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Lost boys of Anzac - Peter Stanley

Australian soldiers in action in the hills behind Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915; most of the "lost boys" were killed well away from the beach

4/5 stars

By Nick-D

Lost Boys of Anzac is a collective biography of the 101 members of the first wave of Australians who landed at Anzac Cove who were killed during the fighting on 25 April 1915 (now remembered as Anzac Day) and the events which followed their deaths. These include the process by which the Army eventually concluded the men were dead, and the impact this had on their families. The book's author, Peter Stanley, is among Australia's most prolific military historians and the former senior historian at the Australian War Memorial.

I had a personal motivation in buying this book: my great grand uncle Joe Flynn was among the approximately 900 Australians and New Zealanders who were killed in the area around Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915 (though not a member of the first wave), and when reading his personal file at the National Archives of Australia I was shocked at the bureaucratic confusion which followed his death; his family was originally told that he was lightly wounded but eventually learned of his death in a letter from a friend, and Flynn wasn't officially declared dead until January 1916. I was interested to know whether this confusion was typical of the way in which the Army handled fatalities at the time, and if so why.

This is an unusual military history book. It opens with several chapters on the background and early military experiences of the 101 men, and then focuses on the day's fighting around Anzac Cove. While Stanley notes that the men left relatively view documentary records behind, he's made excellent use of their official files and personnel correspondence, as well as secondary sources, to provide a narrative which is largely told from the perspective of the men involved. Tragically, many of them simply vanish, with no records recording where they died, and most never being buried in a marked grave, if at all. The second half of the book is focused on the experiences of the dead soldiers' families: it turns out that my family's experience was not uncommon, with many other families having to wait months or even years to receive confirmation that their loved one was dead. Stanley does a fine job of tracing the experiences of the families, and highlights the remarkable work of the Australian Imperial Force's Base Records Section and Red Cross volunteers in responding to queries from family members. This material is very moving, and drives home the terrible cost of the war.

The book does have some weaknesses though. While Stanley probably needed to invent a collective term for the 101 dead men, consistently calling them the "lost boys" quickly becomes grating, not least because most were in their mid-20s. The book would also have benefited from some extra analysis: Stanley never really addresses why it took the Army such an incredibly long time to conclude that most of the "lost boys" were dead and communicate this to their families. More maps and at least some photos would have also strengthened the book.

Overall though, Lost boys of Anzac is a very fine book, and the detail it provides on the personal experiences of the 101 soldiers and their families provides an important and useful addition to the vast literature on the landing at Anzac Cove.

Publishing details: Stanley, Peter (2014). Lost boys of Anzac. Sydney: NewSouth Books. ISBN 9781742233970. 

Recent external reviews

Matthews, James (2012). Reluctant Warriors : Republican Popular Army and Nationalist Army Conscripts in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 019965574X. 

Kaiser, David (2014). No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation into War. New York City: Basic Books. ISBN 046501982X. 
Hotta, Eri (2013). Japan 1941 : Countdown to Infamy. New York City: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 0307594017. 

Bailey, Roderick (2014). Target: Italy: The Secret War Against Mussolini 1940-1943. London: Faber & Faber. ISBN 0571299180. 

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