WHEN a story opens with an account of gassing on the battlefields of western France it’s a safe bet the ensuing chapters will also be gritty, honest and rooted in raw reality. So it is with For Love of Country, the latest military-inspired work of non-fiction by Anthony Hill.
Hill records the experiences of Walter Eddison, British by birth but a man who, caught in the right place at the wrong time, finds himself enlisting in the Australian Light Horse. When Eddison – on a fact-finding visit to northern NSW, where he hopes to invest – initially hesitates to sign up, a local comments that he doesn’t know how he’d feel about owning land in a country he wasn’t prepared to defend.
The conversation takes place in September 1914; by year’s end Eddison is sailing back towards Europe, this time with a Rising Sun badge pinning up the brim of his new slouch hat.
Sent to Gallipoli, he is eventually one of the final few ANZACs evacuated in the covert withdrawal of 92,000 men over 11 nights without the loss of a single life.
From Turkey he is redirected via Egypt to France.
After the war he moves with wife Marion and three children to Australia, taking up a soldier-settlement block on the outskirts of fledgling Canberra.
There he discovers that he must unlearn almost everything he thinks he knows about farming; practices that shone on 32 hectares in England are woefully inadequate when applied to 10 times that area of unimproved Southern Hemisphere “pasture”.
Despite this, the Eddisons survive, and by 1939 it’s the turn of Walter and Marion’s sons to enlist – and so continues the family’s struggle.
Coincidentally, Young Digger – Hill’s biography of an unidentified orphan who wanders into an Australian airmen’s mess in Germany on Christmas Day 1918 – has just been re-released as an updated paperback.