Books | NZ History | War Stories | Picture Books

This is Where I Stand

Scholastic, 2021
Illustrated by Kieran Rynhart
ISBN 9781775433842

A beautiful story centred around the statue of a World War One soldier. The statue describes his own memories of the war, as well as what he has seen from his pedestal as the years have passed.

When I wrote this story, I was thinking of the “Untidy Soldier” statue in Devonport, which was unveiled in 1924. It has stood there ever since, unchanging, while around it so many other things have changed. Years have gone past; children have grown up and people have got older. The way we think about and mark Anzac Day  has changed, but the statue hasn’t.

I especially like this statue because of the story behind it. Many of the World War One memorial statues were carved in Italy, but a few were made by New Zealand sculptors, and this was one of them. It was made by Frank Lynch (there were actually two castings, and the other one is in Masterton), and he imagined it as an Anzac soldier, about to leave Gallipoli, and taking off his hat in honour of his dead comrades and friends who had died and been buried there. The “Untidy Soldier” nickname came about because of the figure’s creased and scruffy uniform, with undone buttons and trailing bootlaces, as if to show that the Anzacs weren’t always impeccably turned out, but were nevertheless loyal mates and brave heroes of war.

Frank Lynch had himself served at Gallipoli and in France and he modelled the statue on his brother Joseph.

But the story could be about any soldier statue in any town, just as it could be about any soldier. This book is all about time and memory; how some things change, and others don’t. It was a challenge to get across that sense of time, and to build in the soldier’s own story, without making the text seem too “jumpy” or disjointed. 

The illustrator

I love Kieran Rynhardt’s thoughtful and hauntingly beautiful illustrations, which have added so much to the text. He had his own challenge: to try and bring energy and movement to a story about a statue which is, of course, unmoving. I’m so impressed by how he has done this, and created such a sense of the surrounding community and of time passing while the soldier statue watches on.

A highlight for me was being able to attend the Anzac Day service at the foot of the Untidy Soldier statue while I was on the Easter residency at the Michael King Writers’ Centre on Takarunga Mt Victoria in 2019. Many Anzac services around the country had been cancelled in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque shootings, but the official service in Devonport was also cancelled, but a community-led one went ahead. 

The falling-down socks and trailing boot laces are one reason why the statue got its name: The Untidy Soldier.

The Devonport “Untidy Soldier” statue was unveiled on Sunday 13 April 1924. This article from the Auckland Star newspaper of 14 April describes the reaction of some of the crowd afterwards. I like the way they argued over the details of his uniform – these “experts” must surely have been returned soldiers themselves. I especially like the comment about how the Aussies often complained about losing parts of their uniforms to Kiwi soldiers “bivvied” nearby!

Reviews

You can find teacher notes for This is Where I Stand here.

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