Wednesday 18 February 2015

My Gallipoli

My Gallipoli by Ruth Starke and Robert Hannaford (Working Title Press)
HB RRP $29.99
Reviewed by Dianne Bates

This is a timely picture book for older readers with the centenary of the Anzac landing at Gallipoli Peninsula this April. The first page after the title page shows a map to indicate where Anzac Cove is located, with a magnified section that takes in places such as No Man’s Land, Lone Pine and Wire Gully. The narrative comes from the viewpoints of men (and women) involved in the battle.

To start the story, shepherd, Adil Sakin, whose village is north-east of Anzac Cove, speaks from Anzac Cove in November 1914 where he says army men came to his village speaking about the Great War. Adil announces his intention of fighting for the peninsular which has belonged to his family for hundreds of years. Then the story moves to 25 April 1915 where Midshipman Peter Burch RN is waiting in a boat to be landed on Anzac Cove. Burch tells how shooting started even before soldiers reached shore and how many died.

As the story progresses, other characters embroiled in the battle speak of their personal involvement. There’s a private from the Turkish army, a nursing sister on a hospital ship, a Ghurkha from Nepal (fighting in the British Army), an Australia chaplain, a New Zealand Private, and so on. One of the best-known narrators is Australia’s official war correspondent, C.E.W. Bean. Everyone who speaks, tells of the war from his or her perspective. The narrators speak from places such as Suvla Bay, Cape Helles and No Man’s Land. Each entry is prefaced by the place and the date. Towards the end of the battle we see a crippled soldier in Melbourne, a lieutenant charged with identifying and reburying remains of Allied soldiers, several cemetery scenes and Australia’s war artist, George Lambert, at work in Anzac Cove. There is no sense of victory, as there never ought to be with any war.

Without doubt a great deal of commendable research has gone into covering all of the various aspects of the battle which is unveiled with each narrator. There are also three end pages of notes with commentaries and illustrations of those real-life characters that appear in the story, and of geographical landmarks, etc. In addition, there is a bibliography, which includes another Working Title Press title by author Ruth Starke (An Anzac Tale, 2013).

The illustrations use charcoal sketches and watercolour depicting those aspects which are highlighted in the narrative, such as a nurse tending a soldier by lamp-light, men digging graves, soldiers exhausted in the trenches, men on furlong. It’s a real-life, comprehensive view of those hard, bloody days.

What I most like about this book is its interesting and well-written multi-narrative viewpoints; this is not just about Australia’s role in the battle, but an overall view. What I didn’t particularly like in this otherwise handsome production was the smallish typeface. For sure there is a lot of text employed, but for some readers aged 9 to 12 years, the font size might be too small. 

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