Where Soldiers Lie
The Quest to find Australia’s Missing War Dead
By Ian McPhedran
Published by Harper Collins
RRP $32.99 in hardcover • ISBN 9781460755655
Ian McPhedran has written a number of best-selling books. With this latest book, his interest was sparked by finding the grave of his great-great-uncle Lance Corporal Hugh McMahon who was killed in action in November 1916 near the French village of Flers in the Somme Valley. His remains at least lay in a marked grave unlike an estimated 35,000 Australian war casualties who still remain missing on twentieth century battlefields around the world.
McPhedran begins with the missing in action from the Vietnam War, a total of six young men. He describes the private efforts of former comrades in arms to find the remains of two men – Lance Corporal Richard Parker and Private Peter Gillson – against a background of initial government disinterest, which changed quickly as they announced success in finding the final resting place of the men. Eventually, the remains of all six were repatriated.
A total of 43 Australians killed in the Korean War have no known grave.
Going further back in time, there are 12,000 missing from World War II and 23,379 Australians unaccounted for from World War I.
As McPhedran writes, it is through the dedicated work of researchers who have taken up the cause that the number of missing dead is being reduced. Solving the mysteries of the missing brings peace of mind and closure to family members, long tormented by the uncertainty and the trauma of loss.
McPhedran has written a compelling account of not just the search for remains but of the context in which the casualties occurred.
Now we understand the aftermath of war, not just the statistics, but the human suffering that endures long after the guns fall silent.
VERDICT: A reminder of what war really means – devastating loss for thousands of families.