High in the clear morning air ring our marching songs as we step out through flag-bedecked streets. Te windows and roofs of shops are gay with bright flags and pretty, laughing girls. The crowds line the footpaths happy in the bon camaraderie of their farewell to us. Here and there are silent women in black, mute testimony to what has befallen others who have marched before. We swing cheerfully on.
A woman breaks from the crowded footpath and arm in arm with her soldier husband, marches on with us. Ping, ping, and a shower of half pennies lands amongst us, thrown from the roof of a big verandah. We break step as we battle for the coins for glued to each is the address of a girl. Most of us collect girls’ addresses as a hobby these days. We seize the coins, wave to the roof of girls as we fall into step with our mates and forward again as the girls wave and coo-ee.
Somme Mud is one man’s war. Private Edward Lynch, or ‘Nulla’ as he is referred to, tells the story of his war. It begins with the march to join a ship in Sydney and ends with his return in mid-1919. The tone is diary-like, although entries are organised into chapters rather than dates. The excitement of setting out and the boredom of the long sea journey soon gives way to the realities of trench warfare. Nulla shares the horrors of the trenches, the survival strategies and the skiving off, the injuries and the deaths as he travels his way around the battlefields. From his first engagement with ‘Fritz’ at Gueudecort a tiny village on the Somme to the liberation of POWs after the war is over, Nulla provides an insider’s view of war.
Private Edward Lynch marched off with his mates to the First World War. No one could have prepared him, or his mates, for what was to come. Of those who returned from this war, few spoke much to their families of their experiences. Edward Lynch did. Although he apparently didn’t keep a diary, he has written an account of his war rich in detail and flavour. The story failed to find a publisher when first written but in 2006 was published and this abridged edition appears now, in 2010. Photos are scattered throughout and help the reader to visualise the places and people of the story. Edward Lynch writes in first person, and is referred to as Nulla. Somme Mud was written in the years immediately following the First World War and retains language and attitudes of the time, giving the narrative an extra layer as a reflection of the social mores. Recommended for anyone wanting to understand the First World War from the perspective of the soldier.
Somme Mud: An Australian Teenager in the First World War, Edward Lynch (edited Will Davies)
Random House 2010
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
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