Odyssey of the Unknown Anzac by David Hastings
This is an extraordinary non-fiction book that reads like a mystery thriller. More than ten years after the end of World War 1, a soldier was living in a Sydney psychiatric hospital, his identity unknown. He was first found wandering London streets during the war and he claimed to be an Australian Digger, but apart from that he was unable to volunteer any more information about who he was. More than a decade later, thousands of people responded to the story when it broke in the Sydney Sun, hoping that this man would be their long-lost son or husband or nephew or uncle. It tapped into deep wells of sorrow and longing that captured people in Australia and New Zealand. Within two weeks of this campaign he was identified as George McQuay and he was later reunited with his mother in New Zealand.
George travelled from rural New Zealand to Gallipoli and the Western Front, and David Hastings pieces together his experience, through desertion and hospitals to finally coming home to New Zealand. But there are many mysteries along the way. Why when he was deemed unfit to serve on the way over to Gallipoli, was he in the thick of the fighting there? Did he really lose his memory, or was he just trying to save his skin? Or was he actually mentally unwell and genuinely confused, his illness exacerbated by the harsh realities of a brutal war?
David Hastings is an extraordinary writer and researcher, and this book grips from the opening page, as the reader slowly discovers about George’s heart-breaking experience of World War I, and his long journey back to his family. Through this one man’s story, David also takes us deep into the experience of World War I and into the depths of the human mind.
I would highly recommend this insightful and engrossing read.
Reviewer: Karen McMillan
Auckland University Press, $34.99