The War Experiences of an Australian Infantryman in France, 1916-1919
By E.P.F. Lynch
Edited by Will Davies
Read How You Want, (2009)
EasyRead Large Print, in 16 Point Font
(Originally Published by Random House Australia)
Also available: 20 point Super Large Print edition in 2 Volumes: Volume I and Volume II
Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - August 26, 2009
In 1916, at the age of eighteen, Edward Lynch volunteered for service in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). He knew that by enlisting in the Australian army that he would likely see combat in a relatively short time. He was correct. In August of 1916 he boarded the Wiltshire as part of the 12th Brigade Reinforcements. They were headed to the muddy fields of France, and the war. They were being sent to France to serve as replacements for some of the more than 23,000 Australian soldiers who were killed or injured during the eight-week battle near and around Mouquet Farm in Pozièrs, which was but one segment of the Battle of the Somme.
Lynch was to remain on the Western Front until mid-1919, when he was repatriated and allowed to return to Australia. During his years of service, Lynch kept a detailed diary and after returning home he used this diary (which encompassed twenty exercise books) to write a slightly fictionalized memoir of his wartime experience. At the time Lynch wrote this book, he was unable to find a publisher for it, an oversight that has at long last been corrected. Expertly edited by Will Davies, a military historian, his memoir has been published to much acclaim, under the title, Somme Mud. Best of all, this unforgettable memoir is available not only in standard print, but also in a variety of formats that make this book accessible to those with visual impairments, including large print, Braille, and Daisy formats.
Somme Mud is an important addition to the body of first-person accounts of soldiers' lives during World War I. It provides the reader with a unique, from the trenches, perspective of the war. Most important, it allows you to experience the war from the perspective of a common solider, unlike most histories of the period that focus on the war from the viewpoint of military leaders, key personalities, or political figures. Somme Mud is also the first memoir/diary that I've read that was written by an Australian solider. For both professional and amateur historians of the period, it provides a nice contrast to American accounts, such as Vernon E. Kniptash's World War I diary, On the Western Front with the Rainbow Division (Unfortunately this title is not currently available in large print.) Like Lynch, the American Kniptash volunteered for military service and did not return home until 1919. Both men where common soldiers, Lynch was an infantryman, and Kniptash a radio operator with an infantry division, and their two books provide a keen insights not only into their personal experiences, but also into the similarities and differences between the American and Australian servicemen's experiences during the war, their motivations for fighting, and how they were regarded by those at home.
Unlike Kniptash's book, which was published in the original diary format and is filled with brief yet informative entries, Lynch choose a more literary format in which to tell his story. As such, Somme Mud is written in a narrative form that adheres more to the style of a novel rather than a historical document. Lynch does not cast himself as the lead character, instead he has chosen to tell the story from the perspective of Nulla, a young enlistee who, in all likelihood, was Lynch himself. This narrative style allowed Lynch to write an emotionally charged and gritty account of his wartime experiences, without sliding into sentimentality or focusing on his own sensitivities. This choice of narrative style also allows Lynch to transport the reader to the battlefield and to share in the horrors, rare joys, and daily trials of life in the mud filled trenches of France, but also to share the emotional and physical toll that the war took on the men, and the methods they used to protect their sanity and how these shared hardships forged unbreakable friendships. Lynch's story starts at the beginning with him shipping out to France, and continues through his return home. Along the way, you follow Nulla as he changes from an innocent young man to a skilled infantryman who has become inured to death and murder. You experience what life was like in the damp, dangerous, and always muddy trenches in which so many young men lived, fought and died in, and how cold and disease was often a more deadly enemy than the Germans. Lynch graphically introduces you to the art of killing the enemy, the dreary routine of life between the fighting, the stomach churning fear of going into battle, and how the Somme mud became their constant and most annoying of companions, not only filling every crevice of their bodies, but also getting into their food, weapons, and wounds.
Thankfully, when Davis edited this book, he did not try to update the language or the vernacular of the original text. Rather, he allowed Lynch's words to remain true to the period in which they were written. As such, some of the terms used in this book are not what would currently be considered politically correct, but they were in common usages at the time and it is important that modern readers understand that this book should be read from the viewpoint of the period in which it was written, not by modern notions of 'correctness'.
In the book's forward, Professor Bill Gammage compares this book favorably to similar narrative memoirs such as All Quiet on the Western Front. I agree, for Somme Mud is both an important literary work, as well as an historic one. Somme Mud was constructed from Lynch's personal diaries and upon his detailed knowledge of the history of the military unit in which he served. As such, it is a historically accurate and compelling document. However, by crafting the memoir more along the lines of a novel, he has made his book more appealing to general readers of all ages. Within the pages of this book, Lynch offers valuable insights into the experiences of Australian soliders during World War I on the Western Front, insights which will enthrall both professional and amateur historians interested not only in Military or World War I history, but also in Australian history. I not only recommend this book to general readers and historians alike, but also to teachers at every level, who will find that Somme Mud, which includes a glossary of terms and several maps, will serve as an outstanding supplementary text in courses dealing with World War I literature or history.
Somme Mud is available from Read How You Want, an on-demand publisher that makes books available in a variety of formats including Braille, DAISY, and five different large print formats that range from 16-24 point fonts. This range of formats makes this, and other books, available to not only visually impaired individuals, but also anyone with a reading or physical disability that makes reading standard print books difficult.
Boy Soldiers of the Great War, by Richard Van Emden.
The compelling story of the tens of thousands of underage British youths who joined up and served on active military duty during World War I, many of whom saw action in the trenches of Europe.
World War I, by S. L. A. Marshall.
This book provides a solid historical overview of the causes, prosecution, and consequences of World War I. Written in an energetic and authoritative style, this book is eminently readable.