A Day to Remember: the Story of ANZAC Day
pbk; RRP $14.99
April 25, 1915 is a date imprinted on the Australian psyche. In fact, some say, that despite the political calendar of January 1, 1901, this was the day that Australia became a nation.
Much has been written for students to help them understand the events and the significance of this day, and in a way, this book honours that because after providing an outline of those events on that Turkish beach, author Jackie French and illustrator Mark Wilson trace the commemoration of that day from its shaky, tentative beginnings of parades in Australia, New Zealand and London in 1916 to the huge crowds that now gather annually to honour those who have served their country in this way. At intervals throughout Australia’s history, French and Wilson pause on April 25 and examine what was happening on that day. We learn about the vast difference between the excitement and anticipation when the troops left in 1914, and their return in 1919; the touching story behind the advent of the Dawn Service and how men only were allowed to attend in case the women’s crying disturbed the silence; the desperation of many veterans left jobless as drought and the Depression hit; and then Australia is plunged into war again.
Throughout the book, tribute is paid to all those in the conflicts that Australians have been involved in as well as their peacekeeping roles. There is the sad reminder that after the Vietnam War which had so divided the nation’s young, so few marched and watched that perhaps “no one would march at all.” But awareness was growing behind the scenes through teachers teaching Australia’s history and the recognition of the sacrifices of Australia’s young people through iconic songs like Eric Bogle’s “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” and Redgum’s “Only 19.” In 1985 the Turkish government officially recognised the name Anzac Cove and in 1990 the first dawn service was held there, attended by those few veterans of the original conflict who were still left to honour.
Being at Anzac Cove for the Dawn Service has become a pilgrimage for many; an item on the bucket list for others. Ceremonies are held wherever Anzacs have served and suffered and wherever their sacrifice can be acknowledged. Who can imagine what the centenary in 2015 will be like?
IMO, this is Jackie French and Mark Wilson at their best. As the granddaughter of a Gallipoli survivor and the daughter of an ordinary New Zealand soldier who spent his war as a POW in Germany after being captured on Crete, the words and illustrations of this beautiful, haunting book touch me in a way I find hard to describe. Jackie grew up, as I did, “with the battered and weary of World War Two around me, men still scarred in body and mind by Japanese prison camps or the Burma railway, women who had survived concentration camps” and “saw boys of my own generation march away as conscripts, while I marched in anti war demonstrations” and yet we know so little about where Australians have served or how often they have.
The story of 100 years of history is a difficult one to tell, and even more so in a picture book, yet it is encapsulated perfectly in this partnership. On the one hand, the text could not live without the pictures and vice versa; yet on the other, both media are so perfect within themselves that they stand alone. Jackie and Mark give their own interpretations in their teachers’ notes I can do no better than that, but if you only have the money for five books this year, this HAS to be one of them.
Lest we forget.
Originally reviewed as a hardback April 16, 2012
Updated February 2023