Young Digger, by Anthony Hill

‘How does a German boy like you speak the King’s English so well?’
The child’s manner changed. Outraged, he drew himself to his full height, though he didn’t reach much above Tovell’s wasit, As the band wheezed to a halt, men nearest the door heard the boy exclaim, full of scorn:
‘I am not a German!…I am a Frenchman, monsieur. One of the glorious Allies. I’m one of you!’

As Australian airmen enjoy a sumptuous Christmas lunch in post war Germany in 1918, they are interrupted by the arrival of a small boy. Presuming he is one of the local children, they attempt to shoo him away, but are amazed to realise he is not German, but French. Henri, or ‘Young Digger’ as he comes to be called, has been living on his own or with various British squadrons since he was orphaned in France in 1915 and has somehow made his way to Germany. He is attracted to the Australian airmen by the smell of their food, and soon decides he will be happiest with them.

Whilst his story is sketchy, even his real name unclear, Young Digger is soon a much loved member of the Number 4 Squadron and, when they return to Australia he is determiend to go with them. The story of how he came to be adopted by air mechanic Tom Tovell and smuggled out of Germany, France and England before being welcomed into Australia is extraordinary.

Soldier Boy is a fictionalised account of Digger’s life and extraordinary journey. Previously published as a novel for children, this updated version is aimed at an adult audience. It will appeal to anyone with an interest in ar history, but also to those who like a heartwarming tale of love.

Soldier Boy, by Anthony Hill
Penguin Books, 2016
ISBN 9780670079292

For Valour: Australia's Victoria Cross Heroes, by Nicolas Brasch

The Victoria Cross (VC) is only ever awarded in times of war to people who risk their own lives to save others – the most heroic act imaginable. This is why the Victoria Cross is held in such high esteem.

The Victoria Cross is not given out lightly. Only ninety-nine Australians, of the one and a half million who have fought in wars, have been awarded the honour, twenty-six of them posthumously. So, whilst most adults would know about the award, it is important that its significance, and the actions of its recipients, are explained to younger Australians.

For Valour, subtitled Australia’s Victoria Cross Heroes is a useful tool in doing both of those things. Beginning with an explanation of the award, its significance and history and even its deign, the book then moves though the major conflicts in which Australians have fought, and shares the stories of selected VC recipients. Other recipients are listed. There is also a brief explanation of each conflict outlining its origins, locations, and Australia’s involvement.

Text is accessible, and explanations are child-friendly but not sanitised. Illustration is by way of historical photographs.

A useful resource for exploring an important topic.

Our Stories: For Valour: Australia's Victoria Cross Heroes

For Valour, by Nicolas Brasch
Black Dog, 2013
ISBN 9781742032313

Available from good bookstores or online.

Desert Boys, by Peter Rees

Whilst this is a historical text and, as such, necessarily documents dates, places and details of campaigns, it is also a very human account, with Rees making extensive use of letters, diaries, memoirs and interviews to tell the stories using the words of men (and, occasionally, women) who were there.

The two World Wars were just a generation apart. It was not uncommon to find sons following fathers to fight, like them, in the desert. To some observers the Australians were madmen; others thought they treated war as a bit of a lark. But there there is no doubt that the Australians as soldiers won respect.

Of the many stories told of Australians’ involvement in the two World Wars, there seem to be fewer about their battles in the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East than about Europe, the Pacific and, of course, Gallipoli. Whilst some famous actions are well documented -such as the siege of Tobruk – others are relatively unknown. In Desert Boys author Peter Rees redresses this imbalance by focussing on the stories of the soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought in the desert campaigns of the two wars, providing a detailed and moving account of their actions.

Whilst this is a historical text and, as such, necessarily documents dates, places and details of campaigns, it is also a very human account, with Rees making extensive use of letters, diaries, memoirs and interviews to tell the stories using the words of men (and, occasionally, women) who were there. It is this that really takes the reader into the midst of the action and of its very rel human toll, with final letters home, recounts of key events, amazing stories of survival and equally moving tales of those who did not survive.

