Category Archives: Anzacs

A warhorse can’t write letters home …

… nor keep a diary. In earlier ‘Light’ series titles, Lighthouse Girl, Light Horse Boy and In the Lamplight, I used point-of-view switches between 1st person and 3rd person to add layers. I couldn’t do this for The Last Light Horse.

Researching and writing about a wartime horse was challenging. I needed to add layers differently. There are excellent historic records for humans that served, but that’s not often the case for animals.

The Last Light Horse is divided into four parts, linked to four of the significant men in Sandy’s life. The first is Francis O’Donnell. His family owned the brick kiln in old Tallangatta where Sandy hauled bricks. Francis was keen to serve, however as a Catholic, he was encouraged not to support an ‘English’ war. Instead, Francis donated his best horse. You can read more about Francis here.

The next important figure in Sandy’s life was Major General Bridges. His dying wish was that Sandy be brought home to Australia. The page below shows details of his funeral. In the left-hand image, boots are turned backward to denote a fallen soldier.

After the death of Major General Bridges, Captain Leslie Whitfield, a veterinarian, cared for Sandy In Egypt. When Whitfield was transferred to France, Sandy went too. The veterinarians rode horses to the edge of battle to treat wounded animals. A steady horse like Sandy was invaluable.

Archibald Jordon met Sandy at the Calias Veterinary Hospital. Archie became Sandy’s groom and was the soldier chosen to accompany the old horse home. Their ship docked in Melbourne soon after the 1918 Armistice was signed.

Sandy had been away for over four years. He spent his remaining days at Maribyrnong until, aged 23, and almost blind, he was euthanised. Archie died a few months later.

Each year on Remembrance Day, as well as wearing a red poppy to remember the people who served, I wear a purple poppy to remember the animals that have gone to war. There are other warhorse-related blog posts on this site, focusing on different titles in the ‘Light’ series. To read more, use the search function. Lest we Forget.

The Only One to Come Home

Around 136,000 horses were sent from Australia to the First World War. Just one came home; Sandy, the favourite horse of Major General Bridges.

Sandy was raised in the high country of Victoria. He carted bricks in Tallangatta until the O’Donnell family donated him to the war effort.

The strong Waler soon became the favourite of Major General Bridges. They travelled from Melbourne together on the Orvieto flagship, joining other ships of the 1st AIF convoy in Albany.

From Albany, the convoy of Australian and New Zealand ships travelled to Egypt where the men trained near the pyramids. Then in April, they sailed to the Gallipoli peninsula. It was too steep to land Sandy and the other horses.

A few weeks after the landing, Major General Bridges was shot by a sniper. Legend has it that the Major General’s dying wish was for Sandy to return to Australia. Those wishes were honoured in 1919.

The Last Light Horse explores Sandy’s journey from Tallangatta, through the war years until his death in Maribyrnong in 2023, via text, archival images, and evocative charcoal sketches by Brian Simmonds. This week, in the lead-up to Remembrance Day, I will be posting images on Instagram to honour the men, women, and animals who sacrificed so much during wartime. Lest we Forget.

Photographs in the Mud

It’s 80 years since the horrific WWII battles along Papua New Guinea’s Kokoda Track. In 2002 I hiked the track to research a YA novel (yet to be published). An unexpected outcome of the trip was the publication of my first picture book, Photographs in the Mud. It’s 17 years since Fremantle Press published this story, told from both Australian and Japanese perspectives. It has also been published in Japanese.

In the latest edition of ‘The Open Book,’ you can read more about this book’s journey. I’m grateful to Fremantle Press for keeping this title in print for 17 years!

More details here and via other blogposts on my website.

First Review of ‘The Last Light Horse’

The first review of my new book has arrived, and it’s a beauty!

In addition to the review, I’ve just heard that Better Readings has nominated The Last Light Horse as its Kid’s Book of the Week. What an honour 🙂

Here are some of their reviewers’ comments:

Dianne Wolfer’s Light series is a standout historical book series for kids … The Last Light Horse is a fantastic conclusion to the series and a heartfelt look at an unsung hero … With an educational focus and breathtaking illustrations, this is one inspiring story of courage and sacrifice, perfect for fans of Stephen Spielberg’s War Horse.

