It’ll not come as any surprise that I haunted bookshops when I was in Australia. As well as wanting to buy old children’s books from secondhand bookshops, I really wanted to come home with some current Australian writing. It was remarkably difficult to find books that were published in Australia; many of the titles in teenage sections (which was mostly where I was looking) were UK publications – they didn’t even have an Australian price on them.
However, I did manage to find a few. I’m always happy to persevere in the cause of book-buying. One of these was A Rose for the Anzac Boys by Jackie French. To the best of my knowledge I hadn’t read anything by Jackie French before. But this, as its title suggests, is a novel of the First World War. I’ve always been interested in First World War history and I have a collection of children’s and teenage books set against that backdrop. So I was willing to take a chance on this one. And I’m very glad I did.
The main character, Midge, is actually from New Zealand but has been sent to school in England by her older brother and guardian. He is serving with the Anzac forces. And so is Midge’s twin who has lied about his age. Tim is sent to Gallipoli and posted missing there. Midge is sure he is still alive and sets about finding him. This is the catalyst for the story, most of which takes place not in Gallipoli but in France where Midge and some friends go to set up a station canteen for troops.
I don’t think this is the greatest work of literature I’ve ever read but it is engrossing and readable and full of interesting, believable characters. For me, it was even more interesting as I had just visited the Australian National War Memorial before I read the book. Although I know it’s not true, I only ever think about the Anzacs fighting in Gallipoli. Of course, many of them were sent from the Dardanelles to the Western Front, a fact well documented at the War Memorial. It was fascinating to read this fictional account of the Great War from a non-British perspective and I’d recommend it whole-heartedly.