Les Carlyon and World War One

gallipoliThe_Great_WarI had heard of Amiens, the Somme, Passchendale, and, of course, Gallipoli; but, until I recently finished Les Carlyon’s 2 huge books about the First World War, I had never heard of Fromelle, Bullecourt, Pozzieres, Villers-Bretonneux, Hamel or Mont St Quentin. I had heard of Simpson, of course, but never been introduced to the likes of Monash, White, Elliott or Gough, let alone Margetts, Murray or Maxwell, Tubbs, Joynt or Lawrence, or countless others whose portraits Carlyon lovingly, yet truthfully paints for the reader.

I have just finished Carlyon’s 860 page epic account of Australia’s involvement in World War 1, – “The Great War”, first published in 2006. It was preceded by his 600 page “Gallipoli”, first published in 2001.

Having now read the combined 1460 pages, I have to say I am left feeling exhausted – not by the author, but by the subject matter. Carlyon’s works of staggering encyclopedic detail and accuracy are presented in a gripping narrative style that has you smiling and sighing and weeping with the farm hands and school teachers and tram drivers and accountants who left Australia between 1914 and 1918 to slog it out in the mud and blood and lunacy of the European war that was so horrific it was to have ended all wars. It is exhausting to contemplate the toll paid by generations of Australians to this day – 61,700 who never came home, 155,000 out of a total of 324,000 who were wounded and gassed; an entire generation that was savaged in one way or another by the first full scale conflict between modern, technologically advanced nations. Machine guns and artillery met human flesh day after day, year after year, producing battle casualties of about 37 million, of whom 8.5 million were dead, with the Australian casualty rate being the highest among the British empire forces.

“The Great War was the worst trauma of the 20th century for Australia. …the loss of all those talented people who would have become prime ministers and premiers, judges, divines, engineers, teachers, doctors, poets, inventors and farmers, the mayors of towns and leaders of trade unions, and the fathers of another generation of Australians.”

I think Carlyon pulls his punches a bit when it comes to acknowledging the futility of war, but I appreciate his careful, no nonsense, respectful and humble chronicling of events that must never be forgotten if we are to ever have a hope of not repeating them.

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~ by Garry on May 19, 2009.

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