Sunday 30 October 2022

Ann Scotchmer’s Diary 1918–1919

Ann Scotchmer’s Diary 1918–1919 by Carole Lander (Checkword Publications ( ISBN: 978-0-646-94587-3 (paperback) RRP: $15.00

Ann Scotchmer (eleven years old) writes in her diary about one crucial year of her life – between 1918 and 1919. It starts at the end of World War I and covers the period of the Spanish flu in her hometown of Nowra, New South Wales.

This is a historical fiction based on real people and real events in Nowra when it was a relatively new town but already thriving with three pubs and two schools. Ann descends from two prominent families of the region.

On her father’s side, Grandpa has established J.J. Scotchmer & Son, Tailors, and Fitters where Ann loves folding the cloth and sorting the buttons. On her mother’s side, Grandpa Fitzgerald has built the Imperial Hotel, which is the setting for celebrations – birthdays, Christmas and the annual fair.

‘We’re a privileged family’ her aunt says. And we see this in the way the Scotchmer household runs. But living through a pandemic raises Ann’s awareness of how life can be for the less fortunate.

When the soldiers return from Europe and the town holds parades and parties to celebrate the end of war, Ann believes that life will get better forever. But then the influenza epidemic hits the town. The public school is turned into a temporary hospital and Ann’s Catholic school also closes. She experiences the same boredom and concerns as modern day kids did with Covid-19. But for her, there is no technology to ease the situation and death is much closer because the poor hygiene poses a greater threat than today. 

Yellow flags begin to appear in the windows of sick peoples’ homes and the newspaper provides a daily count of the deaths. Ann comments on it all in her diary. She also confesses her ambition to be an artist and her efforts make for delightful illustrations in the book.

As the eldest of six children, all the others being boys, Ann longs for a sister. And now her mother is pregnant again.

Throughout the story, Ann is unable to forget the cryptic message a fortune-teller gave her at the Nowra fair. Especially when Mother is asked to help a young girl who has just given birth, and the girl’s husband has the influenza.

The climax of the story is what follows on from this visit.

There is sadness in this tale – but it ends positively. Ann learns to be resilient like Grandma Fitzgerald, daughter of a convict-made-good, who turns out to be a great role model for our heroine.

Today’s young readers will be able to connect Ann’s experience of a pandemic with their own contemporary experience. And Ann might even become the artist that she longs to be.

To purchase a copy of this book, visit or one of the local bookstores in the Shoalhaven district of New South Wales.

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