This blog provides information, stories, links and events relating to and promoting the history of the Wimmera district.
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Monday, 8 August 2016

Letters to Dimb

There are currently any number of books concerning the First World War on the shelves at present, but amongst them is one with special meaning for this region - 'Dodging the Devil : Letters from the Front' by George Martindale.

On the 21st August 1914, George Martindale along with many of his peers enlisted for the war in the service of Australia. Part of the 5th Battalion, he served for over 3 years and witnessed some of the biggest and most catastrophic battles of World War 1.

From the very beginning, when George was sent to Egypt to undertake training with some of the first of the enlisted men, he wrote home. He would document his daily life in the war - the events, his feelings and opinions, and send these messages and photographs back to his family. His military experience took him through some of the most notorious battles of the war; He was sent to Gallipoli landing at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915, and fought in the Battle of Lone Pine - eventually being evacuated when the troops were pulled out. He was then sent to France where he was a part of the infamous Battle of Fromelles, where in one night more than 5,000 Australian casualties virtually wiped out his Division (he was one of 90 survivors from a thousand-strong regiment). He went on to Bullecourt, also a notorious battleground on the Western Front, where he was seriously injured - putting an end to his army career.

George sailed to Egypt on the HMAT Orveito (SLV)
George was a prolific letter writer, and described these actions for members of his family in the letters he sent home, forming a collection of his writings that is the basis of this book. His letters tell his story beginning with the excitement of signing up and sailing across the world to fight the enemy, to world weary having seen so much death and destruction. His letters tell the revealing real-life story of Gallipoli, Fromelles and Bullecourt. Through George Martindale's letters we see the First World War through his eyes, and experience the war as he did. And as an added bonus, this book is not just a narrative of the war, but George also wrote about the local gossip, Shire politics, the Wimmera's weather, and the local men he was serving with.

George Martindale was born on the 2nd April 1887 in Dimboola, he was the 2nd oldest of 5 siblings. He had brown hair and blue eyes. George's father Robert was a carpenter, plumber, general tradesman and undertaker who owned a prosperous business in the town. George learnt his trade of carpenter from his father. When war broke out he enlisted on 21st August 1914, because he signed up in Melbourne he ended up in the 5th Battalion whereas most of his friends from Dimboola joined the 8th Battalion.

A flake of a shell fired by the battleship the 'Queen Elizabeth', found near Sedd-el-Bahr, Chanak, Gallipoli Peninsula. Private George Martindale is with the rifle. The photo was taken by war correspondent C.E.W. Bean in May 1915.
In a letter to his mother George wrote: "Mr Bean took a snapshot of me standing near a fragment of 15" shell - it only weighed about a couple of hundredweight. There were 3 of us there. You'll know me - in the centre - laden like a pack mule of infantryman - an awful wreck I look." 

After serving for approximately 3 years he was very seriously wounded at Bullecourt on the 9th May 1917, losing his right eye and a portion of his skull and brain. He returned to Australia as permanently unfit for service, he continued to suffer from fits and seizures as a result of his head wound, one of these seizures proved fatal and he died on the 2nd of April 1922 (his birthday).

George Martindale’s war experiences reflect a litany of our nation’s hallowed trials. He may well have become one of the great writers of twentieth century Australia had his life not ended prematurely as a result of the injuries he sustained on the Western Front.

George’s letters were a gift to his family, but more so to posterity. They retain the scent of the trenches, and the stains of no man’s land. In them he honoured his mates, cherished his heritage and condemned falsities. His letters allow us to look back more than 100 years, and for his words to reach out to future generations.

There is even a short YouTube promo to 'Dodging the devil'

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