Mike Dumbleton created ‘Digger’ to celebrate the long-standing connection between Australia and the French town of Villers-Bretonneux. This town was recaptured by Australian soldiers around Anzac Day in 1918. Not all Australian soldiers who defended Villers-Bretonneau returned home. This story commemorates those soldiers and the French schoolchildren who attend the graves of Australian soldiers who died in this battle. Through empathising with the two young girls in this story, readers gain an understanding of lives lost and the impact this has on families. The author was inspired to write this story after visiting the French town of Villers-Bretonneux. There he discovered reminders of Australia such as a kangaroo on the town welcome sign, a school named ‘École Victoria’, and a large sign at the school in French saying, ‘Do Not Forget Australia’.
When Annie’s brother James went to war, she gave him a toy kangaroo with the name ‘Digger’ stitched on it—'a Digger for a Digger’. The comforts of home are reflected in the light-coloured pastel illustrations which soon change to dark foreboding images as James travels by ship to the battlefield. There soldiers are digging trenches then advancing to the battlefield. Digger brings comfort to James when he hears the ‘whizz’ of bullets and the ’crump’ of nearby shells. As the illustrator tosses Digger into the air, the reader feels a sense of tragedy. James writes a letter to Annie saying he is now recovering from injuries on a farm. There Colette, young like Annie, replaces Digger’s torn stitches and the recovered James returns to the battlefield. A sad image greets young Colette when James’ friend returns Digger for yet another repair, but James has not survived.
The double page spread is taunt with emotion as Colette hugs Digger, then patches him again and sends him home to Annie with one addition. Now he has a slouch hat. Colette writes a letter to Annie, promising to visit James’ grave with fresh flowers. Here Robin Cowcher creates a page revealing both Annie and Colette, each on opposite pages deep in thought.
Robin Cowcher’s illustrations capture the impact of war and its aftermath on these two girls. The cream-coloured pages with faint outlines and subtle colours capture the emotional content without unduly dwelling on war. The letters add a personal touch and demonstrate how important connections are during wartimes. The patchwork quilt endpapers convey the larger message behind this story:’’Noublions jamais l’Australie’. Translated into English this says, ‘Let us never forget Australia’