Michael Burrows, author of Where the Line Breaks, sends a letter home from the muddy trenches of writing and editing a debut novel, in the style of the extraordinary letters sent home by the first Anzacs.
The Western Front
25 April 2014
Dear folk at home,
It is high time, I think, for another update from your writer boy, slogging away in the writing trenches, wrestling sentences into shape and bayonetting overstretched metaphors.
I received the money you kindly cabled me, along with your letter and the much-needed package of chocolate and underwear, not three days before leaving for this latest Anzac Day trip; it couldn’t have worked out better. Will give you a brief outline as to how and what we saw. When I say we, I mean our platoon (a mix of Aussie and Kiwi tourists). Redeployed, we have been ordered to move on from [REDACTED] up to a spot on the frontline, near the Belgian city of [REDACTED], which the original Anzacs along with the British Tommies called Wipers – their French only slightly worse than mine, though I’ve learnt a lot from researching their stories. When I parlay with the locals, I think I compree a good 45% of what they say.
Up at sparrows this morning for the Anzac Day dawn ceremony in Polygon Wood, which saw a lot of fighting in the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917. Couldn’t have been more different to the experience at Gallipoli – rugged up in our civvies, in the dark shadows of the trees, trying not to let the freezing rain run down our necks. Still, that familiar pride filled us when the Last Post rung out. After, we made our way back to the local town hall where we’re bivouacked toot sweet for a bite to eat and a lovely warming shot of rum to start the day.
Did you know the first Anzac Day ceremony was held as early as the year after the original landings? What with the war raging, and boys still on their way to battlegrounds the world over, and the original Anzacs only having left the rock not four months before, I find that fascinating. Like it was fated to be remembered even as it was occurring, and the whole country knew it.
You’ll recall in my last letter I wrote about an idea for a novel I’ve had – Australian war poets, etc. I’ve spent bookoo hours in the research rooms at the Imperial War Museums London and discovered no Australian Brooke or Owen. A few fine fellows stand out – Leon Gellert, for example – but I shall have to tell you about him in another letter, as I’m running out of space. I’m starting to think I might have to invent a writer outright for the purposes of the book. Needs must and all that. C’est la guerre.
Have also decided not to set the novel on the Western Front, despite the lure of the Somme and the glories that Passchendaele might offer. I’m simply of the opinion that we’ve seen the Western Front enough now to know it rather well, and, to me at least, the Eastern Front holds enough mystery to entice me into further research.
Well, that, and the events of this afternoon, which have put me off the Western Front for a while. We visited the local estaminet and events got out of hand alley at the toot, as they say. Within half an hour the wine was napoo, and we were all fairly Von Blinked. One of the boys then thought it would be a bit of fun to [REDACTED] and set out for [REDACTED]. Needless to say, by 9 pm we’d all [REDACTED]. Where he found the duck, I can only guess.
Well, bonsoir and all the best for Anzac Day back home.
PS – Thank you for the photos – my word the girls have grown. I had to read the back of one before I found out who the nice young lady was. Quite a shock to find it was my own sister. And apologies for the mangling of the French in this letter, which are all phrases and anglicised corruptions used by the Diggers themselves.
Where the Line Breaks is available in all good bookstores and online.
For linguists and history buffs:
Parlay – from the French parlé to mean ‘talk’
Compree – from the French compris to mean ‘understand’
Toot Sweet – from the French tout de suite to mean ‘quickly’
Bookoo – from the French beaucoup to mean ‘a lot’
C’est la Guerre – French for ‘it is the war’, a popular phrase used for any and every occasion
Alley at the Toot – corruption of the French allez and tout to mean ‘quickly’
Napoo – a corruption of the French ‘il n’y en a plus’ to mean ‘gone’ or ‘finished’
Von Blinked – from the French for white wine, vin blanc to mean ‘very drunk!’