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Search tags: Nonfiction-Wars-and-Battles
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review 2016-04-12 15:22
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
All Quiet on the Western Front - Erich Maria Remarque

5/4 - Another book from my school days that I haven't read since, at least 14 years ago (I'm not sure which year I was in when it was the set reading). Another book where my tolerance for injustice will be tested. I think the only war book that I've read from the German point of view, but except for calling the enemy 'Tommy' and the fact that most of the names aren't what you would expect to hear from a group of Australian, American, or British soldiers, this could have been written by a soldier from any army from either side of the war. This was the book that taught me that the average German soldier had a pretty similar experience to the average Allied soldier - inappropriate clothing for the conditions, not enough food, a lot of hurry up and wait, too many dead friends, men too old to go off to war encouraging the boys to join up and fight for their country - simply put no matter who you fought for it was a horrific experience for any 18-year-old boy that left a generation of men permanently damaged. To be continued...


12/4 - I consider that I have reasonably strong ties to 'the Western Front' (for an Australian of my generation) and a high level of interest thanks to the presence of my two paternal great-grandfathers. One was with the 22nd (I can never remember who was in which battalion or who went through which specific experience, so I won't be able to name them), the other the 24th infantry battalion of the AIF. Their battalions were practically neighbours on the battle field, it's amazing that they both made it back home and ended up brothers-in-law. A kneecap was blown off by the shrapnel of a passing grenade and they were both gassed, and reading the chapters of that were set in the hospital really made me think about what they went through while they recuperated in whatever hospital they were sent to (records do exist, but they're very faint and the handwriting is a nearly illegible scrawl). Were they sent to hospital with friends or did they go alone? How many men did they see being taken away and then never saw again while they lay in their bed, not knowing if it was going to be their turn next? Of course, they lost many friends, in fact one of them was discharged from the AIF a sergeant because all of his commanding officers died in battle and he was the only one left with enough experience to reliably hold the position. I never actually knew either of them, they both died before I was born, but I have heard a lot about them from their children (my grandparents) and my father who was close to both of them. 24 years later my grandfather enlisted in WWII and he went through many of the things his own father and future father-in-law did (although, knowing my grandfather as I did, I doubt they talked about their experiences). He was with the 2/6th Field Ambulance in New Guinea and the surrounding islands and almost never mentioned what he saw or did during the war. All that kept running through my head while I was reading was that the 'others' Paul and his friends were fighting could have been one of my ancestors' battalions and how it was pretty much luck that my great-grandads made it home (and thus, indirectly enabled me to be here) and Paul and his friends didn't.


2016 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge Category: A Banned Book (this was banned by the Nazis after they came into power in 1933, it was in fact one of the first so called 'degenerate books' to be publicly burnt).

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review 2014-08-19 10:20
Stubborn Buggers by Tim Bowden
Stubborn Buggers: The Survivors of the Infamous POW Gaol That Made Changi Look Like Heaven - Tim Bowden

17/8 - Bowden is really making the personalities of the 12 'Stubborn Buggers' shine through with his writing. The spirit of the men is amazing considering every aspect of the conditions they were being kept in - every biting, infection-causing insect imaginable; no shelter, or no sunlight; cells so small they couldn't lie flat; 'toilets' only emptied once a week; absolute solitary confinement for years.

Considering how difficult I've always found it to get my grandad to talk about his experiences during WWII (he fought with the 2/6th Field Ambulance in Bougainville and New Guinea, and later at the end of the war and afterwards in the same area with the Papuan Infantry Battalion) I'm very impressed that Bowden was able to get all these old guys to talk about their experiences so freely. It must have required a lot of courage, especially for men of their era, to discuss some of the horrible indignities they suffered. Actually, indignity is not really a strong enough word for what they went through - enemas, testicle electrocution, being so desperate to eat that they washed other prisoner's faecal matter off undigested beans and ate them while cleaning out the 'shit buckets' in the cells, being forced to stare at the sun until they suffered solar burns (what the hell?), and so much more that I could spend this whole review just listing all the different, highly imaginative methods of torture that the Kempeitai (Japanese Military Police, who ran the Outram Jail) thought up, sometimes just for fun and sometimes, supposedly, for interrogation purposes. To be continued...


18/8 - I think this is the first war biography or autobiography that I've read that has featured a soldier who wasn't described as being a hero, as not necessarily perfect. According to Lieutenant Penrod Dean's one and only friend (most other prisoners viewed Dean's actions in helping his captors with their uniform repairs, among other things, as working with the enemy, and ostracised him from any small piece of mateship they were able to share with each other) during the war and their shared captivity, Private John McGregor, Dean lied in his own book while detailing his and McGregor's experiences prior to being picked up by the Japanese soldiers. Dean claims that he made a number of raids on enemy positions using grenades that he happened to come across somewhere out there in the bush (the way Dean tells the story kind of reminds me of something out of John Marsden's fictional Tomorrow, When the War Began series). When McGregor tells the story it's far more boring and simply involves the two of them being lucky and hiding from the Japanese, until they were unlucky one day and got caught. To be continued...


19/8 - Very interesting book. I especially liked the 'where are they now' details at the end, talking about their lives after they finally made it home. I'm glad I'd already read Nevil Shute's A Place called Alice as the real man who was the inspiration for the character of Joe Harman was mentioned in that he was mates with one of the 'Stubborn Buggers' of the book. So when Bowden said that James 'Ringer' Edwards was Shute's inspiration for Joe Harman I knew who he was talking about and have since been able to look Edwards up on Wikipedia and read the true story of his crucifixion by the Japanese and his survival, despite their best efforts to have him die in agony (for the capital offence of killing some cattle to feed himself and his fellow prisoners).

I knew that a number of soldiers died (from suicide, execution, or the effects of torture) not long before the war ended, but it was still really heartbreaking to read of men who simply couldn't take it any longer and committed suicide just days before they were liberated or the unbelievable bad luck that their Japanese captors carried out their death sentences before the allies could get to them. I couldn't believe how long it took Bowden to research and write this book - 20 years - and found it quite poignant that by the time he'd finally finished, and published, only two of the men he interviewed were still alive to see their story being told. That's pretty sad and I can't understand why Bowden needed to spend so many years writing it, the book's not that long, and I'm sure that those guys who died only a few years before the book got published would've loved to see their names and stories in print.

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review 2014-05-20 08:45
Sharpe's Tiger (Sharpe, #1) by Bernard Cornwell
Sharpe's Tiger - Bernard Cornwell

30/1 - I really enjoyed reading this book but found it quite different from the corresponding tv series.  The bits where we hear what Sharpe's thinking were in a tone completely different from what I thought he'd sound like after watching a couple of episodes (I own the dvd set, but haven't watched all of them yet).  He sounded a lot more immature and coarse than what Sean Bean does in the show.  I also found it hard to believe he was seriously considering deserting.  I thought that sounded completely out of character for him.  I really enjoyed the battle at the end and was happy to read about

(view spoiler)Hakeswill going to the tigers

(spoiler show)



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