We Couldn’t Leave Dinah



We Couldn’t Leave Dinah

by Mary Treadgold

Age: 10+

Interests: war, spies, history, horses, British history, WWII

272 pp., 17 chapters

Jonathan Cape: 1941

Also by this author: No Ponies, The ‘Polly Harris’, The Heron Ride

Next: War Boy: a Country Childhood

In 1940 rumours swirl around a small Anglo-French island in the English Channel that the Nazis are about to invade. Caroline (13) and her brother Mick (14) are home from school for the summer, riding their ponies and planning a yearly fete with their Pony Club. In the middle of the festivities the Germans make their move, and the British inhabitants swarm to the dock to evacuate the island. In the confusion Caroline and Mick are separated from their father and are left behind. With the help of a friend they hide out in a well-appointed cave on the beach. There they discover a drop for secret messages, and Mick toils to break the code. He succeeds and they make contact with the resistance, discovering that someone they thought was a traitor is actually double-crossing the Nazis. When a chance opportunity to spy on the enemy arises, Caroline and Mick are soon in the middle of the action.

Treadgold wrote this, her first book, in an air raid shelter in London at the height of the Blitz. At first glance it seems frivolous, mainly concerned with the details of the children’s Pony Club, but as soon as events take a serious turn, the book becomes quite an adventure. It reminded me of Hardy Boys stories, with the tremendously capable teenagers delving into adult intrigues, however this book is refreshingly realistic when it comes to how young people behave. Mick has his stubborn, moody moments, and Caroline is at times overcome with the stress – weeping and spent – but at other times levelheaded and practical. It is too bad that gender roles are so old-fashioned in the story, as Caroline is always busying herself with the dishes and keeping house while assuming her brother will do the heavy lifting. Apart from this, though, Caroline is a pretty strong and resourceful girl. While Mick is the one to actually spy on the Nazis now living in their home, Caroline gets her daring escapades too.

An adventure tale in an old-fashioned style, albeit a rather superior example of such, I found this book quite entertaining. It gives a good depiction of the chaos and uncertainty of an enemy occupation, and readers will enjoy the secret messages, code-breaking, signals and subterfuge.  Caroline and Mick struggle to keep their cool and come up with plans amidst the chaos, and in the end they deliver invaluable information about fleet locations to the Allies, foiling an Axis invasion of the English coast.

Despite old-fashioned gender assumptions, this is still a gripping adventure tale with lots of twists and turns: a very British snapshot of two horse-mad teenagers thrown into wartime intrigue. A bit long, but it moves quickly.

(out of print – used copies available via amazon.com)


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. lrtrovi
    Feb 13, 2014 @ 15:42:05

    Thanks for the great review of this period gem.


    • Kim
      Feb 13, 2014 @ 20:01:33

      Thank you for reading it! I have to admit I wasn’t keen on the Pony Club foolishness at the start, but the characters were still appealing, and when the adventure really got going I couldn’t put it down. Thanks for visiting my blog!


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