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Desert Diggers

Writings From a War Zone ‘Somewhere in the Middle East’ 1940-1942

(1 customer review)
Authors: David Mitchelhill-Green
Tobruk, WWII
153mm x 230mm

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Desert Diggers: Writings from a War Zone ‘Somewhere in the Middle East’ 1940-1942 draws upon hundreds of soldiers’ letters in a fresh and captivating narrative of the war in North Africa.

Desert Diggers follows the first men to volunteer after the outbreak of war in 1939, tracing their adventures in exotic ports before further training in Palestine. A hunger for action grew: ‘Most of the chaps are … anxious to get into anything that looks like a fight’, one soldier wrote to his brother.

From Egypt, ‘the hottest and dustiest place on God’s earth’ was the Diggers’ next destination and their ‘blooding’ in the battles for Bardia and Tobruk. After Rommel failed to storm Tobruk in April-May 1941, Nazi propaganda denigrated the garrison, ‘caught like rats in a trap’. Amid frequent bombing and shelling, Berlin’s scornful broadcasts were an unintended tonic. ‘Frequently we laughed and joked until the tears came into our eyes’, a Digger quipped.

From Tobruk, to the blunting of Rommel’s attacks at El Alamein, the price of victory was palpably high: ‘some of my best mates didn’t come out of it’, lamented a corporal to his sister. Returning to Australia in 1943, some men maimed or traumatised, brought a further test for the Diggers …

Told in the words of the men who served, Desert Diggers offers a new personal perspective on the Western Desert campaign. With immediacy and raw emotion, these skilfully woven letters provide a remarkable and compelling account of the Australian experience of war.

David Mitchelhill-Green

David Mitchelhill-Green

David Mitchelhill-Green began his career working abroad as a medical scientist in London. A love of history and photography led to globetrotting investigations for the UK magazine After the Battle. Several years in rural Japan sparked an interest in the country’s feudal history and the co-authoring of Castles of the Samurai and Samurai Castles. Returning […]

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1 review for Desert Diggers

  1. I enjoyed reading this book as the author has managed to achieve something which is very difficult, namely, to seamlessly combine brief excerpts from a large number of letters with the author’s own narrative of the history of the fighting in North Africa, mainly involving the 6th and 9th Divisions (although there is some mention of the 7th Division).
    The book is extremely well written and full of fascinating stories. To take just one example, in his account of the aftermath of the fall of Bardia the author tells us (and here I quote from p 118 of the book): “Brigadier Arthur Allen (16th Brigade) was already managing a large influx of prisoners when a new body of Italians appeared, also wishing to surrender. Allen [told them] ‘that it was too late and to come back next morning’. The enemy troops retired, returning the next day”(!).
    The font size is very ‘reader-friendly’ and the book has a very useful bibliography, endnotes and index, including a separate list of the names of the letter-writers.

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