Riverina children’s author Katrina Roe is launching her new historical audiobook in Wagga Wagga on Remembrance Day.
When I Was Twelve is a true story of a childhood lived under the shadow of World War II and about being brave while growing up without your dad.
Aimed at children aged nine to 12, When I Was Twelve tells the story of Katrina’s father, Nick Hutchins, as he shares his memories of wartime Britain with his young grandchildren.
The audiobook features the voices of four generations, weaving together Nick’s firsthand narration, excerpts from the diary of his father, Major CDM Hutchins, writing and narration by Katrina, and Katrina’s youngest daughter Bronte, who also plays a small part in the recording.
Born in 1933, Nick was just six years old when his father, a career soldier in the Gordon Highlanders, left for the Second World War.
“When I was six, my father took me down to the bottom of the garden to have a man-to-man talk,“ Nick tells the child in the story.
“Now that there’s a war on, Daddy has to fight in France. You’re the man of the house now, Nicky,’ he said. ‘I need you to take care of your mother and your sister.”
By the time the war ended, he was 12 and almost a man.
Now at 90, Nick remembers his wartime childhood in vivid detail, like it was yesterday, and reflects on the impact of growing up without his father.
Major Hutchins was left behind in Europe with the 51st Highland Division after the evacuation of Dunkirk and was captured at St Valery in 1940.
He and almost 10,000 prisoners of war marched across Europe on starvation rations and were held captive in various German POW camps for five long years.
Katrina never met her grandfather but grew up hearing snippets of stories about World War 2 from her grandmother.
“One night, during the war, she heard my grandfather calling her in the night, and she went out to look for him because she thought he was out there,” said Katrina.
“She later discovered that was when he was taken prisoner.”
On Anzac Day more than a decade ago, when her father was around 81, Katrina realised he was in a unique position, as he could remember the entire war.
Growing up, her father never spoke much about his wartime childhood.
“Like many of his generation, they just ‘got on with it’. It was only as he got older that he reflected on the responsibility of trying to be the man of the house at age six,” she says.
“It wasn’t until I had my children that I realised what a huge sacrifice the war generations made.
“My dad grew up without his father for all those years. They would put his photo in his place at the dinner table and kiss his photo goodnight at bedtime.”
Katrina shared that when Major Hutchins was finally released and returned home after six years, he had been “so thin” that the 12-year-old Nick did not recognise him.
“He said, ‘That’s not my father. My father is that man in the photo.'”
When Katrina visited her aunt in the UK in 2001, she was surprised to discover that her grandfather had kept a detailed prisoner-of-war diary and she said she “heard his voice for the first time”.
“It was clear to me that he wanted to share his story. He wanted it to be remembered. That’s why I included his voice in the book as well,” she said.
“Hungry as I was, I used to remove the meat out of my soup after seeing a gangrenous horse’s head being used for making it. One man had an eye in his soup and ate it. Ugh!” – Major CDM Hutchins.
For Katrina, it was a rewarding experience working on the audiobook with her father, who she said had a sharp memory for details and was a stickler for accuracy.
“It’s been a joy to work with him, but the only frustration is that it’s taken me so long because I couldn’t get an Australian publisher interested because it was set in the UK,” Katrina said.
The audiobook is set to be launched on Remembrance Day, Saturday 11 November at 3:30 pm at St. Paul’s Church Hall.
When I was Twelve is available to purchase on Spotify, iTunes, and Google Play.