The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead

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February 2018

A Wartime Vigil

Louise Reynolds

I have just published a little children’s book called Eric and Scrunchball about a Scottie dog who waited at the garden gate for three and a half years for my father to come home from the war. It was a family project:  written by my son and illustrated by my daughter for her little boy.  To my surprise, it seems to have struck a real chord with its readers, both young and old. I believe it’s the only children’s book that touches on the experiences of the Far East prisoners of war and certainly it must be unique in having a Church of England Rector as its hero!   But let my son explain how the book came about:

"I believe one thing very passionately : every family must write down its own stories. My grandfather's survival as a FEPOW is really the foundation story for our entire family - so it's made great sense to me to help to write down his experiences. The first two books we produced as a family were meant for an adult audience*. To be honest, we didn't even think about doing it any other way. It would be hard to explain the horrors of Changi and the Burma Railway to children. But, then in 2016, my sister Alice had a baby son. Perhaps there might be a way to introduce him to his great-grandfather's story. There was one powerful, uplifting family story we hadn't yet written down - that of my grandfather and the Scottie dog who waited faithfully for him during the war. It felt like a perfect children's story - I'd always wanted to write it down. Now I had a reason to do so. Whilst clearing some letters from the attic, I came across some old doodles done by my sister - it reminded me that she was a very jaunty illustrator. The idea then became incredibly simple : I would write, and she would illustrate, the story. A few days later I jotted down the words that make up the book. It didn't take long - but that's because I'm not really the author. More accurately, I'm the transcriber of my grandfather's story. I hope he would have liked that."    (James Reynolds)

Since publication I’ve had emails from people telling me about their own experiences of waiting for their fathers and about the opportunity it has given them to tell their children about their own father or grandfather’s ordeal.  One woman wrote:  “What a wonderful heart-warming story echoed throughout our land over so many years all that time ago.  My Grandad (who I loved greatly) told me later that each day during the years of parting when he was working on his garden he used to take time to pray for his son, that he would return safely.  In his way he waited at the garden gate”. 

And a mother wrote: “my daughter read it and she absolutely loves it (she is 8). They have been covering the Second World War at school so she is going to take it in next week and read it to her class.  She said she thought she would be like Scrunchball and wait every day.” 

And a friend wrote: “I had tears in my eyes when I turned the page and saw Scrunchball jumping into Eric’s arms. This book has real meaning for me (her father was a POW) and it just made me even more aware of what the homecoming of the POWs must have meant to their families – and pets.”

*Down to Bedrock by Eric Cordingly and The Changi Cross by Louise Cordingly

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