The Game of Their Lives, by Nick Richardson

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
ISBN 9781743536667

The Last Fifty Miles, by Adam Wakeling

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
ISBN 9780670079148

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

Palace of Tears, by Julian Leatherdale

Palace of TearsAngie loved Mr Fox’s magnificent, absurd hotel. In fact, it was her one true great love. But…today Angie was so cross, so fed up with everybody and everything, she would probably cheer if a wave of fire swept over the cliff and engulfed the Palace and all its guests.

When Adam Fox throws a lavish party for his son, Robbie,at his grand hotel, the Palace, everyone is invited. Everyone except the girl next door, Angie, who has been Robbie’s childhood friend but who, it seems, is not deemed suitable for such an event. Her mother Freya is an artist and her father a groundsman at the hotel. This slight has sent Freya into a rage, and Angie is determined that somebody must pay, but nothing prepares her for what happens – when her game with Robbie ends in a terrible tragedy.

In 2013, as the Palace is restored to its former glory and her mother Monika gradually drifts away in the fog of Alzheimers, Adam Fox’s granddaughter Lisa decides it is time to uncover her family’s history. She wants to know why the hotel is known by locals as the ‘palace of tears’ and why her mother is so emotionally distant. As she digs into the past, though, she finds more mysteries.

Palace of Tears is an absorbing novel filled with stroies of love, betrayal and secrets. Though the Fox family is fictional, the hotel is inspired by the Hydro Majestic Hotel in the Blue Mountains, and many real historical figures and events are used in the story, most notably the homefront events of the two world wars and the treatment of German-Australians during World War 1. The stories of Lisa, Monika and Angie are alternated throughout the book, meaning that the reader uncovers the truth along with Lisa as well as coming to understand the motivations and personalties of the characters.

This debut novel is a captivating mix of family saga, romance and historical fiction.

Palace of Tears, by Julian Leatherdale
Allen & Unwin, 2015
ISBN 9781760111601

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.

1914 by Sophie Masson

‘Come on,’ urged Hansel. ‘We haven’t got all night!’

‘Oh, yes we do,’ I teased, looking at my cards. I had a lousy hand, but I wasn’t going to let Hansel beat me.

‘Hurry up!’ he yelled at me, good naturedly, flinging a pillow in my direction, scattering my cards on the floor.

I ducked, recovered the pillow and launched it back at him.

‘Oh, what’s the use?’ he grinned, catching the pillow and settling it behind him. ‘I was going to beat you anyway.’

‘Never. But if you want to think so then …’

I was staying the night at Hansel’s house. His father, the Baron von Leitner, had retired hours ago, and we were making our last night together in Vienna last as long as we could.

‘Come on,’ urged Hansel. ‘We haven’t got all night!’

‘Oh, yes we do,’ I teased, looking at my cards. I had a lousy hand, but I wasn’t going to let Hansel beat me.

‘Hurry up!’ he yelled at me, good naturedly, flinging a pillow in my direction, scattering my cards on the floor.

I ducked, recovered the pillow and launched it back at him.

‘Oh, what’s the use?’ he grinned, catching the pillow and settling it behind him. ‘I was going to beat you anyway.’

‘Never. But if you want to think so then …’

I was staying the night at Hansel’s house. His father, the Baron von Leitner, had retired hours ago, and we were making our last night together in Vienna last as long as we could.

Louis and his brother Thomas are French/Australian and their father works for the French Embassy in Europe. They have friends from all over Europe. The family are on holiday near Sarajevo when the Archduke is assassinated and before long, WWI is declared. This means that Louis and some of his friends will now be on different sides of this conflict. As the war begins and then continues through 1914, Louis and friends all make decisions about how to contribute. Louis is too young, and not fit to be a soldier, but he finds his own way to be involved. His decisions do not always keep him out of danger, and his family do not escape unscathed, but Louis stays true to himself and to his friends. ‘1914’ includes newspaper articles, photos, letters and other text types.

1914 is the first of what will be five independent novels about WWI. Each will have their own story and be written by a different author. Each will concentrate on a particular year of the war. Louis’s story includes a non-soldier perspective of the war and helps to introduce readers to one of the less well-known ways (actually more than one) that people were involved. Many readers may know how WWI began, but Masson takes them on  location in Eastern Europe and allows them to feel the shockwaves that roll in so many directions. 1914 offers many opportunities for classroom discussion, including friendship, politics, loyalty and security.

Recommended for secondary readers.

 

1914 (Australia's Great War)

1914 , Sophie Masson Scholastic Press 2014 ISBN: 9781743622476

www.clairesaxby.com

Along the Road to Gundagai, by Jack O'Hagan & Andrew McLean

It won’t be surprising if you pick up this book with the tune and lyrics already in your head:

There’s a track winding back to an old fashioned shack
along the road to Gundagai…

However, what will be surprising to most readers will be to discover that the opening lines of the song are quieter and less jaunty:

There’s a scene that lingers in my memory
Of an old bush home and friends I long to see…

(You may be interested, as I was, after reading the book, to hear an old recording of these lines here).

Most surprising of all, is the visual interpretation of the song in this picture book offering. Andrew McLean presents the song from the viewpoint of a soldier, yearning for his beautiful home as he fights and suffers on the battlefield. The contrast between scenes of horror on the Western Front, and the beauty of Gundagai are confronting, but in a beautiful, poignant way. On one spread soldiers and their horses flee a gas attack, the soldiers wearing gas masks, the horses’ eyes filled with fear and a ghastly yellow light surrounding them. This is in stark contrast to the preceding spread which shows young boys playing in the peaceful shallows of the Murrumbidgee river. Further contrast is added with the wartime scenes filling the whole spreads, while the remembered scenes of Gundagai are framed like favourite photographs or paintings. Most of the song lyrics are also on these home front spreads.

This a beautiful, haunting book, outstanding for discussions of Australian history. With the song first written in 1922, McLean’s interpretation is true to the experiences of the war years not long prior, which would still have been very fresh in the public memory. For classroom use, it would be an interesting exercise to offer children the lyrics without the illustrations first, to highlight the contrast of what is then shown in the book.

A surprising book, in the very best of ways. Stunning.

 

Along the Road to Gundagai

Along the Road to Gundagai, by Jack O’Hagan, illustrated by Andrew McLean
Omnibus Books, 2014
ISBN 9781862919792

Available from good bookstores or online.

Charles Bean's Gallipoli Illustrated, edited by Phillip Bradley

25 April 1915
12 Midnight: The ships have sailed from Lemnos. I have a cabin, the last in the passage, with a porthole opening onto the well deck. Outside on the deck, amongst all sorts of gear and under some of the horse boats to be used in landing, are some of the men of the 1st Battalion tucked into corners in their overcoats.
I must not oversleep – this night is too good to miss.

From the journey towards Gallipoli, through the landings, the terrible losses, the battles, and the evacuation, Charles Bean recorded the ANZAC experience at Gallipoli in extraordinary detail. Australia’s official war correspondent, he wrote and sent home newspaper articles, and also filled notebooks with copious diary entries. He went behind the lines across the peninsula, lived among the troops, and photographed what he saw. After the war he used his work as the starting point for Australia’s official war history.

From this extraordinarily detailed record of the war, this new offering diaries the eight months of the Gallipoli campaign. With notes from the editor, the text is stunningly illustrated with photographs from Bean’s collection and from the collections of others who were there, including the private collections of soldiers, bringing the campaign to life in startling detail.

A wonderful production to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the campaign in 2015.

 

Charles Bean's Gallipoli

Charles Bean’s Gallipoli, edited by Phillip Bradley
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9781742371238

Available from good bookstores and online.