Chocolate Soldier : The Story of a Conchie by Hazel Barker gives a different perspective on World War II. It is the account of Clarence Dover who works with the Friend’s Ambulance Unit. The book is based on the diaries he kept.
Clarence joined the Ambulance Unit as a result of being a conscientious objector. However, I sensed that was God’s plan for him anyway. I struggled with Clarence’s reasons for being a conscientious objector, which were stated as religious. Yet there were others who believed like Clarence, but felt God would wanted them to defend the oppressed and stand against evil dictatorships. So I felt there was more to his reasons, but perhaps this was sub-conscious, and difficult for Clarence to articulate.
Working with the Ambulance, stretched Clarence in many ways, but he was able to make a valuable contribution saving lives in difficult circumstances. He certainly wasn’t spare the horrors of war as he worked in London during the Blitz, and also in India where the climate and culture added to the difficulties. He was working in China when the war ended, volunteering to go there when he became aware of the great need.
As a conscientious objector, Clarence was not paid like regular soldiers, but only remunerated for expenses, hence the term ‘chocolate soldiers’. This left him in a difficult situation at the end of the war as he wanted to get married, but had no money and little chance of gaining employment on returning to England. The sacrifices he made and the misunderstandings he endured, time and time again, were inspiring.
In order to maintain authenticity, Hazel has relied heavily on material Clarence had composed before his death. Sometimes this caused problems with the writing flow, but the story was interesting and engaging so it was easy to keep reading.
A good read.
Thanks to Rhiza Press for providing a free book for review.