A site for the study of twentieth century British children’s books, particularly historical fiction, and their relationship to social change
Clive Barnes

2015 A View of War and Soldiering in the Carey Novels of Ronald Welch

A View of War and Soldiering in the Carey Novels of Ronald Welch, 2015


Ronald Welch’s novels featuring the military adventures of the young men of the Carey family were first published between 1954 and 1976 and have recently been reissued. They were uniquely representative of historical military adventure for children in the Britain of this period; and were the last example of a vigorous century-old genre in respectable children’s publishing, particularly intended for boy readers, which honoured warrior virtues and regarded war as a crucible of male character. Children’s fiction since then has generally shied away from depicting soldiering, but where it has done it has focused mainly on the First World War and shown soldiers largely as victims. Welch’s work melds a model of heroic military adventure, inherited from the previous century, with a perception of the horrors of twentieth-century war derived from two world wars and his own experience of professional soldiering. While significantly amending the notion of war and soldiering as a heroic adventure, which he inherited from his predecessors, his work nevertheless retains the idea of combat as a character-forming male experience and implicitly offers military virtues as a model of manhood. While the attitudes expressed in his work were rejected by his publishers towards the end of his career, his views were perhaps an expression of more widely held beliefs at the time. And, for some of his original readers, the republication of his books is seen as a welcome re-affirmation of old values.

This is a draft version of an article published in Children’s Literature in Education online. The final publication, including illustrations from Welch’s books,  is available at Springer via http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10583-015-9269-8

For their help with this article, I would like to thank Dr Martin Maw and the staff at Oxford University Press Archives; and Gail Pirkis, editor at Slightly Foxed.  All quotes from the Oxford University Press Archive are reprinted by permission of the Secretary to the Delegates of Oxford University Press. All quotations and illustrations from the novels are by permission of Slightly Foxed. Each of the 12 Ronald Welch Carey novels has been reissued, with its original illustrations, by Slightly Foxed in a limited and numbered clothbound edition. For more details please ring Slightly Foxed Ltd. on 020 7033 0258 or visit www.foxedquarterly.com.

I am also indebted to Southampton University Library and to my friend and former colleague Christobel Thomas for the loan of original copies of Welch’s books, which now fetch high prices on the second-hand market.