Editor's note: Walter Downing (1893-1965) arrived in France with the Australian 57th Battalion in 1916. He survived the slaughter at Fromelles in June, and spent the rest of the war on the Western Front. His unblinking, understated memoir tells truths about the mind of a soldier that are rarely heard.
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'From the cliffs of Gallipoli, through the jungles of Vietnam, to the deserts of Afghanistan and Iraq, Australia's short history is a story of war.
'The battlefield has shaped the way we define ourselves - the Australian values of mateship, courage under fire, larrikinism - but few of us have witnessed these scenes firsthand. Soldiers writing from the front and journalists on the ground have formed the way we think about war and so formed the way we think about ourselves.
'In The Penguin Book of Australian War Writing, author and journalist Mark Dapin has gathered together the finest of these accounts. Starting with Watkin Tench's observations of an Aboriginal war party, we see the terror, confusion and occasional heroics of the front line through the eyes of some of our best writers, including AB Paterson, Martin Boyd, Patrick White, Alan Moorehead, Kenneth Slessor, Peter Cundall and Barry Heard.
'These remarkable letters, diaries, memoirs and reports remind us of our history, and of our responsibility in recording and remembering what happens in the wars we send our soldiers to fight. (From the publisher's website.)
yTo the Last Ridge : The World War I Experiences of W.H. DowningW. H. Downing,
Melbourne:Australasian Authors' Agency,1920Z18500381920single work autobiography 'Written just after the heat of the battle and in the language of the time, this is the personal account of an ordinary soldier's experience of one of the most horrific series of battles ever fought. Fleurbaix, Bapaume, Beaumetz, Lagincourt, Bullecourt, The Menin Road, Villers-Bretonneux, Peronne and Mont St. Quentin. Downing describes the mud, the rats, the constant pounding of the guns, the deaths, the futility, but also the humour and the heroism of one of the most compelling periods in world history. His writing is spare but vivid, and presents a graphic description of an ordinary person's struggle to survive. Walter Downing was a Melbourne law student before fighting on the Western Front, where he won the Military Medal.' (Publisher's blurb)