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Review: Henry Barrie: Vimy Ridge Survivor

Like many country boys in the early 1900s, Henry Barrie of Lanark was ready for adventure. His best friend Jimmie put it well, “Day after day, milking the cows, chopping wood, feeding the chickens, fetching the water and that is all I’m going to do the rest of my life.  Eventually, I’ll get married and show my kids the same thing as well. It would be nice to have a story.” So Henry, Jimmy, and many other young men left the eastern Ontario routine of winter, maple syrup, summer farm work, and turkey harvest, and went off to war together, eager to ‘do the right thing’ for many reasons.

They trained endlessly in Quebec and then, after an event of great significance on board the enormous SS Lapland, they continued their training in England.  It was boring, but as Henry told Jimmy, “I suspect drill is probably better than war.”

It was.

When Henry and Jimmy were unexpectedly separated at the front lines, Jimmy gave Henry a little diary so that they would be able to swap stories.  In hospital after his first injury, Henry began to use it reasoning that, “Maybe if I write this down it will help me to stop thinking about this.” He continued this diary, against regulations, when he went back to the trenches, creating a rare day-by-day account of World War 1 from the front lines.

Author Robert More took Henry’s diary and his letters home, weaving them together with historical research to write Henry Barrie: Vimy Ridge Survivor, a riveting 90-page story for children that will fascinate adults as well.

From Henry’s youthful eagerness to do the right thing while seeing a bit of the world, and his days in the trenches, to his recuperation from serious injury in England and his return to Lanark, this book shows what World War 1 was like.  Henry Barrie did not waste words; likewise the book itself is full of references to the trenches, going over the top, and injuries that are both powerful for adults yet suitable for children because of their brevity.  Robert More seamlessly inserted Henry’s diary entries into the story, explaining where necessary without over-emphasizing the terror.

For example, on the day that the Canadians took Vimy Ridge under the leadership of Sir Julien Byng, Henry simply wrote:

“April 9  Went over the top.  Took three lines of trenches.  Was a wet day.  Seen an airplane come down.”

Robert More filled in historical details, ending with, “…it was a day he would never speak of to anyone, ever.”

During the horrible final winter of the war when the cold was intense and letters scarce, Henry wrote, “Jesus really is my best friend now.  He is the only one who is with me every single day.”  This certainty of faith was central to Henry’s life and Robert More suggests that it was the reason he came back from the war essentially unchanged.

Although, like many of his day, Henry was intensely private even in his journal, it is evident that he was filled with longing for Nettie back home, love for his family, loyalty to his pals, especially Jimmy, and joy in occasionally attending church.

Henry Barrie:  Vimy Ridge Survivor is realistic but also optimistic.  Henry must have learned this attitude from his father who would thank God for ‘a fine day’ and his wife for delicious food even when the children would be complaining about having to eat porridge for supper yet again.  After interviews with his children, the author told me that  Henry himself later also used the phrase ‘a fine day’ when giving thanks each evening, and it shows up throughout the diary—not on the day they captured Vimy Ridge, when over half of his battalion died, but so often.  Even the day he was seriously injured was called ‘a fine day’ and when he later wrote his mother about it he said, “Jesus was definitely watching out for me.  Praise God!”  It is this positive outlook that makes this book suitable for children despite the terrible subject matter and that gives Henry’s story its unique strength.

In the world of children’s war books, Henry Barrie is a refreshing representation of reality.  Henry depended on God, and that is openly acknowledged in this book.  Traditional publishers liked the incredible story but wanted Robert More to omit references to Henry’s faith, as though belief in God did not matter in the life-and-death existence of World War 1. But God is not irrelevant, either in the trenches or in the rest of life, and Henry Barrie’s story is yet another example of this.

Even though I have emphasized the Christian aspects of the story in this review, Henry Barrie itself is very much an exciting tale of an ordinary young man who heads off to war with his pals and who, unlike many of them, survives.  It’s a good story, both gripping and moving, and the fact that is based on an actual diary gives it historical significance as well.

There are few godly history stories like Henry Barrie: Vimy Ridge Survivor, and we desperately need them.  Robert More has done us a great service by transforming Henry’s diary and letters into an exciting story suitable for children and fascinating for adults.  I highly recommend this inspiring book as we remember World War 1 this November.

The Henry Barrie website includes purchasing information,  a free children’s study guide (written by More’s grade four students), and a free devotional guide for adults.  Henry Barrie is also available on Kindle, but with different cover.


  • The cover photo of Henry Barrie is from World War 2 when he served again, not from World War 1 which is discussed in the book.
  • Unfortunately, as in most books from micro-publishers, a few typos were missed.

Related links:

They Shall Never Grow Old by Peter Jackson, released a few weeks ago in the UK but not yet in North America, shows life in World War 1 based on old films. I expect it will be an incredible accompaniment to Henry Barrie for older teens and adults.  For more information and the trailer, see the Imperial War Museum’s site which states, “Peter Jackson, best known for directing The Lord of the Rings trilogy, has created a new film using original footage from Imperial War Museums’ extensive archive, much of it previously unseen, alongside BBC and IWM interviews with servicemen who fought in the conflict.”

I Was a Spy! by Marthe McKenna (link to my review):  True personal account of a World War 1 Belgian spy that kept Winston Churchill up till 4 AM, although years earlier he had already passed on ‘the appreciation of his Majesty’ to the author for her espionage work.

High as the Heavens by Kate Breslin (link to my review):  A Christian novel based on Marthe McKenna’s story.

Leadership Lessons from Vimy Ridge by John Pellowe,  a free audio file of a dramatic production that discusses a different angle of World War 1 (or here, to arrange to listen to John Pellowe’ presentation in person, an memorable experience).

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Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the author.

This article may be linked to Saturday Reviews, Booknificent Thursdays, 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge, Literacy Musings Monday, and The Book Nook  as well as to Inspire Me Monday, Raising Homemakers, Friendship Friday, Make My Saturday Sweet.

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