Dodging the Devil
Letters from the Front
Gallipoli, Fromelles & Bullecourt
By George Martindale
Commentary by Nicolas Dean Brodie
Published by Hardie Grant
RRP $29.99 in paperback
In short Capt Bean is a liar!
There have been any number of collections of letters from WWI published in the past few years. What has struck me – and perhaps others who read the books – is the standard of English expression and level of literacy of men from ordinary walks of life.
This latest collection – George Martindale’s correspondence with various family members – is a case in point. Martindale, born in Dimboola in 1887, enlisted on 21 August 1914. He was a carpenter by trade.
A hundred years on, I do wonder if the Twitter and texting generation would be quite so articulate!
Martindale served for over three years and witnessed some of the worst battles of World War 1.
From the very beginning, when he was sent to Egypt to undertake training with some of the first of the enlisted men, he wrote home. He documented his daily life in the war – the events, his feelings and opinions – and sent these messages and photographs back to his family in Melbourne.
He was sent to Gallipoli and fought in the battle of Lone Pine, eventually being evacuated when the troops were pulled out. He was then sent to France where he participated in the infamous battle of Fromelles.
He went on to Bullecourt, also a notorious battleground on the Western front, where he was seriously injured, putting an end to his army career.
His letters tell his story beginning with the excitement of signing up and sailing across the world to fight the enemy, to world weary after having seen so much death and destruction. His letters tell a revealing real-life story.
One in particular caught my eye.
In writing to his mother on 28th February 1915, he says:
You will have seen the articles by Captn Bean in ‘The Argus’ and I suppose also ‘The Age’. He has spoken out of turn! His foot slipped & I imagine he is in the mud, and not deep enough to get the frogs. There are those here who say that when they see him they will spread him over the landscape. I have had evening leave I suppose on an average of once a week and though no one will deny that a few hoodlums have made the pace a welter his articles convey an absolutely wrong impression. I must say I’m surprised (and agreeably so) at the forbearance and good conduct of the men in every respect. In short Capt Bean is a liar! The officers of the higher ranks are very indignant at his remarks – and make no bones over saying so.
For historians, and for general readers alike, first hand accounts of what war is really like and what really happens make for compelling reading, including remarks such as those about the man who was to become Australia’s foremost military historian of WWI.
Sadly George Martindale, invalided out of the Army in 1917, died in Dimboola in 1922. Like many good men of his generation, his life was cut short by a war not of his making.
For Love of Country
By Anthony Hill
Published by Viking/Penguin Random House
RRP $35.00 in paperback
Author Anthony Hill writes that this story had its genesis in 2011 following an idea from Bob Sessions, then Publishing Director of Penguin Books Australia, for a work that looked at the long-term effects of the First World war on the returning servicemen and their loved ones but it was the particular tragedy of the Eddison soldier-settler family in the Second World War that caught his attention.
At the close of the First World War, and after surviving a gas attack on the Western Front, Captain Walter Eddison moved his family from war-ravaged Britain to start a new life in Australia. The Eddisons were offered ‘land fit for heroes’ under the Australian government’s soldier-settlement scheme, but the grim realities of life in the remote bush were not easy for a family used to the green pastures of England.
Walter and Marion made the best of their limited prospects, but as they raised their young family on the outskirts of the nation’s newly established capital Canberra, tensions were again simmering in Europe.
When the Second World War broke out, they were forced to confront their worst fears as their three sons headed back to the battlefields they’d tried so hard to leave behind.
Anthony Hill is an experienced storyteller across a number of genres. This has been a project requiring substantial research, resulting in an intimate portrait of a family who sacrificed almost everything for their country.
An Unending War
The Australian Army’s struggle against malaria, 1885-2015
By Ian Howie-Willis
Published by Big Sky Publishing
RRP $34.99 in hardcover
The mention of malaria takes me back to my childhood when my mother talked about the malaria attacks which affected my father for a few years after returning from the Aitape-Wewak campaign in New Guinea.
She recalled people avoiding him on the tram thinking that he was drunk when he was actually having a malaria attack. And here we are 70 years on, and still the battle with malaria continues apace.
It is ironic that it was during the Aitape-Wewak campaign the Australians used the drug Aterbrin, with only satisfactory results.
Upon further investigation it transpired that the Japanese had been using the drug during their three year occupation of the Wewak region and research by the malariologists concluded that over this period, the parasites had evolved to acquire resistance.
So while the drug reduced the severity of the attacks, it was not able to suppress the malaria among the Australian troops. “Aterbrin helped the Allies win the war against the Japanese, but it could not inflict a total defeat upon the parasites”.
Not that malaria was confined to WW II. The Australian Army was also badly affected by malaria in Palestine in 1918 and in Vietnam in 1968. Malaria actually caused more casualties than did enemy action in Vietnam.
