The Broken Years – Australian Soldiers in the Great War

So this one is completely different to all the other books I’ve reviewed here previously. Firstly, it’s non-fiction, and that hardly ever is read by me (beyond textbooks…), I think I’ve read two biographies/autobiographies, and that’s it really. Which I actually find unusual for me, I’m very inquisitive and enjoy learning new things, but nonficition has just never found it’s place in my life, like fiction has. Anywho, this book, I’m more than glad entered my radar, and I was able to find it. As you can predict from the title, it is a war book. Something, I haven’t read previously, and used to think I would have very little interest in. But, this book was really good.I heard about this book, on the centenary of ANZAC Day, earlier this year. For those outside of Australia and are unaware, ANZAC Day (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) is on the 25th of April, to commemorate the first landing at Gallipoli, Turkey, in World War One. It’s a particularly significant day in our history, as it was the first ‘test’ for our national army, as we only were federated in 1901, just as the Boer War was wrapping up, so that didn’t count as we were split into state armies. But the landing at Gallipoli and the campaign there, became our moment to prove ourselves as a new nation. Despite, a pretty abysmal campaign, which resulted in an evacuation (perhaps the most well executed aspect of the entire campaign, with few causalities), Gallipoli is remembered as one of our defining moments, and a time where we were tested, and proved ‘worthy’, in both our own eyes and the eyes of Empire and greater World.

So Gallipoli is a big deal to Australians, New Zealanders, and Turkish people. So when I heard of the book, which was described as using a lot of war letters and diaries, I was quite interested in reading it. I think it was this aspect which actually made me interested, I wanted to hear from the soldiers themselves about what they were thinking, what they were feeling. Because it all feels so foreign and distant to me. I have no idea about what it is like to be risking my life for my country, no idea of the sacrifices and loss. And I wanted to learn more about the war.

Reading the book was quite emotional, you would read the anticipation and excitement of some of the soldiers, and then look to the side, where in a column the name, rank and age were listed, as well as the cause of death, if any. It was that awareness, that you read, in some instances, the soldiers final written words, usually trying to allay a loved one’s fears, that really was emotional.

But there were some amazing stories of bravery, and camaraderie, that sometimes brought about a smile. The attitudes of the soldiers was incredible, they were willing to face death without baulking. And just how often wounded soldiers would express a strong desire to return to the front line to be with his mates was astounding.

The book was really well written, and wasn’t a challenging read. Not bogged down in military detail, it makes for a perfect entry into war history for anybody. The personal stories and accounts additionally make it unique. A book that I think more Australians should read, just to understand the First World War and the ANZACs a bit better.

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