Thank you Better Readings. Here is a link to the full review plus a pre-ordering link. The Last Light Horse will be released April 1st 2022. In the meantime, you can find out more about this special horse on my website, under The Real Sandy tab.

Light Horse Boy serialisation

How lovely to see Light Horse Boy back in The West Australian newspaper’s ED! lift out.

For those who’ve been following the WWI story, it’s now Week Seven and Jim has been evacuated from battle with terrible wounds. Back in Melbourne, his sister, Alice, and Jim’s mate, Chook are desperate to hear news of him. Meanwhile, Jim’s unable to write and is haunted by scenes of battle, and the last glimpse of his beloved horse, Break

Light Horse Boy was published in 2013 by Fremantle Press. It won the 2014 WA Premier’s Award was a CBCA Honour Book. It’s the second title in my ‘Light series’. I didn’t know then that it was going to be a part of a series. In the Lamplight followed in 2018, exploring the story from nurse Rose’s perspective, linking to the Suffragette Movement and life in Harefield, UK during WWI. And in a fortnight The Last Light Horse will be published sharing the story of Sandy, the only horse of 136,000 Australian Walers to return. More about that title soon. In the meantime, I’ve loved reading Letters to the Editor and hearing from young readers and their teachers who are enjoying the serialisation.

Shining Light

Today we farewell Don Watson, the son of Lighthouse Girl, Fay.

Don will be sadly missed. He and his family have been part of my ‘Light series’ writing journey from the beginning and we have shared many wonderful moments since.

In 2005, after reading a newspaper article written by Ron Crittall about WWI troops gathering in Albany in 1914, I became curious about Fay Howe, the Breaksea Island lighthouse keeper’s daughter. A paragraph in the article mentioned Fay relaying final messages for the soldiers, then later receiving postcards from them thanking her. They were addressed to, ‘The little girl on Breaksea Island’.

I wanted to find out more. The article mentioned ‘Perth man, Don Watson’ so I began searching phone listings. After several wary replies to my question, ‘Are you related to a Breaksea Island lighthouse keeper?’, eventually I found the right D. Watson. Don and his lovely wife, Peg, invited me to lunch and so began our friendship and shared Lighthouse Girl journey.

Although the WWI postcards have been lost to history, Fay’s son, Don, remembered reading those beautiful embroidered postcards as a child and was able to tell me about the messages. Since then we have seen Fay become a giant.

And her story has also been adapted for stage, commemorated in song, gifted to a Prime Minister, inspired a TV documentary and two US podcasts, as well as countless library displays, school shows and Book Week costumes.

Research for Lighthouse Girl then led to linked titles; Light Horse Boy, In the Lamplight and soon to be published (March 2022) The Last Light Horse. More information about Fay and these events can be found in previous blog posts: Fay’s Life, Book to Play, Giants, More Giants, even more Giants and the very last Giants.

Fay’s son was a generous, family-oriented man who volunteered with many organisations. Knowing Don and his extended family has been a great honour. May he now rest in peace with Fay and all those long ago soldiers.

Feb 24th: Wearing Purple Poppies for War Animals

Have you noticed people wearing purple poppies on February 24th or purple poppies beside their traditional red ones on Remembrance Day?

IMG_2338
prelim. sketch for ‘Light Horse Boy’ by Brian Simmonds

Purple poppies commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of animals during wartime, and funds raised by sales of the pins helps The Australian War Animal memorial Organisation (AWAMO) establish memorials, train PTSD support dogs and care for retired animals that have served their country.

Thousands of horses, dogs and pigeons have accompanied Australian servicemen and women into battle while animal mascots including wallabies, cockatoos, cats and dogs have brought comfort to troops far from home.

Books honouring these animals include Anthony Hill’s Animal Heroes and Maria Gill ‘s ANZAC Animals,  exploring the backstory of Australian and New Zealand war animals. Mark Wilson has created several picture books about war animals, including pigeon story, Flapper, VC. My book Light Horse Boy and Greenwood/Lessac’s Midnight, both follow WWI horses into battle. Meanwhile, Torty and the Soldier by Jennifer Beck and Fifi Colston celebrates a tortoise that went to war. A  few other titles for teens and adults includes Horrie the War Dog , Bill the Bastard and Prince of Afghanistan. These are just a few titles, there are many more.

