A Schoolmaster’s War is an unusual collage of a book – hence the editorial presence demanded of Jonathan Rée. There is a first-person memoir supplied by Harry Rée himself, written shortly after he had left the Jura, and then a compilation of a series of postwar talks Rée gave (with some reluctance) about his experiences. As a bonus, there are children’s stories in which he had recounted thinly disguised versions of his exploits and then a whole series of letters written to him from his French contacts after the Liberation.
The book’s real power lies later, in its (typically anonymous) stories and reflections, and in the letters Ree received after his return. For instance, in the story of the mayor of Vandancourt, who came out of hiding when the Germans threatened to raze his village, and was paraded through the hamlet in chains, tied up and shot. Or the notes from friends still waiting to hear from relatives taken away to Ravensbrück or Buchenwald. At times, as one flicks to the biography section nervously to check on who survived and who didn’t, the book moves one to tears.