Sunday, April 25, 2010

TSS: Anzac Day 2010

Today is Anzac Day, a very important day in the psyche of Australians and New Zealanders. On this day in 1915, our soldiers were sent onto the beaches of Gallipoli and were slaughtered. For both countries it was the first time we had fought under our own flags, and it is a day where the nation's identity was cemented into the national psyche, and many of the things that Aussies proud themselves on came from these days and the days that followed. Things like mateship, being a bit of a larrikin, bravery and strength in adverse conditions.

Over the last fews years when I have posted about Anzac Day, I have talked about a few different topics, but today I wanted to talk mainly about reading fiction set against a background of war, but initially about my grandparent's experiences whilst they are still fresh in my mind.

If you recall, earlier this month I had to do a mercy dash across to Perth because my grandmother was very ill. It gave my sister and I a chance to talk to my grandfather a little. Whilst he now does have a tendency to tell the same story over and over and over again, we were able to inject a new story into the mix about how it was that he didn't have to go to war.

He talked of all the young men in the district being taken to a hall, and basically separated into groups. Those who would go and those who would stay. Because he was a shearer, they said to him that he was man-powered, which meant that he had to stay.He was given an area that he had to shear the sheep in, and there was something like 20,000 sheep in that area. Even the best shearers (using the equipment they had then) could only do 200 a day so the task was impossible, but even so he was glad to have to do that rather than go off to war. When war broke out against Japan he was in the middle of building a house and basically all building had to cease. Instead he had to do a lot of manual labour at the local airbase.  (Over the course of his life he did an incredible amount of physical jobs. I was actually in awe as he talked about some of them this time.) They were constantly fearful that there would be a Japanese attack on the air base which was very close to where they lived. He had brothers and friends who went, and cousins who were lost at Gallipoli so in his generation he knew plenty of people who were lost to war.

My grandmother was in hospital at the Royal Perth Hospital, and she talked about being required to spend a night up on top of the newly built hospital (which was not in use yet) on the look-out for what she called yack-yack fires - spotting for a Japanese attack on Perth that thankfully never eventuated.

Anyway, once again I am writing a post and digressing from my main topic. Not the first time, and certainly not the last.

My love of reading fiction set against a background of war started for real in my late teens. My aunt came to visit us and lent me a couple of books by an author by the name of Noel Barber. The first of his books that I read was called Tanamera - a novel set in Singapore, opening  in 1935 in the heady colonial days and including the fall of the island to the Japanese, and then the subsequent guerilla battles as they fought for freedom of the colonial rule they were shackled under. As their world turns to constant danger, the two main characters fall in love, and then are torn apart by the circumstances and war and have to find their way back to each other.  In the late 80s this book was turned into a mini-series and you can view the trailer on Youtube. (I would embed it, but the promo trailer was actually a little bit racy which surprised me).

I then went on to devour everything I could read from Barber. His other books were:

  • A Farewell to France (1983) (1930s France through WWII)
  • A Woman of Cairo (1984) (Egypt during their battles for independence through to WWII)
  • The Other Side of Paradise (1986) (Pacific before and during WWII)
  • The Weeping and the Laughter (1988) (Russian emigres in Paris through 1920s to WWII)
  • The Daughters of the Prince (1990) (Italy just before and during WWII)
These books are the kind of epic, sweeping, romantic novels that we just don't see very often any more! Forbidden love, passion, spies, war. I just went and got all his books off of my bookshelf and I am seriously tempted to just sit down and start reading one of these books. They are chunksters and I have distinct fond memories of each of them.

One of the reasons I like reading these kinds of books so much is finding out things that I just didn't know about. For example, a few years ago I read Black Diamonds by Kim Kelly, where she talked about the role that some of our miners played during WWI. These mens were taken from the mines, and sent to the Western Front, where they then tunneled under the ground until they were close to enemy positions and then set up explosives in order to destroy those enemy positions. It was dirty, and incredibly dangerous, and the men who performed these tasks were incredibly brave.

Since reading this book, I have seen the work of the miners mentioned in news reports, and in documentaries. This year, there is a new movie out which looks back at the jobs that these men did.

There are so many other books that I could focus on that I have read over the years, and I know that there are so many more to come. Click here to see just some of the books I have reviewed over the years that were set in WWII (in particular).

Reading books set against the background of war is just one more way that we can remember them.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them

Lest we forget.


  1. A beautiful post, Marg. One that gave me chills.

    "We will remember them."

  2. I didn't know today was ANZAC day - thanks for posting about this.

    The library has Tanamera - I should check it out.

  3. Fantastic post, Marg. I set out to do an Anzac SS too but unfortunately life decided otherwise and gave me other things to do.
    I remember the Noel Barber books and how I loved them.
    I've just finished The Shifting Fog and was thinking the same thing how you don't get many of these wonderful sagas these days. Pity!

  4. Marg - - I have an award for you here

  5. Oh, there were so many things I could relate to in this post...grandparents, for one. My grandmother's stories were so fascinating, that I've even incorporated and fictionalized some of them in the books I've written.

    WWII was a time I remember, slightly, especially in its impact on the small town where I grew up. There was a Japanese internment camp close to my grandmother's farmhouse, and I could see some things (only vaguely recalled) through a barbed wire fence.

    I have gone through periods of reading books about those wars—WWI and WWII—there was one by Sidney Sheldon that I enjoyed. The title escapes me!

    Over the years, I've read love stories set in those times. And movies, of course.

    Fascinating post. From the Aussie perspective, a whole new look at things.

    Here's my Salon:

  6. Wonderful post--so much here that's worth commenting on, and that I connect to, but I'll simply say thanks for giving us one more perspective on a fascinating and turbulent time period.

  7. Thanks Rowenna and Fredamans.

    Laurel, wow! Thanks for your comment. The idea of having an internment camp so close must give you fascinating fodder for fiction. Have you read Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet?

    Cat, sometimes life does get in the way. I am so glad someone else remembers Noel Barber's books fondly as well.

    Miss Moppet, you are welcome! Tanamera as I remember it is over the top, compelling, and so much fun to read. Who knows how it would be to read now, but I am definitely thinking of rereading it now.

  8. This was an incredibly interesting and insightful post. I am only just starting to learn some things about Australia, and it is all amazing. Unfortunately, being in the U.S., all we receive is U.S. history. Understandable, but even in college, I can't remember being given the option to learn about the history of other countries. European was offered, but that was about it.

    Thank you very much for the info. I will say a prayer of thanks for your grandfather and countrymen who sacrificed so much for thier newborn country.

  9. I've never heard of Anzac day or of this war, similarly to what Jenny Girl just said, my history education was WW1 and WW2 with very little else, so I will research this war. I've always found that the horrors of war are explained effectively in the kind of books you mention because of the stories of the people. They can often be of more informative value than factual books.

  10. What a great post! Happy Anzac day to you and thanks so much for sharing all these interesting thoughts with me. I admit to never having heard of Anzac day, so this post was doubly enlightening to me!!

  11. Marg - You already know about my love of family stories, so I was thrilled to learn more about YOUR family. I'm so glad that, despite the circumstances, you were able to get your grandfather to tell you stories that you hadn't heard before. I'm sure that you, like me with my grandparents, treasure those stories.

    Thank you as always for bringing to the attention of this American this day of remembrance on the other side of the world.

  12. Great and interesting post and nice for me to learn something new! Thanks for that. I remember reading Noel Barber when I was (way) younger, but I really can't remember what they were about ;-)

    I love your new blog design btw.