Written by Tony Bradman & Illustrated by Tania Rex
Published by Barrington Stoke – 1st October 2020
With our thoughts turning to Armistice Day this Wednesday, I wanted to mark this important event by posting a review of a book significant to the theme of Remembrance. In true Barrington Stoke style, this is done in an extremely accessible way for the range of readers in Key Stage 2. In just under 60 pages interspersed with illustrations, this is a short, perfectly-formed story that will allow children to empathise with a child in 1920 and the emotions stirred by the very first Armistice Day and the burial of the Unknown Warrior.
It’s November 1920 in post-war Britain and we meet Daisy, an 11 year old girl living in London with her mother and younger brothers William and Albert. Daisy’s father died in the war. Mum had done her best to find out about dad’s death from the Army, but they hadn’t been much help. It was though that dad’s battalion was fighting near the Belgian border with France when he was killed and dad had probably died in battle in early November, ironically only a few days before the Armistice agreement. Daisy’s sadness that she and her mum and her brothers could never visit dad’s grave is palpable.
But Daisy’s teacher Miss Wilkins tells the class of plans to make Armistice Day in 1920 really special. An unknown soldier was to be dug up and brought home and there were going to be seats in Westminster Abbey for the families and loved ones of some of the fallen. Daisy felt excited.
“Hang on she thought…What if the unknown soldier is dad?”
From that moment on, Daisy is on a mission to get to the Abbey for the ceremony. When she begins to hear her song ‘Daisy, Daisy’ everywhere she goes, she is convinced it is a sign that her dad is reaching out to her, telling her he is going to be the one they choose. But Daisy’s mother doesn’t share her excitement – for her, the news of the unknown warrior stirs many painful memories and feelings of anger, sadness and grief. Desperation overcomes Daisy and she decides to deceive her mother and travel across London to Westminster alone – she just has to be with her dad.
We follow Daisy on her journey which reaches an emotional climax as the procession of the Unknown Warrior’s body makes it’s way through the streets of London. I could not help but shed a tear when Daisy says her final goodbye to her father and her realisation and understanding of the shared comfort and hope that the Unknown Warrior had given to so many people,
“It didn’t matter that dad might not be the one that had been chosen…or any of the others who had been lost. Today it was if they were all in that coffin. The procession was for everyone”
Throughout the story, there are subtle details about the aftermath of the First World War. We learn how Daisy takes on most of the care of her brothers whilst her mum works long hours at a laundry. Mum was working on the trams as a conductorette but was sacked from her role as the men who returned from the war wanted their jobs back. This was a common occurrence and as a result of her loss of earnings, mum was forced to give up the family home and move into a tiny apartment. We feel the young teacher’s pain, at the loss of her sweetheart – another unknown soldier lost to the battlefields. The description of Daisy sobbing through the two-minute silence on the very first Armistice Day in 1919 whilst she remembers her father is utterly moving and affords us the feeling of how raw it must have been for the people of that time.
The historical note at the end of the book gives further information about the events that prompted army priest David Railton to lobby the government to bring back the body of an Unknown Warrior and rebury him in a special ceremony.
This story really brings home the feeling of peace and comfort the body of the Unknown Warrior gave to so many families and loved ones in 1920 and reminds us of why bringing home the Unknown Warrior was such a wonderful idea – one man representing all those who died and would never return to their families. This is a really fitting read for Key Stage 2 children learning about Armistice Day and the fallen and for us as adults too, to ensure we do not forget its significance.