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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.