It’s almost Anzac Day, a time to remember our veterans and to act in ways that foster peace. On April 25th, I like to read stories about the animals that served during wartime, and the mascots that lifted the spirits of our soldiers and nurses. Thousands of Australian animals went to World War One. There were dogs, cats, cockatoos, a kookaburra, kangaroos, wallabies, a rooster called Jackie, and even a koala whose name was Teddy. Dozens of wonderful books have been written about them.
One of the most interesting WW2 characters is Horrie, a terrier whose story inspired books by Ion Idriess and Roland Perry. Did this little dog make it home to Australia, what do you think? Other animal mascots, like Jimmy the Harefield wallaby, have appeared in my books Light Horse Boy and In the Lamplight. I’m currently working on a fourth book in the ‘Light’ series focusing on a WWI animal character, more on that in a later post.
Working animals that went to war included carrier pigeons, horses, and donkeys like Simpson’s famous Duffy. Of the 136,000 horses that left Australia, only Sandy, the favourite horse of Major General Sir William Bridges came home. You can read more about Sandy’s story in Light Horse Boy. War can be a challenging theme for young readers. During the 100 year commemorations of WWI, several books with horse characters were published. Morris Gleitzman, Pamela Rushby, Mark Greenwood, myself and illustrator, Frane’ Lessac have all used horse characters to create bridges to the past for children. These familiar animals help soften confronting historical moments for young readers. Some of these horses, like Sandy and Midnight, are based on real animals, others are fictitious.
The bond between the Light Horsemen and their horses was powerful. For some soldiers, the thought of leaving a horse in Egypt was unbearable. Rather than risk them being mistreated, they rode their horse a short way from camp, tied a blindfold around its eyes, and shot it. What a terrible choice to make.
The power of wartime animal stories never fails to inspire me. Perhaps it’s their unquestioning love and loyalty, or perhaps their innocence; those animals never chose to go to war. Either way, I hope you will enjoy reading about some of these animal characters this Anzac Day. Here are a few links to other children’s Anzac books, some with animal characters and some with humans: Mum’s Grapevine, Children’s Books Daily, Readings.