Posted 10 March 2009 - 12:52 PM
In the foreword to 'Somme Mud' it is claimed that Edward Lynch said 'Nulla', the hero and narrator of his manuscript was based on a friend but we're asked to believe he was, in fact Private Lynch. The only justification for this suspension of belief is if these are composite characters based on the experiences of Edward Lynch can the memoir be described as 'non-fiction'? The manuscript is given no meaningful provenance, although his grandchildren apparently used it in their HCS and in part it often reads like a school project, with a mixture of historical fact and some incongruous precise details.
Nulla is 18 years old and the sensitive narrator for this band of brothers. Only nicknames are used for his comrades. NCOs and named officers barely exist in his war. We first meet up with the reinforcements for the 45th Bn AIF as they leave for France, bade farewell by swooning, but bravely stoical, Australian womanhood. On arrival at Etaples Longun (the larrikin character) soon gets the better of the base instructors and how we laughed when one of these authority figures burned his fingers while demonstrating a flamethrower.
Early on in the narrative there is an appalling racist anecdote involving a soldier in a Labour Corps unit who has his hand blown off by a 'bomb' after naively pulling the pin. The apocryphal 'hand in the trench wall' story is repeated yet again, this time with a racist undertone. The Maoris, however, are an acceptable minority, earning acceptance by proving themselves in battle.
After their first experience in the line the doomed replacement character, 'Young Jacko', joins them. Posted to 15 Platoon, 14 Platoon make him feel so welcome he remains with them for a few months until his death. Nobody seems bothered by this.
Nulla becomes a runner which allows him, to have many adventures, including a bizarre exchange with his (unnamed) Colonel on the nature of war, after which they depart, allegedly 'the best of friends'.
Eventually, on the 7th June 1917 they are on Messines Ridge. Three days later young Jacko is killed, bleeding out with his mates around him, his mother's name on his dying lips as his 'boyish' hands lose their grip on life. His melodramatic death provokes Longun to go on a rampage of revenge against 'Fritz' with his bayonet. CWGC has no record of Private Jackson 45th Bn. AIF killed that day, or even that month. Astonishingly our 'crowd of seven', who sailed away together (although knocked about a bit) are eventually reunited to travel home together and return to 'our own people'. As they voyage home Nulla helpfully gives a rambling dissertation on the uniquely Australian social and cultural identity of 'mateship'.
Edward Lynch was a soldier. He was wounded twice, his service record is unremarkable but no less distinguished for being typical of the thousands of volunteers of all nations. We're told he served as a Captain in WW2 and later became a teacher. The editor notes this is an 'abridged version' of Lynch's manuscript and racist language is included as a record of the type of attitudes and language of the time. Soldier's language was no doubt extreme and yet there are no other expletives in the book, although there are absurd euphemisms at odds with the received Australian pride for straight talking.
Like so many of the relatively new publishing genre of 'rediscovered memoirs' that coincides with the passing of the last veterans I believe 'Somme Mud' probably says more about popular attitudes to history in the twenty first century than adding anything new to the classic literature and experience of the Great War.