The Tale of the Anzac Tortoise
Tortoise Shell Press, 2015
36pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99
Matthew and Marama loved playing soldiers in the backyard of the big, old house they had just moved into. Using water pistols and plums as weapons, there were plenty of bushes and shrubs to hide in or seek shelter. But most of all, Marama liked to attend to any wounds using the medical set she had been given for Christmas. It even had fake blood!
One day their games lead them to a hole in the hedge and when they crawled through it, they found themselves in a neat, manicured garden that had lawn as soft as carpet. And in the middle of the lawn, a strange creature was munching on dandelions. But rather than being the baby dinosaur they thought it was, it turned out to be Kemal an ancient tortoise with an amazing story – a story the children find themselves in when they touch the tortoise and find themselves transported back to the battlefields of World War I.
The centennial commemorations of World War I have inspired many to delve into their family histories to explore what part their relatives played in it, and from this many unique and unusual stories have emerged. The Tale of the Anzac Tortoise is one such story. It is based on the true story of Peter discovered in the trenches of the Western Front by a wounded soldier who popped him in his pocket for safe keeping. After being evacuated to the Middle East for treatment, Pete was given to Nora, a New Zealand nurse stationed there, and she, in turn, took him back to New Zealand where he lived as a family pet until his death in 1994.
Told by Nora’s great-great niece and illustrated by a former former NZ Defence Force artist, this is yet another previously unknown but utterly intriguing story to emerge from World War I that helps to put a human face to the tragedies of so long ago that are so important to our nations’ histories but hard for little people to comprehend. The final pages in the book tell a little of the story behind the story but since the book was written it has become more widely known and there is much online that the curious can explore.
If for no other reason than it helps to illuminate to Australian children who put the NZ in ANZAC, this book deserves a place in your Anzac Day collection.