A few streets away, a car putting down the twisted hill. It halted outside a block of mulberry-brick flats. A small boy emerged from the back seat, out onto the pavement. He was carrying a suitcase. He stood there, looking upwards. His skin gleamed like snow.
in the middle of the road a sleek cat lay stretched out, absorbing the sunshine.
It is 1942, and Columba (who was named after a nun) is growing up in war time Sydney. A new boy – a refugee from ‘You-rope’ – appears in the neighborhood, at about the same time as a strange blue cat. Columba is intrigued by the new boy, Ellery, though he doesn’t speak English and Columba struggles to understand where he has come from and why he is here. This isn’t the only thing she struggles to understand. Why are the cloaks being put forward for an hour? Why do the adults talk about ‘taking people’s minds off things? And, with Singapore falling, and regular air raid practices, will they be safe here in Sydney?
The Blue Cat is an enchanting piece of writing. Historical fiction with just a tiny twist of magical realism, it is a gentle story of the confusion of a child faced with frightening, not-quite-understood events. With an insight into how the childhood experiences of Australians during the war years, and to harbourside Sydney life, this is an entrancing read.
The Blue Cat, by Ursula Dubosarsky
Allen & Unwin, 2017
There was a man standing in the alcove that led out onto the Golden Gallery’s walkway. His attention was fixed on the explosion, which meant he hadn’t seen her yet. At first she thought he was a fire watcher, stationed up the top of St Paul’s to protect it from burning. But, no, this man was a twilight visitor – a man of the dead, not the living – she could tell by his ashen hue. Everything was a muted shade in her world; it was how you could tell the living world from the the world of the dead.
It is 1940 and Flossie Birdwhistle is the turnkey at London’s Highgate Cemetery, charged with keeping the souls that rest there at peace. When London is subject to enemy bombardment every night, this is an even more difficult task than usual. During one raid, when Flossie sets out to fulfill the request of one of her charges, she sees something surprising: a German soldier, who, though as dead as she is, seems to have abilities and interests from the other side of the grave. It is up to Flossie, and her friends, the turnkeys of London’s other cemeteries, to figure what he is up to, and how to stop him.
The Turnkey is an intriguing novel set in the midst of the second world war, populated with ghostly characters, as well as a handful of those still living. the concept of the dead being looked after by one of their own, and of them still carng for the world beyond the grave is appealing, and history lovers will enjoy seeing World War Two London and Germany from a very different angle.
The Turnkey, by Allison Rushby
Walker Books, 2017
Just then, Jack discovered a sodden parcel wedged between the plane’s ribs.
He tore off the string binding and red wax seals. Inside was a bloated leather wallet, bursting with small packages wrapped in tissue. He emptied the contents of one into his calloused hands. What he saw stole his breath away …
As a plane prepares to ferry Dutch refugees out of Java to escape war-torn Java, the captain is passed a valuable package to carry to safety. But the plane is attacked, and crash-lands, the passage temporarily forgotten in the quest for survival. When Jack Palmer, a sailor and beachcomber, comes across the abandoned wreck of the plane he can’t help but be curious about what he might find on board. What he does find is beyond anything he could imagine.
Diamond Jack, the first title in the new History Mysteries series by Mark Greenwood, is a junior novel exploring the events surrounding the crash of a Dakota aircraft and subsequent disappearance of a parcel of diamond on board. Using the known facts and people involved, interwoven with a fictionalised version of what might have happen, the story provides an intriguing glimpse into the past. Young readers will be drawn into the mystery as they also view and learn about a chapter of Australian war history.
With historical photographs, maps and notes including a timeline, this is history children can connect with.
History Mysteries: Diamond Jack, by Mark Greenwood
Penguin Random House, 2017
But I did, I did! There was no way I was letting go of it. It was my scrapbook, my scrapbook about the little princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose – the one I’d been named after. I’d been keeping it for years, cutting out and sticking in pictures of the little princesses and all their doings from magazines and newspapers. It was very special to me, that scrapbook, and I wasn’t letting go of it for anything.
It was the reason I was still alive.
It is 1940, and Margaret Rose lives in London, far away from her cousin Lizzie in Australia. But when Margaret Rose’s family home is destroyed in an air raid she finds herself bound for Australia on a ship. Lizzie’s family are happy to take Margaret Rose in, but Lizzie isn’t so sure. Her cousin is getting all the attention, and Lizzie’s life is changed by sharing her bedroom and her classmates.
The war takes a little longer to reach Townsville, in Australia’s far north,and Mrgaret Rose is safer there. But as the war rolls on, it also draws closer to Australia, and both girls share the realities of war time life.
Lizzie and Margaret Rose is a story of war, of family and friendship set both in London and in Townsville, as well as on the ship travelling between the two countries. Told in the alternating first person voices of the ten and eleven year old cousins, it provides an inside look at the effects of war, and particularly World War 2, on children and on day to day life.
While thoroughly researched and complemented with back of book notes, the story is front and center rather than being used to string together lots of facts,, making it really satisfying.
Lizzie and Margaret Rose, by Pamla Rushby
Omnibus Books, 2016
There was something rather splendid about this woman who would not have looked out of place in the pages of a magazine, but whom fate had put here, in the the East End, in a tube station with a cigarette in her mouth and a small child. It set her apart from the wretched mother and her five starving children.
