The Anzacs by Patsy Adam-Smith

‘As General Sir Ian Hamilton wrote, ‘Before the war who had ever heard of Anzac: hereafter who will ever forget it?’

There are many books written about World War I, about the landing at Gallipoli, about the battles in which the Anzacs featured both at Gallipoli and in Europe.  This book, by Ms Adam-Smith which was first published in 1978, is about the men and women who were the Anzacs.  Ms Adam-Smith read more than 8000 diaries and letters.  She also spoke with some of the veterans, some of the few still alive in the 1970s.  And this book, with those diary entries and firsthand recollections, makes the horror personal.  For these men, and the women who nursed them, this was direct, horrific, real experience.  How can we begin to appreciate their experiences?

Thousands died at Gallipoli.  Thousands more died in Europe.  And some, like my great-uncle, returned to Australia only to die after the war had ended as a consequence of injuries sustained.

Ms Adam-Smith wrote:

‘The worst of working with the diaries is all those empty pages.  You turn back one page from those you find empty and re-read: ’27 April, 1915: All around me have been killed or wounded.  I escaped so far’.  And there is no more.  He was aged 28.’

These are simple accounts, of men and women trying their best to make sense of and to survive horrific experiences. Ordinary people, extraordinary experiences. But this is not just an account of the war, Ms Adam-Smith writes of where the soldiers were drawn from and the experiences that shaped them.  She also writes of the impact of distance, the fact of venereal disease and life after World War I.

The first part of the book is about Gallipoli, the second part is after Gallipoli. I read and try to get my head around the very different conditions. The many different ways in which men and women suffer in war, and after war.

‘Boys you’ve lost your jobs.  The war’s over and you can all go back to your billets.’

War ends with official declarations and proclamations. I doubt that it ends during the lifetime of those who participated in it.  And yet, we expect people to (quickly) move on.

‘The returned men had already learnt that they were only considered when needed as fighters.  They had no say in the peace.’

If you’ve not read this book and you are interested in learning more about individual experiences of World War I, then I recommend this book.  It’s one way of remembering those men and women: our original Anzacs.  Ms Adam-Smith died in 2001.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith