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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: November 2019

Introduction

Summary

Towards the end of Somme Mud, Edward Lynch’s fictionalised memoir of fighting on the Western Front, the book’s protagonist, Nulla, encounters a group of British and French soldiers who had spent the previous three years as prisoners of war. Among them is a ‘tall, gaunt figure’ who sways up to Nulla and introduces himself as an Australian who ‘got knocked’ and was taken prisoner at Fleurbaix in July 1916. ‘Can you spare a couple of tins of bully beef?’ he asks. Nulla looks pitifully on the ‘poor, half-starved wretches. All dirty yellow skin, hollow cheeks and sunken, hopeless eyes.’ He gives food and cigarettes to these ‘scarecrows on legs’ that clutch with ‘long, claw-like, grasping fingers that shake’. Nulla was appalled. ‘How we pity these poor beggars! How we thank our lucky stars we escaped the ordeal of being prisoners of war. We look upon [these] fellow men reduced to skin-clad skeletons and are sickened.’