The Costs and Pitfalls of Book Buying.

I have far too many books – and still I buy more.

When I develop a new reading interest, or a new interest in general, I’m not satisfied to dabble around the edges, I jump right in and obtain as much as possible related to that interest.

In recent years I became interested in some aspects of military history. At first I just wanted to find out why Anzac day was such a big deal in Australia. Like many Australians, my knowledge and understanding of the Gallipoli campaign at the heart of Anzac day was minimal. As the centenary of the original Anzac day (25th April) came around in 2015, I decided to put an end to my ignorance and I read several books about the campaign that attained mythic status in Australian culture.

From there my curiosity about other aspects of WWI was sparked, and my reading widened to other battles and their historical consequences.

But that wasn’t enough. I moved on to WWII when I discovered some family involvement in the North Africa and Sicily campaigns of 1943.
I was able to untie some of my dad’s tangled childhood memories to find the facts behind the tragic loss of his cousins Albert and Horace during those campaigns; even being able to track a report of Horace’s desperate cries for help, followed by the sound of his drowning, after his glider crashed into the Mediterranean.

I sought out and bought as many books as I could find that might increase my knowledge of Albert and Horace’s experiences of war. A lot of the books were out of print so I needed to track down second hand copies. A helpful resource was https://www.bookfinder.com/

Through that site I was able to find books covering my topics of interest that have been long out of print. Unfortunately some were outside of my comfortable price range, but most weren’t.

As I’ve written in several recent posts, my current interest is crime fiction, a very popular genre with far too many reading options. The only way I could realistically launch myself into reading crime was to find someway to limit those options. I chose to be selective with the authors I read.

So far I’ve followed two paths. Firstly there are the two authors who helped me get into the world of crime in the first place. I’ve already written about Lynda La Plante and Ann Cleeves.
Secondly, because my greater interest has been fuelled by the strength of character and place in Cleeves’ books, I looked around for British writers basing their work around Derbyshire, the English county where I spent my pre-teen years. I’ve also written quite a lot about the three writers I’ve been following.

To date Sarah Ward has three published books, Steven Dunne seven, and Stephen Booth at least seventeen. It would be a very costly exercise to get all of them, so when available I’ve helped the process through purchases from charity and second hand book shops, while keeping an eye on the prices of new books in online stores. Occasionally books will be discounted and a little money can be saved if I’m viewing the right site at the right time.

book list 2Ideally I’d be able to find all of the books at a local bookshop, giving them support instead of some overseas mega-store, but they rarely (if ever) have the kind of books I want, that cater to my sometimes obscure tastes (how many Australian readers are looking for Derbyshire crime writers?).

I now own all of Sarah Ward’s books.

I have the first three of Steven Dunne’s books. The first I could only find second hand online, the second I bought new and the third I also found second hand in a Canberra bookshop.

Stephen Booth’s books have been a mixture of new purchases from The Book Depository , Some from charity shops and two I bought online through the book finder address cited earlier. Those latter purchases have been examples of the perils faced when buying used goods on line. When I received the books they weren’t the editions that had been illustrated (they were older) and their actual condition didn’t match that of the written description on the website.
Bringing the problems to the attention of the supplier doesn’t always lead to the customer finding a satisfactory outcome.*

After two disappointing experiences, I’m now reconsidering the buying of second hand books online unless they are completely out of print and can’t be obtained any other way. In the recent cases I only resorted to the second hand orders because the number of books in the Stephen Booth series pushed the overall cost of new ones into uncomfortable territory, and I was eager to get his earlier books for an affordable prices as soon as possible.

At the moment those early books are some of the more expensive, unless I compromised by buying American editions. However an American version of a Derbyshire book, with American spellings and the possible “translating” of Derbyshire turns of phrase into Americanised approximations… well it kind of defeats my purpose of choosing Derbyshire based stories.**

I’m resisting the temptation to order more books for a while.  Over the Christmas break I could be away from home from time to time, so won’t be around to make sure any book deliveries are received securely.

