UPDATE: The stories featured in this out-of-print book are now collected in Charley’s War: The Definitive Collection Volume 1 – Boy Soldier.
The first half of this continuing collection of Charley’s War stories from British weekly Battle resolves the cliff-hanger from the previous volume, with German troops spilling over no man’s land and into the British trenches. Colquhoun creates his best art of the series to date, as everything comes down to vicious hand to hand fighting: men desperately struggling for their lives, knee deep in mud and corpses.
Mills’s action is intense and relentless, with occupation of the trenches switching between the two sides as they attack and counter-attack. The previous focus on technological innovation and hard historical fact is still present, with stories focusing on ruthless gas attacks, the sheer necessity of taking no prisoners and the horror of martial law, ensuring that desertion, even by the seriously wounded, is punishable by death.
Charley is wounded badly enough, however, to be sent back to Blighty for some much needed recuperation. But his chances of eating too many home cooked meals are thwarted by German zeppelin attacks on London’s Docklands, where many highly explosive munitions factories were located.
This second half of the book is more sedate than the first, examining the situation back home which, while still potentially deadly, isn’t lethal on the scale of manning the front lines.
The whole Charley’s war series so far has been a fascinating insight into the horrors of life during wartime for both soldiers and civilians in World War I. Although targeted at boys, Mills’s script rarely shies from a social conscience and Colquhoun’s art is poignant and shocking, making this just as suitable for adult enthusiasts of war literature as it is for younger readers looking for gritty adventure stories.