Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Dishonest Life?


I was listening to radio national yesterday and the memoir, A Fortunate Life, by AB Facey was mentioned. Those who watch First Tuesday Book Club would have seen A Fortunate Life come in at number three on their Ten Aussie Books to Read Before You Die list. If I remember correctly they said it was not very well written, but it really showed the horrors of war experienced by Facey. At the time, I thought it might be a book worth reading to get an accurate picture of what it was like at Gallipolli. 

Evidentially, Facey claims in the memoir that he was one of the first soldiers ashore at Gallipoli, and came under heavy machine gun fire.

But according to historian Chris Roberts, a retired Brigadier, Facey’s account only perpetuates one of the myths about the landing at Gallipoli.  In Chris Robert's book The Landing at Anzac 1915 he writes that the landing "was not a bloody landing under murderous fire", and that the beach was "not an inferno of bursting shells and barbed wire". In fact the first troops to land at Gallipoli only had to withstand sporadic rifle fire according to the diaries of a few soldiers who were actually there.  Evidentially the film Gallipoli also perpetuates the myth.

Roberts then says that Facey's account of his arrival and wounding at Gallipoli is a fabrication. War records reveal that Facey arrived on the 7th of May, 12 days after the first landing. Facey also writes he was horribly wounded, his records reveal no such injury. If this is true, how much more of the memoir is a fabrication? If this is true, shame on you AB Facey. Myths about war only perpetuate war.

I recall watching a Four Corners program, many years ago about Gallipoli. In that program it said that the invading Anzacs troops at Gallipoli on the first day, suffered little resistance and rushed inland, but then they stopped for the day instead of taking the high ground. I particularly remember an interview with a pissed off New Zealander, blaming lazy Australians for stopping. But then, we like to blame the British.

In the radio national program, Chris Roberts confirmed that the troops stopped before reaching higher ground. The Turks then finally arrived and set up their machine guns on that higher ground. If the Anzacs had kept on going and dug in on the high ground, then Gallipoli might not have been the military disaster it was.

Chris Roberts is a retired Brigadier who served in Vietnam, he later commanded the SAS Regiment and Northern Command and holds an honours degree in history.

Anyway, I won’t be reading A Fortunate Life. I am sick of soldiers and politicians lying about war. If all children were taught the truth about war and why they happened, then they probably would rarely occur. Instead we see them dragged along to dawn services by their parents so they can earnestly parrot to any media that “they died so we could be free.” Which has me yelling at the television: besides the second world war, which other war was our freedom threatened?

35 comments:

Anthony J. Langford said...

It is a famous book which made the author famous in his lifetime, but perhaps it was never to be so big. Besides the point, as the edict says, 'Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.' Maybe the book became bigger than he could have realised and couldn't fess up.

I'd argue that there is no such thing an accurate biography - it's too slanted to the writer's point of view, especially if they are the subject matter. He probably thought he could change a couple of facts and nobody would know.

On the other hand, memory is unreliable and perhaps he remembered things wrong, or got it tied up with things he read. He certainly would not have had the access to research material that he would have now.
Not suggesting one thing over another, just that it may be more complex.

Never read the book, but my step-son has.
Anyway, its a memoir; I'd say take it with a grain of salt.

Graham Clements said...

It was published late in his life, in 1981 and he died nine months later. Was his memory shot when he wrote it? Wikipedia says since its publication in 1981 it has become a primary account of the Australian experience during World War I. But with what looks like two major inaccuracies in that he was not there on the day Gallipoli was invaded, and there is no record of him being wounded, than can any of it be trusted to give an accurate account of world war one? Can you forget that you were not seriously wounded? Like I said, I wont be reading it, and I think people should look to other books for the primary Australian experience of world war one.

Anthony J. Langford said...

Ah I didn't realise he was so old when he wrote it. It's been medically (?) proven that memory is unreliable so you're right, it should not be looked at as fact, but stories do have a knack of inspiring people, just ask Bryce Courtenay lol

People also like to beleive what they like to believe. Many 'true' stories are embellished, not doubt at all.

Graham Clements said...

Anthony, that is why I am not a great reader of memoirs. Or though I did read David Hicks' biography, but much of it was backed up with what I had been reading in the Age, and his book was very heavily footnoted.

I prefer biographies of people written by people who have a reputation to uphold, like Paul Barry's unauthorised biography The Rise and Rise of Kerry Packer.