Anyway, I have more than enough crime fiction to keep me going for a few weeks before I need to order again in the new year.

Apart from filling in some of the existing gaps in my collection, next year there will be at least two new books to look forward to: Sarah Wards fourth DC Childs book The Shrouded Path is due for release in the UK autumn, but before that will be The Devil’s Dice, the debut book by Roz Watkins released around March 2018.

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The image illustrating this post is part of the book list I keep in my wallet to help me keep track of what I already have so I don’t double up on any title.

*Although one bookseller went above and beyond my expectations to sustain their reputation for good service – sending me a book autographed by the author as a replacement for a copy that had been an ex-library book and was marred by stickers and ink stamps)

 

** To keep things in balance, I have no problem buying American editions of books by American authors, where American-English is in keeping with the authors intent.

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A Rose for the Anzac Boys

a-rose-for-the-anzac-boys

In A Rose for the Anzac Boys  Jackie French vividly depicts the horror and heartbreak of battle at the Western Front during WWI. While not glorifying the violence, she doesn’t compromise at all with the gruesome truth of it.

The story concentrates on Margery (Midge) MacPherson and her experiences in France, serving tired and wounded troops near the front lines.

When war starts, Midge is away from her New Zealand home and lives at a school for girls in England. She and her English school friends decide to leave school so they can play their part in the war effort by setting up a canteen for the troops in France, not realising how much their lives will be changed.

Partly told in the form of letters, the realities of war are made clear, as Midge corresponds with family and friends at home and at the battle front. I found the letters to be a powerful and convincing part of the book, fitting in naturally with the ongoing narrative of Midge’s story. They had an authenticity comparable to the real letters and diary entries I’ve read before and were some of the more moving portions of the books. Maybe my desk at work during tea and lunchbreaks wasn’t the best time and place to read these sections.

While the book is set behind the lines, some of the letters from soldiers give us a glimpse of life and death at the front, while Midge’s experiences take us into the world of the many volunteers who worked as caterers, ambulance drivers, VADs and nurses. We see that few were left unaffected by the cost of the war and that the effects continue through following generations.

After the story, French includes a 19 page “author’s note” to give some historical  context to Midge’s story, bringing to the reader’s attention the neglected, but significant role women played during World War I.

How many women fought in World War I?

We’ll never know. But there were thousands, or even million – as many, perhaps as the men who fought there too.

Few women in World War I carried weapons. But these days we say a soldier ‘fought’ in World War I or II if they were in transport, or administration, and not just one of the relatively small portion of soldiers who actually faced the enemy. The women of World War I fought in other ways, and often in battles as hard as the men’s. And most their war was unrecorded.

 

VAD

With a degree of poignant synchronicity, I read the last part of the book on the 100th anniversary of the battle of Fromelles, probably the most tragic single day in Australia’s military history, where almost 2,000 Australian troops lost their lives and many thousands more were wounded. There were more Australian casualties on that one day than in all post WWII campaigns combined.

 

(see my other blog for more about Fromelles: https://onesimusfiles.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/battle-of-fromelles-centenary/  )

The author’s web page related to the book:  http://www.jackiefrench.com/#!a-rose-for-the-anzac-boys/o3kat

Publisher’s page :  http://www.harpercollins.com.au/9780732285401/a-rose-for-the-anzac-boys/

 

Gallipoli, Peter Fitzsimons

gallipoliPeter Fitzsimons’ book is probably the Gallipoli account I should have read first.

It covers the major aspects of the Gallipoli campaign, from its planning, through the battles and then on to the evacuation that brought it to an end. There are also the differing viewpoints of the main combatants involved: Turks and Germans, as well as men of various ranks among the British and Anzac “invaders”.

It was Fitzsimons who first made me aware of the blatantly obvious (but mostly overlooked) reality, that the last word in my previous sentence is a very appropriate description of the Gallipoli campaign. The Turkish fighters were in fact defending their homeland against an invasion force.

