Editor's note:The swashbuckling novelist Ion Llewellyn Idriess (1889-1979) fought with the Australian Light Horse in the Sinai Desert. The skirmishes he recorded in July 1916 preceded the 'defensive victory' in Romani in August, the first step to securing the Light Horse's place in Australian military history. Idriess was an adventurer, boisterous and sometimes unreflective, but his time in the cavalry made for a magnificent adventure story.
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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.)
'One hundred years after the charge of the 4th Light Horse Brigade at Beersheba in October 1917...The Desert Column is based on the diaries that he kept through out the war. Published in 1932, it is one of Idriess' earliest works. Harry Chauvel noted in the foreword that it was the only book of the campaign that to his knowledge was "viewed entirely from the private soldier's point of view"...Idriess served as a sniper with the 5th Australian Light Horse. Enlisting in 1914, he began his diary "as we crowded the decks off Gallipoli" and he continued writing until returning to Australia...The diaries cover his experience of some of the war's major events from life in the trenches at Gallipoli to the battles at Romani and Beersheba. One of Idriess' strengths as a writer is his ability to place the reader at the scene of the action...The diaries reveal a keenness of observation and a descriptive and pacey style that Idriess would develop further in The Desert Column.' (Synopsis)