mind into learning more about what shaped New Zealand in those war years.
David Hill spent most of his childhood and teenage years in Napier. He studied at Victoria University of Wellington and became a high school teacher, teaching both in New Zealand and the UK. He became a full-time writer in 1982 and is one of this country's most highly regarded authors for children and young people. David's books have been published internationally and his short stories and plays for young people have been broadcast here and overseas. David has won awards for his writing in this country and overseas. He was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2004. Most recently My Brother's War, published by Penguin in 2012, won the Junior Fiction and the Children's Choice Junior Fiction awards in the 2013 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.