Only Birds Above by Portland Jones is a historical war novel. It follows the Watkins family of Millendon, Western Australia through the First and the Second World Wars.
Arthur Watkins, a blacksmith with an amazing connection to horses, met Helen at the Guilford Races. Arthur has already joined the Tenth Light Horse Brigade. Six weeks later as Arthur’s regiment is about to leave for England, he and Helen marry.
While Arthur is overseas, Ruth their daughter is born. When the war is over Arthur returns home to a wife he doesn’t really know and a daughter to whom he is a stranger. A few years later their son Tom is born.
Arthur’s experiences overseas…the things he saw, the things he had to do and the things he can’t forget, have led to his silences, which have a tragic impact on his wife and two children.
Ruth remains on the farm and has a job working in the town.
When a wealthy man that Arthur knew, was looking for a lad that was good with figures to do the accounting for his business in the Dutch East Indies, Arthur suggests Tom for the position. Tom is sent on the next ship and has a work contract for 5 years. Unbeknown to Arthur war was heading in Tom’s direction.
Tom is imprisoned by the Japanese at Pekanbara Sumatra and sent to work on the railway where tens of thousands of allied POWs lost their lives. Tom now has a new understanding of his father.
After the war ends Tom’s family anxiously wait for any news of him.
The decision to send Tom to Sumatra weighs heavily with Arthur, as he realizes there is so much he has left unsaid to both his children.
The book is excellent. It is thought provoking. It is a sad topic that relates to any war, any soldier and any family affected by the trauma of war.
The inconceivable fact, that 136,000 horses left Australia in World War 1 but only one horse returned. That the soldiers were ordered to shoot their horses as it was too expensive to bring them back to Australia, would have had a devastating effect on each soldier.
This is a story that should never be forgotten.
Portland Jones wrote this novel, due to her love of horses and her interest in the role animals play in humanity. She started the journey of this story initially based on the story of her own great grandfather who was a prisoner of war in Sumatra in 1945.
She explains the title of Only Birds Above “Was a way of conveying a loss of religious faith. When you no longer believe in a higher power, there are only birds above you, nothing else.”
Only Birds Above is such a suitable, poignant and powerful title for this book.
An amazing read.
Thank you to Fremantle Press and Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read this great story.
A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club members are reading Only Birds Above by Portland Jones. You can read their comments below, or leave your own review.
I love to read, any book on any topic. I now love ebooks as they are easier to store, I was running out of bookshelves! My other interests are family, gardening and our beautiful King Charles spaniel dog who is my reading companion.