‘Where the heck are we?’ Frankie’s voice was muffled by the walls of earth on either side of them.
‘Flanders,’ answered Private Nash, the young soldier trudging along the narrow communication trench in front of Frankie, as the Australian troops moved in single fileup to the front line in darkness.
‘I know we’re in Flanders! Where in Flanders?’
‘Yeah, but where near Messines?’
‘How should I know? Do I look like an officer or something? Only officers know where they are in this war. Anyway, what’s it matter, Pickles?’
Frankie shrugged. ‘I was just curious, that’s all. I’d like to know where I’m about to die.’
Frankie and Taz are both sixteen-years-old Australians who lie about their age to be accepted into the Australian Army. Their reasons for enlisting are different but the two are united by their youth. Richard is also sixteen-years-old and in the army, but he’s on the opposite side. War is nothing like the adventure the Australian boys imagined when they signed up and nothing has prepared Richard either. The three boys are destined to meet on the battlefields in France, around Villers-Bretoneux, amid the horror and destruction of war. Tank Boys is the story of one of the most well-known battles of WWII from the perspective of three youth and explores the personalities and the politics of both sides of the battle. Although fiction, Tank Boys is based on real tanks, and real battles.
Tank Boys explores the realities of war. It is not gratuitously graphic but neither does it shy away from the deaths and injuries suffered by soldiers of both sides. It offers a range of different personalities and explores the myriad reasons men fight wars. On one level ‘Tank Boys’ is a ‘Boys Own’-type adventure full of action and adventure, but it also provides many opportunities for discussion about war. There are enough details for readers to be able to ‘walk the trenches’ with the characters, and to learn about the different hardware each side used. As the centenary of the beginning of WWI draws closer, it’s not surprising that there are stories about war being published for young people. From our vantage point, stories that have long been locked up are finding their way into the public consciousness and providing perspectives that were not always evident in earlier times (for many reasons). These stories help us to understand our past and shape our future. Recommended for upper-primary readers.
Tank Boys, Stephen Dando-Collins Random House Australia 2014 ISBN:9780857981301
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller