Edwin Llewellyn Charles was a slim, handsome youth, but Terence John, his brother, was beautiful and he knew it. Technically, the boys were twins, but their personalities could not have been more different.
So begins this sweeping true story of a fractured but close-knit Australian family during World War II, focusing on the service of the twins and life on the home front as experienced primarily by their elder sister and mother.
When hostilities are declared, Terry joins the Australian Military Forces and is quickly promoted. However, as a militiaman, he is banned from serving overseas. Having watched Edwin join the glamorous RAAF and become a pilot, Terry resigns his commission to follow his twin. Forced to swallow the disappointment of failing to emulate Edwin by winning his wings, Terry becomes a navigator in heavy bombers in the closing stages of the European war.
Readers are transported from the Charles family home in northern NSW to Canberra, Africa, England, Scotland, the United States, the Subcontinent and Ceylon between 1939 and the end of 1945 as the perspective shifts between the two protagonists.
Little-known aspects of wartime experience are explored, including the so-called `wet canteens' debate; the international negotiations over the release of interned Allied and Japanese diplomats, and the life of the Raj on the north-west frontier and in India and Ceylon.
The author's clever interweaving of primary documents with historical fact gives rare insights into the lives and relationships of the Charles family and creates an authentic snapshot of wartime Australia.
The Charles Family's War is a compassionate and multilayered examination of two intelligent and articulate young men who come of age in the cauldron of global conflict.
Alan Fewster is a former journalist and diplomat. His previous books are: Capital Correspondent, the Canberra Letters of Edwin Charles; Trusty and Well Beloved, a life of Sir Keith Officer, Australia's first diplomat; and the Bracegirdle Incident, How an Australian communist ignited Ceylon's independence struggle.