Returning to Australia after the end of the Great War was Australian Flying Corps mechanic Tim Tovell, and with him, smuggled first in an oats bag and later a wicker basket, was a young French boy. The boy’s name was Honorė (Henri) Heremene and he was an orphan. Both his parents had been killed in the war.
Cold and hungry, Henri wandered into the Christmas dinner of the Australian Flying Corps. There he is spied by an Australian serviceman, Tim Tovell. He gives Henri food and lets him stay, taking care of him and teaching him to ice-skate.
Tim tries unsuccessfully to find Henri’s extended family and does not want to leave him. He has written to his wife about Henri and Tim tells him that he will be his family now. However, Tim does not have permission from either the Australian military or the French authorities to take Henri out of France. With great stealth Tim smuggles Henri first on a boat to England, and later for the longer trip to Australia and to a future where Henri will see the tall gum trees and the kangaroos and koalas he has heard about.
Tull Suwannakit’s beautiful sepia tones watercolour and graphite illustrations are carefully woven around original photographs taken in France during WW1. The occasional splashes of colour such as Henri’s red scarf highlight the child and his bubbly personality.
The story of Henri Tovell or the ‘Young Digger’ is a true story and much has been written about it. A more complete account of Henri’s story can be found in Anthony Hill’s YA novel ‘Young Digger’.