Pompey Elliott at War
In his own words
By Ross McMullin
Published by Scribe
RRP $59.99 in hardback • ISBN 9781925322415
Ross McMullin returns to his favourite subject, Pompey Elliott, following his much awarded and applauded 2002 biography of Australia’s most famous fighting general.
In doing so he fulfils an ambition Elliott himself had expressed to publish a narrative based on his wartime letters and diaries but he died before he could complete the task.
Through his letters home and his diary entries Elliott writes evocatively of places he was seeing for the first time. There is a strong sense of connection with place as he writes of Cairo and its people, although in a way that would be seen as politically incorrect a hundred years on.
McMullin has successfully interspersed his own interpretation of events to assist readers with the context of the diary entries and letters.
Elliott counted himself fortunate to have been wounded early on during the landing at Gallipoli compared with the fate that befell many of his men. He later returned to Gallipoli until the successful withdrawal in late 1915. By mid 1916 he was bound for the Western Front.
So what can diaries and letters tell us of these events that later examination and interpretations by historians can’t? For one thing, we see well-known events unfold first hand. For another we hear the writer’s unconstrained opinions, such as Elliott’s opinion of General William Birdwood, describing his appointment as ‘the greatest possible misfortune for the Australian army that [we] were ever placed under his command’, despite his wife Kate advising him not to be so forthright. Yet history records that Birdwood was ‘loved and respected by those who served under him’. Elliott was, it seems, no diplomat.
It is a shock to discover that Elliott committed suicide at age 52, unable to shake off the after effects of war despite an apparently busy and successful post-war life.
Reading Elliott’s first hand first person accounts is to be offered a rare window into the past. Through his keen observations, we see the small inconsequential everyday things set against the backdrop of history-making events.
Organising the vast reservoir of material into a readable format can’t have been easy but McMullin has done an outstanding job. His good fortune is that Elliott himself was an engaging and articulate writer.
For readers interested in this seminal period in Australia’s military history, I think this book will be high on the list of ‘must haves’.
There is a series of forthcoming events at which Ross McMullin will speak about Pompey Elliott and his wartime exploits including
The Finest Thing Yet Done in the War: Pompey Elliott at Villers-Bretonneux
February 21, 2018 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Pompey Elliot Memorial Hall
403 Camberwell Road Camberwell, Vic Australia