Graham Clements said...

I reckon a big difference between a memoir written by someone like Hicks as compared to Facey, it that Hicks is notorious, so the reader knows that what they are reading could be false, whereas Facey, before his book came out was unknown.

Anthony J. Langford said...

True - we are also living in very transparent times. Wouldn't even try to get away with it now, though people still do.
I remember James Frey's book, A million little pieces, which was a bestseller about his supposed alchol abuse. having had alcohol problems myself I read it and was barely a quarter the way in when I realised it was bullshit. inevitably it was announced fraudulent yet he went on to have a big career. In fact, I saw it only the other day in Dymocks. It made me want to burn it. I think he made a public apology and the publisher changed it from memoir to fiction, yet its written as a memoir so probably still fools many.

A.Brit said...

Debunking the myth that obscures the truth is important! Thank you for the article above, these sorts of myths give birth to many others, I am British and don't doubt Australian soldiers were as brave as any soldier there in 1915 and don't need and wouldn't wont the made up accounts of the landings perpetuated. Although I have found that many Australian civilians feel differently I have met with a lot of anger and resentment towards Britain when talking about Galipollie to Australians as if we Brits were your enemy. Some people have seriously told me that the Australians were purposely sent to die by the British!?! What would you feel If this sort of thing was being said about Australia when you visited Britain. I once watched a British doc about the landings or rather the troops in Egypt prior to the operation. All diary extracts read against old b/w footage of the different nations troops. It stuck me how many British wrote of the close bond or goodwill in particular between the British and ANZAC troops. I find it very sad and so disrespectful to those brave soldiers who died together that many facts like the real nature of the ANZAC landings are dismissed out of hand by so many people in favour of perpetuating distortions and lies that only serve to build a sense of betrayal and deepen ignorance. Those soldiers would be shocked. So it is very heartening to see a rare opposite point of view. Lest we forget indeed.

Graham Clements said...

A Brit, I have heard and read other accounts of Gallipoli that debunk some of the myths about Australians. I have never believed that a volunteer force with only basic training could have been a great fighting force. A hell of lot of pressure was placed on Australians to volunteer too.

Unknown said...

I have done some considerable research on Facey, including his service records. Importantly, his DVA and Repatriation Dept medical files indicate a bullet wound to his left shoulder and a diagnosed tachycardia classed as due to war service. I would not be too quick to write Facey off. All his civilian life stuff that I checked both pre and post WW1proved accurate.
One of his original manuscripts discusses how pleased he was to see the arrival of the 2nd and 3rd reinforcements during the second week of May 1915. This was not related in the book.
Service records can be incorrectly date annotated. I have viewed hundreds of them.
I would be very careful branding this man a liar. Only limited research was done to reach a conclusion to further a theory on the Gallipoli landing. And a most negative way to go about it too. Totally unnecessary methodology.

Ian Gill said...

I have been looking into Albert Facey of late. Beyond his service file if one looks at DVA pension and Repat files you will see he suffered a bullet wound to his left shoulder. Doctors assessed his tachycardia as war related so the claims he was not injured or wounded at Gallipoli appear very weak.
Looking into his pre and post war life, much of what he wrote about can also be confirmed. I checked through trove, checked his union links, there was a Mickey Flynn boxing troupe, he was on numerous Road Boards and so on. It checked out.
His claims of being in an isolation ward at Freo Artillery Barracks in Oct Nov Dec 1914 with measles and scarlet fever ring true, as there was a wing for such on second floor in that time. He was likely a 1st reo and on release after Xmas 1914, rejoined and was put back into 3rd reos 11Bn.
I have viewed B2455 service files in their hundreds and they can sometimes be date inaccurate for numerous things, such as when taken on strength or even when one died or was wounded.
The claims Facey's only contribution to the book were three small unintelligible notebooks is also incorrect.
I have met the family, including Olive, Alberts now 94 year old daughter. Stooped and hard of hearing, but her mind very sharp and clear. How the book came together, Olive was privvy to.
The slamming of Albert Facey was an unnecessary and negative way to push a claim of no early morning Turk machine guns on 25 April 1915. His manuscript gives more detail on his Gallipoli service that indicates he was indeed there. If one bothers to research more deeply, ones mind might be made up differently.
Ian Gill

Graham Clements said...

