Roger Underwood: Ion Idriess and The Desert Column- The Anzac Story see note please

Anzac Day marks the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. rsk

As academics and revisionists tirelessly re-cast the Anzac story according to preference and political persuasion, the author’s account his experiences at Gallipoli and beyond has slipped from view. Yes, there are patches of Boy’s Own prose, but the sentiments are bracingly and thoroughly Australian.

Chatting with old friends the other day, the subject of “best-remembered books of our youth” came up. It came as no surprise that of six participants in the discussion, all aged in our late sixties or beyond, there was unanimity: the best-remembered book was The Desert Column by Ion Idriess.

I read The Desert Column when I was about fifteen or sixteen, and I can still remember being enthralled by it. I had been given a copy for a birthday, and I treasured it for ages before it went astray somewhere and I forgot about it—although I did not forget about Idriess, several of whose wonderful books I also read back then. I still have an old hardback copy of Lasseter’s Last Ride, and I re-read this recently and enjoyed once more the way Idriess so uniquely combined history, fiction and Australiana.

The discussions amongst friends about The Desert Column intrigued me, so I acquired a copy from the library. Again, I read it enthralled, staying up late on cold winter nights to finish it off and then, my interest piqued, following up references about the desert campaign in the Middle East during the First World War, the Australian Light Horse, the “waler” horses, and Idriess himself.

The Desert Column (sub-titled Leaves from the Diary of an Australian Trooper in Gallipoli, Sinai and Palestine) was first published in 1932, and then, remarkably, was reprinted in 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, 1939, 1941, 1944 and 1951, demonstrating its astounding popularity with Australian readers of that generation. Re-reading the book in 2011, it’s not hard to see why, as it combines so many fascinating elements: history, war, mateship, horses, bushmanship, hardship, disaster, triumph. It is also well written in the simple language of the outback and the bush poet.

The Desert Column is not a conventional history nor is it fiction, but grew piecemeal as diary entries by the author, jotted down day by day. In a note at the beginning, Idriess says:

I began the diary as we crowded the decks off Gallipoli and watched the first shells crash into Turkish soil. Gradually it grew to be a mania: I would whip out the little book and note, immediately, anything exciting that was happening. As the years dragged on, my haversack became full of little notebooks. These memories … are my sole souvenirs of the War, except of course stray bits of shrapnel, bomb and high explosive splinters which nearly every soldier collected …

This approach gives the book immediacy, a sense that the author was writing a story in the present tense with no foreknowledge of what was coming, for better or for worse. There are characters, but no plot, just the unfolding of events. In other words, the usual situation is reversed: the reader, especially one with some knowledge of military history, knows the plot and the ending, and furthermore has access to the bigger picture, something denied the author in his status as an ordinary trooper on the ground at the time.
This essay was published in the September, 2011, edition of Quadrant.
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The diary commences on May 18, 1915, off Cape Helles in the Dardanelles, a few days before Idriess and his fellow troopers land at Gallipoli. The Australian Light Horse, it will be remembered, was sent to Gallipoli to fight as infantry, to support the troops who had landed a few weeks before and found themselves in an appalling debacle from the outset. Through these early chapters Idriess does not spare the reader; he writes with controlled emotion, almost matter-of-factly, but this makes the ghastly situation seem even worse. The Australians were repeatedly asked to do the impossible—to charge over open ground against entrenched defenders armed with machine guns and occupying the heights. The facilities for treating the wounded were totally inadequate, as were the water supply, the nutrition and the sanitary arrangements. After the first battle-lines had deteriorated into stalemate, Australians and Turks were eating, breathing, sleeping and fighting amongst decomposing bodies. Little wonder that septicaemia was rife. Indeed this is what threatened to end Trooper Idriess’s Gallipoli campaign—a scratch from a shell splinter to his knee was left untreated, became infected (there were, of course, no antibiotics in those days), and rendered him virtually a cripple. Eventually he was stretchered off to a naval vessel and to the Government Hospital in Alexandria.

idriess in uniformAs was always the case in the First World War, the moment he could walk again, Idriess was declared fit and posted back to Gallipoli. Here the situation for the Anzacs had deteriorated further, with the Turkish defence well entrenched and now supported by German artillery. Before long Idriess was even more seriously wounded when he was blown up by a bomb that landed directly in his trench. At that stage, the Australian and Turkish trenches were only a few metres apart, and grenades were being lobbed across by both parties, with terrible results. Again Idriess (right) survived. Again he was stretchered out and spent many weeks in the hospital and convalescing in Alexandria.

Reading about Gallipoli always makes me angry, and the early chapters of The Desert Column did it again. The gross incompetence of the British generals and their support staff stands in such stark contrast to the courage and sacrifice of the soldiers. Idriess’s descriptions are matter-of-fact, but the impact is blood-chilling. All these years later, I could smell the cordite fumes and the reek of the dead, hear the cries and clamour, feel the percussion of shells and the whistle of snipers’ bullets, and sense the exhaustion, the relentless danger and stress, and the constant loss of good mates, cut down on all sides.


