Five Boys

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2003-06-12
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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When Bobby is evacuated from London to a remote Devonshire village, a strange new chapter of his life begins. Empty of its menfolk, the village is given over to the “stay behinds”: the women, the old and young, and five terrifying boys who accuse Bobby of being a Nazi spy. Then, there is the enigmatic Bee King, a mysterious figure who exercises a powerful, hypnotic influence on the village, and especially the boys. As the days wind down to the D-day invasion and the Allied soldiers crash the beaches along the French coast, the villagers will enact their own drama -- a tense interplay of events that will engulf them all and ulti- mately reveal the truth about the Bee King. Brilliantly captivating and thoroughly researched, Five Boys is the tale of the war's impact on the home front, bringing to light a lost place and time with an expert touch.


Lists and String

The children all stood to attention, like an army on parade. The teachers strolled up and down the lines, counting heads and trying to keep order. Occasionally stopped, to check their lists or make some calculation. Then went striding off again.

There had been a lot of list-making lately. Every grownup seemed to be scrawling notes on the backs of envelopes. Bobby's mother was a tireless list maker, but all her shopping lists and things-to-do lists paled into insignificance beside the one Bobby brought home from school the Friday before.

She read it out at the table that evening:

Besides clothes/coat for journey

1 vest

1 shirt with collar

1 pair pants

1 pullover or jersey

1 pair knickers handkerchiefs two pairs socks or stockings


night attire, comb, towel, soap, facecloth, toothbrush,

plimsolls, boots or shoes. (Blankets need not be taken.)

Then Bobby and his parents sat and ate in silence as if they'd just heard a reading from the Gospels or a speech by the King.

On Saturday morning Bobby watched his mother pack his suitcase. She must have checked every item against that list a dozen times. Then she closed the catches, strapped a belt around it and gave it to Bobby to heave downstairs, where it sat by the front door, brooding, for the rest of the weekend.

When he left on Monday morning his mother gave him a brown-paper package and as he stood in the playground Bobby couldn't help thinking that all the bags and suitcases were more important than the children - that they were just there to lug the things around. A couple of boys next to Bobby were getting quite excited and had to be quieted down, but after twenty minutes' boredom, with its own volatility, began to seep through the lines until Mr. Morely finally peeped on his whistle and the teachers prepared to move them out.

The children were led off row by row, like knitting unraveling - a great chain of children rattling through the gates, out onto the pavements and picking up speed as they went along. They marched past the park and up the high street, marched by the open market and the old Town Hall. Neighbors waved. Shopkeepers stood and watched from their doorways. And when Mr. Morely strode out into the road and raised his rolled-up brolly the traffic slowed to a halt, as if now that the children were finally moving, there was no easy way of stopping them.

Mr. Morely led them up and down the streets in one long conga, but eventually turned into the yard of a bus depot, where the children were shuffled into rows again. The ground was black and tacky underfoot from engine oil, and across the yard five coaches waited with their doors open, as if ready to race away. But by the time there had been another round of head counting and list checking, and instructions had been issued, regarding running and pushing and the making of noise, any pleasure to be had from boarding a coach was lost.

Bobby managed to get a seat by a window. Miss Peebles trotted up the steps and counted everyone's head again. Then the driver climbed aboard, sank into his seat and fired up the engine, which turned the stomach of every girl and boy.

It seemed to take all day to cross the city. Most of the children just stared out of the window. Some talked; some quarreled. One or two eventually fell asleep. But the boy next to Bobby seemed to fret right through the journey, and when they finally pulled up he burst into tears. Miss Peebles came down, to see what was the matter. Apparently he'd convinced himself he was going to be put on an airplane and flown halfway around the world, and it took Miss Peebles quite a while to convince him that they were actually parked outside a railway station and that nobody was going to be flying anywhere.

The children were led off into the station and lined up on one of the platforms, where they stood and watched the trains shunt in and out under the great wide roof. After twenty minutes some women in armbands came around, with trays of buns and mugs of tea. Then the children were led back onto the coaches and driven home again.

On Tuesday Bobby had a much better idea what the day ahead had in store and worked out that by keeping his eyes on the heels of the boy in front he could keep in step with him. The drive across the city was hot but uneventful, the bun on the station platform was much the same as the one before and when he got back home he couldn't tell whether his mother was genuinely surprised to see him or was in on the whole charade.

On Wednesday it occurred to Bobby that the rest of his school years might consist of nothing but endless rehearsals for evacuation - year upon year of marching through the streets (which would be good practice for being, say, a postman) and sitting on coaches (which would be no use at all). But as they left the playground on that third day he spotted his mother and some other women on the other side of the road and as the children marched along behind Mr. Morely's brolly the women crept from lamppost to lamppost, as if they were spying on them, or had been warned not to get too close. Bobby tried to keep his eyes on the boy in front but couldn't help glancing over at his mother. She didn't wave - as if it was just a coincidence that she and Bobby were marching along the same streets - but when they reached the depot and were herded onto the coaches, all the mothers suddenly rushed across the yard...


Excerpted from Five Boys by Mick Jackson Copyright © 2003 by Mick Jackson
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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