Ray was 83 when his first book, A Boy’s War Journal was published. He has been writing since secondary school. Between 2013 and 2015, Ray was chairman of the Harrow Writers’ Circle and is still a member of the Circle as well as a number of other writers’ groups.
Initially published as three separate books, A Boy’s War Journal 1939-1944 is the complete diary in one publication.
In September 1940 the Battle of Britain was over. In March 1941 the battle for Britain began when the Germans invaded Kent.
There have been many books on the subject, but few from a personal perspective. This is a collation of diaries, discovered in an attic during a house clearance. They were written by Billy Palmer, a boy of fourteen; but not on a daily basis, only when he had spare time. He was one of hundreds of runners who carried messages to and from the front. Inevitably their casualty rate was high.
What impressed me most was Billy’s matter of fact attitude to death and injury. His courage and pragmatism when he rescued a badly injured friend under fire and his “kill or be killed” fight with an SS Major, whom he beat to death with a shovel.
The most intriguing part of the diary was written in a very difficult code. It took the efforts of a number of crossword compilers to crack it. As Jean Wilson, who finally cracked it, said “Hot stuff!” It tells the story of a love affair between Billy and a woman – ten years his senior – who was a successful West End actress and also a member of the aristocracy. She could have had any man in the land, but fell in love with a youth. This wasn’t just a passing fancy, as so many war time affairs were, but a deep and lasting passion. Such an affair would raise eyebrows now! Sixty odd years ago, the consequences of discovery would have been dire for both of them. As I read the coded diaries, I had a strange foreboding that a Nemeses lurked in the shadows that would destroy the lovers.
In part two of Billy and John’s adventures during World War 2, the boys are captured. Managing to escape from the Germans, they are soon captured again; this time by love and intrigue. Suvival of the fittest requires murder, hard labour and keeping one’s wits. How do the boys fare?
Part three sees Billy become a sergeant, taking his adventures in new directions.
“I ran – and ran – and ran – surrounded by silence and the dark, with only the sound of my boots on the granite chippings for company and the faint light of the stars, to show me the way.”
“Look at them, just kids, shouldn’t be here, bloody Churchill and his total war.”
“Slowly, slowly, the sluice gate in my head closed, the millrace of my mind ceased. I was at peace. When I awoke it was dark and she had gone.”
“I saw the Jack boots and raised my hands.”
What others are saying about A Boy’s war Journal
Goodread review: not recommended for young people under the age of 13.