The Meaning of Anzac Day

Anzac Day is a disputed day of reverence on the Australian calendar.

It’s often conscripted into arguments by both sides of politics, providing support for any point anyone wants to put forward.

“Anzac Day celebrates the landing at Gallipoii, a campaign that sums up the useless violence of war.”

“Gallipoli represents the birth of the nation.”

“Mateship began in the trenches of Gallipoli.”

“Australia’s self-identity is based on the invasion of another country.”

Australian graves on the Western Front
Australian graves on the Western Front

The place of Anzac Day in Australian cultural identity is complex. The legend may not be historically accurate, but the day is culturally significant.

As Martin Thomas says, historical ‘falsehoods are built on fragments of reality, and for this reason they reveal greater cultural truths’.[i]

It’s no wonder that mythology grows out of world-changing events. There are so many shades of grey. One thing that is certain is that WWI was a huge, life-changing time for millions of Australians. And we all know how a single far-off event can have enormous ramifications world wide. Pandemic, anyone?

Today I’m sharing extracts from my book about World War I and Australian story-telling. I haven’t found the answer to Anzac Day’s place in our lives, but I did uncover some interesting questions.

What do you think?

***

An extract from

The Purpose of Futility: writing World War I, Australian style, by Clare Rhoden, UWAP Scholarly, 2015.

World War I was an astonishing event. The millions of people caught up in the war had never experienced anything like it. For the first time, all of civilisation was trapped in a life-or-death struggle. Whole societies were pitted against one another in a devastating, horrific, technological war. Cultured Europe was transformed into a gigantic threshing ground that crushed cities into shards and men into bloody pieces. No wonder people thought this was the war to end all wars. It seemed likely to be the war to end all of humankind. Everyone continued to fight because to lose such a bloodbath was unthinkable; losing could only mean total annihilation, a return to the Dark Ages. The war was so horrific that everyone was sure that this would be the last time humanity ever resorted to the battlefield.

Everyone was deluded.

World War I, far from preventing more wars, probably made World War II  –which transformed ‘The Great War’ into ‘World War I’ – inevitable.

World War I, however, did change the world in significant ways. There were undoubted advances in engineering, medicine, and science, driven by necessity: improved machinery, engine technology, motorised vehicles, aerodynamics, weaponry, surgical instruments and techniques, medical and rehabilitation procedures, prostheses, building methods, communications technologies, and so on.

There were also irreparable damages and losses.

One of the most astonishing outcomes of the war was the proliferation of art and creativity, both inspired by and addressing the war. Viewed as the most literary war ever fought, World War I was the first to involve literate populations on a grand scale. The trove of written memorabilia from the war, and the overwhelming mass of writing about it since, ensure it will remain a focal point in the mainstream consciousness of the west.

Australian World War I prose is a distinct sub-genre. Here I provide a moderating frame over previous research which effectively identified the Australian writers’ reliance on old-fashioned heroic modes of writing war. Our central discussion of how leadership is represented in literature establishes Australian cultural egalitarianism as a factor in the infamously poor discipline of Australian troops. My underlying premise – that literature has both constructive and commemorative cultural value –goes some way to explaining Australia’s infatuation with all things Anzac.

Part of the difficulty we have in understanding the effects of war comes directly from the writings of veterans.

Although the most popular World War I narratives tell a story of disillusionment, horror and grief, most of the writers have a degree of pride and even enjoyment in their service. Many remember war as the best time of their lives, because its dramas, intense friendships, and shared purposes created a sense of community and personal worth that peacetime can never match.

Survivors need to believe that their experiences have some meaning, and the vast majority of soldiers wrote about World War I as a meaningful event. Reading their words in a later age, we use our somewhat jaundiced hindsight to view their motives and actions with a mixture of disbelief and amazement. We tend to evaluate the writings of veterans in terms of our own moral and ethical standards; we doubt that men truly enlisted with the joy of anticipation, with a desire to fight. To most of us, knowing the continued cost of war across the twentieth century, war is the worst calamity which humanity can inflict upon itself. Even though many veterans look back with pride and nostalgia on their service days, we prefer to believe that everything about war is repulsive, and that no aspect of it can be viewed positively; we believe that those who record their war service as the best time of their lives must be deluded.

The truth lies everywhere in between: no simple dichotomy exists, from which we must choose our side; no balanced midpoint satisfies all perspectives. It is not possible to say that war is either the worst event that can befall us or the best situation for comradeship and meaning. Like most human experiences, war is sometimes neither the worst nor the best, but something in between, something quite ordinary and even boring.

More often, war is both the best and the worst, and also quite ordinary for much of the time. This is the heart of war’s mystique for the writer and the reader. Stories of war can reveal much to us about the joys and the costs of living in a fragile world, because such stories reflect both the best and the worst of human life itself, and tend to elide the ordinary days. In war stories as in everyday life, small decisions can be fateful, and accidents, happy coincidences, and inexplicable sufferings are daily occurrences.

