Anzac Boys by Tony Bradman
Barrington Stoke, 2015. ISBN 9781781124345
It is 1906 and following the death of their mother, 12-year-old Bert finds himself in a Catholic orphanage in London with his younger brother Frank. Life is tough, hard and cruel with the boys living in fear of both the bullies and the priests. One day, not long after they arrived, they are summoned to Father Murphy's office - a place where a visit never ends well. As they go in great trepidation, Bert tells Frank that no matter what he will take care of him - words that come to haunt him for a very long time.
However, instead of being in trouble the boys are informed that they are being shipped to Australia as part of a scheme where British orphanages provided boys to work on the farms of Western Australia. The voyage to this new land is pretty much without incident and lifelong friends are made, but, to their dismay, on their arrival the boys are separated. Bert eventually discovers that Frank has been sent to New Zealand but because "a clean break' is seen as the best way to cope with the separation he is not allowed to know where Frank is and cannot contact him. Throughout the harsh years that follow, he tries to find him but is thwarted at every turn. When he turns 16 Bert receives a letter summarily dismissing him from the care of the orphanage and is completely left to his own devices, unwanted as the farm labourer he has been because there are plenty more free boys where he came from.
Still determined to find Frank, he heads for Perth and is soon swept up in the recruitment of men for the war. Meeting up with other mates also dismissed from the orphanage, this big new adventure beckons and before long Bert is on his way to Egypt where he meets a New Zealand soldier - one who wants nothing to do with him until they confront something bigger than both of them.
Bradman has taken his inspiration for this story from the words of the classic, haunting song And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda by Eric Bogle bringing it to life in a very different way. It is written in such a way that the reader gains a real insight into what life was like for many young lads at the time and why going to war was such an enticing alternative but which became a horrible reality. Throughout there is a sense of hope that the brothers will meet again and reconcile but within it there is a strong tale of growing up, maturing and learning who you are. And being able to act on that when push comes to shove and your brother's life is on the line.
Specifically written and produced to fit within the publisher's parameters of 'dyslexic friendly', it will appeal to a wide audience and is a most worthy addition to any collection focusing on the 100th anniversary of this important event in Australia's history.