At over 700 pages in length, including notes and acknowledgements, this weighty offering is a must for lovers of military history and inspiring for any reader.

An Excerpt From a Letter
The weather is getting very hot here now and between the flies in the daytime and mosquitoes and several other insect pests at night a fellow gets a fairly lively tmie of it. I thinka ll the plagues of pharoah’s time are still here. We killed a couple of snakes just outside out tent a couple of nights ago and talk about dogs, there are thousands of the mongrels here of every size and colour. It is quite a common thing to wake up in the night with a great big mongrel dog sniffing in a fellow’s ear, but there are not so many lately as they make good targets to practise on. Frank Willis, 1916

Desert Boys: Australians at War from Beersheba to Tobruk and El Alamein

Desert Boys: Australians at War from Beersheba to Tobruk and El Alamein, by Peter Rees
Allen & Unwin, 2011
ISBN 978174114292

This book is available in good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, by Chris Coulthard-Clark

More than just a record of the battles in which Australia and Australians have been involved, The Encycopaedia of Australia’s Battles, provides an intresting insight into Australia’s history as a whole.

As well as detailing the many battles Australians have joined on war fields overseas, the book details the many battles fought on Australian soil in the two hundred years since white settlement. These include battles fought between European settlers and Aboriginals resisting colonization and battles such as those on the goldfields, including the Eureka Stockade.

The book includes chronological entries of over 300 battles in which Australians or Australian troops have been involved – at sea, in the air and on the ground. Each entry provides the date and location, the main units and commanders involved and an account of the course of the battle. ENtries are illustrated with maps, drawings and photographs.

The author, historian Chris Coulthard-Clark is an expert in Australian defence history. A graduate of Duntroon and the Australian Dfence Force Academy, he has worked as a government policy analyst, historical consultant and a research editor.

The Encyclopaedia of Australia’s Battles is an outstanding resource for historians, writers, teachers, an anyone with an interest in Australian history. First published in 2001, it has been rereleased in 2010.

The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles

The Encyclopaedia of Australia’s Battles, by Chris Coulthard-Clark
Allen & Unwin, 2010


This title can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through these links supports Aussiereviews.

Somme Mud, by Private Edward Lynch

High in the clear morning air ring our marching songs as we step out through flag-bedecked streets. Te windows and roofs of shops are gay with bright flags and pretty, laughing girls. The crowds line the footpaths happy in the bon camaraderie of their farewell to us. Here and there are silent women in black, mute testimony to what has befallen others who have marched before. We swing cheerfully on.
A woman breaks from the crowded footpath and arm in arm with her soldier husband, marches on with us. Ping, ping, and a shower of half pennies lands amongst us, thrown from the roof of a big verandah. We break step as we battle for the coins for glued to each is the address of a girl. Most of us collect girls’ addresses as a hobby these days. We seize the coins, wave to the roof of girls as we fall into step with our mates and forward again as the girls wave and coo-ee.

Somme Mud is one man’s war. Private Edward Lynch, or ‘Nulla’ as he is referred to, tells the story of his war. It begins with the march to join a ship in Sydney and ends with his return in mid-1919. The tone is diary-like, although entries are organised into chapters rather than dates. The excitement of setting out and the boredom of the long sea journey soon gives way to the realities of trench warfare. Nulla shares the horrors of the trenches, the survival strategies and the skiving off, the injuries and the deaths as he travels his way around the battlefields. From his first engagement with ‘Fritz’ at Gueudecort a tiny village on the Somme to the liberation of POWs after the war is over, Nulla provides an insider’s view of war.

Private Edward Lynch marched off with his mates to the First World War. No one could have prepared him, or his mates, for what was to come. Of those who returned from this war, few spoke much to their families of their experiences. Edward Lynch did. Although he apparently didn’t keep a diary, he has written an account of his war rich in detail and flavour. The story failed to find a publisher when first written but in 2006 was published and this abridged edition appears now, in 2010. Photos are scattered throughout and help the reader to visualise the places and people of the story. Edward Lynch writes in first person, and is referred to as Nulla. Somme Mud was written in the years immediately following the First World War and retains language and attitudes of the time, giving the narrative an extra layer as a reflection of the social mores. Recommended for anyone wanting to understand the First World War from the perspective of the soldier.