Arguably, Fitzsimon’s style makes this book a better general introduction to Gallipoli than the Les Carlyon book of the same title* that marked the starting point my Anzac journey. Both books are lengthy and cover a large number of complex inter-related events and the actions of many individuals and groups, but Fitzsimons seems to do it in a more accessible way.

Then again, his book had an advantage – I had already become familiar with a lot of the Anzac story before I picked it up. When I started Carlyon’s book I knew nothing at all about the subject, so the process of piecing events together wasn’t so simple and therefore the book took more effort to follow. Maybe Fitzsimons’ book was easier because of what I’d already learned through Carlyon.

Troops, supplies and tents along the beach at Anzac Cove not long after the landing

Troops and supplies at Anzac Cove not long after the landing

Fitzsimons is a journalist, and throughout Gallipoli he divides chapters into smaller sections with “newspaper headlines” marking out different topics or viewpoints within the text. These headlines start with the relevant date and then give a hint of the events covered in the section that follows, such as this one leading up to the landing of ANZAC troops:

WEE HOURS, 25 APRIL 1915, CAST OFF AND DRIFT ASTERN.

I found these headlined sections helpful, not only as cryptic teasers regarding what I was about to read, but also as convenient resting points, where I could pick up or put down the book depending on the amount of time available for reading.

Fitzsimons shows a lot of respect for the Anzac men and the place in the story of Australia’s sense of identity, but he does so without glorifying the campaign into which they were thrown. He leaves no doubt that the invasion was ill-conceived, poorly managed, incompetently led and destined to fail. He shows that the troops persisted against impossible odds that saw a large percentage of them killed or seriously wounded, while often those directing their actions remained in safety, making decisions without actually knowing what was being faced by the men they were sending to their deaths.

fromelles-pozieresI still have two or three more Gallipoli books to get through including Gallipoli Air War by Hugh Dolan and In Great Spirits, the WWI diary of Archie Barwick, but I’m now looking forward to Fitzsimons’ next book Fromelles & Pozieres which I’ll use as my introduction to the Anzac involvement on the Western Front. I already have an autographed copy pre-ordered.

gallipoli PF

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* see here: Les Carlyon

Goodbye Cobber God Bless You, by John Hamilton

goodbye“Goodbye Cobber, God bless you”, are the last recorded words of Trooper Harold Rush prior to him being sent to an inevitable death in the battle of the Nek.

That battle occurred 100 years (and a few days) ago and was one of the most futile events within the greater Gallipoli campaign of World War I.

Australian troops were ordered to leave their own trenches at a site named “The Nek”, armed with bayonets fixed on rifles*, and capture Turkish positions only 30 or so metres in front of them. To do this they had to cross a narrow patch of land about the size of 2-3 tennis courts. Either side of this area, the land fell away steeply.

Charles Bean, Australia’s official war correspondent later described the event as being like “trying to attack an inverted frying pan from the direction of its handle.”**
The attack at the Nek would be familiar to many people without them realising it. It formed the climax of Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli, in which its futility was highlighted.

Four waves of troops were ordered to charge one after the other, even though the massacre of the first wave made the tragic outcome clear. Attempts to have the charge of subsequent waves halted were rejected and line after line of troops were mown down by Turkish machine gun and rifle fire almost as soon as they raised themselves above the parapet of their own trenches.

1
Harold Rush of the 10th Light Horse died in the third wave, after his commanding officer had tried to put an end to the attack that he knew would see his men slaughtered. That officer’s plea was rejected by the senior officer at the site.

John Hamilton’s book Goodbye Cobber God Bless You follows the men involved in the battle from the time of recruitment through to the tragedy that took the lives of most of them. It’s a subject that he briefly touched upon in his more recent book The Price of Valour about Hugo Throssell. Throssel was one of the few survivors of the attack whose involvement in another battle soon afterwards earned him a Victoria Cross.

