Secondary Geography

Bringing history to life: writing Invasion

By Alan Gibbons


One of the last survivors of the First World War, Harry Patch, described war as ‘organised murder.’ So imagine how the young men in the Allied Forces felt as they headed for the Normandy beaches on June 6th, 1944, a date thar would go down in history as D-Day. Just 26 years after Harry was so appalled by the carnage on the First World War battlefields of Europe, soldiers just like him were embarking on a mission to end the Second World War. Soon, they would be setting foot on European soil as the first step in ending Hitler’s tyranny.

For a modern writer to recreate the reality of conflict, there is much to do. Firstly, you have to know your stuff. When I was writing Invasion, I did my best to get the factual background right. The book has maps, photographs and historical detail to inform today’s readers.

Then you need a story: real characters whose stories will involve and engage young people now. Tommy and Joe had to leap off the page, men with whom the reader could empathise. There had to be humour, reflecting soldiers’ banter as they tried to steady their nerves before the landing.

Most importantly of all, I had to honour the sacrifice of a generation who put their lives on the line to destroy one of the most evil regimes the world has ever seen. I chose to show what it was like to be wounded amid the brutal chaos of battle and also what it must have been like to have to leave a friend and comrade behind, praying that he would receive medical treatment and make it home to his loved ones.

In other words, Invasion is a work of ‘faction’, a combination of fact and fiction. It is dedicated to those who put on their uniforms as boys and in the furnace of war became men and heroes.

Download your FREE classroom activity and have a look at  ‘Planning D-Day: a story in maps’ article.


Alan Gibbons trained as a teacher and through working with young people discovered his literary voice. He started writing fiction for his pupils and published his first novel in 1993. Alan has also appeared on the BBC education programme Writer’s Block, the Blue Peter Book Awards, radio 4’s Front Row, and is a regular contributor to TES, Junior Education, Carousel, Books for Keeps and other journals.



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