Review Blog

Mar 13 2020

Anzac girl: the war diaries of Alice Ross-King by Kate Simpson and Jess Racklyeft

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2020. ISBN: 9781760637019. 32pp.
(Age: All) Highly recommended. Interspersed with telling and informative illustrations the diary entries of Alice Ross-King give a gruelling account of what she saw and suffered during World War One in France. Leaving from Melbourne in 1914, the young patriotic Alice was first stationed in a hospital in Cairo where she attended the many wounded and dying from Gallipoli. She was shocked, as were all the staff at the numbers and severity of their wounds. She was transferred along with the hospital to France early in 1916. Here many thousands of Australian troops were wounded at the Battle of Fromelles, her fiancee Harry one of the dead. She found it hard to carry on with this overwhelming news, but did so, eventually being transferred to a clearing station near the front. Here she spent a frightful night sheltering in a bomb crater after checking that her patients were all okay.
At Rouen many were convinced that the Germans were breaking through, and Alice's diary reflects her sombre thoughts and saddened state. But suddenly Armistice was signed: everyone was able to go home over the next few months.
This involving story, revealing the depths of despair and jubilation that Alice felt as she plied her trade amongst the worst battlefields of Europe will be easily read by the youngest of readers as well as bringing understanding about war and its brutality to older readers. The pages bristle with history, from the postcards and drawings of the men and the battles they fought, to the photographs and maps, letters and newspaper accounts. Between these illustrations are excerpts form Alice's dairies, bold, clear and unflinching. They allow us to view her life, one lived in the most straightened of circumstances beyond our experience but her words give us a glimpse of the world at the time and the sacrifices people made, many without question.
The almost naive illustrations by Rackyleft are amazing: unsentimental, unambiguous and revelatory. They enhance the text as it shuffles between the author's writing and the diaries of her great grandmother, the use of sombre colours making a clear statement about the situation Alice and her peers are in. Themes: Australian history, World War One, Nursing, Fromelles.
Fran Knight

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