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

Forward March, by Christobel Mattingley & David Kennett

Forward MarchIn 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
ISBN 9781742990804

Ride, Ricardo, Ride! by Phil Cummings & Shane Devries

Ricardo laughed.
The breeze brushed his face
and the air smelled of wildflowers.
Ricardo rode every day …
Until the shadows came.

When his father gives him a bike, Ricardo loves to ride it, hearing his father say ‘Ride, Ricardo, ride.”. But, when the shadows come, his father tells him they must hide the bike so it is not taken away. Together, father and son dismantle the bike and hide it away. In the dark times that follow, Ricardo loses his father to the shadows, and there are many hardships. But, when at last the shadows go away, he finds his bike, rebuilds it just as his father would have done, and rides once more, hearing the echo of his father’s voice encouraging him to ride.

Ride, Ricardo, Ride! is a moving tale of wartime hardships and survival, as well as of love between father and child. Set in an unnamed village impacted first by the arrival of soldiers, who appear only as shadows and then by the destruction of war.

A highlight of this very moving offering is the way that both text and illustrations explore the impact of war without using the images or words so often encountered in such stories, with the result of drawing the reader in to the impacts of what is happening, rather than focussing on the violence itself. The digital illustrations have a rich depth with smaller, ink-style illustrations in many of the text-boxes adding to the historical feel of the book.

This is a rich, moving feast of a book.

Ride, Ricardo, Ride!, by Phil Cummings & Shane Devries
Omnibus, 2015
ISBN 9781742990736

Available from good bookstores and online.

Australians At The Great War – 1914-1918, by Peter Burness

The rough and ready fighting spirit of the Australians had become refined by an experienced battle technique supported by staff work of the highest order. The Australians were probably the most effective troops employed in the war on either side.’ Major General John O’Ryan, US 27th Division.

Between 1914 and 1918, 250,000 Australians joined up to fight alongside soldiers from the Allied nations. 60, 000 of these men never came pack, and countless others were wounded. As Australia marks the one hundred year anniversaries of these terrible years, Australians at the Great War – 1914-1918 brings them to life with a stunning collection of photographs, paintings, diagrams and other images, along with commentary to help understand their significance.

There are pictures of destruction and misery, but also glimpses of quieter times, as well as maps, posters and more. This is an excellent visual resource, compiled by historian Peter Burness.

Australians at the Great War – 1914-1918, by Peter Burness
Murdoch Books, 2015
ISBN 9781743363782

Available from good bookstores and online.

Eventual Poppy Day, by Libby Hathorn

Eventual Poppy DayShooting stars, kisses, grenades and the lumbering tanks. And the shrieking skies and the shaking comrades: ‘Up and over, lads!’
And I know it is time again to go into madness.

Even though he s only seventeen, Maurice Roche is determined to enlist, to follow his older brothers off to war and do his bit. It will be an adventure, an opportunity to see the world . Against his parent’s wishes, he signs up, leaving behind his parents, his younger siblings, his proud aunts and a girl, Rosie, who he is sure will wait for him. But war is not the adventure Maurice imagined. At Gallipoli and, later, on the Western Front he faces unimaginable horrors. It is only the mates fighting at his side, an occasional opportunity to sketch and draw, and his love for Rosie, that keep him going.

A century later, Oliver Day isn’t all that interested in his great-uncle Maurice, who he never met. But his great-grandmother, Dorothea, wants the world to know about her big brother, who died before she was born. It is especially important to her that Oliver hear Maurice’s story.

Eventual Poppy Day is an emotional tale of war and its impacts both on those who fight and those who are left behind, often across generations. The alternating stories of Maurice and Oliver are supplemented with scenes, letters and diary entries from other characters, to give a broad perspective of their emotions and motives. As the novel progresses, readers have an opportunity to connect deeply with the family.

A touching story.

Eventual Poppy Day, by Libby Hathorn
Angus & Robertson, 2015
ISBN 9780732299514

Available from good bookstores and online.

Seasons of War, by Christopher Lee

I was young then. I remember the landing on the beach and the days of my time on the peninsula and returning home from the war, the past and the present coming together over the years. I remember the beauty of the ugly place.

Michael is a teenager off on an adventure, having joined up to keep his beloved brother Dan company. Their friends Knobby, Mack and Hughie are there too, and together they land at Gallipoli where they quickly realise that this campaign is like nothing they could have imagined.

From Australian screenwriter Christopher Lee, Seasons of War is a slim volume recounting one fictional soldier’s Gallipoli campaign. At the same time, it covers the major events of the whole campaign including insights into the workings of the British command (particularly General Hamilton), the tactics and statistics of all the major battles and the actions of the Turkish enemy. Michael’s story, though, is central, and as a first person narrator he is blunt about the horror of his experience, and of what goes on around him.

In amongst the great number of books released to mark the 100 year anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign, Seasons of War could easily be missed because it is a small book with an understated, though moving, cover  and it is not a comfortable read. But that’s the point. We need stories of war which paint the horror and the waste explicitly so that we understand as nearly as possible what happened.

 

Seasons of War, by Christopher Lee
Viking, an imprint of Penguin, 2015
ISBN 9780670078837

Available from good bookstores and online.

The Girl From Snowy River, by Jackie French

I may not have lost my legs, she thought, but I’ve lost those I love forever. The war had savaged Mum, and Mrs Mack, and every woman in the valley. The war was over but the pain was still there, for her and the families left behind, not just for the men who had been maimed.

We’re all bits that the war didn’t take, Flinty thought, gazing at the stranger’s back. But those left behind had a right to know more about the beast who’d chewed their lives and spat the remnants out.

It is 1919, and in the Snowy Mountains Flinty McAlpine is trying to hold her family together – what is left of her family, at least, since the Great War tore it apart. One of her brothers was killed in the war, and another is so scarred that he seems unable to stay at home. Her mother died, Flinty suspects of a broken heart, and her father too passed away, after contracting influenza brought home by returning troops. Flinty may be only 17, but she is now responsible for her two younger siblings and for the running of the farm and the paying of the bills.

When Flinty meets a stranger in a wheelchair, she presumes he is another returned soldier – and he is – but somehow he is not from the Great War, but from a war far in her future, the Vietnam War. Just like Flinty’s brother, and Sandy, the man she loves, Nicholas is scarred by his war time experiences. They may be from different times, but somehow Flinty and Nicholas can see and hear each other, and it may be that they can help each other to heal.

The Girl from Snowy River is a dramatic, heart warming story of survival. Flinty is faced with many challenges – the loss of her parents and brother, her strained relationship with Sandy, the financial stress of trying to keep hold of the family farm, and being a girl in a man’s world – but she also faces unexpected physical challenges, too.

With reference and links to several famous Australian bush poems, The Girl from Snowy River is a wonderful celebration of the Snowy Mountain region as well as an exploration of the history of the time and issues of the impact of war, the role of women, family relationships and more.

The Girl from Snowy River

The Girl from Snowy River, by Jackie French
Angus & Robertson, an imprint of Harper Collins, 2012
ISBN 9780732293109

Available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond.