Published: 1st March 2015
Publisher: New Frontier Publishing
Format: Hardback (Purchased)
To James, Alec Campbell was a hero. He was right. The old man, the last living ANZAC, and all of the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought at Gallipoli, were heroes — everyone’s heroes.
Alec, who died in May 2002 at the age of 103, enlisted in 1915 when he was just 16. He had put his age up to 18 in order to be accepted by the army and agreed to fight at the front, wherever he was needed. Heroic indeed!
James was very fortunate to meet Alec Campbell and find out about his experiences. He gives us a special view of this humble and remarkable man, the year before he died. Based on the true story of a small boy’s visit to meet Alec Campbell in the year 2001.
The Last ANZAC is the true story of James as he meets one of his idols and the last surviving ANZAC Alex Campbell in 2001.Full of childhood wonder and the need to know everything, James ask World War 1 Veteran Alec all about his experiences in the war, throwing out a hundred questions in a respectable, but true to life manner.
“James was desperate to ask Alex Campbell questions about the war.
‘Did you get injured?’ asked James.”
“Were you scared?”
Much like James, this picture book doesn’t shy away from the realities of war. The written narrative is very careful of what it says and reveals, with simple and straight forward text showing Alec’s experiences as he tells them to James. The illustrations on the other hand show a more in depth war experience that is hinted at in Alec’s story. For example, Alex becomes “very sick after six weeks and had to be taken to hospital” and its in this hospital scene that we can witness another side of war – the injured lie in beds around him (albeit looking happy). Likewise there is a full double page spread showing Alex jumping back into the trench and spilling water with a worried expression on his face, suggesting he was in a hurry and frightened at the time and potentially under fire. It’s in these instances that the illustrations add to the over all story without distracting from the true story and Alec’s experience through James’ eyes.
Another particularly interesting point about this ANZAC Picture book, is the way in which the dual narrative of James’ experience meeting Alec is 2001 is juxtaposed with Alec’s experiences of World War 1. The stories are easy to distinguish through the simple illustrations (one present day featuring Alec at 102 and one featuring Alec as a 16-year-old young man), and the use of colours (present day is bright and shiny and often bordered, whereas Alec’s war experience is mostly (with the exception of four pages) full page illustrations mostly in in various shades of brown showing their age, and the time (they were fighting in dirt after all).
There is something special and unique about this book that comes from the meeting of these two souls, born of different generations but clearly alike in many ways. In fact, the relationship between the two, and the fact that a veteran soldier meet with such a young boy to candidly chat about such serious issues both warms my heart, and makes me love this book even more. The Last ANZAC is a sweet and compelling tale, that both warms you and saddens you, for as the name suggests, Alec was the last surviving ANZAC and he died shortly after meeting James in 2001. What remains is a beautiful tribute to a hero.
“James now had a new hero. He thought Alex Campbell must have been very brave to go to war aged sixteen.
‘Did you feel like a hero?’
‘You’re my hero.'”
This is potentially my favourite children’s picture book about the ANZACs simply for its beauty in both words and illustrations, and the emotions its evoked in its reader, for their is something bitter-sweet and honest in the meeting between these two generations, that is able to remain true to the events of the time in a respectful and educational manner.