Diana Meadows is lost. She and her three year old daughter Abigail have come up to London on secret business, and somehow caught the wrong bus. Now she’s in the East End and the air raid sirens are blaring. Not far away Nancy Levin and her own daughter, Emily, are cooking chips for dinner when they, too, hear the siren. They know what to do, having done it many times before, and gather their belongings before heading off to the shelter.Both women’s husbands are off at the war – Diana’s Gerald is serving with a tank regiment in North Africa, while Nancy’s Joe has just left to return to the navy after surviving a torpedoing. The husbands believe their wives and daughters are safe. The two women spend the night camped beside each other in the cramped underground space. Though they don’t speak, each observes the other – and their lives become linked before the all clear sounds.
The Safest Place in London is a gripping, shocking tale of war time life and the lengths mothers will go to to protect their families. With the chance to observe the thoughts processes of both characters, and to see what happens beyond the terrible night in the shelter, readers will grow to know them, and perhaps to understand their actions.
Lots to think about both during and after reading.
The Safest Place in London, by Maggie Joel
Allen & Unwin, 2016
While the match was, at one level, an exhibition for the Diggers and the curious onlookers, for the players it was something else – a chance to run around in the open air, to play the game they loved and test themselves in the way that they knew, body on body, running, jumping and kicking. It was a wonderful antidote to the dull routine of training and the anxiety of anticipation about what was ahead.
Australian Rules Football has a long history here at home, but has often been an enigma to people in other countries. For one day in 1916, though, football took centre stage when two teams of Australian soldiers played an exhibition match in London. The teams, drawn from soldiers waiting to be called to the Western Front, comprised men who had played football in teams across Australia, some of them big name players. In the weeks leading up to the match they trained hard and, on the day, for just a few hours, they could play the game they loved almost as if they were back home in Australia.
The Game of Their Lives tells the story of the game, and of the men who played in it. Starting before the war, and tracing through to the years following, readers are introduced to the players, umpires and officials as well as to men who made the game possible, including General Monash and YMCA man, and Australian swimmer, Frank Beaurepair. There is also close exploration of the impact of the war on sport at home in Australia, particularly the pressure for sportsmen to enlist, and the conscription debate.
For anyone with a love of football or war history.
The Game of Their Lives , by Nick Richardson
Pan Macmillan, 2016
They were fifty miles to victory and defeat, fifty miles to collapse and renewal, and fifty miles to a new place for Australia among the nations of the world. They were among the most significant fifty miles in our history.
After four years of conflict in Turkey, Palestine and Europe, both sides of the Great War conflict are weary and seeking to end the conflict. For the men of the five Australian divisions stationed in France, the end seems a long way away, though, and while they are battle weary they are able to come together under Major-General John Monash and play a decisive role in claiming the last fifty miles – the miles which will see an end to the war.
The Last Fifty Miles is an accessible, detailed account of Australia’s involvement in World War 1 and particularly its role in the final months of the conflict on the Western Front.
Readers are offered insight into the reasons for the war, the main personalities involved on both sides, and the impact of the war on Australians at home as well as those serving.
Suitable for amateur history buffs or anyone wanting to better understand the Great War.
The Last Fifty Miles, by Adam Wakeling
Penguin Books, 2016
‘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
In the end it was the cancer that brought the memories. Chemotherapy sleep, cold like reptile skin. The smell of bile, the bone-deep ache and – for the first time in decades – dreams.
Years after the Vietnam War tore up his homeland and killed most of his family, Minh lives with his wife in Perth, Western Australia. he thinks he has left behind the past, with memories too painful to be faced or spoken of. But as he battles cancer, he finds the memories coming back, first in dreams and then in his waking hours.
In 1962 Australian soldier Frank Stevens is sent to the Vietnamese Highlands to recruit and train local tribesmen. As the situation becomes increasingly volatile both for the country and for Frank himself, his friendship with Minh, his translator, grows. The two seem inseparable.
Seeing the Elephant: A Novel is a heartwrenching novel of war, friendship and love, told from the first person point of view of the elderly Minh, looking back on his life, as well as through the letters Frank writes to his much loved grandfather back in Australia.
Historically the novel covers events leading up to the official involvement of Australia in the Vietnam conflict, but emotionally it covers even more – the effects of imperialist intervention on local people, loss, survival and the depths of love, in a finely crafted moving whole.
Shortlisted for the T.A.G. Hungerford Award in 2014, Seeing the Elephant: A Novel is a stunning debut novel.
Seeing the Elephant: A Novel, by Portland Jones
Margaret River Press, 2016
From the appointment of the Controller, Colonel Sybil Irving, on 29 September 1941, until the cessation of hostilities in August 1945, over 24,000 girls and women enlisted as volunteers in the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS).
From different places, from different backgrounds, by varied routes, they were now together, the members of the Australian Women’s Army service. As the first raw recruits were marshaled onto a bus for Killara, talking non-stop about what lay ahead, they heard cries of ‘You’ll be sorry!’ but they never were.
In Word War 2, as men serviced in Europe and Asia, the homefront faced struggles, too, not the least of which was the shortage of staff. Australian women, who wanted to contribute, campaigned hard to be allowed to enlist and, finally in September 1941 the Women’s Army Service was formed. Between then and the end of the war, thousands of women volunteered and served in a wide variety of roles including driving, logistics, administration, communications and more. Giving their all for the service and ‘doing their bit’, these women later found themselves at a loss when the war ended and the expectation was that they would return to home life as quickly as possible.
You’ll be Sorry: How World War II Changed Women’s Lives traces the stories of these women through the war years and after, using testimony and recount from the women who served and from family members. Easy to read, the book provides an in depth insight into the types of women who served, their roles and lives within the service, and the challenges of life afterwards.
A vivid, intriguing account.
You’ll be Sorry: How World War II Changed Women’s Lives, by Ann Howard
Big Sky Publishing, 2016