I found the book on Throssell was a much easier read than Goodbye Cobber Following the life of one man was easier than keeping track of many men whose names were mostly unfamiliar. The book would probably benefit from a second reading, which may give clarity to the earlier references to men whose names grow more recognisable as the book progresses.

The difficulty I had reading Goodbye Cobber wasn’t really the fault of the book or its author. By the time I started I’d already ready many books about the Gallipoli campaign and maybe a kind of battle fatigue had started to set in. My reading time was also limited so I didn’t have large blocks of time available to devote to the book. The short reading periods available didn’t really give me the chance to settle into it, and each time I picked it up was like starting over again.
grave stone

* Some reports claim they were sent with unloaded rifles, but accounts given in Hamilton’s book speak of Australian survivors returning fire occasionally while stranded in “no-man’s land”.

** Goodbye Cobber God Bless You, John Hamilton page 243

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Also see my short article here: https://onesimusfiles.wordpress.com/2015/08/07/anzacs-and-wwi-100-years-on-7th-august/

The Other Anzacs, by Peter Rees

Other AnzacsThe Other Anzacs is the story of some of the ANZAC heroes of World War 1, who weren’t given the official recognition they deserved.

They are the nurses who travelled across half the world to do what they could for the “British” war effort. Unable to take up arms, they dedicated themselves to saving the lives of the victims of battle and disease, and were confronted daily by countless deaths and unspeakable battle wounds.

The book draws heavily on the personal accounts of the nurses, using their diaries and letters to find a way into their experiences and their emotions.

The book was adapted into a recent TV series Anzac Girls, and a paperback edition of the book was released under that new title. I bought the paperback edition and then watched the series before reading the book. Before I was able to get around to the book I found a hardcover edition, signed by the author, in an antiques and collectables shop. I bought it and gave the unread paperback to my mum.
anzac girls
The series chose to concentrate on only five of the nurses from the book, but they gave a good representation of the general nursing experience throughout the war. Watching the series didn’t detract at all from the later reading experience.

One aspect of the book that interested me was finding out the many local references. I found several of the nurses had links to nearby places I know. That gives me some interesting possibilities for further study. I even found that one of them lived nearby after the war and is now buried in the cemetery less than half a kilometre from my home.

While the men they nursed recognised the worth of their work, from the beginning the nurses had to contend with a bureaucracy that didn’t want women involved in that kind of war work. And yet the women soon had an effect, at times having to literally build up hospital facilities from scratch with very limited supplies.

Grace Wilson's medals

Grace Wilson’s medals

Matron Grace Wilson (see photo on book cover) found patients having to lie out in the open on the Island of Lemnos when she and her nurses were transferred there to establish the closest hospital to the Gallipoli battle front. The nurses even had to resort to tearing up clothing to provide bandages.

Peter Rees writes that on Lemnos “The conditions were probably the worst experienced by any nurses during the war.” But despite that Wilson and her nurses were able to create a hospital that was able to keep death rates to a minimum.

Despite their essential work the sacrifices they made and the dangers they faced, the nurses (considered officers in rank) were only paid a fraction of what the orderlies working for them received. Likewise, after the war they were denied any of the entitlements that were offered to returned servicemen which included financial help with housing loans. Rees writes ” Authorities in Australia saw the nurses’ role as secondary to that of the soldier.” He later adds “Australia was slow to acknowledge the nurses who served in the war. This was belatedly rectified in October 1999 when a memorial to Australian nurses who served in all wars was unveiled on Anzac Parade in Canberra.

nurses memorial, Canberra

nurses memorial, Canberra

The Price of Valour, by John Hamilton

price valourThe latest book in my Gallipoli quest is Price of Valour, a biography about Hugo Throssell VC.