Here is a list of 58 Remembrance Day and Anzac Day picture books, and chapter books, many of which focus on wartime animals.

Lets not forget these brave heroes.

Lock-down Activities

Dear Lockdowners, many authors have free activities, book-trailers, and fun information on their websites, along with teaching notes and downloadables. Earlier this year the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators WA (SCBWI) compiled a resources page that will keep you busy for hours.

Author, Nadia King‘s lovely Pippa likes to dress up as the flying doctor.

There are activity links on my website for all ages; turn a button on a page into a monster, or rocket or eye of a shark. Draw patterns on snail shells, or make snail cutouts into pop stick puppets. Find out about WW1 nurses and Spanish Influenza, or wartime animal mascots, here or at the Australian War Memorial. Write a postcard home from the war or listen to two podcasts about lighthouse girl, Fay’s life. Check out the great links on this Aussie STEM Stars site. Dress up your dog with seven different names, and send me a photo 😉 Explore anthropomorphism on my Animals Who Talk website or draw someone with a marsupial in their bra!

And there’s more … Earlier this year, the team from CBCA WA created library holiday presentations, and for a limited time, they will all be online. There are eight sessions by WA creatives for different age groups. Here’s mine and here are the short introductions to all eight. I hope you enjoy them and fingers crossed for a short lockdown…

‘Lighthouse Girl’ is featured in a Two-part Podcast

Lighthouse Girl continues her journey into other formats. This time Fay’s story is celebrated in a two-part podcast on Light Hearted, the podcast channel of the United States Lighthouse Society. It was an honour chatting with host Jeremy D’Entremont and lovely that the second podcast features Don Watson, the son of Fay, and his family.

This interview has led me to network with worldwide groups of lighthouse aficionados, all passionate about preserving lighthouse histories and also passionate about sharing fascinating stories about individual keepers. The lights shine on.

Remembering

This Remembrance Day I’m especially remembering the nurses.

Who would’ve thought four years ago when I was researching the WWI Spanish Influenza pandemic for In the Lamplight that we’d be in the situation we’re now in?

In 1918-1919, nurses risked their lives to care for vulnerable patients. Their dedication was a major inspiration for my writing process. I tried to imagine their stoicism and fear. It’s estimated that a third of the world’s population became infected by the Spanish Flu and that over 50 million people died.

Today, around the world, medical staff are again risking their lives, this time to save people suffering from Covid-19. At the time of writing, over 1 million people have died from coronavirus with more than 50 million people infected.

Images from WWI hospitals helped bring my fictitious characters to life. I wonder what future creative responses will be inspired by the current images of healthcare workers in P2 masks, gloves and body gowns.

Lest we forget; not only the brave nurses of the past, but also the selfless dedication of our current medical heroes.

International Literacy Day

Who remembers a favourite teacher or librarian?

Often we don’t realise how important an educator has been in our life until years later. Today is International Literacy Day and I’d like to give a special shout-out to Colleen and her fabulous library team at Bunbury Catholic College. Not only do they create amazing displays that inspire young readers and make visiting authors feel like celebrities… they also support less fortunate students. BCC staff and students recently raised $450 to support Room to Read, an organisation that helps support worldwide reading and literacy. Congratulation Bunbury Catholic College for modeling kindness during this challenging time.

 

 

 

VP Day and Photographs in the Mud

Today is Victory in the Pacific Day, commemorating the end of WWII 75 years ago.

My first picture book, Photographs in the Mud is set in PNG in 1942. It was inspired by an old tree stump and a true story I heard whilst hiking the Kokoda Track in 2002. Photographs in the Mud follows two fictitious soldiers into battle; one Australian and one Japanese. Jack and Hoshi meet in battle on Mission Ridge, the site of ferocious WWII combat. The men slide down the mountain away from the fighting, lying together in a ditch. Away from the horror, they share a moment of common humanity.

