New book: Dodging the Devil – Charles Bean branded ‘a liar’


Dodging the Devil
Letters from the Front
Gallipoli, Fromelles & Bullecourt
By George Martindale
Commentary by Nicolas Dean Brodie

Published by Hardie Grant
RRP $29.99 in paperback
ISBN 9781743792155

 In short Capt Bean is a liar!

There have been any number of collections of letters from WWI published in the past few years. What has struck me – and perhaps others who read the books – is the standard of English expression and level of literacy of men from ordinary walks of life.

This latest collection – George Martindale’s correspondence with various family members – is a case in point. Martindale, born in Dimboola in 1887, enlisted on 21 August 1914. He was a carpenter by trade.

A hundred years on, I do wonder if the Twitter and texting generation would be quite so articulate!

Martindale served for over three years and witnessed some of the worst battles of World War 1.

From the very beginning, when he was sent to Egypt to undertake training with some of the first of the enlisted men, he wrote home. He documented his daily life in the war – the events, his feelings and opinions – and sent these messages and photographs back to his family in Melbourne.

He was sent to Gallipoli and fought in the battle of Lone Pine, eventually being evacuated when the troops were pulled out. He was then sent to France where he participated in the infamous battle of Fromelles.

He went on to Bullecourt, also a notorious battleground on the Western front, where he was seriously injured, putting an end to his army career.

His letters tell his story beginning with the excitement of signing up and sailing across the world to fight the enemy, to world weary after having seen so much death and destruction. His letters tell a revealing real-life story.

One in particular caught my eye.

In writing to his mother on 28th February 1915, he says:

You will have seen the articles by Captn Bean in ‘The Argus’ and I suppose also ‘The Age’. He has spoken out of turn! His foot slipped & I imagine he is in the mud, and not deep enough to get the frogs. There are those here who say that when they see him they will spread him over the landscape. I have had evening leave I suppose on an average of once a week and though no one will deny that a few hoodlums have made the pace a welter his articles convey an absolutely wrong impression. I must say I’m surprised (and agreeably so) at the forbearance and good conduct of the men in every respect. In short Capt Bean is a liar! The officers of the higher ranks are very indignant at his remarks – and make no bones over saying so.

For historians, and for general readers alike, first hand accounts of what war is really like and what really happens make for compelling reading, including remarks such as those about the man who was to become Australia’s foremost military historian of WWI.

Sadly George Martindale, invalided out of the Army in 1917, died in Dimboola in 1922. Like many good men of his generation, his life was cut short by a war not of his making.

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