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.


Stubby: A True Story of Friendship

Stubby: A True Story of Friendship
Michael Foreman
Andersen Press

Here’s a book that leaves you with a warm glow tinged with sadness. Published in time for the centenary of the armistice of the First World War, Michael Foreman presents in his own unique style, the true story of Sergeant Stubby, the dog who served in WW1 and became the most decorated dog of the war.

His story is told by Corporal Robert Conroy, an American soldier who adopts Stubby during training in Connecticut, and with a little help of his friends, manages to smuggle the dog aboard the troop ship and all the way to the front line in France.

It’s a tale that brings home to readers the terrible dangers faced by, and amazing bravery of, those who fought in WW1.

Stubby is badly injured

but manages to survive thanks to the care he received alongside the wounded troops and he’s back in action on the day peace is declared.

It’s an enthralling read, with a happy ending. Sadly though, that wasn’t the case for so many of the brave soldiers who lost their lives in that a brutal war. It’s so important that we continue to remember these men, particularly now as there are so few war veterans remaining alive. It’s through such superbly told and illustrated books as this that one hopes we will never forget.

Thanks to Foreman’s wonderful scenes, Stubby and his soldier friends will linger in our minds long after this treasure of a book has been set aside.

Share it widely, pause to remember, and give thanks for the contribution those who served in both World Wars made to our all too fragile peace