World War I story turns into children's book

World War I story turns into children's book

It sounds like the narrative to a Hollywood movie -- a young woman follows her husband and brothers to World War I where she does the dangerous job of driving ambulances, before becoming one of the first women in the world to fly a plane.

But Kiwi Gladys Sandford's story is anything but fiction, and has now been immortalised in a new children's book.

For almost a century the remarkable story of Ms Sandford had been lost to history. Kiwi historian Glyn Harper discovered it by chance and realised he'd found something special.

"I'd never heard of Gladys Sandford and I'd never heard of a woman described as a soldier in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, so when I had time I managed to grab her file, pull it out. It was mostly a collection of photographs, but they were enough to get me intrigued about her," says Ms Harper.

Now Ms Sandford's forgotten story has been brought to life by Ms Harper and illustrator Jenny Cooper in the picture book Gladys Goes to War.

"We really wanted to show what an amazing woman she was. She was a car mechanic; she drove cars and she ran a car yard in Auckland before the war, and she'd be the only New Zealand woman doing that, and probably the only woman in the world doing that before the war," says Ms Cooper.

But it was during the war that Ms Sandford really made her mark, defying sexism to become one of the few female ambulance drivers in the Army, braving the bombs to ferry wounded soldiers to hospital. But the war would claim the lives of her husband and two brothers.

So are the horrors of war a suitable subject for children?

"World War I does offer a good opportunity to tell stories to a younger generation, and it's such a pivotal event in our history and an event that shapes New Zealand as a country that we really should try and tell young people why it's important to us," says Ms Harper.

"Nobody ever says you can't show blood and cannot show death. In all our war books there has been blood and death, and all the research I do, the thing that comes home to me the most is that these people are exactly the same as us," says Ms Cooper.

Ms Sandford survived the war and a bout of the deadly Spanish influenza to become the first New Zealand woman to hold a pilot's licence. Now children around the country, and perhaps even their parents, can learn of her ground-breaking journey.