by David Hastings
Thanks to the centenary of Gallipoli not so long ago and the approaching 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1 there have been a plethora of books published about it, but this one is different. It is the type of book that makes history come alive.
Many of us know of families affected by the war service of a loved one, the nightmares, low times, depression, war neurosis, hysteria, amnesia, alcoholism and inability to love and cope with life after the horrors they have seen. During World War 1 it was called shell-shock. These days we know it as PTSD but whatever it is called it causes as much, if not more, illness, unhappiness and death as physical injuries.
The blurb describes author David Hastings’ remarkable job as “tenacity in researching” and indeed it is, considering he was dealing with records a century old.
He follows the story of a young man, George McQuay, from enlistment in 1915 first to Gallipoli then the western front where he saw horrors most of us can barely imagine.
Next, George was found wandering in civilian clothes but wearing an Australian soldier’s hat. After the war he was repatriated to Australia and admitted to Callan Park Psychiatric Hospital in Sydney where he was known as the unknown patient as there was some doubt whether he had even been a soldier.
In 1928 the Returned Sailors & Soldier’s Imperial League of Australia distributed a flyer with a photograph of George throughout Australia and New Zealand asking for help identifying him, which led to him being recognised and returned to Stratford and his family.
It is not a story of heroics and great deeds but, rather, one of an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances. The story is told with empathy and whilst it doesn’t really end happily it does afford closure and serves to remind us all that war is never the answer.
Congratulations to David Hastings for a sad story well told and worth reading.
Author: David Hastings
Publisher: Auckland University Press