Ian Gill, you don't say when or where the records state that Facey was wounded. Why? Do they say he was wounded at Gallopoli?

Graham Clements said...

Ian Gill, and unknown, you don't mention whether your research showed Facey landed on the first day, which was the main contention of the Chris Roberts research. His book was about exposing myths around Gallopoli and one was that the first landers came under heavy fire. Facey claims, according ot Chris Roberts, to have been one of the first to land and he came under heavy fire. So either Facey was mistaken or Chris Roberts' research based on numerous diary entries of people who were actually there on the first day, is wrong. Not knowing either of you or your sources or research methods, I tend to put more weight on the research of a retired Vietnam Brigadier in Chris Roberts.

Graham Clements said...

You both may be interested in this article http://www.awm.gov.au/wartime/50/roberts_machinegun/

vw73 said...

Why are people so quick to Slander ones name and character based on unfounded research of a few minorities. By the name of your blog A dishonest life, even with a question mark, is so disrespectful. You imply that Albert Facey is a liar without even knowing all the facts and not even reading his memoir! Roberts research has already been proven to be wrong. It takes more than a 3 min name search to pull a few documents up and take it as fact. Some Historian! Rip Anzacs

t jean said...

Well said

t jean said...

Also Facey never once mentioned he was the first soldier ashore. This is from other bloggers fabrications. Andrew Tink to name one.

Graham Clements said...

vw73, I would like to see the links to the research that shows Roberts' research is wrong. I just did a quick three minute search and found nothing.

Graham Clements said...

tjean, both I and Roberts have not said that AB Facey said he was the first soilder ashore. I think that honour is still being debated between at least two Australian towns who claim the first person ashore came from their town.

Ian Gill said...

Another author whose research covers Gallipoli wrote an article on Facey weighing up his claims. He found Facey an honest character and likely present at the Landing. This author had found two reinfocement men of the 11th Bn whose service records recorded a 7th May 1915 arrival at Gallipoli, yet other evidence such as correspondence by other soldiers indicated otherwise. As I said before one must be careful with service records. I have noted several that even have incorrect dates of death, let alone wounded. Roberts has not proven anything with regard to Albert Facey. Facey and his family deserve better.
Ian Gill

Study Mommy said...

Thank you for shedding some well-researched light on to this. I'm surprised that so many people have defamed A.B. Facey without having read his book and also without the intention to read it. Do yourselves a favour and read it. There's a reason why it's an Australian classic. It's simply written but you can't put it down. The man was amazing.

Graham Clements said...

Hi Study Mum,

I have been waiting for some well-researched responses, with links to them, that refute historian Chris Roberts claim that Facey was not at Gallipoli on the first day, which Facey claims to have been. So far no one has provided such evidence with links or sources, and a lot of people have read this post.

Until someone provides such evidence I have to ask how much of the book was true?

Graham Clements.

Graham Clements said...

Okay, I did some research, and found this essay by James Hurst from ANU. journal.mhj.net.au/index.php/mhj/article/download/110/84

He concludes that there are a lot of inaccuracies in Facey's account of the first few days of the Gallipoli campaign, whether this is because his memory was faulty, or he was telling what he thought to be the truth, or that what happened to him and other people's stories got mixed up in his mind, or that he actually was there and the official accounts sometimes incorrect, is the question. But a lot of what Facey says about the first few days of the campaign is incorrect.

Anonymous said...

study mom, t Jean etc. your thinking here is half baked at best. Clearly you are emotionally invested in this myth. But choosing to be ignorant of an uncomfortable truth, i.e most of what you've been taught about Galippoli isn't true, doesn't change the facts.The Historian Chris Roberts has said that he Loved a fortunate life and was shocked to discover that it is a false telling of the landings. He was a professional soldier and he had more invested in this story than most Australians, in other words he wouldn't lie about his research he would of welcomed it if faceys account had turned out to be factual. He says that we are building our national character on falsehoods by buying into the old Australia was born during those supposedly bloody landings myth.I wonder Will perpetuating and revering these fictional accounts help Australia develop into the future? After all the Nazis couldn't of ever got to power if the people of Germany didn't consciously buy into the pretend facts about the Jews making them lose WWI. Roberts also said that he thought that the mythologised version of the landings were really just creating "ignorance and arrogance". Why invest in that. If you use channel 7 docudramas and the backs of ANZAC biscuit tins as your historical research tools you will find lots of 'evidence' to support faceys claims. Chris Roberts is a graduate of Duntroon military academy an ex-commanding officer of the SAS who served in Vietnam, he has an honours degree in history from the university of WA and was commissioned to write his book by the Australian War Memorial. He lectures at UNSW Canberra. This backs his credibility and Australia should be proud of him! You guys on the other hand have the channel 7 docudramas to back you. I think Chris Roberts wins.