“To man a trench and live among the lice…”

All things considered, today’s Commonwealth service marking the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings was moving and dignified. It was Winston Churchill’s idea to open up a new front in the Great War as “an alternative to chewing barbed wire in Flanders”. It proved to be one of the worst disasters in 20th century imperial history: By the end, the British and Ottoman empires had lost roughly the same number of men – about 200,000 apiece. On the invading side, the dead numbered 34,072 from the British Isles, 8,709 from Australia, 2,721 from New Zealand, 1,358 from India, and 49 from the Royal Newfoundland Regiment (the only North American participants) – plus 9,798 of Britain’s French allies. Those numbers do not include death from illness. In the botched landings, the sea ran red. In the carnage of the metropolitan power’s miscalculations, a post-colonial Australia and New Zealand were born.

There were certain ironies at today’s observances. Kemal Atatürk first made his name as a Turkish commander at Gallipoli. Playing host today was President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the man who is systematically dismantling the modern secular state Kemal founded and replacing it with something harder and older, explicitly Islamic and slyly neo-Ottoman. The chumminess between him and the Prince of Wales was one of the queasier aspects of the day.

His Royal Highness read from John Masefield’s account of Gallipoli, published in 1916. His son, Prince Harry, chose an excerpt from A P Herbert’s poem “The Bathe”. I think of Herbert as a light versifier and musical comedy man (he wrote the lyrics for Vivian Ellis’ big West End hit, Bless The Bride). But a century ago he was part of the Royal Naval Division’s Hawke Batallion, en route to Cape Helles. This is what he wrote:

Fighting for Everyday Americans, and Everyday Uranium-Dealing Kazakhs by Mark Steyn

It turns out that, while we were all worrying about the mullahs’ nuclear program, the Clintons’ nuclear program was going gangbusters. Kazakhquiddick dominated the conversation on my weekly chat with Hugh Hewitt:

HUGH HEWITT: I’m looking at an extraordinary article – Cash Flowed To Clinton Foundation As Russians Press For Control Of Uranium Company. It’s by Jo Becker and Mike McIntire from today’s New York Times. It’s almost unfathomable that Hillary Clinton would consider running for president after this article comes out, but what say you, Mark Steyn?

MARK STEYN: Yes, I agree. And I like Elizabeth Warren, and I want her to run. And when I say ‘like’, don’t get me wrong – I think she would be a disastrous president for this country, and she would want to turn it into a socialist basket case. But she believes in something, and she wants to do something. And Hillary Clinton is an entirely hollow creation. She is basically just an empty vessel in which the dodgiest characters on the planet pour money in return for favors. And I regret to say her daughter is becoming much the same kind of thing, too. Her daughter’s joined the family on stage with this Kazakh oligarch and all the rest of it. In fairness to Bill Clinton, he likes chasing nymphettes – he’s the only Clinton with a human characteristic…

Scott Walker’s Labor Economics :The Governor Needs a Better Tutor on Jobs and Immigration.

The good news is that Scott Walker is looking to advisers to educate him on the issues he will have to address if he wants to be elected President. The bad news is that on the economics of immigration the Wisconsin Governor is listening to Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions.

In a radio interview Monday with Glenn Beck, Mr. Walker said “the next President and the next Congress need to make decisions about a legal immigration system that’s based on, first and foremost, on protecting American workers and American wages.” He went on to say, “I’ve talked to folks, I’ve talked to Senator Sessions and others out there.” At the “forefront of our discussion going foward,” he says, must be what legal immigration is “doing for American workers looking for jobs” and what it “is doing to wages.”
By all means let’s have that discussion on jobs and wages. Because Mr. Walker seems to be taking his cue from Senate hearings Mr. Sessions held recently to spread a whopper: that Americans with degrees in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) can’t get jobs because foreigners are stealing them.

Mr. Sessions is the Senate’s leading crusader against any immigration, legal and illegal, and his latest targets are H-1B visas for skilled workers. Practically speaking, these visas are the only way U.S. companies can bring foreign talent to work in America, and more are going to STEM specialists.

Memoirs of the Murdered By Timothy Snyder

—Mr. Snyder is the Housum professor of history at Yale University. His “Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning” will be published in September.

‘In popular memory,’ writes Nikolaus Wachsmann, “the concentration camps, Auschwitz, and the Holocaust have merged into one.” In our confusion, we have narrowed the horror of Nazi practice. Auschwitz was both a concentration camp and a killing site for Jews, which was unusual. If we recall Auschwitz and forget the other camps, we neglect the people who were concentrated in them, most of whom were not Jews. When we identify Auschwitz with the Holocaust, we neglect the other death factories dedicated to the extermination of Jews, places where more Jews were gassed than at Auschwitz, and omit the shooting pits, where more Jews were murdered than at Auschwitz. Auschwitz is simply the place where in 1942 the history of the concentration camps met the generally distinct history of the mass murder of Jews.

