Within the horror and destruction of war, the battles fought and lives lost there are glimpses of humanity and events that give us hope in the goodness of humanity.
Young Digger by Anthony Hill is one of many of these stories. Rather than a historical account, this is a very personal memoir of an orphaned boy and an Australian Airman who took him into his heart.
The story of Digger, Henri Hemene, begins Christmas Day 1918, the first Christmas of peace since the Armistice had been signed on November the 11th. This young French orphan infiltrated the Flying Corps No.4 squadron’s Christmas party purely on the quality of the feast at hand, which was far superior to any other squadrons based on the Bickendorf airfield. He was ragged, hungry and full of “spunk” as the Airman later recalled.
He fast endeared himself into the hearts of the squadron and they soon adopted him as their mascot. Tim Tovell, the mess sergeant that day, was given charge of Digger, as he was christened, and there began a bond unbreakable as Digger found his way into Tim’s heart and Tim into his own.
From that moment on it became evident that Young Digger could not be left behind when the squadron was repatriated back to Australia and so began an operation to rival perhaps the greatest battle strategies of the war.
There are two strands to this story interwoven, the adventure Digger excitedly embarks on and the love that develops between Tim and the young orphan boy. There are frequent flashbacks to the journey that lead Digger to the mess tent that night. Walls around his most horrific memories that Tim gently tries to break down in order to discover who the boy is, where he is from and what happened to him.
Tim’s life story is also revealed, slowly and gently. The deep love he has for his wife and his children. The hope he has that they too would embrace Digger and draw him into their hearts as he had done.
The retelling of this story is a very personal one and endeavours to keep true to the original of so long ago. The dialogue is as if you were hearing the voices of long ago actually speaking, the atmosphere set as though you are also walking amongst them.
Even though I knew how this memoir would end before I began, as one does when reading of actual events, I was still touched deeply and moved immeasurably by this young boy and the family who loved him.
Young Digger by Anthony Hill, is available from Dymocks.
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