Ian Gill said...

You might just find James Hurst sits on the fence on Facey, although his final paragraph basically says it would be a brave move to lable Facey a liar. James has a degree in history and his doctoral thesis is on the Landing at Anzac I believe. Pretty sure he believes there were Turk machine guns present that early morning too. Faceys bullet wound to left shoulder from repat files back up his claim from his book. He had 10 odd years in the RSL from mid 1930s at Tuart Hill and Osborne Park branches. I can't imagine him getting away with his story there amongst comrades.

Roberts claim Facey could barely write and his unintelligible 3 small notebooks that formed his book is an unfounded claim. In consultation with current Facey family, Albert Facey handwrote over 600 foolscap pages in his several attempts from the mid 1930s to write his story. All in his own hand. The manuscripts are held in the same location where Roberts sat his degree. I recently dug up some letters written by Facey in the sixties after he had retired. Same style and signature same as from his attestation papers for WW1.

The dozens and dozens of men who recorded their landing experience under machine gun fire also deserve to be heard. Try reading the recently translated Turk Official History of Gallipoli and one might begin to see that some of what happened has been omitted, while the overly heroic writing style and overstatement is very apparent. Written some 60 plus years after the landings too. The German involvement is a mere footnote and they still have no memorial at Gallipoli for their dead. It was pulled down. Why one should ask?

There is a lot more to the Landing at Gallipoli than what the Turks are telling us, and quite frankly, I believe our blokes were not mistaken or lying in their accounts. Roberts book has already been published in version two to tidy up some issues from the first one. All at taxpayers expense I imagine if it came via the Army History Unit campaign series as it says within.

No issue with respect for peoples service and academic qualifications, but at the end of the day it all boils down to depth of research. His version of the Landing, while widely accepted by some, is being directly challenged by others, and so it should because there is simply too much conflicting info that is well documented and backed up by others, that has been largely ignored to push the Turk only view. There are a few brave Turk academics that are well aware of how some records are kept under lock and key to keep the Gallipoli narrative a strictly Ottoman Turk one. Long way to go just yet.

Ian

Ian Gill said...

I think you will find James Hurst's article on Facey looked on both sides of the argument and his final comments ran along the line of not being too quick to label Facey a liar. James has a degree and his doctoral thesis is on the Landing at Anzac. Unfortunately, Roberts claimed via others advice that Facey's contribution to his book were three small unintelligible notebooks. This is rubbish. Facey's memoirs, written in his own hand spanned well over three notebooks and they were A4 foolscap size and totalled over 600 pages. That does not include one notebook held by other Facey family, the others residing at the same Uni where Roberts took his history degree. There is also a typed manuscript, which was collated from the other handwritten notebooks and delivered to Fremantle Arts Centre Press for perusal. In this manuscript Facey mentions his pleasure at the arrival of the 2nd and 3rd reos in May. This was not printed in the book.

Facey was a member of the RSL for about 10 years from the mid 1930s. I can't see him running his line with other veterans if not true. I recently saw some handwritten letters by Facey from the 1960s. Same handwriting as his manuscripts, which started in the 30s, and his signature the same as on his enlistment papers for WW1. Most of what Facey relates in his book checks out if one bothers to dig.

Roberts service to his country we can all respect, but this has nothing to do with engaging in more thorough research. Same as the no machine gun argument at Anzac early 25 April 1915. If the argument was so strong, why use Facey to support your case? Dozens and dozens of our Diggers recorded coming under mg fire at the landing and their accounts triangulate nicely with others. The recently translated Turk Official History on Gallipoli is highly and overtly patriotic and heroically written. Some well known information is omitted and some conflicts itself. This all written some 60 plus years after the event by men who were not there. Over stating how many machine guns the Turks faced at the landingsfrom the Brits is also obvious. Much more needs to be done before we close the door on the events of 25 April 1915. Roberts has put a case that places more stock on Turk accounts than ours, and from what I've read on Turk histories and what some of their own academics say on access to certain records being closed off, there is more to this than what they are saying. Their accounts of German participation become a point here. Their graves and memorial at Kilia Tepe were destroyed and no trace left. Why?

