Historical non-fiction is always interesting as it affords the opportunity to learn, understand and to imagine an event that we did not experienced firsthand. This moving and loving tribute to a brave grandfather transports readers back to 1915 and the beaches of Gallipoli where a ferocious war is playing out.
Life is grim for the ANZAC soldiers in the trenches of Gallipoli. After months of fighting, bodies are exhausted, hungry and falling foul of the Gallipoli gallop. With the fighting at an impasse, evacuation orders would send a seismic shockwave through the camp. For the evacuation to work, a series of plans needed to be executed to perfection. Whilst soldiers would slip away into the dark of the night, someone would need to stay behind. It would mean a certain death, it was a suicide mission. So who would be the last man out? Would it have been you?
Some books just have to be read and this definitely falls into that category. Written by Louise Park, the granddaughter of John Alexander Park who was ‘the last man out’, comes a poignant, powerful, raw and highly personal account of the withdrawal of ANZAC troops from Gallipoli. Meticulously researched and informed by John’s letters and a range of other official sources, readers are taken into the heart of the trenches and can begin to understand what it was like for those brave young servicemen fighting on the front line.
Told in the form of diary extracts that cover a time period of a little over three months, and featuring touching photographs, this superb piece of family history captures the essence of wartime and painstakingly recounts the days leading up to the withdrawal - the horrors, the pain, the brotherhood, the camaraderie, the fighting spirit, the jokes, the games and the mischief as men from home tried to make the best of a bad situation.
The evacuation is the kind of thing you would expect to see in a Hollywood movie. A plot so inconceivable that surely it must fail, the enemy must catch on. It would be impossible to maintain the ruse that thousands of soldiers were in the trenches when in reality the numbers were in the hundreds and diminishing rapidly as the evacuations were ramped up. Ingenious ideas - such as trip-wired self-firing rifles - and sheer bloody-mindedness would even deliver a Hollywood ending…no man would be left behind, not even the last man out.
Whilst we view these men as heroes, they merely saw it as doing their duty. The fact that so many wanted to be the last man out even though they knew it meant almost certain death tells you everything you need to know about this band of brothers. Feeling guilty for leaving the graves of the fallen behind, saddened to give-up the hard won trenches, leaving a mission unfinished; staying to these lads was to retain their honour, their pride, their dignity, to not be a deserter. The disappointment at abandoning so strong that men wanted a final battle with the enemy.
Even though these events occurred over a hundred years ago it is important they and the men who were there are never forgotten. This superb piece of work ensures that the history, the ANZAC soldiers and their fighting spirit will live long in the memory. An essential book to have in the classroom and to share with children in their later years of primary school.
Thank you Louise Park for sharing this story, and thank you Sergeant John Alexander Park of the 4th Field Australian Engineers Company, Australian Imperial Force. We will be forever indebted to you and your comrades. Lest We Forget.
Recommended for 8+.
With huge thanks to Wild Dog for the copy I received in exchange for an honest review.