In real life, the surviving soldier never forgets the eyes of the other man, and today on VP Day, I’m remembering these two men from opposing armies who found a moment of peace in a jungle far from home.

Photographs in the Mud was inspired by this true story. It was published in 2005 and has been in print continuously for the past 15 years. After Lighthouse Girl, it’s the most ‘clicked on’ title on my website and I’m delighted to still find Photographs in the Mud in school libraries across Australia. This little picture book was shortlisted for several awards and published in Japanese as, “Nimai No Shashin” (Two Photographs). Photographs in the Mud was also used as an international peace reference and became the subject of a paper published by Professor Jim Martin (Sydney Uni) focusing on ‘Genre, ideology and intertextuality’. In 2009, Kokichi Nishimura‘s full life story, The Bone Man of Kokoda was published by Charles Happell.

After all the hard work that goes into the creation of a book, it’s wonderful for an author (and illustrator, Brian Harrison-Lever) when a title stays in print for so long. Thank you Fremantle Press for keeping this story of hope and common humanity alive.

More photographs of my ten-day Kokoda trek and teaching notes can be found here. Lest we Forget.

Historical Fiction

Who doesn’t love learning about the past through a great story?

Historical Fiction is one of my favourite genres, so it was a pleasure to chat with award-winning Elaine Forrestal and learn about her latest book as part of the  Fremantle Press podcast series.  You can hear the show here (the audio levels improve as it goes).

Elaine’s Goldfields Girl explores the amazing and true story of Clara Saunders, one of two women on the Coolgardie Goldfields during the 1890s. There are many parallels between Clara and Fay Catherine Howe, the Breaksea Island lighthouse keeper’s daughter who signaled to departing soldiers in 1914. Both were strong, resilient young women who faced daily challenges simply to find food and fresh water to drink. Fictitious Rose (In the Lamplight) was also a brave teenager, having to overcome her shyness to develop nursing skills and help wounded Australians in her English village.

Elaine and I are similar in our approach to writing; we’re attracted to the same kind of characters and both love weaving historical mini-stories into our fiction. Things like Paddy Hannan‘s gold nugget gift to Clara, Jimmy the Wallaby and the Harefield Flag. In this podcast we talk about different ways we research, from scanning microfiche, travelling to remote settings, finding lost diaries and sleuthing animal mascots to visions of Elaine haunting the Battye Library We also share writing tips for other writers who are passionate about historical fiction.

Thank you to Fremantle Press and the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund for creating this wonderful podcast series. Follow the link for more conversations.

We hope you enjoy our conversation with talented poet and writer, Rebecca Higgie.

Anzac Stories

A post featuring Light Horse Boy and three other horse-themed Anzac titles can be found on my website Animals who Talk. I hope you enjoy it.

Teaching notes and links for my WWI ‘Light’ series can be found here.

 

 

 

Librarian Superheroes

Librarians are superheroes. All year they inspire a love of reading and research by making their libraries dynamic and exciting places to visit. Then in Children’s Bookweek they shift into Overdrive. My visit to Bunbury Catholic College today took things a step further …

with Colleen Edwards

The students have been studying Lighthouse Girl as well as partner titles, Light Horse Boy and In the Lamplight. So library staff, Colleen Edwards, Sharon Castelli and Sue Connelly made a lighthouse, as you do 🙂 As well as three book-themed story nooks, one for each ‘light’ title. Visiting the BCC library  was like stepping into a professionally curated WWI museum with my books as the focus. It was fabulous. I felt so honoured.

Colleen, Sharon, Sue and other BCC teachers have helped students weave English and History studies, creating beautiful displays as well as carefully researched journals and poster. I loved the way they used books as a springboard to deeper research on topics such as the Purple Poppy and wartime sport.

There was an In the Lamplight nook, a Lighthouse Girl nook and a Light Horse Boy nook.

The students were inspired by the ‘above and beyond’ staff creativity. They had great questions, were curious about all kinds of issues associated with WWI and had a deep understanding of wartime Australia and beyond. When I thought things could not possible get better the sessions ended with two students presenting me with a lighthouse, the prototype of the larger one. There are chocolates hidden inside and it even flashes!

