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
Left! Left! Left! Right! Left!
We make our way in the dark.
Early in the morning – before dawn – a family makes its way to a memorial service, standing together to remember the fallen. With the other people who gather they remember, through words, through silence, and through the last post, men and women who have died in combat.
Reflection , a picture book, was released in time for this year’s ANZAC Day, equally serves to explore other such ceremonies, including Remembrance Day. The text , just a sentence per spread, observes simply what happens at such a ceremony. However, the illustrations add an extra dimension – with one page in each spread showing what is happening in the contemporary ceremony, and the other page showing scenes of war. So, for example, in the first spread, as the modern family males their way through the dark, so do the soldiers of old. The modern illustrations use gentle colours, while the scenes of war use khakis and sepia tones. Background washes of grey skies span both scenes, linking them. In the final spread there are a mix of coloured and grey figures walking together, suggesting that the departed are marching with the living. Back of books notes highlight the conflicts Australian and New Zealand forces have served in, from the Boer War to Afghanistan in the present.
A beautiful, haunting book suitable both for classroom use and private reading.
Reflection: Remembering Those Who Serve in War, by Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg & Robin Cowcher
Walker Books, 2016
Teacher’s notes are available here.
In towns and cities across Australia bells ring,
drums beat, bagpipes keen, kilts swing, medals jingle,
proud battalion banners flutter and for a moment
the music of the bands is swallowed by the scream
of jets in formation flypast…
On Anzac Day every year Australians gather at war memorials and line streets to commemorate the men and women who fought and served not only in World War 1, but in conflicts before and since, including the Boer War, World War 11, Vietnam, Korea, the Gulf and more. Forward March explores what happens at the Anzac Day marches, and the events they commemorate.
Simple text highlights who we are remembering, and why, and the many illustrations, using techniques including acrylic paint, pencils and ink say so very much. Most spreads have multiple smaller illustrations, in rectangles reminiscent of photographs or postcards. The contemporary scenes of parades and ceremonies are in full colour while those of older scenes are in sepia or duller tones, visually delineating past and present. There are seemingly endless opportunities to discover details and explore what is happening in the illustrations, and the sparse text allows room for this to happen, in a perfect complement.
Suitable for classroom use near ANZAC Day or at any time of year, but also great for home reading and discussion.
Forward March, by Christobel Mattingley & David Kennett
Omnibus Books, 2016
Left! Left! Right! Left!
We make our way in the dark.
Left! Left! Right! Left!
We make our way in the dark.
A family are up early to attend the Anzac Day March. They leave the house in the predawn in windy wet weather. One side of each opening shows the family and the other shows an image of soldiers at war. ‘Reflection’ begins with World War I and ends with the ongoing Afghanistan conflict and the Iraq War. The text on each opening applies equally to the family and to the soldiers/conflicts portrayed. Illustrations are watercolour and ink set on biscuit-pale pages.
Most picture books on remembering war focus on a single conflict, but Reflection offers a broader view of the conflicts that Australians have been part of. Soldiers, uniforms, weapons, mourners and geography change but devastation, death and suffering links them all. Reflection offers an opportunity to remember all those affected by war, but also portrays the changing face of Australia, of the world.
Reflection allows parents, carers, teachers and others to introduce the unfathomability of war through the eyes of a family. The iconic Flanders poppy red is used throughout, providing a visual link between the wars but also connecting it to the young family. ‘Reflection’ is a succinctly worded, beautifully illustrated collection of memories and remembrances. Ideal for primary-aged readers.
Reflection: Remembering Those Who Serve in War, Rebecka Sharp Shelberg ill Robin Cowcher
Walker Books 2016
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
It’s supposed to be a fair way to decide who does national service and who doesn’t, but Mum reckons it isn’t. She says the fate of a mother’s son shouldn’t depend on a number picked out of a barrel. The marbles that go in the barrel have the days of the month on them. An agreed number of marbles are drawn out of the barrel, and if your birth date is on one, you’re ‘balloted in’.
It’s 1969 and Davey’s big brother Tom has been conscripted. Chosen because of his birthdate, he has no choice but to report for service. Soon, Tom is in Vietnam and his family are back home worrying about him. But there are other things happening in Davey’s life, too. He and his two best mates love surfing, and are determined to win the inaugural Newcastle Under-14 Championship. Thye are fascinated, too, by the planned moon landing, and follow preparations keenly. But growing up isn’t always fun, and Davey and his mates have some hard lessons to learn.
Vietnam , part of the My Australian Story series, is a wonderful diary format story giving an insight into Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War through the experiences of one family. It also offers a snapshot of late 1960s life, including the music of the time, key events in the year, the union movement, the impact of war on generations of Australians and more.
An excellent offering for primary aged readers.
My Australian Story: Vietnam , by Deborah Challinor
Scholastic Australia, 2015