Soldier Boy
The True Story of Jim Martin the Youngest Anzac

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Soldier Boy, The true story of Jim Martin the youngest Anzac, by Anthony Hill, with photographs. Published by Penguin Books, Melbourne, 2001, 174 pages. Winner NSW Premier's Award (Ethel Turner Prize), Honour Book Children's Book Council of Australia.

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Writing Soldier Boy 

Chapter Notes 

Teaching Notes

References 

Bulletproof! 100 Years of War, Anzac and Children's Books

War Memorial 

National Archives

Centenary of Anzac Day

 

 

 A model of historical writing ... A significant contribution to the nation's culture.  NSW Premier's Award

 

 In the late afternoon of 25 October 1915, a young Australian soldier – Private James Martin, aged only eighteen so his papers said – lay desperately ill with typhoid aboard a hospital ship , anchored of Anzac Cove, Gallipoli. He was wracked with fever and his thirst was terrible. 'Water...' Jim Martin pleaded through swollen lips. 'Please... more water....' But his voice was as weak as he was, and at first nobody heard him.

So begins Soldier Boy, Anthony Hill's celebrated biography of Jim Martin, who told the great lie and went to war. Whatever his papers said, Jim was in fact only 14 years and nine months when he died on the hospital ship – so far as we know the youngest Anzac, and almost certainly the youngest Australian soldier to die.

Published by Penguin Books in 2001, Soldier Boy has been reprinted 17 times and sold over 80,000 copies. Within a month of its publication, Jim had entered the gallery of Australian military heroes. His story is regularly told to visitors at the Australian War Memorial > Collections > Jim Martin > First World War in Canberra.  Soldier Boy is widely studied in schools, and is read as a novel which moves people of all ages.


Author and subject: Anthony Hill by the commemorative stone bearing Jim Martin's name at Lone Pine, Gallipoli, 2012.

More Info

This page contains links to a set of Chapter Notes which are not included in the book Soldier Boy, where readers will find information on sources used in the text. There are also the complete References, and a Background article by Anthony Hill Writing Soldier Boy about the origins and aims of the novel.

Learn more about Jim Martin and the First World War. Link to 200,000 photos at the Australian War Memorial Collections > Jim Martin > First World War. See Jim Martin's service papers as a Guest Researcher at the National Archives of Australia.

What the critics said

Hill's book is historically accurate. Teachers can feel confident that Soldier Boy is just about as close as you can get to an accurate historical representation in a novel form. Christopher Bantick, Canberra Times.

Anthony Hill has pieced together a moving portrait of Jim's tragically short life based on the recollections of his family and letters he wrote home from the war. Greg Thom, Herald Sun.

As a teenage Anzac, Jim Martin is seen as a figure to whom today's teenagers can relate ... perhaps we are now seeing John Simpson being replaced by Jim Martin, carefully chosen to appeal to a new generation and to continue the Anzac legend. John Connor, Australian Book Review.

... An exceptional addition to the children's literature of war. Kevin Steinberger, Magpies magazine.

Soldier Boy Q&A

Why did you write Soldier Boy?

I went to Gallipoli in 1995 and was amazed at the number of young people there for the Anzac Day services. I wanted to find a story that would say something to them about the Gallipoli campaign and also the true nature of war. A couple of years later a short paragraph mentioned Jim Martin in some briefing notes for the Governor-General. I put him into the speech, stood up at my desk sand said loudly, 'There's a book in you!' For more info see the Background article Writing Soldier Boy.

How accurate is Soldier Boy?

I spent a lot of time researching the book. There are Jim's letters, photos and souveniers at the Australian War Memorial. His service papers are at the National Archives.  And I was lucky to meet members of his family who kindly gave me more photos and letters, and shared the stories of Uncle Jim who went to war as a boy and never came home. For more info go to Chapter Notes  and the article Writing Soldier Boy.

Why did you start the book with Jim's death?

The most important thing to know about Jim Martin is that he was only 14 when he died a soldier at Gallipoli.  For most people, the question that keeps them reading the book is not 'What happened?' but rather 'How did it happen? How did a 14-year-old boy end up in the trenches?' For more info see the article Writing Soldier Boy.

This family photo of Jim with his youngest sister Millie was not published in Soldier Boy. He was a tall boy, who might pass for 18. His service papers said his height was 5 foot 6 inches (1.6 metres), but family memory thinks he was closer to 6 foot (1.8 metres).

 

Photo credits:

Soldier Boy book cover: courtesy Penguin Books Australia.

Anthony Hill at Lone Pine, 2012: author photo.

Jim Martin wearing peaked military cap, 1915: courtesy Martin family.

Jim with his sister Millie, aged seven, 1915: courtesy Martin family.