Thank you Bunbury Catholic College for an epic day. xx

with Pippa and Natalia

Researching WW1 Veterans

Last year the Year 5 and 6 students and teachers at Corryong College spent months researching and gathering information about 57 Light Horse men from their town and the surrounding district. The result is a professionally bound and just released book, Light Horseman of the Upper Murray.

lhmen

The book is a valuable reference and I was honoured to learn that this project was inspired by a class reading of Light Horse Boy.

Researching family histories and community members who served in wartime is a great way to foster students’ interest in history. Teachers Stephen Learmonth and Georgia Dally invited their local RSL and historical society to be involved and also enlisted the support of Dr Honor Auchinleck (granddaughter of General Sir Harry) Chauvel). During a visit to Corryong I was impressed by the knowledge and research skills of these young students and you can read more about this visit here.

I wonder whether any other schools have created similar collections? If anyone knows of one I’d love to hear about it …

Wearing Purple Poppies for War Animals on Feb 24th

Have you noticed people wearing purple poppies on February 24th or purple poppies beside the traditional red ones on Anzac Day?

IMG_2338

prelim. sketch for ‘Light Horse Boy’ by Brian Simmonds

Purple poppies commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of animals during wartime, and funds raised by sales of the pins helps The Australian War Animal memorial Organisation (AWAMO) establish memorials, train PTSD support dogs and care for retired animals that have served their country.

Thousands of horses, dogs and pigeons have accompanied Australian servicemen and women into battle while animal mascots including wallabies, cockatoos, cats and dogs have brought comfort to troops far from home.

Books honouring some of these animals include Anthony Hill’s comprehensive Animal Heroes and Maria Gill ‘s ANZAC Animals,  exploring the backstory of Australian and New Zealand war animals. Mark Wilson has created three picture books about war animals, including pigeon story, Flapper, VC.  Meanwhile, Torty and the Soldier by Jennifer Beck and Fifi Colston celebrates a tortoise that went to war. A  few other titles for teens and adults includes Horrie the War Dog , Bill the Bastard and Prince of Afghanistan. These are just a few titles, there are many more.

Lest we Forget these brave animals.

‘In the Lamplight’ ED! serialisation

I love creative interpretations of my stories, from those first collaborative peeks at an illustrator’s artwork, all the way through to stage and street theatre adaptations.

My ‘Light’ series has inspired all kinds of reworking. Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy were inspiration for a Black Swan Theatre stage adaptation in Perth/Albany which then toured regional WA. Lighthouse Girl also inspired the Little Girl Giant’s story in the PIAF street theatre, The Giants (type Giants into my blog search for photos), the song, Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter by Caddy Cooper, another song, Message of Hope performed at the WA Massed Choir Festival, and many less formal school productions.

One of my favourite collaborative adaptations began today with the first instalment of an abridged version of In the Lamplight in the West Australian’s ED! supplement.

The ED! supplement is a fabulous supporter of WA authors and illustrators. Both Lighthouse Girl and Light Horse Boy have been serialised and I loved seeing students poring over class newspaper sets, reading about Fay, Charlie, Jim and other characters.

Once again the ED! designers have created a beautiful two-page spread and today I was excited to read that next week will feature details of the suffragette movement as a tie-in. I hope readers across WA will enjoy the serialisation as much as me.

 

The Spirit of Silver Brumby Lives on

Before meeting Dr Honor Auchinleck in Corryong last November, I wondered what it would be like to be the daughter of one of Australia’s most beloved children’s authors, Elyne Mitchell and the granddaughter of General Sir Harry Chauvel (WWI Commander of the Desert Mounted Corps). Daunting?

Perhaps, but as you can see from the photos (my mother Audrey Davidson is the middle person), Honor is down to earth and fun. She’s also passionate about promoting the Elyne Mitchell Writing Awards. These awards encourage writers to explore different aspects of regional life in Australia (with urban dwellers also encouraged to share their dreams of rural life). There is also a photo-story category.

In October I will have the great honour of speaking at the awards ceremony in beautiful Mitta Mitta, Victoria. The awards are now open for submission. Entries can be sent from now until August. Good luck!