The Anzac Billy

The Anzac Billy
Claire Saxby, Mark Jackson & Heather Potter
Walker Books

I totally fell for the little boy character in The Anzac Billywhen I saw him on the front cover. Based on true events, it’s set during World War 1 in a week when Christmas is approaching and the boy (and his family) are packing carefully chosen items into a billy in the hope it will reach his dad in time for Christmas. From Monday to Friday, one thing per day, the small boy puts in butterscotch (his own favourite), yucky fish (Dad’s favourite), walnuts from their tree, a bar of chocolate, and a pair of ‘just-knit’ socks.

On Saturday it’s Mum’s turn and she adds a razor, safety pins and soap (‘to wash his undies’) and Nan fills the remaining space on Sunday with a couple of handkerchiefs and paper and pencil for writing home.

Now all this so lovingly packed cannot be posted, nor sent by road or rail; it has to be shipped along with boxes of other billies; and naturally the boy is concerned that it might not reach his own dad for as his Mum tells him, ‘there’s a Christmas billy for every warfield soldier, filled by families, filled by friends’.

To make sure though, Billy puts in a note requesting that if another soldier receives his offering, then ‘please send my letter on.’ – this letter that he so carefully penned during that week from which we see how much he misses his Dad.

Claire Saxby’s telling feels authentic and is full of tenderness and poignant moments; all this is echoed in Mark Jackson and Heather Potter’s soft sepia scenes of Australia in a bygone era when light was not electric and life was much harder for everyone.

An ideal book for young readers, and KS1/ lower KS2 pupils studying the period; it would also make an unusual, but highly pertinent, Christmas time story.


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