“All Change” is a novel based around the fact that large numbers of London Buses, along with their militarised civilian personnel, were requisitioned as troop transport on the Western Front during the First World War. A particularly pertinent tale in this centenary of the Armistice. The story sucked me in and kept me coming back for more and was engaging, enlightening and insightful in equal measure. It’s a not unfamiliar story but the alchemy of the storytelling brought the history alive and made me see it in a different light. I particularly enjoyed the female characters and their expression of the emancipatory role of the war in helping to establish basic women’s rights. In addition, it is a very attractive volume in both its heft and appearance. A timely and enjoyable read.

I bought the book as I am interested in WWI history and was bowled over by the story that followed Ted, a middle-aged man’s hasty decision to take part in the war by driving one of the double decker buses to the Western Front to transport soldiers and altered into pigeon carriers for taking messages to the Front. Over 1000 buses were taken from the streets of London – who knew! But it’s not only Ted’s story but that of his wife, Norah, and daughter Ruby whose East End lives were changed forever when men went to war, women taking over their jobs and feeling freedom. But for how long? It’s a brilliant story of love, loss and society’s changes, richly drawn characters (Ruby is only 17 and sees the opportunities opening up to her and grabs them). The research is impeccable, quite a coup to get inside the minds of those who lived over 100 years ago.

The double decker bus tells the story of WWW1’s. transporting of arms and men on the Western Front, and is a riveting device. The familiar London bus, taken to the Front , undergoes major changes (defaced and disguised ) as it travels on missions abroad. So too do our characters – the husband (driver) and his East End family. Strong visual imagery and convincing characters keep the narrative moving along. Dialogue has a ring to it and convinces me as do the rituals of family life. Facts from the archives take off into our imagination.

I was given this book as a present and really loved it. It brings the period to life, both the soldiers’ lives at the front and the Londoners lives at home. It is an excellent story incorporating fascinating historical detail – how many of us had any idea that soldiers were transported right to the trenches in actual London buses? It is also beautifully illustrated with linocuts.