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Personal Side of the Great War

Gordon  George SmithThe Family that Went to War is both a family memoir and a history of the people of the state of New South Wales. Are you writing about your own family? What inspired you to write a story about your family’s life?

After starting to research my family tree I discovered for the first time that I had a great Uncle killed at the battle of Fromelles. Then to my amazement I gradually discovered the stories of the other 5 mentioned in the book. While I was discussing this with some of my cousins, I decided to see if I could write a book on their exploits.

This book is about World War 1. What research did you do to prepare to tell this story?

We had a guest speaker at a men’s dinner and he mentioned that he found a lot of information from public available war records. I applied for the service records of all six members and from there I researched the events shown in their records. Every time I came across a location that I was not familiar with I Googled the location to check on its spelling. Unfortunately army diaries were notorious for the inaccuracy of foreign names.  The Google research also allowed me to see the relationship between the various locations. I also searched newspapers particularly after reading Georgina’s letters to the army. I realized that there was a lot more to learn. From the old newspapers I was able to put together the later histories of the Wright brothers (both of whom gained the rank of Inspector in the NSW police force).

This story gives a personal look into the lives of WWI veterans. Did you find anything in your research of this story that surprised you?

Everything surprised me as I (like so many of my generation) knew so little of the personal side of the Great War.

How do you think the return of these veterans from WWI helped to shape modern culture?

From those I have talked to, it seems that they were all effected long term. I got the feeling that the distance made it even harder on the families at home because it would be months after the event that their families would have any news. I think that many went to do their duty for the “Mother Country” only to be disappointed by the attitudes of the British Generals toward the Australians. From that time in history Australians ceased to feel they were British. They now were proud to be Australians.

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The Family that went to WarIn1914 Australia joined England and declared war on Germany and it’s allies. In the small New South Wales town of Cootamundra 6 young Australians, all from the same family, individually joined the fight. This saga follows their journeys through Gallipoli and the Western Front. The saga also covers time in Egypt, England and France away from the fighting. This is a story of a family and how it was affected by a on the other side of the world. It tells of the battles, the wounding and sickness endured by these young men as well as the lighter moments. A readable history that shows some insights into what it was like during those dark times. Buy Now From Amazon.com

The Family That Went to War

The Family That Went To War3 StarsThe Family that Went to War is both a family memoir and a history of the people of the state of New South Wales, Australia. The author, Gordon Smith, gives a well-documented account of six members of a family from Cootamundra, NSW, who enlisted into the First Australian Imperial Force (1st AIF) at the onset of World War I. His research in historical archives, newspapers, and memorial societies is well done. The accounts of war and details of each man’s deployment presumes that he also had their war diaries and letters from home to draw on for detail.

The Commonwealth of Australia was still a young country, having formed a federation just over a decade previous. Australians still regarded Britain as their mother country, and when war broke out, Australia’s Prime Minister declared support for Great Britain and formally entered the Great War. Six members of the author’s family enlisted to fight the German army. He tells each man’s story with informative passages about the region they are in, the larger picture of the war that raged around them, and then brings it back down to the trenches where the soldiers fought. Smith’s details regarding ships, armaments, shortages and hardships, and other details of the soldiers’ experiences in Egypt and France will be of great interest to readers fascinated by World War I or the contribution of Australia to the Great War.

One such detail is in the account of Austin Schofield’s experience at Gallipoli. A water shortage, bad weather, and devastating losses motivated the British combined forces to evacuate. In order to safely evacuate, they used subterfuge to trick the Turkish forces into thinking they were still there.

Periscopes were to be propped up, and every effort was to be made to create the impression that the trenches were still fully occupied. … When it was time to finally abandon the trenches, Austin was to help set up some remote firing devices to fire some rifles to keep the illusion that the trenches were occupied. Some rifles had string tired to the trigger and a candle burning until it reached the string. The rifle would then fire.

Though the author writes with detachment, the stories of these soldiers in the midst of historic battles give a glimpse into the life, and death, of Australian soldiers. I was particularly interested in the account of William Power, fighting on the Western Front at Fromelles France. The losses to the Australian forces were described as, “the worst 24 hours in Australia’s entire history”. Though the account is given in a very matter-of-fact manner, it’s hard not to sympathize with the Australian soldiers.

The biggest drawback of this book was a simple case of bad editing. In one case, the name of an Egyptian city is spelled three different ways on the same page. Punctuation is inconsistent and made some passages difficult to understand and hard to follow.

Overall, I think the author has done a fine job documenting both his family history and military history. Despite the dry, academic tone of the account, there are moments of humor and humanity that shine through.

Pages: 92 | ISBN: 9781310378010

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