"We just fell down and slept, rain and all, and shells falling all about us, but we were too exhausted to bother; we didn't mind if we were killed; it was terrible." "We thought we knew something of the horrors of war, but we were mere recruits, and have had our full education in one day." These are the words of men responding to the grotesque realities of war. When the Great War started in 1914, most Australians believed in patriotism, military heroism and loyalty to the British Empire. As the war dragged on, as the horrors intensified and the casualty lists grew, patriotism gave way to cynicism and courage to despair. By the time the conflict ended, basic changes had taken place in the minds of many fighting men, and their lives were never the same again. In The Broken Years, using the diaries and letters of 1,000 Australian soldiers, Bill Gammage reconstructs with great sensitivity the valour and the tragedy of their experience. He shows how and why the Great War had profound effects on the attitudes and ideals of Australia as a nation.
Bill Gammage is an Adjunct Professor at the Humanities Research Centre at the Australian National University.