History, memory, and remembrance with Sir Michael Morpurgo

Primary Times shares powerful and poignant words from Sir Michael, ahead of his new story ‘Finding Alfie’, a stunning commemoration to mark the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings

Sir Michael Morpurgo says:

“Who’ll sing the anthem? Who will tell the story?’ John Tams’ words from the song in the NT’s iconic production of War Horse.

Children often ask me how I choose what to write about. I tell them that it’s not me that does the choosing, it’s my life, my own childhood, the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, and no doubt the books I’ve read, the films and plays I’ve seen, and that finally I write about what I have come to know and to care about. I write about what is important to me. I don’t write simply to please the reader, though I’m happy when I do. I write to pass on in stories what I feel, what I have discovered about the human condition, and have come to believe in.

I don’t think there is a character in any of my 150 books who is not based in one way or another, to a greater or lesser extent, on someone I’ve known. I don’t think there’s any story I’ve told that does not have its roots in truth or memory.

To tell the story of the generation that stood alone and steadfast against the threat of invasion in 1940, and played its part in the D-Day landings and in the liberation of Europe from occupation and tyranny, is the only way now to pass on to today’s young generation how it was for people to live through those times, what courage and sacrifice it took to fight for our freedom, and for the freedom of others.

I try, in Finding Alfie, to trace their story and ours from today back to the dark days of looming defeat on the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940, to the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy, on the 6th of June 1944, that was to help to bring ultimate victory, the much longed for liberation of Europe, and finally the end of the war.

They gave us our freedom. We should never forget that. They were a remarkable generation. We should not forget them. What would our story have been without them?

‘Who’ll sing the anthem? Who will tell the story?’ We will.”

Illustration by Michael Foreman


Finding Alfie: A Background

Ahead of the 80th anniversary of D-Day, Sir Michael Morpurgo (author of War Horse and Private Peaceful) offers a new story, Finding Alfie, inspired by true events. The book is set in Morpurgo’s childhood family home, Bradwell (and Normandy) with characters based on his real-life relatives and their experiences of the war. The character, Auntie Iris, is based on Michael’s godmother, Mary Niven. Michael describes her as “the kindest person I ever knew”. Their conversations and her experiences from the war also feed into this story.

An incredibly moving tribute that is dedicated in memory of Morpurgo’s uncle who died at 21 at the beginning of the Second World War, Finding Alfie is about remembering and honouring all those who died. It aims to teach children about the Second World War and D-Day and to keep those memories alive. The book is aimed at children 7+ with stunning illustrations by Kate Greenaway Medal winner, Michael Foreman, who has written movingly about his own wartime experiences and brings the same, authentic perspective to illustrating this new title.

The book centres around Aunty Iris and her treasured small painting of a boat, painted by her close friend Alfie many years before. Her nephew, Michael, is inspired to try and find out what actually happened to Alfie in World War II. He embarks on a journey that takes him across the Channel into France, learning a profound lesson along the way about service and the surprising power of memory.

Developed in partnership with the Royal British Legion, the book includes a richly photo-illustrated Afterword by the Royal British Legion’s Director of Remembrance, Philippa Rawlinson, which provides historical context for the wartime events featured in the story – both the Dunkirk evacuation and the D-Day landings.

Finding Alfie by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Michael Foreman, is out now (Published by Scholastic UK).

A milestone moment in history, D-Day is 6th June.


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