Author(s): Jennifer Beck
NZ Picture Books
More than 20 years after publication of the classic NZ story, The Bantam and the Soldier, Jennifer Beck and Robyn Belton have joined forces again to produce another heartwarming story from the First World War. This time it's the true story of Otago's Alexander Aitken and the violin that travelled with him on his wartime journey, bringing music and solace to his fellow ANZACs.
The violin was my companion in this dug-out; I slept with it by my side.
In 1915 Otago soldier Alexander Aitken was on a troopship bound for Europe to fight in the Great War. Given a violin won in a shipboard raffle by an old school friend, Alexander passed the time by practising hard and keeping his fellow Anzacs entertained. His violin survived freezing conditions, mud and gunfire on the battlefields of Gallipoli and France before Alexander was badly wounded and sent home to Dunedin. Then in 1918 a large package arrived and inside was his violin, restored and returned by a friend who had guarded it for him.
Beck and Belton, who won the 1997 NZ Post Book of the Year for The Bantam & the Soldier, treat us to a most beautifully illustrated and sensitively written story of Alexander’s adventures, ideal for ages 5 to 8 years. A synopsis of his life before and after the war is included, along with endpapers containing a number of photos, drawings and maps.
This vignette of our wartime history portrays the camaraderie and resourcefulness of the soldiers, for whom Alexander’s music briefly helped them forget the dreadful conditions.
And what happened to the violin? Alexander donated it to his old school, Otago Boys’ High, where it is still on display.