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Roly (Roland) is a donkey who was born on a farm in a village in Greece. When he was one year old a soldier from the British Army came and took a group of donkeys to use during the First World War. They were taken by ship to Gallipoli, in Turkey, where the British Army and other allied forces were fighting the Turkish army. These donkeys were used to carry water to the soldiers who were fighting in the hills, and the drivers worked their donkeys hard, while bullets and artillery shells were flying around them.
One day Roly stumbled and spilled some of the water he was carrying. His driver beat him for it and other transgressions, so Roly decided he would try to escape. When the right opportunity came, he ran for his life. Roly wandered around for the rest of the day. He became cold, tired and hungry, with only a bit of grass to eat; and he missed his friends.
The next day he started to walk back to where he had last left his driver the previous day, knowing full well that he would probably beat him for running away. Coming towards him was a tall soldier with a biscuit with jam on it, in his hand. He stroked Roly’s back and said “you’re just what I need, but I’ll need to fatten you up first”. This was the start of a friendship between the donkey, Roly and the New Zealand soldier Richard Alexander Henderson, a solider with the New Zealand Field Ambulance. The Field Ambulance service moved sick and wounded soldiers from the trenches to the beach at Anzac Cove. From there the soldiers could be taken to a hospital ship.
This story is an amazing story of a real New Zealand soldier and the donkey he discovers wandering, hungry, on a Gallipoli road. They save many lives, but when the time comes for the soldiers to leave, a heartbreaking decision has to be made over the future of the donkey. Where does Richard go to find Roly a good home, with kind people?
I read this story to my 4-year-old granddaughter Abby. At this age, they have no concept of war, or what a soldier is. I found it quite challenging to try and explain to her in simple terms, but I think I managed to convey to her the basic concept.
I loved the fact that this story was based on a true story of a friendship between a soldier and a donkey. The illustrations by Jenny Cooper are beautiful. Abby loved Roly’s beautiful big brown eyes with the long eye lashes and his long ears.
Reviewed by Christine Frayling
Roly the Anzac Donkey
Written by Glyn Harper, illustrated by Jenny Cooper
Published by Scholastic NZ