Continuing research into the disease is now undertaken at the Australian Army Malaria Institute at Gallipoli Barracks. The unending war against malaria continues to occupy the Army’s best medicos.
Published by Viking, Penguin Books
RRP $35.00 in paperback
Terry Ledgard delivers a high octane narrative filled with expletives and laced with the dark humour we’ve come to expect in this type of memoir.
Having survived childhood in outback Australia, he joined the Army and rose through the ranks to become an SAS medic in Afghanistan. As he endured explosive action, blood-curdling trauma and gut-wrenching humanitarian aid missions, he found the modern-day soldier’s larrikin spirit was the perfect prescription for intense combat conditions.
Armed with a new-found perspective on life, Terry returned to the Real World, but soon realised it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
He describes the thousand-yard stare:
The thousand-yard stare is portrayed in the movies as a war veteran’s staunch, steely gaze into oblivion. The subtle implication is that veterans are reliving their wartime memories with an air of fragility amid the indomitable strength of the human spirit.
In contrast to popular portrayal, the thousand-yard stare does not involve veterans reliving gruesome wartime experiences. No, the most gruesome picture that a veteran contemplates is the shallowness and infinite black hole of boredom that consumes grown-ups in the Real World. Veterans just can’t relate anymore.
The thousand-yard stare is usually the result of veterans imagining exactly how empty a Real World zombie’s life must be to talk about such superficial bullshit.
His life became a slow-motion train wreck as he faced the reality of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Bad Medicine is a gritty account of life as an SAS medic in the world’s most intense warzone – and what comes after.
Back in civilian life, it is the triviality of modern life compared with what he had done that most troubled him – he reserves his greatest scorn for Facebook philosophers, although the pointlessness of many conversations in social settings irritates him too.
Much had been written recently about the difficulties of PTSD and the transition from an active military life to civvy street.
The more stories of PTSD that are shared the better – I think there are many readers who will identify closely with his experience or at least develop a greater understanding of the degree of mental torment in our midst.
The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare
Churchill’s Mavericks: Plotting Hitler’s Defeat
By Giles Milton
Published by John Murray/Hachette UK
RRP $35.00 in paperback
In the spring of 1939, a top secret organisation was founded in London: its purpose was to plot the destruction of Hitler’s war machine through spectacular acts of sabotage.
The guerrilla campaign that followed was to prove every bit as extraordinary as the six gentlemen who directed it. Winston Churchill selected them because they were wildly creative and thoroughly ungentlemanly.
One of them, Cecil Clarke, was a maverick engineer who had spent the 1930s inventing futuristic caravans. Now, his talents were put to more devious use: he built the dirty bomb used to assassinate Hitler’s favourite, Reinhard Heydrich.
Another member of the team, William Fairbairn, was a portly pensioner with an unusual passion: he was the world’s leading expert in silent killing. He was hired to train the guerrillas being parachuted behind enemy lines.
Led by dapper Scotsman Colin Gubbins, these men – along with three others – formed a secret inner circle that planned the most audacious sabotage attacks of the Second World War.
Winston Churchill called it his Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. The six ‘ministers’, aided by a group of formidable ladies, were extremely effective.
You can read more about the book at this link from the Telegraph.co.uk:
The Mallon Crew
by Vic Jay
RRP US$16.89 in paperback
Buy online at this link
Vic Jay got in touch with us to let us know about his book The Mallon Crew about the Lancaster bomber crew headed by pilot Bill Mallon. There is an Australian connection here – Bill Mallon, was the third son of Alec Mallon, who had served with the New South Wales Mounted Rifles in the Boer War before emigrating to New Zealand.
Both of Bill’s brothers were also pilots, and both were killed in action. But there is an interesting footnote to the story with the reunion of the Australian and New Zealand branches of the Mallon family, after nearly a hundred years separation, thanks to Vic Jay’s research.
‘The Mallon crew’ is the result of four years of research that grew out of Vic Jay’s decision in 2012 to write a blog about his father’s war-time experiences as the Flight Engineer of a Lancaster bomber.
As a child growing up in the 1950s Vic Jay says he never tired of asking his dad about what he did in the war. Yet he thought he had lost any chance of discovering more about his father’s life when his father died in 1974 at the age of just 55 .
Nearly forty years later, with just a handful of photographs, his father’s flying log book and the name of his New Zealand pilot, Bill Mallon, Vic Jay set out on what he expected to be a modest research project, which eventually connected him with the families of all but one of his father’s crew.
He even had the opportunity to talk to a man of 94 who had flown with his dad and to find a photograph of his dad’s aircraft flying to his last target.
This book is not about a squadron, nor is it about individual acts of heroism, it is about the Mallon crew, a small group of unremarkable men thrown together briefly during the last few months of the war and the amazing way in which their stories have unfolded seventy years later.