www.kirkusreviews.com A touching memoir of a child’s experience as a World War II evacuee in England. At the age of six, Evans, along with thousands of other British children, was separated from his family, home and school and sent to the safety of the English countryside during WWII. In his memoir, the author recalls the emotions of a small child who misses his mother and family. While it may be easy for readers to become emotional when it comes to this kind of story, Evan’s touching account is indeed a tearjerker; he aptly recaptures his fear and the feeling of being lost as he made his way to his temporary home. He presents a tale of horror as he relives the memories of two homes where he stayed during the evacuation period. As a castoff evacuee, Evans was often mistreated by the families with whom he stayed, enduring what Western society today would consider child abuse. By the time the author reaches his third and final home, he loves it so much that he almost doesn’t want to leave. Evans’ illustrative writing capably paints each scene, making it easy to imagine the conditions in which he lived. In fact, it would be realistic to picture this cute young boy’s life portrayed on screen. Before the Last All Clear is a well-written account of a lovable protagonist who yearns for a sense of normalcy—all while remaining optimistic that the war will soon end and better days are ahead.
A beautiful memoir of WWII as seen through the eyes of a child.
BEFORE THE LAST
Morgan James (263 pp.)
March 19, 2009
Kirkus Discoveries, Nielsen Business Media, 770 Broadway, New York, NY 10003
www.bookreview.com Reviewed by: Rod Clark BEFORE THE LAST ALL CLEAR – Author Ray Evans Anyone who has shared a cup of tea or two with English people who lived through the bombing of England and Wales during World War II knows how deeply those terrible events shaped their lives and scarred their memories. In wartime large numbers of children were moved from heavily bombed areas (particularly in places like London and Liverpool) to billet homes in other parts of Great Britain that were deemed safer from the German bombs. Regrettably, the billeting system, both in Great Britain (and in Canada) was often flawed, and those weaknesses were aggravated by the shortages and ravages of war. Before the Last All Clear is the poignant and disturbing memoir of a young evacuee from Liverpool, Ray Evans, who as a young boy was billeted in Wales during the worst of the war years, and suffered there under very difficult circumstances. Of the six homes Ray lived in, three were horrific, and three provided happier memories. In sometimes painful detail, but with a healthy dose of dark humor, Mr. Evans’ memoir gives the reader an unforgettable look at War time Britain and Wales as seen through the eyes of a child. With him we huddle in flimsy shelters as the German bombers thunder overhead. We feel his hunger as his rations are stolen to feed other children in the families with which he is billeted, and he is forced to steal food. How he is locked in a closet for hours for sins he did not commit. How he is twice infected with scabies while living in the billets, and is twice horrendously cured. We share his joy as he earns three pennies on a cider run and goes to the cinema to see Popeye and Gene Autry. We laugh incredulously as we hear how he takes a live German bomb to the local police station and plunks it on the counter in front of the terrified constabulary. We hear his crusty grandfather explain why he made tea and toast in the kitchen during a bombing raid instead of hiding in the cellar: “If Adolph f*&#$%g Hitler wants me dead, he’ll have to come over to England and shoot me himself!” All in all, this is a superb portrait of wartime Britain seen from a child’s perspective, and recalled in astounding and excruciating detail by a man who lived through it and tells all. Before the Last All Clear is a superb memoir, but more importantly, it is a vivid and uniquely personal morsel of history that any reader will find difficult to forget.