Historian, Writer, Commentator, Consultant.

Quinn’s Post

Posted by on Jan 18, 2012 in Books | 0 comments

Quinn's Post coverQuinn’s Post, Anzac, Gallipoli (Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 2005)

Around 2001, when Alamein was pretty much finished, I began to think that I needed to write about the Great War – hitherto, although I’d done several exhibitions at the Australian War Memorial on the First World War – including Gallipoli, the Western Front introductory gallery, The Riddles of Anzac, the refurbishment of the Western Front gallery proper and Echoes of the Guns, I’d never actually published much more than articles on this war. (Given that ten years before I had contemplated making ‘Australian staff officers on the Western Front’ my PhD this is a bit ironic.) Anyway, I had the idea to write a book on ‘Australian Distinguished Conduct Medal winners on Gallipoli’. This sounds on the face of it a not-very promising subject – and so it proved to be – but my reasoning was sound.

The basis of this book was to be that exactly 100 Australians were awarded the DCM on Gallipoli. This figure came from Williams’s Medals to Australians, and it proved to be erroneous, but it seemed to me that here was a group of a hundred of the first volunteers for the Great War – surely we could use them as a way of understanding who these men were and what happened to them in that war. It is still a good idea, but the fact is that investigation disclosed some distinctly un-magic number (like 139), the details of their ‘deeds’ remained obscure and frankly it turned out to be not such a good idea. However, I wasn’t to know that when in October 2002 I visited Gallipoli – for the first time.

The ostensible reason for the 2002 visit was a conference at Cannakale. Afterwards I planned to spend a few days after it sussing out the places where the DCMs’ ‘deeds’ had been performed. To be honest, by this time I had begun to realise that the DCMs book was a mistake. I pretty much knew already that I had very little idea of exactly where to look, and – to be perfectly frank – no idea what I would be actually looking for. (It was as if I had ordered a gigantic document but on opening it had no idea of what questions I would ask of it – a disorienting sensation for an historian.) Still, trusting to serendipity – which has served me well in the past – I hired a little scooter off the electrician at the bloody-awful Kum resort a few kilometres south of Anzac, and set off to look around the battlefield in search of a project in which my faith was diminishing like a leaky balloon.

I described what happened next in the Introduction to Quinn’s Post:

This conviction – a quite extraordinary certainty that there on the spot I should abandon the DCM book and instead write a book about what had happened on that very spot – awakened a burst of energy. Back at the Memorial I readily secured my superiors’ consent to change tack; got a grant from the Australian Army History Unit to travel to Britain to consult British records and somehow – I can’t quite recall how – got to New Zealand to spend two weeks reading the New Zealand records (one of the most enjoyable research trips I’ve ever had, not least because of that country’s excellent archives – the Alexander Turnbull Library and the Kippenberger Library at Waiorou especially). In 2004 I was able to return to Gallipoli to spend a further week mooching about on  scooter – the best way to get around it – checking my ideas against the ground. (Unlike my vague ideas in 2002, I returned with a very clear reading of the terrain and what it could tell us – ideas which came out more fully in A Stout Pair of Boots.)

I recall writing Quinn’s Post almost entirely at work (that is, not at home) in the year from mid-2003. I can’t now recall the process with any clarity – it seems now to have been written in a trance – but I have the records of my daily and weekly word-counts. I wrote it pretty much from beginning to end, rather than all over the show, which as the research gets done and the story is shaped, is my usual pattern.

Despite Allen & Unwin’s rather lacklustre promotion of the book, I was very pleased with the response to Quinn’s Post. Ashley Ekins, a former colleague whose opinions I always listened to with the greatest attention, told me that my style resembled that of Ken Inglis, a compliment I have always treasured.

References for Quinn’s Post, chapter-by-chapter, can be found here: http://www.awm.gov.au/research/quinns/index.asp

Reviews

 

‘ … an accessible history, with plenty of human interest and language that laymen can understand. It is not, however, simplistic or idealistic – Stanley records the events frankly, and using personal accounts adds to that honesty’
Sally Murphy, Aussiereviews.com, 2005

‘Peter Stanley has a wonderful historian’s reach, gathering original accounts, which take readers to the most dangerous section of the Gallipoli front. Peter has done what the Turks could not do. He has captured Quinn’s Post.’
Chris Masters, Four Corners, ABC

‘The qualities of Stanley as an historian are clearly shown here. Paramount is the depth and variety of research … Stanley’s could have been directed at producing a weighty tome … However one of the rare qualities of Stanley’s work … is an appreciation that the value of his work can be magnified by putting it in a form that is easily digestible for the majority of his potential readers … it can comfortably sit alongside Bean’s volumes and be read in concert with them.’
Philip Bradley, Sabretache, vol. XLVI, no. 3, June 2005

Links
Buying the e-book of Quinn’s Post.

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