Somme Mud: An Australian Teenager in the First World War

Somme Mud: An Australian Teenager in the First World War, Edward Lynch (edited Will Davies)
Random House 2010
ISBN: 9781741664522

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Other Anzacs, by Peter Rees

‘I had my right arm under a leg, which I thought was [the patient’s], but when I lifted it I found to my horror that it was a loose leg with a boot and a puttee on it. It was one of the orderly’s legs which had been blown off and had landed on the patient’s bed. The next day they found the trunk about 20 yards away.’

When Australian and New Zealand men went to fight in the Great War, they entered the pages of Australia’s history, rightly earning the tag of heroes. But wherever the men fought, there were also women, bravely risking their lives to tend the wounded, the ill and the dying. Few modern day Australians are aware of the extraordinary courage and compassion shown by these women, who have been largely forgotten.

The Other Anzacs is an in depth account of the lives and contribution of the nurses who volunteered to go to war and provide nursing support to not just Australian and New Zealand troops, but also to the wounded from other Allied nations, and even enemy soldiers. Using the unpublished diaries, letters and photographs of these women, as well as carefully researched facts, author Peter Rees provides not just a history of these women, but an insight into their emotions and sacrifices as he provides their firsthand accounts of the war. With approximately 3000 Australian and New Zealand women having served during the war, and forty-five killed and over two hundred decorated for their service, this is an important piece of our history which must be preserved. Rees is ensuring this by not only documenting it, but also making it accessible.

An important, informing and engrossing book.

The Other Anzacs: Nurses at War 1914-1918

The Other Anzacs, by Peter Rees
Allen & Unwin, 2008

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Simpson and His Donkey, by Mark Greenwood & Frane Lessac

In time for ANZAC Day 2008, Walker Books Australia have released a very Australian picture book telling the well known story of Simpson and his donkey. Born in England, Simpson was far from home in Australia when World War 1 broke out. He enlisted and found himself not in England, as he’d hoped, but in Egypt and then Turkey, where he worked as a stretcher bearer. In Gallipoli, Simpson found stretchers in short demand, so he enlisted the help of wild donkeys to rescue over 300 wounded men and to transport water to thirsty soldiers. Sadly, as Simpson went once more onto the battlefield he was shot and killed.

This retelling of Simpson’s story is told in simple language but not at the risk of trivialising the story or the war itself. Greenwood has a knack of making history accessible for children. In turn, illustrator Frane Lessac, brings the story to life with gouache illustrations filled with little details and rich colours.

This is an important story beautifully represented in a form suitable for educational use and also private reading.

Simpson and his Donkey, by Mark Greenwood and Frane Lessac
Walker Books, 2008

Red Haze – Australians and New Zealanders in Vietnam, by Leon Davidson

The soil in our area is Red Mud, RED-BLOODY-MUD. It drives me mad…It’s the only place in the world where you can be bogged down in mud up to you neck and get dust in your eyes.Douglas Bishop, 5RAR, letter to family, October 1966

Leeches, mosquitos snakes and more. Dust, mud, rain, rain, rain. Red Haze looks at the circumstances that brought Australian and New Zealand soldiers to the experience that is called ‘The Vietnam War’. Many people believed that if communism was allowed to spread in Vietnam that it would eventually ‘infect’ countries all the way to Australia and New Zealand. While the political battles waged at home, soldiers fought an intractable foe on hostile ground. Red Haze tracks the war from the political impetus for its beginning, through many of the well-known and less well-known battles, to the 1973 ceasefire.

Nothing could have prepared Australian and New Zealand soldiers for the environment in which they were to be asked to fight. Red Haze uses personal experiences to bring the reader close to the action and uncertainty. Davidson doesn’t pretend to have the whole story, but shows the brutality and compassion, the confusion and violence that accompanies war. The use of letters and recollections from soldiers from both sides and from protesters at home gives some understanding of how difficult a time it was. Though today’s children have little direct experience of the Vietnam war, this book can help them understand some of the issues of the wars of their time. For upper primary and early secondary readers.

