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Hell, Hope and Heroes: Life in the Field Ambulance in World War 1

by Private Roy Ramsay AIF (edited by his son Ron J. Ramsay)
Rosenberg Publishing, 2005, $29.95
PDF order form available at http://www.ramsaybook.com/

There is a poignant moment in Private Roy Ramsay’s memoir when, at age 22 in July 1919, he wrote: "Unfortunately most of the folks at home, except our immediate families, have forgotten us now that the war is over and are now embroiled in flu epidemics and other crises. They aren’t interested and don’t want to know the truth. I can forgive all these people, but I can never forget."

"Hell, Hope and Heroes" tells Roy’s story of how a Toowoomba cabinet maker (who worked for Burstows Funeral Home) became an AIF (Australian Imperial Force) stretcher-bearer in the trenches of Gallipoli and Western Europe during World War One.

Roy doesn’t lose his sense of humour in the midst of suffering; with wry observations of his mates and their antics in Egypt, France and the Enoggera Army Camp. His sense of solitude is also carefully recorded, particularly when Roy and his pal Alby Cunnington struggle to keep the Christmas spirit alive during the absolute emptiness of 1916 (two years after the impromptu truce between enemies described in the recent film "Joyeux Noel").

There is a chapter in this book, called "God with Us?", which would make a worthwhile reflection for those Australian and New Zealand Christians who want to reflect upon the theology of sacrifice surrounding and underpinning Anzac Day. This section features a group of soldiers interviewing their Padre about how to maintain a skerrick of faith amidst the neverending loss of life, civility and Empire.

"Hell, Hope and Heroes" provides a first-hand account of how Australians viewed the world in the early years of Federation, and of how one family’s memory came to resemble a nation’s. Thanks must go to Ron Ramsay for honouring his father’s story in such a way.