What a wonderful writer Hilary McKay is! I was drawn into this book from the first sentence and finished it almost at a sitting. The Skylarks’ War
followed the Penrose family and their friends through the years before and during the First World War. Unlucky generation! The Swallows’ Flight
takes them through the years between the wars and to the end of the Second. It begins though, in Germany, where two little boys called Erik and Hans become friends for life. Vanessa is married to surgeon Peter and they now have six children. Peter’s sister Clarry is teaching. Rupert is as charming and insouciant as ever and probably has quite an important government job, which he says nothing about. He and Clarry quarrel a lot and are obviously in love. Clarry’s friend Violet has an annoying son called Will and a girl, Ruby, whom he torments.
When war breaks out, it’s the Germans who are worst off. Erik and Hans are in the Luftwaffe and still best friends. They are not Nazis and not keen on killing people. These were the two I found myself most worried about. Their families live in Berlin but relocate to Munich with the help of mysterious ‘Onkel’, who correctly sees Berlin as a target. Meanwhile, Will goes off to France with the BEF, Rupert undertakes a secret mission, Clarry helps everyone as usual. It’s a musical chairs situation of people moving about all the time. Ruby becomes friends with Kate, Vanessa’s youngest and lives with that family for a while. Kate makes a conquest of difficult Grandfather, who has been persuaded to move in with Peter and Vanessa. By the end of the book, Erik and Hans have become part of the Penrose’s lives but no spoilers here. There’s also A Dog.
It’s made clear in a subtle way how evil the Nazi treatment of Jews was. In an afterword, Hilary McKay refers to this, saying it’s not her story to tell because she’s not Jewish. I can’t agree with that; do you have to be black to condemn apartheid? She also adds a glossary of terms and explains things modern children may not know about, like how pre-decimal money worked and why children had to be evacuated. This is not, though, in any way an educational or polemical book. Like her others, it shows that the most important things in life are family, friends and kindness to each other. I absolutely loved it and all the characters.