Friday 18 March 2011

Fromelles: Australia's Bloodiest Day at War

Fromelles: Australia's Bloodiest Day at War by Carole Wilkinson (black dog books)
PB RRP $18.99
ISBN 9781742031767
Reviewed by Vicki Stanton

I knew this book was going to be a fantastic read from the moment I opened it and read the quotation from Jose Narosky: In war, there are no unwounded soldiers. On the facing page is the poignant portrait of a young soldier, Private Charles Henry Brear, and a woman. Brear was killed in the carnage that was the Battle of Fromelles on 19 July 1916.

All Australians should know of the Battle of Fromelles. It is our nation's biggest disaster with 5533 casualties in under 24 hours. It was the first battle that Australian troops participated in on the Western Front. Yet until recently very little was known about the battle. This was not by accident. The operation was such a disaster that the army downplayed the event until the efforts of Melbourne high school teacher Lambis Englezos brought it world-wide attention.

As with all the titles in the excellent Drum series, there is a timeline, text-boxes, primary source quotations, photographs, maps, a glossary, index and bibliography. Wilkinson covers the lead-up to the battle with Australia's entry into World War One, the Gallipoli campaign, training in Egypt, the commanders, battalions involved, and weapons of the Allies and the Germans. The actual battle manoeuvres are covered in detail and a discussion on what went wrong. Particularly pleasing is the inclusion of the French and German perspective in this history, essential for a full understanding of the battle and the war and its repercussions not only for the soldiers but the people that lived and worked alongside the war everyday.

A stand-out feature of Fromelles, one which makes the book so compelling and able to connect with readers, is the combination of non-fiction and fiction. Fictional diary entries from Australian and German combatants highlight the emotion, beliefs and actions of ordinary men called upon to participate in extraordinary events. This is history told at its finest.

Lest we forget.

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