Monday, 16 May 2016

Anzac Heroes Maria Gill Marco Ivancic

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Anzac Heroes            (2016)
30 Courageous Anzacs from WWI and WWII
Maria Gill; ill. Marco Ivancic           
Hardback, NZ$30
ISBN 978 1 77543 363 7

In an interesting example of trans-Tasman cooperation, Maria Gill has written brief biographies of thirty inspiring military figures from Australia and New Zealand history. The period chosen includes both world wars, so Gill was able to select a lively and interesting mix of the famous and less well known. From New Zealand, we have the likes of Bernard Freyberg, Nancy Wake, Richard ‘Dick’ Travis and Keith Park, while the Australians include Reginald Saunders, Albert Jacka, Olive King and Albert Knight.

While some of the thirty have world reputations, Gill has made sure that some of the less famous are represented, such as Dr Jessie Scott and Matron Evelyn Brooke. While the emphasis is on achievement, there is no attempt to gloss over the cost of warfare. Hugo Throssell, who won a VC at Gallipoli, suffered from nervous strain. In debt during the Depression of the 1930s, “he made the harrowing decision to end his life, thinking his family would be better off without him. He wasn’t the only returned soldier who would do so.”

 Each of the thirty heroes gets a double-page spread, which packs in an amazing amount of information. As well as the short biography and account of the subject’s military career, there is also a range of illustrations, an individual timeline, images of their decorations, and Flash Fact-boxes describing particular exploits in detail. (Aussie flyer Frank McNamara, for example, won the V.C. for landing and rescuing a downed pilot from Ottoman cavalry, a feat that reads like an Indiana Jones adventure) Some of the details are simply breath-taking. Leon Goldsworthy, having been rejected for the navy because of hammer toes, had his little toes amputated.  He passed next time, and went on to become the Australian Navy’s most decorated officer.

 Marco Ivancic has provided colour portraits of each subject and, thanks to the co-operation of WWII Re-enactment Group, he has managed to show them in the correct uniform and using appropriate equipment. This is a major improvement on the usual method of colouring up old photos. (Only a pedant would point out that the Bren Gun on the cover has its drum-sight on the wrong side.)  Anzac Heroes has many extra features that add to its value in the classroom and library. There are timelines for World War I and World War II, while coloured maps show the main theatres of operations in both world wars. As well as the usual Glossary and Index, there is also a set of coloured pictures of all the medals awarded to the thirty. Special sections describe and compare the Australian and New Zealand military organisation over the years, along with a rundown of military ranks. There is even a double page spread, “The Medics,” describing the work of the stretcher-bearers, surgeons, drivers and nurses.

Anzac Heroes is a well-researched and inspiring record of the achievements of our two nations in two world wars. The quality of its writing, the high standard of its illustrations, as well as its handsome presentation and solid cover, ensure that this book will have a long and useful life in homes and libraries.

Trevor Agnew
17 May 2016

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