If you have teenaged children, and especially a 14-year-old, can you even begin to imagine losing him/her to war? The very thought of such a young life lost and wasted in such a tragic way sends shivers up my spine.
The book, “Soldier Boy”, is an engaging tale told about what we believe to be the youngest known ANZAC. It captures the essence of 14-year-old Jim Martin’s story. This book has sold millions of copies and what’s more, it was written by one of our most treasured, local historical novelists, Anthony Hill. Today is a good day to recall the messages conveyed by this story. Not only is it an interesting exercise to find out more about this young boy’s experience of war, but also to be reminded in these uncertain times, of the tragic cost of war and why we should try to avoid it from ever happening again.
Not only must we do a “soft-shoe shuffle” between remembering (and being eternally grateful for) those who sacrificed their lives for us, so that we may live in such freedom enjoyed by so few in the world today, but at the same time, there exists the precarious line of not only the glorification but also the “glamification” of war, as well as the objectification of those who fought for us.
We can be proud Canberrans to have such a gifted author living and working here among us. By the way, you can meet and talk with Anthony at the Old Bus Depot markets. He sells his books there, and it’s a rare opportunity to get a signed copy and a chat with this seasoned author. Take your teenagers along.
The story of the soldier boy, Jim Martin, took place around the excitement of the war breaking out, which had the people following events unfolding in Europe with patriotic interest. Propaganda was powerful and to the impressionable young boy, it was a call to do his duty and not miss out on the “adventure” of joining the war effort. After he attended (with his dad) a great military parade in Melbourne by 5000 troops, where men from all around the country had signed up, he was overwhelmed with excitement (and he wasn’t alone).
Jim’s excitement that night after the parade, evident around the kitchen table, as the discussions revolved around signing up. Even his father, Charlie, wanted to enlist, but at 43 he was too old, according to his Mum, Amelia. They also had a boarding house to run and a family to feed, and so, the young Martin was keen to go in his dad’s place. His parents initially refused permission for him to go and sign up (understandably), because he was only 14 at the time, but he threatened his mum that if they signed the papers he would keep in touch, but if they refused, he would sign up under another name and they would never see or hear from him again.
His mum was between a rock and a hard place, but she eventually gave in and signed the papers, in which Jim had lied about his age and said he was 18. The adventure began – but Jim was to find a different reception to what he had been expecting once he got there.
So, the tragedy unfolded and I won’t put a spoiler with all the details in here, particularly surrounding his terrible fate, except to say that Amelia and Charlie never did see their son again.
Anthony mentioned his motivation in writing this story in 2001. He had been keen to write something which would touch young people and give them an inkling of the realities of war. He recalled a teenage girl writing to him to say that she had thought that war would be more exciting, and hadn’t realised until she read Jim’s story, just how horrid it could be. That, for Anthony, made it all worthwhile.
He has gone on to write about the animals of war amongst other war stories for the Young Adult market, and nowadays he is writing for adults. Even Soldier Boy is getting a lot of (adult) media attention around the nation. He tells me that sales of this latest edition are in the six figures, according to his latest information.
Yes, on this ANZAC day, of course, we must learn from our past and not forget the tragic loss through war, but we must also remind ourselves that we want to keep our younger generations home for a bright future and not sacrifice them as we have done in the past.
Lest we forget!