The first book I ever bought - PDF

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The first book I ever bought - PDF Powered By Docstoc
The Library's holdings of
classic World War II
adventure stories are not only
entertaining,         says Ed Duyker,
they also provide an
important         record of courage,
ingenuity and resistance

        he first book I ever bought
        full price, for I had discovered
        opportunity        shops   long
before, was The Wooden Horse by Eric
Williams.     Five weeks after the
introduction of decimal currency, I
paid the handsome sum of $1.60 for
the revised Collins edition for young
people. It is still in my library. My
parents quizzed me to be sure I really
wanted to spend so much of my
birthday money on one thing! My
mind, however, was made up.
   The Wooden Horse, of which the
National Library has a first edition
published in 1949, is one of the
classic books to emerge from World
War II. It is the true story of three
British officers who used a wooden
vaulting horse to dig a tunnel and
escape from Stalag Luft III. They
were the only British officers ever to
escape from this German camp
designed to hold captured aircrew. All
three-Eric       Williams,     Michael
Codner and Oliver Philpot-were
awarded the Military Cross after they
reached Britain via neutral Sweden.
The Wooden Horse and Williams'
other book The Tunnel (of which the
National Library also has a first
edition published in 1951) are deeply
engrossing adventure stories bound to
set boyhood imagination afire.

Diagram reproduced from The Wooden
Horse by Eric Williams
(London: Collins, 195 I)
Diagram reproduced from You'll Die in
Singapore by Charles McCormac
(London: Robert Hale, 1954)
   Thus my parents were in for more              Prisoners of War at Yozgad in Turkey                       supposedly escape-proof castle of
anguish as a result of my $1.60                  Won Their Freedom (1922) and H.A.                          Colditz, where prisoners of war who
extravagance; they soon realised their           Cartwright's and M.C.C. Harrison's                         had already escaped or attempted to
ll-year-old son had begun to dig a               Within Four Walls (1930)-both      of                      escape from other camps were sent.
secret tunnel in the backyard with the           which are held by the National                             Rising from a cliff-edge, moated,
aid of his brothers. The entrance was            Library. Others have put a more                            barbwired, floodlit and guarded
a cubbyhouse, not a vaulting horse               romantic gloss on the contrast                             with more German sentries than
made from Red Cross packing cases,               between the escape literature of the                       prisoners, Colditz was the ultimate
but parental determination to prevent            two wars. P.R. Reid, an accomplished                       challenge to human ingenuity. The
a tragic subterranean collapse seemed            escaper of World War II, wrote:                            improvisations, forgeries, costumes
every bit as unfair as the punitive                                                                         and ruses of the prisoners in a war of
efforts of the 'ferrets' or the German             In the First World         War escapers were             wits with their guards offers the reader
guards of Stalag Luft III. Fortunately             an uncommon           breed of men. A spirit             an experience every bit as engrossing
my parents succeeded where the                     was created     by the early books which                 as a fictional thriller. In 1942, Reid
Germans had failed, or I might not                 throve and bore fruit ... The different                  himself escaped Colditz and Germany
now be able to offer these reflections             conditions      of life in Germany            were       to neutral Switzerland in the guise of a
on the escape genre.                               what    our generation           was really     up       Flemish engineering worker. He
   In his masterly work The Face of                against;      the     Gestapo,      the    Allied        would spend the rest of the war as
Battle (1976), John Keegan wrote                   bombing       and the Hitler Youth ... The               Assistant Military Attache in Berne.
that 'the only important category of               inspiration      of escape       books    lives in          But Reid's escape from Colditz was
book which the Second World                        men's      memories      and serves       to keep        not the first. That honour went to a
War established in England was                     alive the spirit of adventure.                           young British second lieutenant
the prisoner-of-war          story. Its                                                                     named Airey Neave and his Dutch
extraordinary vogue prompts one to                                                                          companion Lieutenant Toni Luteyn
speculate about what channels non-                                                                          of the Netherlands East Indies Army.
combatant perceptions of war move                                                                           Neave's book They Have Their Exits
through.' Keegan did not develop a                                                                          (1953) is not only a compelling
detailed thesis, but he hinted that the                                                                     firsthand account of a successful
literature that emerged from the                                                                            escape from Colditz, but also of the
concentration,        prisoner-of-war                                                                       author's wounding and capture in
(POW) and labour camps of World                                                                              1940 and his role as the officer
War II was a response to a public                                                                           appointed      by the Nuremberg
fascination with the experience of                                                                          Tribunal to serve indictments on
being the enemy's chattel, not his                                                                          Goering, Ribbentrop, Keitel, Hess
opponent. He contrasted this with                                                                           and other top Nazis in their prison
the literature of the Great War and                                                                         cells. N eave retired from the
the success of authors such as Graves,                                                                      Territorial Army as a lieutenant
Sassoon and Blunden, and asked                                                                              colonel with the DSO, OBE and MC;
whether from the Battle of the                                                                              he eventually became a Conservative
Somme the public:                                                                                           member of the British Parliament. He
                                                                                                            died tragically in an Irish Republican
  had learnt   as much     as it ever would                                                                 Army bombing in 1979.
  about what modern        wars could do to                                                                    One of the most successful authors
  men and perceived       that some limit of                                                                in the escape genre was the Australian
  what human        beings could   and could                                                                writer Paul Brickhill, whose work is
  not stand on the battlefield     had at last                                                              well represented in the National
  been reached ... that the voice from the                                                                  Library. Born in Melbourne in 1916,
  trenches spoke for every soldier of the                                                                   Brickhill served in the Royal
  industrial age.                                                                                           Australian Air Force and became a
                                                 Fighter   pilot Douglas      Bader lost both legs
                                                                                                            prisoner of war after he was shot
                                                 in an aircraft crash in 1931, yet during
   I believe Keegan is right in his                                                                         down in a Spitfire over Tunisia in
                                                 the Battle of Britain flew numerous sorties
assessment that the public was in fact           before being shot down and captured                   in
                                                                                                             1943. Although Brickhill did not
seeking a psychological dimension                Germany                                                    manage to escape, he was a planner
largely absent from the literature of            From Reach for the Sky: The Story of Douglas Bader         for the 'X' escape organisation and his
                                                 by Paul Brickhill (Melbourne: Readers Book
the Great War. But there were a                                                                             firsthand experience of German
number of very popular escape stories                                                                       captivity imbued his famous work
that emerged from World War 1.                                                                               The Great Escape (1951) with great
Keegan, for example, made no                       Reid's own books, The Colditz Story                      depth and immediacy. Brickhill's
mention of E.H. Jones' The Road to               and The Latter Days of Colditz, are                        book is probably the most tragic of
En-dor: Being an Account of How Two              accounts   of escape from the                              escape stories, for it concludes with
details of the executions of 50 of the     Felice Benuzzi's Fuga sui Kenya of       desert, Tibet and the Himalayas to
allied escapees from Stalag Luft III.      which the National Library holds a       freedom in India.
   Two of Brickhill's other books,         second edition       of the English         The vast majority of prisoners of
Escape or Die (1952) and Reachfor the      translation entitled No Picnic on Mt     war did not escape. The Australian
Sky: The Story of Douglas Bader            Kenya (1952). Born in Vienna in          experience    at the hands of the
(1954), also dealt with the POW            1910 of an Italian father and an         Japanese was particularly tragic, for
experience. The former included an         Austrian mother, Benuzzi was a law       many servicemen and women were
account of Charles McCormac's              graduate and passionate mountaineer      murdered by their captors, or died of
remarkable escape from Singapore to        who became a prisoner of war in          starvation and ill-treatment in the
Darwin with an Australian named            1941, after the allied conquest of       course of forced labour. The National
R.G. Donaldson, conducted over the         Ethiopia. In January 1943, he and        Library and the Australian       War
length and breadth of Japanese-            two companions          escaped    the   Memorial have had a crucial role in
occupied      Sumatra     and Java.        oppressive boredom of Camp 354 at        preserving a record of their valour
Brickhill's book inspired McCormac         Nanyuki,      Kenya, leaving a note      and dignity under these appalling
to publish his own account of the          saying they would return in a couple     circumstances, whether it be in the
ordeal under the tide You'll Die in        of weeks. They then attempted to         diaries of Edward 'Weary' Dunlop,
Singapore (1954).                          climb Mt Kenya with sparse stolen        the memoirs of Russell Braddon and
   There are few English-language          prison    rations   and improvised       Tom Uren, or in novels such as Nevil
accounts of escapes by Axis prisoners      climbing ropes, crampons and ice-        Shute's A Town Like Alice. Similarly
of war. Although       the escape of       axes. The three daring Italians almost   the Jewish Museum in Sydney and
captured German fighter pilot Franz        succeeded in reaching the summit.        the Australian Jewish Historical