Facey deserves better, as do the other blokes who landed that day. Are they ALL to be branded liars or mistaken? What rubbish. More digging required before this is settled.

Graham Clements said...

Yes Ian, I did find that the James Hurst article tried to look at both sides of the argument. Although I suspect it was more an attempt to make excuses for all the inaccuracies of Facey's version of the first few days at Gallipoli. It concluded that Facey was mistaken and in error on frequent occasions about the first few days of the landing. I said in my comment above, whether that was "because his memory was faulty, or he was telling what he thought to be the truth, or that what happened to him and other people's stories got mixed up in his mind, or that he actually was there and the official accounts sometimes incorrect, is the question."

You say Roberts places too much emphasis on the Turkish version of history - but he also uses diaries written by Australian soldiers who were actually there on the first morning.

At the moment the evidence I have read points to Facey not being at the landing on the first morning. How can someone get that wrong?

I have seen pictures printed in the paper of troops just lounging around on the beach on the first morning, with no sign of a bloodbath, so I am trying to reconcile those with the tales of machine gun butchery.



Graham Clements said...

Ian if you are going to resort to personal abuse, your comments won't be printed.

Graham Clements said...

The pictures mentioned above, where in the Wangaratta Chronicle on about the 25th of this year. Unfortunately, I cannot find a link to them on the Chronicle's website. I was astounded when I first saw them.

Anonymous said...

Your problem with Facey seems to be he is somehow perpetuating a myth about Gallipoli and glorifying war but he doesn't do that at all in his book; he was disgusted by having served for no good purpose, and by the waste of lives on both sides) and didn't want his own sons to partake in WWII (his eldest was killed). Accurate or not, he certainly wasn't waving the flag...

Graham Clements said...

Anonymous, that is part of the problem, but the other is that I just want truth in the writing of our history, especially about an event such as Gallipoli which many people claim was the making of our country. I am not one of them. I thought it was a senseless waste of lives from many countries.

Georgie Rose said...

Thank you Graham for your lovely insight. I would recommend that maybe you pick up Faceys story and read it again. You may find that it is in fact the story of his life, not just WW1. This is a life that I personally celebrate. Why you may ask? Well, Albert is my great grandfather and without him, I wouldn't be here.

And before you jump to defend your previous comments, maybe you should pause for a moment and look around this glorious country of ours. If it weren't for the men and women who fought, and continue to fight, for our freedom, we wouldn't be able to life the life we live.

Think of that next time you choose to write so freely.

Georgie Rose said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Graham Clements said...

Hi Georgie,

I know your grandfather's biography is about more than the first world war, indeed more than the first day at Gallipoli. But this thread is all about him and the first few days of Gallipoli. I have pointed to evidence from two historians, which includes diary's from two soldiers who where there on the first day of the invasion, and evidence from the Turks themselves, that contradicts your grandfather's biography about the first few days of the invasion.

The effect people who fought and died at places like Gallipoli had on the development of Australia is up for debate. I personally think Gallipoli was a waste of lives and had very little to do with how Australian society developed. It is more about us trying to cover up our shame at the way we treat others, like the Aborigines and people with disabilities, as we pretend to be a land of mateship, where everyone is treated equal. That is nowhere near the case.

Ian Gill said...

Graham
I suggest you download the Turk Official History that pertains to the landings at Gallipoli, not just at Anzac, but the beaches at Helles. You might find some overtly patriotic and incorrect figures and statements made amongst its pages. After reading Oglander and Beans official histories as well as the Turk ones, I felt the Brit and Australian ones much more accurate. And see how you go getting full access to all their records as well.

Facey's service record makes no mention of a small bullet wound in his left shoulder, but his DVA repat files do. His book mentions being hit in the left shoulder in direct accordance with those files. So was he lying about that?

I still enjoy Albert Facey's book, and knowing how many pages he handwrote over the years as opposed to Roberts assertions of 3 small unintelligible notebooks, I feel he has been unfairly targeted by you and others. I look forward to the day Facey is fully vindicated on his claims.

Ian

Anonymous said...

Why do you think he would do this he wouldn't lie about his life. Would you?