I don’t normally write a review about a book before I finish it, but today is ANZAC Day – the perfect day to write a review about Tom Keneally’s new book ‘The Daughters of Mars‘.
This is the story of two sisters, Naomi & Sally Durance, from Kempsey, NSW. At the start of World War One they proudly sign up as nurses, believing, like everyone else, that it would all be over in six months.
We see the girls sail off to Egypt with the first Australian battalions full of excitement, national fervour and determination to do good.
Anyone who has seen the 1981 movie ‘Gallipoli’ will be familiar with the larrikan, carefree nature of those first (unblooded) troops at play in Cairo. Sally & Naomi are treated to lunches and trips out to see the Sphinx and Pyramids as they make the local hospital battle-ready.
Then all hell breaks loose.
The men are sent to Gallipoli, giving birth to the ANZAC tradition even as they’re slaughtered like lambs on the cliffs and beaches of what is now known as ANZAC Cove. Sally & Naomi are on the first medical ship that goes across to pick up the first group of wounded soldiers.
Keneally’s descriptions of this time of chaos are intermingled, in my mind, with images from various movies over the years depicting this very same scene over and over again. We know how bloody it is, how primitive the conditions, the inexperience of the medical staff and just how unprepared everyone was for the level of carnage. Every new telling of this story simply adds another layer of understanding and makes me very thankful that I have never had to live through anything so utterly awful.
I’m only half way through this book, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it.
Keneally has written a powerful story. The sisters are not easy to get to know – they’re reserved, cautious and consider themselves to be cold. I’m hoping to get to know them better…I hope they both survive.
Published in June by Random House.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”
For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon (1869–1943)
Lest we Forget