Whilst this is a historical text and, as such, necessarily documents dates, places and details of campaigns, it is also a very human account, with Rees making extensive use of letters, diaries, memoirs and interviews to tell the stories using the words of men (and, occasionally, women) who were there.
The two World Wars were just a generation apart. It was not uncommon to find sons following fathers to fight, like them, in the desert. To some observers the Australians were madmen; others thought they treated war as a bit of a lark. But there there is no doubt that the Australians as soldiers won respect.
Of the many stories told of Australians’ involvement in the two World Wars, there seem to be fewer about their battles in the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East than about Europe, the Pacific and, of course, Gallipoli. Whilst some famous actions are well documented -such as the siege of Tobruk – others are relatively unknown. In Desert Boys author Peter Rees redresses this imbalance by focussing on the stories of the soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought in the desert campaigns of the two wars, providing a detailed and moving account of their actions.
Whilst this is a historical text and, as such, necessarily documents dates, places and details of campaigns, it is also a very human account, with Rees making extensive use of letters, diaries, memoirs and interviews to tell the stories using the words of men (and, occasionally, women) who were there. It is this that really takes the reader into the midst of the action and of its very rel human toll, with final letters home, recounts of key events, amazing stories of survival and equally moving tales of those who did not survive.
At over 700 pages in length, including notes and acknowledgements, this weighty offering is a must for lovers of military history and inspiring for any reader.
An Excerpt From a Letter
The weather is getting very hot here now and between the flies in the daytime and mosquitoes and several other insect pests at night a fellow gets a fairly lively tmie of it. I thinka ll the plagues of pharoah’s time are still here. We killed a couple of snakes just outside out tent a couple of nights ago and talk about dogs, there are thousands of the mongrels here of every size and colour. It is quite a common thing to wake up in the night with a great big mongrel dog sniffing in a fellow’s ear, but there are not so many lately as they make good targets to practise on. Frank Willis, 1916
Desert Boys: Australians at War from Beersheba to Tobruk and El Alamein, by Peter Rees
Allen & Unwin, 2011
This book is available in good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.
‘I had my right arm under a leg, which I thought was [the patient’s], but when I lifted it I found to my horror that it was a loose leg with a boot and a puttee on it. It was one of the orderly’s legs which had been blown off and had landed on the patient’s bed. The next day they found the trunk about 20 yards away.’
When Australian and New Zealand men went to fight in the Great War, they entered the pages of Australia’s history, rightly earning the tag of heroes. But wherever the men fought, there were also women, bravely risking their lives to tend the wounded, the ill and the dying. Few modern day Australians are aware of the extraordinary courage and compassion shown by these women, who have been largely forgotten.
The Other Anzacs is an in depth account of the lives and contribution of the nurses who volunteered to go to war and provide nursing support to not just Australian and New Zealand troops, but also to the wounded from other Allied nations, and even enemy soldiers. Using the unpublished diaries, letters and photographs of these women, as well as carefully researched facts, author Peter Rees provides not just a history of these women, but an insight into their emotions and sacrifices as he provides their firsthand accounts of the war. With approximately 3000 Australian and New Zealand women having served during the war, and forty-five killed and over two hundred decorated for their service, this is an important piece of our history which must be preserved. Rees is ensuring this by not only documenting it, but also making it accessible.
An important, informing and engrossing book.
The Other Anzacs, by Peter Rees
Allen & Unwin, 2008
This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.
When he announced his resignation as Deputy Prime Minister in June 1999, Tim Fischer began his withdrawal from Federal Parliament and from the political arena. After 28 years in politics, he had come to the decision that his family needed him more than the National Party or the Australian public did.
In the decades preceding that resignation, Tim Fischer had grown from a fresh-faced state politician, to the confident, hat-wearing leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister. He had weathered the highs and lows of life in politics and put his stamp on the nation’s history.
The Boy From Boree Creek explores Fischer’s life from his birth in 1946 until this resignation. Author Peter Rees attempts to capture both the private and the public persona, showing how he ran his campaigns, how he built a public image for himself and how he influenced policy making, and yet more intimately, how he coped with the pressures and constraints of the political life.
Readers with an interest in Australian politics will find plenty of interest in this book, as will all who enjoy Australian biographies.
The Boy From Boree Creek, by Peter Rees
Allen & Unwin, 2002
As Australia’s traditional rural industries have either hit hard times or become increasingly mechanised and less labour-intensive, more and more towns have found themselves faced with dwindling populations and subsequent struggles for viability and survival. The gap between the city and the bush grows ever wider and those who wish to ensure the long-term future of their communities have had to work hard to meet the challenges they are faced with.
As a politician and head of the National Australia Party, Tim Fisher travelled widely throughout Australia’s rural areas. In the course of his work, he met many people and listened to many tales of hardship and of survival. In Outbck Heroes,he combines with journalist Peter Rees to share the stories of Australians who have succesfully faced the challenges of the changing nation, using initiative, hard work and determination to help themselves and to inject life into their communities.
From every state in Australia come stories of unique ways of survival and success. Whether it is making cheese in Tasmania, unique cosmetics and oils in Western Australia’s south, or transporting goods across the country, the individuals in this book all show that with positive thinking and the will to succeed, dreams can become reality.
An excellent read, especially relevant in the Year of the Outback, and at a time where much of Australia is suffering the effects of severe drought.
Tim Fischer’s Outback Heroes, by Peter Rees and Tim Fischer
Allen & Unwin, 2002