Letters to My Father by Ann Budden (Pacific Books) PB ISBN 0 780987066039
Reviewed by Dianne Bates
At only 39 pages, this is a short book, but it covers a lot of terrain. Illustrated with archival black and white photos, the story is presented from two points of view. One are letters written by a girl, Ruth, to her father who she believes is overseas fighting in the way; the other are diary entries by said father who is imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp. At no time does father or daughter make contact. Thus the reader learns how Australian civilians and combatants fared during World War 11.
Ruth lives on a farm with her mother and two sisters, Beatrice and Edith, where they work hard, milking a hundred cows a day and tending to their vegetable plot. They are better off than most during the war as they supply their own food. But life is not easy, especially when Ruth’s grandfather dies. Ruth tells in her letters to her father of her fears, such as the Japanese bombing Darwin, and of local friends whose sons and fathers are in the war. She also recounts incidents in her life, like having to drink castor oil each week and practicing air-raid procedure. Her father, on the other hand, writes in his (undated) diary about the terrible conditions in his prisoner-of-war camp – the cruelty of the guards, the unrelenting hard work, the lack of food. Both writers give a clear and detailed account of life during war-time. It is not clear if Ruth’s letters ever reach her father; one assumes not.
The book, which would be invaluable for a child studying World War 11, also provides factual information. There is, for instance, a glossary of almost 30 words which include, for instance, explanations of coupons, the Geneva Convention and the land army. As well, the author provides information (from the Australian War Memorial Encyclopedia) about the system of rationing – how many rations were given, for instance, for clothing, tea and meat. A bibliography is provided as well as background information with statistic, for example, of POWs and numbers of soldiers captured. There are also four recipes for war-time food.
Finally, in the acknowledgements’ section, the author thanks a former Changi POW, Cyril Gilbert OAM, National President and Secretary of the ex-POW Association of Australia, on whose experiences the father’s letters in the book are based. Edith, Beatrice and Ruth are real people – sisters who did grow up on a farm in Ipswich.
Despite its size, this is a comprehensive and fascinating book which is sure to be enjoyed by any reader aged from 10 and up.