Mary-Anne O'Connor, author of Gallipoli Street
Interviewed by Honor Auchinleck (continued)
Honor: You mention that while your grandfather didn’t serve in the Light Horse, he served on Gallipoli, Palestine, and the Somme and then during the Second World War, he re-enlisted and served as a training sergeant for his son’s troop. I wonder if you could tell us a little about why he re-enlisted and also the reasons why his son(s) enlisted? What sort of influence do you think your grandfather had on his sons and their attitudes to service to their country?
Mary-Anne: Da originally enlisted for adventure, according to my Mum. Being a poor, if very skilled, country lad he saw it as his opportunity to travel which, in those days, was the privilege of only the very rich. He was just seventeen when he joined and, despite being injured and discharged twice, he reenlisted again both times and saw out the entire war. When asked why he voluntarily returned to such hell he simply said ‘you can’t leave your mates to face that alone’.
When his son Jack enlisted, again underage, Nana refused to let him go so they kept him in a training camp in Sydney with other young soldiers and Da was appointed their sergeant. This group of young men called themselves the Elite and had some merry times at that camp, so Uncle Jack told me in later years. I think Da did it to help increase his son’s chances of surviving the war but that’s not all of it. Mum said Da felt at home in the army, strangely enough. Spending his formative years in the company of men, facing warfare over and again, living a structured, disciplined life…these experiences can become part of who you are. He found it hard to adjust when he returned, especially when the Great Depression came.
Jack enlisted for a few reasons, I believe: to serve his country, to travel and have adventures, but mostly I think because he was proud of his father and wanted to following his footsteps.
Honor: Why did you decide to have your main character serving with the Light Horse?
Mary-Anne: I suppose I always saw them as very heroic figures, not just because of the romanticised notion of them being on horseback and therefore likened to knights of old. The Lighthorse served with true honour, and I especially wanted the Battle of Beersheba to feature in my novel - one of the most extraordinary moments in Australian military history, not just for the incredible victory but for the courage they showed against such great odds. I also wanted to honour their faithful horses whom they were destined to lose, a heartbreaking inevitability.
And of course I also wanted to include the great leadership of General Chauvel, such an important part of the Anzac story.
'Da' and Uncle Jack