von Werra (1914-41) inspired both a        Benuzzi's book was completed in yet      Map reproduced from You'll Die in
book by Kendal Burt and James              another prisoner-of-war     camp in      Singapore by Charles McCormac
                                                                                    (London: Robert Hale, 1954)
Leasor, The One That Got Away              Kenya in July 1946.
(1957), and Roy Baker's engaging              In the 1950s and 1960s the genre
film starring     Hardy Kruger, it         em braced stories of escape from
unfortunately also escaped collection      behind the Iron Curtain. Probably        Society have done much to ensure
by the National       Library.    (The     the most famous harked back to 1941      that the memoirs of those Jewish
Library, however, does have an             and an escape by a group of Polish       Australians      who survived      the
impressive microfilm collection (Mfm       and Baltic soldiers, together with a     Holocaust will serve as a potent
1410) of some 60 periodicals               Yugoslav and an American engineer,       warning to future generations of the
published by German prisoners of           imprisoned by the Soviets in Camp        barbarous      depths of racism and
war in France between 1946 and             303 in Siberia. Lieutenant Slavomir      totalitarianism in the modern age.
1948.)                                     Rawicz's The Long Walk (1956)
   To my mind the most delightful          recounts    their amazing     6000-      DR EDWARDDUYKERis a Sydney-
story of escape from the 'other side' is   kilometre odyssey across the Gobi        based author and historian

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