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To Hell and Back - The Banned Account of Gallipoli

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    Posted: 30 Jan 2012 at 18:56
The following review refers to the reissued version of the book "The Straits Impregnable" by Sydney Loch which was banned in 1916.
To Hell and Back
Ninety years after its banning, a stark eye- witness account of Gallipoli is back in print.
Michael McKernan, reviewer
April 20, 2007
Sydney Locke
He was a very old man, of course, an Anzac veteran on the return visit to Gallipoli in 1990, but his memory was remarkably clear. He'd been at Quinn's Post, he told me, possibly the most dangerous place on the whole peninsula, and was wounded there. He didn't wait for stretcher-bearers but walked down to the beach and put himself at the head of the queue of wounded awaiting evacuation. Otherwise he might have been overlooked and he passionately wanted to survive.

The sense of the individual that man displayed was striking in contrast to how we have romantic- ised war. The importance of the individual is the most striking feature, too, of Sydney Loch's remarkable book, first published in 1916 as The Straits Impregnable.

We get to know a couple of minor characters in Loch's account of his four months at Anzac but he as the narrator dominates. The thousands of other troops, Australian, Turkish and all the rest, are present but are rarely seen close up. This book simply tells us what Sydney Loch did, what he saw and how he felt about it. It is honest and intensely interesting.

Yet Sydney Loch is not a polished writer: "Winter passed and spring followed" is not a promising start to a chapter. Frankly I dozed through the first parts of the book, his pre-enlistment life, then enlistment, Egypt and training. But when the convoy sets off for the peninsula the book explodes with life and insight.

Loch served in the field artillery but as runner for his commanding officer he roamed the Australian combat area rather than being tied to his gun. Therefore, he can give the reader an overall picture of the battlefield; with a good map you could trace his movements. I know no better account of the reality of life at Anzac: the constant danger from shrapnel, shells, and snipers; the horror of trench-living; the monotony of life once both sides settled down; the extraordinary truce to bury the dead.

In plain prose, without artifice or exaggeration, Loch gives as faithful a portrayal of Anzac as has been written.

But Sydney Loch became terribly sick in August 1915, just after Lone Pine, and was evacuated first to Egypt, where his life was in danger, and then to Australia. During a long convalescence in 1916 he wrote this book. It is by no means a critical account but it is realistic. After a brutal shelling, a severed head falls at Loch's feet. He vomits and gets on with his work. His book would certainly not have encouraged the doubters to enlist, as seemed so crucial in 1916, so it was published as fiction to avoid the censor.

Was the censor mad to be thus fooled, for the book reads as much like fiction as Charles Bean's history? The small first print-run sold out immediately and was re-issued with a tag "this book ... is true". Now the censor woke up, the "novel" was immediately banned and lost to Australian readers for the next 90 years.

Reprinted with notes and a brief account of Sydney Loch's life before and after the war by Susanna and Jake de Vries, the publishers are making merry with the "banned" book. Attracted, perhaps, by the sniff of the illicit, readers will find nothing that had ever warranted the censor's interest, apart from the honesty of the portrayal.

Sydney Loch may have been at Quinn's Post when the man who told me his story was also keeping watch for attacking Turks. Whether or not he was there, Loch would have approved of the individualism of my informant. War, he tells us, is every man for himself. The romance of war is for the people at home.

A downloadable copy of the original book (various electronic formats) is available by following this link through this post on the Association forum.

Edited by Peter Trounson - 04 Aug 2012 at 19:12
To protect our history, we must secure it's future.
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