Canary Child by David Field and Alan Dance

At this time of Remembrance now is a good time to review Canary Child especially as we approach the 100th anniversary of the tragic explosion at the National Shell Filling Factory at Chilwell 1  July 1918. While it is a novel the historical background is well researched by the authors: local historian and genealogist, Alan Dance and David Field.

The book is set around the time of the fiftieth anniversary of the disaster in which the best estimate is that 134 died, most never identified, in the blast and five later from their injuries.  They are commemorated in a memorial at the site, now inside the Chetwynd Territorial Army Barracks and at the mass grave in nearby Attenborough where 34 of the victims, all but one unidentified, are buried.

Canary Child is a difficult book to categorise, it initially appears to be a ghost tale which ties a modern mystery story to the historical events that provide purpose to the tale. It is interspersed with a touch of romance which means there is something for any reader, but no one should feel put off by those genres that they would not normally read. All the elements work together to bring the story to life and to put a human, albeit fictional, face to the tragedy of 1 July 1918.

The Canary Girls were the women who mixed the explosive and filled the shells. The chemicals they used turned their skin yellow, hence the nickname. At its peak Chilwell filled more than half the shells used by the British forces during the First World War. They also filled the larger bombs for the Royal Flying Corps, subsequently the RAF, and mines for the Royal Navy.

The story starts with science teacher Dorothy Younger having a spiritual experience with a canary girl whilst painting near the mass grave in Attenborough church yard. As a scientist she is obviously sceptical of the experience, and life has made her especially cynical, but nevertheless she is prompted to start to research the events leading up to the explosion and the subsequent story of some of those left behind. She is helped by an army officer who she meets at the fiftieth anniversary memorial service.

The story is an easy read and bowls along at a decent pace. At times the historical background, as important as it is, may slow the story momentarily but not so much that it will leave the reader bored or disappointed. The key characters have substance, are believable and, indeed, likeable so one cares for what will happen to them and their research. It is not long by modern standards so some people will be drawn in so they perhaps read it in a single session.

Readers who have not grown up in Nottingham, may find the dialect in the historical passages, slightly challenging but not so much that it will get in  the way of their enjoyment of Canary Child. It Is not a great novel but is a good and engaging yarn without pretension that marks a less well known event in the Great War, especially as the victims were almost entirely civilians doing their bit for the war effort. They should equally be remembered with the soldiers who gave their lives.

Canary Child by David Field and Alan Dance (ISBN: 978-0-9558133-6-8) is published in paperback at £6.99 by Arundel Books, or on Amazon UK Kindle at £3.99.

At this time of Remembrance now is a good time to review Canary Child especially as we approach the 100th anniversary of the tragic explosion at the National Shell Filling Factory at Chilwell 1  July 1918. While it is a novel the historical background is well researched by the authors: local historian and genealogist, Alan Dance and David Field.

The book is set around the time of the fiftieth anniversary of the disaster in which the best estimate is that 134 died, most never identified, in the blast and five later from their injuries.  They are commemorated in a memorial at the site, now inside the Chetwynd Territorial Army Barracks and at the mass grave in nearby Attenborough where 34 of the victims, all but one unidentified, are buried.

Canary Child is a difficult book to categorise, it initially appears to be a ghost tale which ties a modern mystery story to the historical events that provide purpose to the mystery. It is the interspersed with a touch of romance which means there is something for any reader, no one should feel put off by those genres that they would not normally read. All the elements work together to bring the story to life and to put a human, albeit fictional, face to the tragedy of 1 July 1918.

The Canary Girls were the women who mixed the explosive and filled the shells. The chemicals they used turned their skin yellow, hence the nickname. At its peak Chilwell filled more than half the shells used by the British forces during the First World War. They also filled the larger bombs for the Royal Flying Corps, subsequently the RAF, and mines for the Royal Navy.

The story starts with science teacher Dorothy Younger having a spiritual experience with a canary girl whilst painting near the mass grave in Attenborough church yard. As a scientist she is obviously sceptical of the experience, and life has made her especially cynical, but nevertheless she is prompted to start to research the events leading up to the explosion and the subsequent story of some of those left behind. She is helped by an army officer who she meets at the fiftieth anniversary memorial service.

The story is an easy read and bowls along at a decent pace. At times the historical background, as important as it is, may slow the story momentarily but not so much that it will leave the reader bored or disappointed. The key characters have substance, are believable and, indeed, likeable so one cares for what will happen to them and their research. It is not long by modern standards so some people will be drawn in so they perhaps read it in a single session.

Readers who have not grown up in Nottingham, may find the dialect in the historical passages, slightly challenging but not so much that it will get in  the way of their enjoyment of Canary Child. It Is not a great novel but is a good and engaging yarn without pretension that marks a less well known event in the Great War, especially as the victims were almost entirely civilians doing their bit for the war effort. They should equally be remembered with the soldiers who gave their lives.

Canary Child by David Field and Alan Dance (ISBN: 978-0-9558133-6-8) is published in paperback at £6.99 by Arundel Books, or on Amazon UK Kindle at £3.99.

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