“ Author: Robert Westall / Format: Hardback / Date of publication: 25 April 1996 / Genre: Adventure Stories / Subcategory: Children's Fiction / Publisher: Pearson Education Limited / Title: The Machine-gunners / ISBN 13: 9780435124571 / ISBN 10: 0435124571 / Alternative EAN: 9780330397858 „
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I first read The Machine Gunners a number of years ago, not long after I read J.G. Ballard's Empire of the Sun and watched John Boorman's excellent film Hope and Glory. I was on a bit of a Second World War theme, so The Machine Gunners seemed an obvious next choice! ~~~The author. Robert Westall was born in 1929 in North Shields in the North East of England. He has degrees from Durham University and the University of London and he then became an art teacher at Sir John Deane's College in Northwich in Cheshire. He has also been an antique dealer before settling on writing as his full-time career. The Machine Gunners was his first novel (written in 1975) and it got him the Carnegie Medal. Robert Westall often used his childhood in Tynemouth as a setting for his books and he was able to draw on his vivid memories to tell his stories. Sadly he died in 1993, but his books live on. ~~~The story. This book (and the sequel Fathom Five) is set during the Second World War. It centres around a group of children and their families living in Tynemouth (which Westall has renamed Garmouth). The main character is Chas McGill; a schoolboy who is always on the look out for souvenirs from the War. In fact, it has turned into a competition to get the best collection and Chas is losing to Boddser Brown ~ a ruthless collector who will use any means to "bag" a souvenir. The main adventure begins when a German Bomber crashes near Garmouth and Chas (and his three friends) decide that the plane's machine gun is the perfect thing to beat Boddser. They get the gun and hide it in their underground "Fortress" ~ their plan is to get it working again to defend their families from invasion! The story that follows is funny, sad and dangerous ~ it involves a German pilot on the run, a battle by the teachers and parents to get the gun and an even bigger battle to hide it. It's a great story and keeps you interested fr
om start to finish. ~~~What I thought. The Machine Gunners is brilliantly written. The text is highly descriptive and Westall brings all the characters off the page. The realism is quite startling ~ Westall uses the dialect and images of his childhood to full effect. Be warned if younger children are reading it because this realism includes the swear words of the time to create a vivid picture of life in war torn Britain. It isn't a pretty story, but this is what gives it its grittiness and strength ~ it is violent, sad and humorous all at the same time! It depicts the reality of the War; the hardship, the futility and the way the people have tried to cope with a situation that is entirely outside of their control. Chas and his friends have adapted to a life of continuous bombing, rationing, blackouts and danger; they have become numb to certain aspects of the War. For example, they are able to hunt around bomb sites for souvenirs with only a passing glance at the casualties that are caught in the explosion. The Machine Gunners is short, punchy and full of twists, turns and interesting imagery. The characters are very easy to identify with; in fact I could picture their faces and almost imagine they were MY relatives that Westall had bought to life. Apart from Chas, my favourite characters are Chas' Nan and Boddser Brown. When Chas' Nan says she is going strangle "Hitler and his bloody Jarmans" I believe her and can actually imagine Hitler shaking at the prospect! I could also picture Boddser stealing helmets from the heads of dead soldiers too ~ quite a chilling thought. I would say that the Machine Gunners is suitable for teenagers and older children; but be prepared for lots of questions and sniggers at the swearing! It would be a good story for children who are studying the Second World War at school because it provides some great background information about life on the Home Front. They will pro
bably relate better to this story than a text book because of the fun and adventure elements too. So I am thoroughly recommending The Machine Gunners both as a novel and as an educational resource. It has great use of characterisation, a wonderfully descriptive narrative and provides an accurate portrayal of wartime life based on personal experiences. Robert Westall has produces an enduring and interesting piece of fiction that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Book info: 224 pages (4 May, 2001) Macmillan Children's Books; ISBN: 0330397850 ~ currently on sale at Amazon.co.uk for £4.99. ***you can also buy it with the sequel Fathom Five for only £8.98 ~ BARGAIN!**** The hardback version was currently only available secondhand.
Living in World War II Britain, Chas McGill is determined to outdo his rival Boddser Brown in obtaining the ultimate war souvenir.