Red Haze: Australians and New Zealanders in Vietnam, by Leon Davidson
black dog books 2006 ISBN 876372958

Scarecrow Army, by Leon Davidson

When young men from Australian and New Zealand enlisted to fight in Word War 1, they did so for love of their countries – and for some adventure. In Gallipoli, in 1915, they encountered more adventure than they had expected, as they fought the Turks in a seemingly futile attempt to seize control of the Gallipoli peninsula. The actions of those brave men has become legendary, and played a vital role in shaping Australian identity.

Scarecrow Army recounts the events of Gallipoli, from the declaration of war, and the subsequent rush to enlist, through the training of the men and especially the events between the landing at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, to the evacuation in December. As well as providing factual recount, author Leon Davidson also uses fictionalised accounts, photographs and quotes from a vast range of soldiers.

This is an important offering. It provides a detailed account of this important period of Australian and New Zealand history, in a format accessible to upper primary and secondary aged children. It will prove an excellent educational resource, but is also suited for private reading.

Scarecrow Army, by Leon Davidson
Black Dog Books, 2005

Tobruk, by Peter Fitzsimons

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

Tobrukis a story of fighting against the odds. It details the story of The Australian Infantry’s Defence of this strategic place. But what FitzSimons has done in this story of Tobruk is not only give the story behind the story but given human faces to those involved.

He starts by introducing his cast of characters who will play a major part in this narrative. FitzSimons not only tells the reader about the men who fought but gives a picture of the families left at home.

The reader meets the young John Hurst Edmondson, known as Jack, and comes to understand the family background from which he came. Jack, the only child of Will and Elizabeth Edmondson went on to become the first AIF recipient of the Victoria Cross. Fitzsimons also introduces the reader to Leslie Morshead, the ex schoolmaster, who also had an instrumental part to play in the defence of Tobruk. His character comes out in his actions and his letters home to his wife Myrtle. And then there is the story of Josie and John Johnson and the motivation initially for enlisting. Part of the Johnson’s story is the poignant recounting of the loss of the Dumbo book- the last book given by John to his son. These insights into the personal lives of those involved ensure that this is more than just a story above war, strategy and battles.

Through the use of diaries and letters, FitzSimons gives glimpses into the character and attitudes of those who shaped this episode of Australia’s history. The incidents of Australian humour and mateship that surfaced even in the face of danger are evident too. As one Australian wrote to his mother while in Tobruk, ‘I’m proud to be an Aussie. The Hun fights with grim determination, the Tommies fight by number, but the Aussies tear about like kids at a picnic, swearing and laughing the whole time.’ It was this attitude that confounded the enemy.

Even when Lord Haw Haw, the radio broadcaster intending to discourage the Australians at Tobruk announced that; ‘living like rats, they’ll die like rats,’ his derogatory comment had the opposite effect to what he intended. The comment provoked laughter among the Diggers and they delightedly adopted the title of ‘Rats of Tobruk.’

However Fitzsimons does not content himself with portraying the character and motivation of the Australians but also manages to give a picture of Hitler’s early life and what propelled him into popularity as well as the rise of Rommel and the role he played. Extracts of letters from Rommel to his wife Lu, show another side to this man who played such a major part in the Tobruk campaign.

Fitzsimons demonstrates some of the anomalies that happen during war. One such event was the intervention of the German officer who came forward to protect Father Tom Gard and the Australian men from certain destruction by a minefield as they sought to rescue their wounded. For a time it was as though the war didn’t exist as German and Australian men worked side by side to help each other gather those who had fallen. In the words of one Australian soldier, who took part in it, ‘it was as though two armoured combatants had paused to raise their visors and for one moment had glimpsed human faces behind the steel.’

This comment perhaps sums up the tenor of the book. Throughout, FitzSimons presents the human face of those involved in the long, drawn out defence of Tobruk. An interesting and informative read.

Tobruk, by Peter Fitzsimons
HarperCollins, 2006 Hardcover RRP $49.95
ISBN 0732276454