How refreshing to find an author like Claire Saxby who has gained an understanding of the ANZAC legend through her use of primary sources (that is, original soldiers diaries, letters, newspapers and footage from the time) in researching for her book, Meet the ANZACs. Primary sources are of great importance to authors and historians in research and have enabled Saxby to show the true motivations of the Anzac soldiers.

Claire introduces her book by showing original footage (see below) of recruitment film courtesy of the Australian war memorial. Drawings by Norman Lindsay are also featured in the film. It is fascinating to have a look, and gives the flavour and mood of 1914.

Meet the ANZACs opens to a single, clear statement on what ANZAC stands for (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) also stating unequivocally that the ANZAC name is now a symbol of bravery and mateship. Then there is a typical Australian country scene – gum trees and land painted in a way that gives a feeling of heat and vast undeveloped lands typical of the Australia of 1914.  An older man sits reading the paper about when England declared war on Germany, revealing the typical Australian as having some understanding of unfolding events on the world stage.

In easy terms, children are informed that there was no national army in Australia and that instead the government ‘put out a call for volunteers.’ This is a significant fact – the ANZACs were volunteers rather than a national army. The resulting story carefully shows the eagerness of this voluntary army who though it may have ended in tragedy, were prepared to put themselves first in the thick of battle and wanted to help the cause for liberty and freedom. 

The use of easily understandable quotes such as “I’m going to serve my country.” / “I need a job to feed my kids.” aids in children’s understanding of the motivation of the soldiers. The heart and soul of the ANZACs, generous and eager to sign up to defend their democracy, is shown in the crowds and queues illustrated. There is a long wait for action, as when they were training in Egypt. When the call to war finally comes we are told: “They were ready to take on the enemy and made their countries proud.”

The closing page of the story, rather than detail the physicality of the war, leaves space for the imaginative input of the child reader and communicates the complete unpredictability of war with a simple statement: “The war was like nothing they could have imagined.” The accompanying illustration is of soldiers climbing up the steep cliffs whilst the enemy Turkish soldiers awaited them from the top.  There are no attempts at political correctness here by Saxby. She has simply and eloquently achieved her purpose of telling children how the ANZAC Legend began.

Also available by Random House Australia are other titles in the “Meet” series about famous men and women who shaped Australia’s history including Ned Kelly, Saint Mary MacKillop, Captain Cook and Banjo Paterson. 

A former children’s librarian, Jane Fagan is currently a full-time wife and mother of two.