“KL” is a definitive history of the German concentration-camp system. (The title is the German abbreviation of the word for concentration camp, Konzentrationslager.) Mr. Wachsmann, a German historian who teaches at Birkbeck College, London, gently disassembles popular memory and draws a complete and convincing picture. He begins with the numerous improvised camps that the two paramilitary wings of the Nazi Party, the SA (Sturmabteilung, or “storm battalion”) and the SS (Schutzstaffel, or “protection squad”) established in the weeks after Hitler rose to power in early 1933. These were often tiny holding cells, sometimes in basements or warehouses. Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, established a larger facility at Dachau; this would be the only camp that existed from the beginning of Nazi power to the end. The camps were about the consolidation of power and then about its allocation. The first victims were communists and socialists, people who might have challenged Hitler. In 1934, after the SS decapitated the rival SA in the “Night of the Long Knives,” it sealed its victory by taking complete control of the camps.

The President Daydreams on Iran :By Mortimer Zuckerman

Anyone who looks at the nuclear deal and sees success is living in a world of rainbows and unicorns.
Mr. Zuckerman is chairman and editor in chief of U.S. News & World Report.

I’m always chasing rainbows, watching clouds drifting by / My schemes are just like all my dreams, ending in the sky.

The vaudeville song by Harry Carroll and Joseph McCarthy, popularized by Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand, is all too appropriate to this moment, as we consider the implications of a nuclear Iran and the prospect of mushroom clouds over the Middle East.

President Obama has been chasing a rainbow in his negotiations with Iran. He has forsaken decades of pledges to the civilized world from presidents of both parties. He has misled the American people in repeatedly affirming that the U.S. would never allow revolutionary Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, which would guarantee a new arms race. In fact, one has already started. Credible reports suggest Pakistan is ready to ship an atomic package to Saudi Arabia, the Sunni nation that stands opposed to Shiite Iran’s subversion throughout the region.


Congratulations, Marie Harf! By Thomas Lifson

At the tender age of 33, Marie Harf has attained a special kind of immortality, joining a list of luminaries (for instance, Thomas Crapper) whose names have become verbs. The Urban Dictionary now lists “Harfing” as a verb:


To say or assert something so patently stupid and preposterous as to generate widespread mockery. Named in honor of State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf.The State Department Spokesperson was harfing on about how Islamic State jihadists only needed job opportunities in order to give up their evil ways.

Srdja Trifkovic : Rethinking the Saudi Connection Part One

Saudi Arabia has been dominating the Middle Eastern news recently. Its bombing of the Shia Houthis in Yemen, supported by Washington, and its ambivalent stand on ISIS, concealed in Washington, should raise questions about the nature and long-term ambitions of the desert kingdom. On those key issues there is an apparent conspiracy of silence in the American mainstream media and the policy-making community.

Saudi Arabia, the most authentically Muslim country in the world, is a polity based on a set of religious, legal, and political assumptions rooted in mainstream Sunni Islam. To understand its pernicious role in the ongoing Middle Eastern crisis, and to grasp the magnitude of its ongoing threat to America’s long-term strategic interests and security, we should start with the early history of that strange and unpleasant place.

Rethinking the Saudi Connection (II) By:Srdja Trifkovic

The Saudi military intervention in Yemen was launched, according to Riyadh, to “restore the legitimate government” and protect the “Yemeni constitution and elections.” This sudden desire to fight for constitutions and elections sounds odd, coming from an absolute monarchy which is consistently combating efforts at democratization at home or in its neighborhood.

As Ali Alahmed, once the youngest political prisoner in Saudi Arabia (at 14) explained in a CNN commentary on April 12, the real Saudi objective in Yemen reflects its determination to prevent the rise of any popularly supported government in the region. The U.S. has adopted the Saudi-Gulf narrative on Yemen, effectively placing Saudi ambitions to control that country above previous American priority of destroying al Qaeda’s safe haven there. This was underscored when State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki endorsed Saudi bombing (the “Saudis have legitimate concerns about the possible impact of current events in Yemen on their security”), thus implying that any country “concerned” about its neighbors can bomb them. “[T]he excuse of ‘resisting Iran’s influence,’ meanwhile, appears to be nothing but sectarian bluster,” Alahmed concludes. “By supporting a self-interested Saudi campaign, the U.S. may actually empower an al Qaeda with the potential still to do great harm to the United States.”


President Bush, Peanut Butter Sandwiches, and the American Dream By Monica Crowley

During the latter years of President George W. Bush’s presidency, I remember watching a petite wisp of a woman step to the podium of the White House briefing room and answer the pointed barbs and hostile questions of a profoundly belligerent press corps. I admired her poise as she faced the daily barrage — and the deep loyalty she so obviously felt for her boss. As one who had worked with an equally reviled former president, Richard Nixon, I felt an affinity with Dana Perino, so I am delighted to now call her a colleague at Fox News — and a friend.

Dana’s new book, “And the Good News Is : Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side,” is part memoir, part guide to life. I spoke with her about her own journey from a corner of the West to the White House.

Question: You were born in Wyoming and grew up in Colorado. How did the Western experience shape your values and character?

Answer: We were taught from a very young age that we were blessed to be Americans and that our freedom should be cherished and protected. We also knew we were not better than anyone else, to care for the innocent, and to be grateful for our blessings.