1915 by Sally Murphy
Scholastic, 2015. ISBN 9781743622483
(Age: 11+) Highly recommended. War, World War One, Gallipoli, CEW Bean, Series: Australia's Great War. The second in the series, Australia's Great War presents the reader with Stan, a young teacher from rural Western Australia at Gallipoli in 1915. His battalion lands on that shore ready to take the fortifications and march to Constantinople, but the Turkish Army lies in wait. Through his eyes, and those of his sister who writes to him, his diary entries, poems and his letters back home, we see the gravity of the situation they find themselves in. Each of his friends is drawn carefully ensuring the readers bond with the people involved and care about their stories. CJ, Bluey, Miles, then Art and Molly, all contribute to the tale of the months spent at Gallipoli, and will increase the readers' knowledge about that place.
Murphy's detailed background, the trenches, the Turkish army, Simpson and his donkey, the wounded and the dead, even Keith Murdoch, gives an authenticity to the tale which will encourage students to continue reading.
Through his sister's letters, we are shown life back in Australia, as a neighbour's son is taken to Rottnest Island to be interred because he has a German name, or some of the boys in the town, even sixteen year olds receiving white feathers, or the knitting circles, as well as the constant discussion surrounding the casualty lists in the newspapers. At first these lists are small, but as the campaign continues they become longer to the dismay of those back home and the realisation both to Stan and his sister of the misinformation given.
Stan is hit by shrapnel and does nothing about it because so many others have wounds that are more significant, but in doing this he becomes quite ill. His friend, CJ takes him to the beach for help, but shrapnel hits them both, killing CJ. In hospital in Cairo he meets nurse Molly, and so another part of the story develops.
The novel covers some familiar territory but in having Stan as the narrator, Murphy has introduced a character with whom students can engage. He is innocent enough to have discussions which will interest those who read this book, and his observations will make them think about the priorities of war. Several incidents stand out for me. One is when Miles is killed, trying to help a wounded Turkish soldier, and the other when a truce is declared to bury the dead. Both make the readers aware of the conflicted nature of being in war, and the random encounters with CEW Bean are a neat touch, grounding the story in the reality of a journalist's observations, one whom students can research further. And Bean's observations, given from a wider perspective than Stan's, make Stan rethink some of the things he holds dear.
This is an eminently readable contribution to the array of books being published at the moment to acquaint our younger readers with Australia's involvement in World War One, and it has an underlying theme of the nature of war and its effects on everyone that will encourage students to reflect further.