Throssell, had survived some of the worst parts of the Gallipoli campaign. He was one of the few to live through the suicidal attack at the Nek, where wave after wave of charging Australian troops were cut to pieces by machine gun fire. Appeals to senior officers to stop the attack were rejected and the waves of troops sent to certain death continued. Only a few, Throssell included, managed to find cover and eventually edge their way back to safety.

Soon afterwards he became part of a move to take and hold “Hill 60”, where a partial trench was taken from the Turks who were kept apart from Australian troops only by a barrier of sandbags. The opposing sides attacked each other by throwing bombs into the trench occupied by their opponents. Survival meant catching the bomb before its short fuse burnt through and throwing it back to its source. Several men lost hands and arms during the several hours that this went on. Throssell was one of the few survivors, who despite being shot through the neck and his back peppered with bomb fragments, returned to the battle after being evacuated for medical attention. It was this involvement that earned him the Victoria Cross.

After the Gallipoli campaign he received a lengthy break for medical attention. During this time an attempt to correct a problem with his nose caused a penetration of his brain cavity from which fluid leaked and led to serious infection that caused problems throughout the rest of his life.

His final military experience was in Palestine where he was wounded again, but more tragically it was here that his brother Ric was killed. Later in the year he was part of the final assault on Jerusalem and was chosen to be part of the guard of honour when the victorious General Allenby entered the city.

Exalted to the status of hero after being award a Victoria Cross for actions at Gallipoli, after his return home he was soon pushed off the pedestal upon which he’d been placed, when he spoke out against war, saying that peace would never be achieved while some people could make substantial profits from war. This didn’t go down well in his conservative community, particularly after his marriage to writer Katherine Susannah Prichard, a committed socialist writer who became one of the earliest members of the Communist Party in Australia.

The effects of his war experience, the wounds he received, the legacy of a bungled wartime operation that gave him mild brain damage, the suspicions of his community, followed by the Great Depression when he fell into serious financial trouble – all led to his eventual suicide.

The book’s title is very appropriate and shows a different perspective of the glorious Anzac myth.

A Chaplain at Gallipoli

BestJohn Masefield, mentioned in an earlier post could have been describing a different war to the one witnessed by Kenneth Best.
Best clearly writes from personal experience, while to me, Masefield’s account of Gallipoli seems to lack the authenticity that experience alone provides.

As an Australian my main interest is the Australian involvement at Gallipoli and why it has become such a focal point of our national identity.

Masefield described the Anzacs as if they were semi-divine in appearance, true Olympians and nothing like the scrawny troops from his own country but Best’s view was less complimentary describing the Aussies as reckless and undisciplined.

He has this to say about the Australian troops in Egypt prior to their departure for Gallipoli:

“No discipline. They obey commands, turn up on parade only if it suits them. They go for a route march, take towels and go swimming whatever the objective of the route march may have been”..

“General Maxwell desires not to be left alone with Aussie troops. Source of anxiety to medics, despair to officers and menace to Egypt and yet papers are full of their loyalty and efficiency. Why not put them in the front line, as David did to Uriah?” *

Masefield and Best also portray the battleground very differently from each other.
Best doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to describing the conditions and the overwhelming presence of the dead:

“Blood flies and smell – I shall never forget it. As one crawled along the trench, hands and legs of the dead hanging over the edge would strike one’s face. Here and there a familiar face, cold in death. Heartbreaking work”

Masefield’s battleground seemed to remain well-swept and spick and span (except of those dirty Turks who intentionally bred flies in their trenches to inconvenience the invaders).

It’s been helpful to read different perspectives of the Gallipoli campaign, but while I’ve found contemporary reports very interesting, I see the benefit of viewing events from a distance: the later historian can weigh up evidence from various sources away from the fervour, prejudices and limited viewpoint of those caught up in the actual events.

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* a biblical reference to this:

2 Samuel 11:14-15 “In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, ‘Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so that he will be struck down and die.’ ”

Full context can be read here: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=2 Samuel+11&version=NIVUK