Order Book Online?
Margaret Clark is currently working as a volunteer at the Manning Valley Historical Society undertaking research and assisting with the mounting of display material. This work follows on from a varied career as a teacher, researcher and public servant. Margaret holds a Master of Arts in History from the University of Sydney.
Photos are copyright Margaret Clark.
1/ Margaret, you have already written a book called ‘Postcards From the Front’ which was on Alfred Haynes postcards sent home during the Great War. Was Alfred a relative? Or was this book based on research you undertook for other reasons?
Margaret/ My first book, ‘Postcards From the Front’ was published by the Manning Valley Historical Society in 2010. It is based on over 200 postcards that I discovered in a box in the Archives. These postcards commenced with the departure of Alf Haynes from Australia until his final card stated that he had a ship and was returning home. The postcards deal with the issues of separation and of mateship. To enhance the message contained in these cards I drew upon other letters written by men from the Manning Valley who had gone to fight in Europe and to put it all in perspective also researched the role of the 36th Battalion in the conflict. This book was launched one year later in France as I had been caught by the ash cloud over Europe in 2010 and had been unable to arrive in Villers Brettoneux in time for Anzac Day.
2/ You must have got very emotional at times when doing research and spending many months and years of time researching someone’s life in War? Especially in the case of Postcards From The Front, which is based on just one Soldiers life?
Margaret/ It is hard not to become involved in the stories that the men tell through the medium of letters, postcards and of course their journals. It can be heart rending to discover on turning a page to discover that there are no more entries and the soldier has been killed.
3/ Your second book ‘Carmichael’s 1000’ (A History of the 36th Battalion AIF); is due for release at the end of April this year. What made you select this specific Unit to research?
Margaret/ While undertaking research for this book I discovered that there had never been a history published relating to the exploits of the 36th Battalion so I contacted the Army History Unit which encouraged me to write ‘Carmichael’s 1000’. The Army History Unit were able to help with a grant that assisted me with travel/research costs. After several years of research and many wonderful contributions from descendants of the men of the 36th this book is finally ready for publication.
4/ Tell us just a little about the 36th Battalion AIF?
Margaret/ The 36th Battalion owes a lot to one man, Ambrose Carmichael. He was a member of Parliament on the outbreak of war and decided to put his considerable talents to use in raising a battalion. Carmichael went to France with the Battalion, serving as a Lieutenant. The Battalion was raised partly among rifle clubs throughout NSW and partly through the use of posters. The men came from the four corners of the State, although the majority enlisted in either Sydney or Newcastle. A number of the men joined the North Coast Marchers as they marched south from Coffs Harbour. The men tended to be older than earlier battalions raised at the commencement of war and given the number of wounded who had already returned home had no illusions about the conditions that they were to encounter.
The battalion trained at Rutherford near Maitland before leaving for Europe in May 1916. Their training continued at Lark Hill and they finally arrived in the Armentieres sector just in time for one of the coldest winters in 30 years. They suffered through the winter and were in place, acting as the carry party for the Battle of Messines Ridge. Their next major engagement saw them trudging through the mud and slime of the Passchendaele campaign, where, although they reached their objective, were forced to turn back. The conditions were against them and they lost a large percentage of their force. After yet another winter they were rapidly deployed to combat the German breakthrough on the Somme. Here they gained their greatest victory as they definitively arrested the German advance in front of Villers Brettoneux. This was to be their final major battle as at the end of April 1918 the Battalion was disbanded and the men distributed among other battalions in the 9th Brigade. Their story as a battalion ends here but the men fought on – Amiens, the Hindenberg Line, the St Quentin Canal – in all of these engagements the surviving men of the 36th participated. Finally Victory and the long wait for a ship home for the survivors. Some, having survived the war fell to the scourge of the Spanish Flu.
5/ Was Alfred Haynes from the 36th Battalion?
Margaret/ Alf Haynes, the man who inspired ‘Postcards From the Front’ served with the 36th Battalion until it was disbanded when he was transferred to the 33rd Battalion.
6/ Is there anything you found during your research on the 36th Battalion AIF for your book Carmichael’s 1000’, that didn’t make it to your final book – but you wish it had? I guess there comes a point when you have to set a finish date and with that there may be something that just got left out? Some special piece of information or photo you would like to share here?
Margaret/ So many people have contributed photographs and stories of events in the lives of these soldiers. Unfortunately space prohibited the use of all the material. These are a few of the photos that didn’t make it into the book. (Margaret is referring to the photos seen in this blog post for which we are very thankful)
7/ Now complete and getting ready for release; are you looking at other units to research and publish histories on? Your Father was in the 2/30th Battalion World War 2 and was a POW in Changi? So will the 2/30th history be written by you?
Margaret/ Following on from this book I will move towards WW2 and the experiences of my father who served with the 2nd/30th Battalion in Malaysia. While a POW of the Japanese he kept a journal into which he wrote letters that couldn’t be posted, a description of the events of 1942-3 and his early years of captivity. He also collected over 60 poems from men in Changi which I intend to publish shortly.
8/ With the Soldiers, Units they served in and the Wars they fought now moving further into the past; what do you feel should be done on a national level to ensure they are never forgotten? It would be great to see a copy of these Unit books in every school library for a start!
Margaret/ I believe that the story of Anzac will never be forgotten as it is deeply embedded in our consciousness as a nation. However, it is important that the subject continue to be a major part of the history syllabus and that encouragement is given to those wanting to add to our knowledge of these events and the men who participated in them. I believe that governments should play a major role in assisting those who wish to conduct research and publish books relating to past conflicts.
Margaret, thank you for spending the time to answer these questions for Booksforever about your two books! And good luck with the launch of ‘Carmichael’s 1000’. Authors who dedicate themselves to keeping history alive are very special indeed. We are proud and fortunate to have people like yourself dedicating your time to this cause! Thank you!