In Great Spirits
IN GREAT SPIRITS The World War I Diary of Archie Barwick. By Archie Barwick RRP $ 27.95
IHAVE read many, many good diaries of those who served in various wars and all have added to a fuller understanding of what it was like. Great Spirits is one of the best.
How author Archie Barwick survived the full four years of World War I, from Gallipoli to France, is amazing.
The fact he survived is what makes the work so brilliant. By doing so, he has been able to pass down the horrors, conditions and sensibilities of those who served from start to finish.
It is indeed rare. The other attribute is he was a constant and good writer. Whenever he could, he put pen to paper. He makes good use of descriptive words and his style is graphic and entertaining. He may not have had a good education, but he certainly had a natural talent in this regard.
“One could see his strength, determination, courage and integrity, as well as his sophistication of mind,” his son- in- law David Hassell said.
Barwick was a Tasmanian, but enlisted in New South Wales as part of the 1st Battalion. At the onset of the war he was enthusiastic and, to his “great joy”, he got a letter to “report once to Victoria Barracks”.
Barwick served with gusto, yet his enthusiasm waned as the war continued and the horrors mounted. All he wanted to do was return home. Fortunately, he did. He fulfilled his expected role with dedication and never flaunted his obligations to his country and his men, and was eventually promoted to sergeant.
Barwick’s military career started on August 24, 1914, and his diary follows his career until he returned home in 1919.
He wrote of the landing at Gallipoli: “We scrambled up the hill for about 200 yards and then we dumped our packs and started off at a fair pace for the firing line, for everyone was anxious to get up to them ( i. e. the Turks).
“As we were getting over the parapet the man next to me was killed stone dead and on the way across we lost a few more.”
He survived Gallipoli, only to be sent to France where he spent the next three years enduring such battles as Pozieres, the Somme and Ypres.
Barwick offers an insight into many aspects of war – the horrors, successes, emotions, conditions, wasted time doing drills, wounds and the rats – yet there were also times of quietness and beauty.
He wrote of his pleasure of having leave in London and Paris, the wonders of the countryside and the beauty of the English and French girls.
We dumped our packs and started off at a fair pace for the firing line, for everyone was anxious to get up
He recalled the wonderful sympathy and help the nurses gave, for he was wounded several times.
Towards the end of the war he also recorded the devastation of the Spanish flu, which he contracted and overcame. He often thought of why he had not been killed like so many of his mates had been.
“I can only answer this by what my father once told me after serving in North Africa … there wasn’t a bullet with my name on it,” he wrote.
Barwick returned to Australia and lived until 1966, when he died at 76. He was a great Australian.