In 2003 Scott Bennett visited the Great War battlefields in France and Belgium to retrace the steps of his great-uncles, who had fought there. What he found led him to examine and question the Anzac legend, the battle of Pozières and the stories of his own family’s heroes. In Pozières – The Anzac Story he draws on the letters and diaries of the men fought at Pozières to tell their story, shedding light on the people behind the official history and the legends that grew up around them.
Pozières is a very moving book – how did you find the process of researching it? Did it affect you?
Reading the handwritten letters of parents who had lost sons at Pozières always moved me. Now I have children, I can only imagine the grief that consumed them. There are still sections of the book that, despite reading numerous times, still affect me. At a military cemetery on the Somme one Australian had written in a Visitor’s Book– ‘Please never again’ – just three simple words that sum up the reality of war.
This book was prompted by interest in your own family who had fought at Pozières – how have they reacted to the book?
My mother’s family was like so many of the families of soldiers in the first world war, who grew up believing, and being told, that their son, brother, father, uncle, grandfather or great uncle was a hero. Maybe, because I am more removed, I have been surprised by my mother’s sensitivity to what I discovered and have written about her uncle, Ernie Lee, even though it almost 100 years ago. He enlisted as a 14 year old and while being portrayed a courageous young soldier, was actually charged with threatening to shoot his corporal. She does not see the purpose of revealing the darker elements of his past and to be honest, I’m not sure whether I would have had the courage to expose his past if my grandmother was still alive.
The Anzac legend is something you talk about a lot. How did you feel when you first realised that you would be writing a book that saw it and the Australian soldiers from a different perspective?
One of the issues that prompted me to write the book was I felt many portrayals of the Anzacs were one-dimensional – the typical rugged, square jawed young man from the bush, relishing the chance to charge into battle. When you read the soldiers first-hand account of what it was really like and how the soldiers really felt, you realise that there was so much more diversity. I was keen to present a more rounded and textured view of the Anzacs – to me that was much more interesting.
Your background is in management – has writing always been a passion of yours? Did you always plan to publish this story?
It was not so much that writing was a passion, but the challenge of being able to distil something complex into a clear and persuasive story. I have to do this on a regular basis in my work life, and when I started to research Pozières and discovered the many challenges and issues that the Anzacs faced I was intrigued to find the real story. It really started as a hobby. In 2003, I finished my MBA studies and suddenly had all this spare time. After reading dozens of books on the Somme, and visiting Pozières and being deeply moved by it, I thought that writing a book on it would be a challenge. My goal was to complete a manuscript that I was satisfied with – getting it published was always a bonus.
What do you hope readers will take from Pozières?
I hope that readers develop a deeper understanding of the complexity of war and this particular battle, an appreciation of the many challenging and sometimes impossible issues that officers and commanders (of all nationalities) grappled with, as well as the broad range of (and less mythical) experiences of the soldiers on the front line.