This month marks 70 years since the outbreak of the Second World War. The First World War had been described as the war to end all wars – yet just over thirty years later, Hitler’s invasion of Poland triggered a new conflict that would go on to engulf the whole world. Older Brother came home from his first day back at school yesterday and announced that their topic for this term is to be the Second World War. I am relieved that the teaching of history has moved on since I was at school, when all we seemed to do was draw diagrams of battle lines and rote learn significant dates. Now, I am sure, he will learn about these events but also about the cost to human life – and, I hope, he will emerge with an inkling of the horrors of war.
A superb picture book which both provides historical context and reminds us of the human tragedy which accompanies the machinations of war is Photographs in the Mud by Dianne Wolfer and illustrated by Brian Harrison-Lever (Fremantle Press, 2005). We follow the stories of two soldiers, one Australian, the other Japanese, as they set off for the front in Papua New Guinea. Jack leaves behind a pregnant wife; and Hoshi, his wife and small daughter. Each carries photographs to remind them of home – and the passing of time is emphasised through the illustrations as these photographs change.
There are many casualties on both sides before Jack and Hoshi encounter one another. Both fatally wounded, they turn to the comfort of the photographs that are their only connection with home – and then share them with each other. When they are found the next day, a soldier retrieves the photographs from the mud and tries to separate them but they are stuck together.
Photographs in the Mud is a moving tribute to the soldiers who fought and died in Papua New Guinea during the Second World War and serves as a sensitive reminder of the human cost, not just for the soldiers themselves but for those left waiting in vain for the return of their loved ones.
The story was inspired by a trip Dianne Wolfer made along the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea, during which she heard many stories about the fighting there during the Second World War. There are photos from this trip on her website, as well as teachers’ notes to accompany the book.