Review by Julia Atherley
Peter Snow and Ann Macmillan are both respected journalists and broadcasters in their own right. Their new book War Stories is the collected accounts of 34 different men and women, each with extraordinary tales to tell. The narratives range from Afghanistan in the 1830s to the Syrian refugees of today. Set in the vastness of the Gala Theatre, Snow and Macmillan managed to evoke both intense sadness and humour as they talked us through some of their most interesting characters.
Snow and Macmillan aimed to “give everyone a voice” and through this personal form of storytelling I was often left asking myself what I would have done in such circumstances. Snow rattled through eight differing stories, each holding immense gravitas and feeling. The story of Harry Percy was especially interesting; Harry was the messenger who brought the news of the battle of Waterloo to London through the muddy fields of Belgium and across the English Channel. Snow recounted how it was reported that Percy rowed 38 miles in just a few hours – one of the earliest examples, we are told, of ‘fake news’.
Then there was the story of Robert and Florentia Sale. Robert was described by Snow as a “great chap” and the rapid retelling of his adventures in the first Afghan war proved this to be very much the case. The couple were some of the only survivors to manage to leave Afghanistan after the British army was completely destroyed: one of the first major failures of foreign intervention abroad. Snow tells us that Florentia’s gravestone reads “under this stone lies all that would die of Florentia Sale” and this energy and desire for being remembered are feelings that resonate strongly throughout the evening. Snow and Macmillan paint the stories of men and women who have previously been forgotten by history and unmentioned in the textbooks and war memoirs. The event was a moving evening reminding us of the personal cost of war and the importance of telling true stories.
Cuckoo Review is an arts journalism programme for young writers aged 15-23. Through the Cuckoo Reviewers in Residence programme at Durham Book Festival, young people have reviewed festival events and books, and have interviewed featured authors. For more information about Cuckoo Review visit review.cuckoowriters.com.