In Wounded, between terrible battles in the Ypres Salient, Snow and his mates go wandering around Poperinghe looking for souvenirs and postcards, ‘fair dinkum six-bob a day tourists’. Silk postcards are expensive and he is saving money for leave in Paris where he plans to meet Cozette again ‘ … but a favourite with mothers so I lash out and buy two, one for Mother and another for Maman Vandenberghe.’
In Wounded: a Great War novel, the Old Bat takes a break in Poperinghe, Belgium, in September 1917. The officers want to have a group photograph taken of the sixty-five or so originals still serving from the thousand or so who left for Gallipoli in 1915. Snow is sent with an officer across the border to smuggle in a French photographer in a cart normally used for medical supplies ‘without international complications’.
Tending the cart while the photograph is taken, Snow reflects on how gutted the Old Bat was in Egypt following the withdrawal from Gallipoli when the battalion was split in two and half reassigned to 53rd Battalion, which was subsequently wiped out at Fromelles. If Snow hadn’t unexpectedly been recalled as a runner, he would have been in that. This was so, for my father.
It’s not clear that this is a self-portrait of my father, but it probably is. I found it in his field note-book, secured with other memorabilia in the cedar title-box in the ‘dug out.’ It looks as I imagine he would have looked as a young man, though I never knew him then. Certainly those are his battalion’s colours.
It’s unclear at this stage whether Dad served at Gallipoli. Everyone in the family believes he did but his military service record housed in the Australian Archives is silent on the issue. It says that he sailed from Sydney on the Orsova on 14 July 1915 but there is no further entry until March 1916, when he was attached to Garrison HQ at Zeitoun, Egypt. What happened in between? I am currently investigating the matter. This charcoal sketch of the Nile River, dashed off in a lid, which I found in his ‘dug-out’ at Undercliffe, simply deepens the mystery.
I found this diary in the cedar title-box in dad’s ‘dug-out’ at Undercliffe and for years thought it was his until I realized the author could spell well and dad couldn’t. I think I know whose diary it is, but I’m not sure. I intend to donate it to the Australian War Memorial when I have established its authorship. In Wounded: a Great War novel, Snow finds his diary after a German air raid, covered in a comrade’s blood. Certainly, the document was very helpful in imagining the book’s plot.
Finding this piece of metal in the cedar title-deed box in dad’s ‘dug out’ shed at Undercliffe was one of the things that prompted me to write the novel. It was dug from a deep wound in dad’s body in August 1918 at Jeancourt, France. In Wounded, Snow is seriously wounded at Passchendaele in 1917 and again in April 1918. His son tells an old Frenchman Gilles:
“… one Anzac Day … he showed me a bullet and a lump of jagged shrapnel, both dug from his body. If only I’d been able to talk to him, maybe I might’ve understood, but I just froze at the sight of those chunks of metal and said nothing, too immature, too full of myself, to know how to react.”
Whenever I see this piece of metal, I realize, as George does in the book, how miraculous it was that dad survived and that I and my children exist at all.
After nearly seven years work on my book, Wounded: a Great War novel, it’s a wonderful feeling to know you’ve completed the task and to the best of your ability.
Wounded is the story of a young man and his friends caught up in one of the greatest catastrophes of human history. It tells how they survive, love and die, and how they continue to ask all of the big questions young people ask about the meaning of life but in a situation where life might end, literally, next heartbeat.
Snow is ambivalent about being in the war. A part of him believes he’s been tricked; emotionally blackmailed into enlisting. The fact is, as soon as his mates, John and Collin signed up, he had to, too. A lot of the time he’s trying to work out what he’s doing there and what, if anything, he still believes in. He struggles hard to remember a home that isn’t there any more. An intense inner war is going on within himself when he meets Cozette and discovers a new reason to go on living.