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Ivy and her mother live in Australia, far away from where the Great War is raging. They have moved in with Aunt Hilda whose flat is so small that Ivy has to sleep under the kitchen table. Not only that, but she also has to empty Aunt Hilda's chamber pot! 'The Pests' live in the flat on one side and, on the other side, lives grumpy old Mr Wilson - who has a deep secret.
Ivy writes to her father, who is fighting overseas. She tells him all about life at home - how the family has little money; how she and other children have to sew sandbags, knit socks and roll up bandages for the war; how she volunteers for the Cheer Up Society, making cups of tea at the wharf when the hospital ships come in; and how the Big Pest collects leeches for the hospital.
'Socks, Sandbags and Leeches' is set against the backdrop of the First World War - the Gallipoli landings and withdrawal, the propaganda in Australia and the false reports in the newspapers, schoolchildren's war work and fundraising, the return of wounded and shell-shocked soldiers, and eventually the wonderful news of peace.
'My Anzac Dad' is different from most children's books set in the First World War as, rather than telling the story of war experiences from a soldier's point of view, it describes life for the people on the home front and the attitudes towards the involvement of Australia in the war. In the 20 letters, written between 1914 and 1918, Ivy covers a range of topics, such as increasing prices and rents, war work, the Cheer Up Society, cramped living conditions, entertainment and sport during wartime, the battle of Broken Hill, attacks on German shops and churches, people's paranoia, school during wartime, houses of the poor compared to the rich, sock knitting, being patriotic, wounded soldiers, conscription, and coo-ee marches.
It is easy to relate to Ivy whose chatty letters make the book very accessible to readers. It is an appealing way to describe to children what life was like 100 years ago, in wartime.
In addition, each letter is accompanied by a highly illustrated spread, giving further information about the topics that Ivy mentions.
February 1st, 1915 and 11-year-old Ivy writes the first of 20 letters to her dad who has enlisted in the army and is in camp in Egypt. She tells him that Uncle Bill and Cousin Joe have also signed up because there is not much work on the farm because of the drought "And they could use the six bob a day". They also believe the war will be over by Christmas - a belief held by many. Who could doubt the might of the British Army especially when supported by the men of the Empire?
But we know it wasn't and through this series of letters to her father, we learn a little about what life was like at home during this tumultuous time that dragged on for years and had such an impact on those at the front and left behind. From Ivy and her mother having to move to live with Aunt Hilda in two rooms that are so small that Ivy has to sleep on a swag under the kitchen table because their landlord keeps putting the rent up right through to the end of the war when Ivy has to give up her job in the bank so a returned serviceman can be employed, we follow this personal account of a little girl growing up very quickly as war impinges so deeply on her life. Skilfully woven into the letters are stories that were big news at the time, like the "Nazi invasion" of Broken Hill; rising prices and the constant call for donations towards the war effort; the propaganda about victory at Gallipoli when it was anything but; the Cheer Up campaign; the treatment of those perceived as shirkers; the clergy delivering death notices; the debates and competitions for memorials - all of which are not usually a part of the factual accounts our students are usually required to read or view.
These days there is a trend for parents to shield their children from world events but in 1915 every child knew what was going on and was expected to contribute in some way. Ivy's young cousin Albert is expected to run the farm with his mother and while retired teachers have returned to the schools, time is taken away from the curriculum for the children to do their war work - knitting socks, sewing sandbags and rolling bandages. Even wading into the pond and letting leeches attach themselves to your legs is seen as a contribution and hospitals pay five shillings for 100!
Interspersed in scrapbook fashion are photos, posters, postcards, letters, newspaper articles and all sorts of other items from the National Library's collection of World War I documents which become real as Ivy references their impact in her letters. Attitudes of the times are apparent as she describes the half-hour she took off to play cricket in the park with her friends juxtaposed with a poster with the heading "Give Us A Hand Old Sport" and an article from a newspaper from a cricket captain who believes that those fit enough to play sport are fit enough to enlist.
Accompanied by a glossary which explains some of the words that are no longer the vernacular, as well as an explanation of each of the illustrations used, this is a most intriguing, engaging account of the war through the eyes of one who is the age of its intended audience. Because of its format it is a personal and reflective account of a time in our history that much has been written about but is nevertheless, scarcely understood by children of that age today.
A must-have, in my opinion.