***

The Purpose of Futility
The Purpose of Futility

My book goes on to explore the novels written by WWI veterans, and the place of WWI generally in our nation’s history – the way we ignore the battles of colonization, the way we valorize masculinity, the way we overlook the bitter arguments about conscription that divided the home front…

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

[i] M. Thomas, ‘Leichhardt on the mind: the manhunt for the Prussian enigma’, review of Where is Dr Leichhardt? The Greatest Mystery in Australian History by Darrell Lewis, Australian Book Review, no 354, September 2013, p. 21.

Past inspirations, secrets, and gifts

writing
At the launch of The Stars in the Night
Launching The Stars in the Night

Preparing for the annual Anzac Day celebration, I’m taking a break from interviews.

Around this time every year, there is renewed interest in my World War I academic book, The Purpose of Futility, as well as my historical novel, The Stars in the Night. Both of them came out of my PhD studies at the University of Melbourne. Today I have three goals:

  1. to share some of the fascinating background to my story
  2. to let you in to some of the secrets hidden inside the covers
  3. and offer you a free copy of The Stars in the Night*#

 

*#UPDATE April 18th: Thanks all, the free copies are GONE 🙂 … but feel free to sign up for my newsletter if you wish in any case

Behind the story

Here are some facts and figures for you. I know some of you love numbers and weird trivia.

Fact:

Australia of all the combatant nations in the First World War did NOT execute any of its own soldiers.

The Purpose of Futility: writing World War I, Australia style

Figure:

Over 316,000 Australians served overseas in WWI, but only about 7000 remained in service from Gallipoli to Armistice.

Fact:

Originally, only those soldiers who served at Gallipoli were called ‘Anzacs’. Their identifying colour patches were distinguished by a gold letter ‘A’.

Figure:

After the war, more than 250,000 servicemen returned to Australia, bringing with them a new perspective on our place in the world.

 

Hidden Secrets

My reasons for studying WWI novels in the first place had to do with family. My paternal grandparents arrive in Port Adelaide in January 1914, escaping the threat of European war. My father had some stories of their experiences. Some of these have made their way into my novel.

Secret 1:

Harry Fletcher’s German grandmother, Liesl, is modelled on my grandmother Albertine. She died when my dad was only 9 years old, so I never met her. Quite possibly, I have a rose-tinted view of her.

Secret 2:

Harry Fletcher’s birthday is the same as mine!

The cemetery at Poperinghe
The cemetery at Poperinghe, photo by Clare Rhoden

Secret 3:

Harry’s mother Ellen is based on my mother-in-law Nell. Watch out. I’m sure she’s still around in one way or another.

Secret 4:

The German widower and his son, who come into Harry’s bakery early on in the story, represent my dad and his bereaved father. I wanted them to have jam doughnuts.

 

Finally, free copies!

*#UPDATE April 18th: Thanks all, the free copies are GONE 🙂 … but feel free to sign up for my newsletter if you wish in any case

To help commemorate Anzac Day 2021, I am offering a free print copy of The Stars in the Night to the first three readers who sign up for my newsletter. *Australia only this time. See the panel to your right to sign up. I promise there not to deluge your inbox with spam!

The Stars in the Night
The Stars in the Night by Clare Rhoden

 

 

 

Love Books? Keep them coming!

Gifts of books

It’s no secret that I love books.

This year I’m sharing some bookish ideas for end-of-year gifts, for yourself or others.

I recently heard society philanthropist Lady Primrose Potter interviewed. She’s an interesting person. One comment that stayed with me was that if you love something and you want it to last, do everything your power to support it.

We all have different amounts of power.

Lady Primrose is an important patron of the arts in a number of fields. While I don’t have that kind of might, I can give my love to books in other ways.

I buy books, I read books, I review books, I recommend books, and I do my best to help fellow authors with purchases, reviews and shares. I know how much effort goes into writing.

But buying books costs money

Which is wonderful if you have it. If you don’t, you can truly support books (and authors) for FREE – see the tips at the end of this post. It all helps, truly!

Books to Buy

There are so many good books out there! If you need help deciding which book to buy for a particular person, I recommend that you check out the reviews and recommendations from the independent booksellers such as

Readings: https://www.readings.com.au/newsletters-and-e-news

Here you will find the archive of their newsletters with reviews of 2020 publications in all genres and age groups.

Independent BookSellers Australia: http://indies.com.au/catalogues/

Listings of 2020 books in every genre, with extra attention to Australian authors and presses

Small Press Network Book of the Year: https://smallpressnetwork.com.au/book-of-the-year-award/book-of-the-year-2020/

Supporting small independent presses in Australia, the Indie awards are highly regarded

My 2020 Reviews on Goodreads: Clare’s Books

You will be able to see my short reviews and ratings of the 89 books that I’ve read this year, and the 300+ that I’ve rated on this site since joining in Dec 2016. Feel free to follow my reviews on Goodreads into 2021 and beyond!

Buying Books:

You choose the source: e-books are of course online, and print copies can be found via online retailers, department stores, OR YOUR HEROIC LOCAL BOOKSHOP.

My courageous local bookstore is Benns Books of Bentleigh. They supported me throughout lockdown with local deliveries to my door, yay. Their excellent Christmas Gift Guide is here.

 

Free bookish gifts for authors

Finally, some suggestions to cheer up the writers in your life with some free love.

  1. Use the local library, because authors get a tiny percentage of a cent for each borrowing.
  2. Suggest titles for your local library to buy, because authors will get a little percentage of the cover price for every sale.
  3. Use a free reading platform to rate the books you read, such as Goodreads, BookBub, or Voracious Readers.  If you happen to ever buy anything on Amazon, you can probably post a star rating or even a review on there too. These days, ratings and reviews help sell books.
  4. Share the books you have. The author won’t get another sale but they will get another reader, maybe with a word of mouth recommendation or a library borrowing of their other books. Chances are that the person you lent the book to wouldn’t have bought it or even found it on their own.
  5. Recommend our books. You have access to readers that your writer friends will never meet, especially if you are a member of a book club. More readers is always better for writers, even if it isn’t more book sales. See above: borrowing from the library helps support us too!
  6. Invite us to talk to your book club, especially virtually in these times of virus. We would love to go viral online! Zoom me in, Scotty.
  7. Drop us a line. Let an author know, by email or tweet or Facebook follow, that you enjoyed our books. One of the most satisfying email I ever received was from a reader who told me that my book The Stars in the Night had helped her understand her grandfather, a veteran of WWI. This actually made me cry. All my efforts were worthwhile!
  8. Share our Beautiful Covers: Instagram and TikTok are great platforms for sharing lovely images of the books you’ve enjoyed. #booklove, #bookstagram, #amreading are all useful. Oh, pro tip: if you wish to tag, please tag the title or the publisher, not the individual author. Some algorithms will demote a post that tags individuals as a friend-share, not a customer recommendation. Hey ho.
  9. Enjoy Reading. Keep it going. Like many other industries, publishing has struggled with new releases this year. Online launches sell about a quarter of the books sold in real-life launches. Love your books and pass on the love.

Happy Reading! I look forward to seeing you in 2021.

Until then, love your books to life.

 

The Stars and Anzac Day

This week, we will mark Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand. For the first time in over a century, there will be no attending official services. The pandemic changes how we mark historic events, just as it changes how we celebrate or grieve personal events. I’m aiming to be up at 6am next Saturday, to watch dawn from my front garden and to think about the enduring legacy of war, and how world events affect us here Down Under.

Just in time, there is a fabulous new review of my WWI Anzac story.

My heartfelt thanks to Baffled Bear Books for this brilliant, thoughtful review of The Stars in the Night.

The Stars in the Night is indeed a tale of enduring love. This review is well worth a read. I’m very grateful to find such wonderful readers!

https://baffledbearbooks.com/2020/04/18/stars-in-the-night-by-clare-rhoden-a-story-of-broken-lives-and-enduring-love/

Teddy bears, wolves, and cow pats

My spirit animal is probably cute and cuddly rather than strong and noble. What do you think? I can dream … I’m pretty sure heart and soul would be part of it though…

Today I’m sharing this wonderful interview with Meeting the Author. What fabulous questions! Thanks to Camilla Downs, gracious host of Meeting the Authors website, author, poet, nature photographer, and all around good egg.

For great insights and intros to new books, you can follow Meeting the Authors at http://meetingtheauthors.com/

Here’s my interview. As Camilla says, watch out for the cow pats!

http://meetingtheauthors.com/2019/10/22/meet-the-author-the-stars-in-the-night-by-clare-rhoden/

Latest news: #WeLoveOurAuthors

Every day throughout October, awesome Odyssey Books is celebrating one of its authors with a feast of shares including FREE SAMPLES!

Now is the time to discover your new favourite.  Look under Odyssey News every day in October to meet yet another fab author. Remember, this is where books are an adventure!

My feature day was Saturday October 12th. If you want to learn some of my secrets and get some freebies of my writing, here’s the link:

https://www.odysseybooks.com.au/2019/10/12/clarerhoden-weloveourauthors/

The Stars blog tour continues

This week it’s all about the fabulous blog tour … The Stars in the Night is visiting the real world of readers and bloggers.

Many great links will be added here so you can see what happens when you go on tour. This time, what goes on tour comes home very happily!

Jo at Jaffa Reads Too: https://jaffareadstoo.blogspot.com/2019/04/blog-tour-and-giveaway-stars-in-night.html

Dragon Rose Books Galore Reviews: https://dbgreviews.blogspot.com/2019/04/blog-tour-stars-in-night-by-clare.html

Literary Flits: http://litflits.blogspot.com/2019/04/the-stars-in-night-by-clare-rhoden.html

Julie at Northern Reader: https://northernreader.wordpress.com/2019/04/21/the-stars-in-the-night-by-clare-rhoden-the-reality-of-loss-and-survival-in-war-and-peace/

Stacy is Reading: https://stacyisreading.blogspot.com/2019/04/book-review-stars-in-night-by-clare.html

Cheryl M-M’s Book Blog: https://cherylmmbookblog.blogspot.com/2019/04/blogtour-stars-in-night-by-clare-rhoden.html

My thanks to Harry’s travel agent, the lovely Rachel at Rachel’s Random Resources.