Author Tony Matthews will launch for A Dawn with no Birdsong' at the Brolga Theatre, Maryborough on November 17.
Author Tony Matthews will launch for A Dawn with no Birdsong' at the Brolga Theatre, Maryborough on November 17.

New book delves into war injustices

HISTORIAN and much-loved author - especially in Chinchilla for his unique and comprehensive exploration of the region's past - Tony Matthews is set to release a new novel almost a week after Remembrance Day.

Dr Matthews, who has written a three-volume history of Chinchilla titled Footsteps Through Time, has been dedicated to researching the injustices of men during war, and said Remembrance Day was a time to think about the impact of war and the effects of violence on society.

"The number of people that you see increasingly going to Gallipoli and the impact of the war has always been powerful in Australia - 500,000 men went over and more than 50,000 didn't come back,” he said. 

"That had a huge impact on Australian society.

"It robbed whole communities of their farmers, their workers, their men, and the families of those men grieved for the remainder of their lives.”

Dr Matthews said the "intense mourning” continued into the next generation and "even though it has been diluted by time, people now are looking at the sacrifice the soldiers made”.

He said violence - "and war, of course, is quintessential of violence” - is a part of human nature.

"But I think it is possible to grow out of that by looking at what violence has brought us in the past.

"You've only got to look at the devastation in Australia when the men died during the war and how that affected our society and what we can learn to do to stop that violence, to understand the violence, and prevent it in the future.”

Dr Matthews said while this year, November 11 marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, one of the least known aspects about the war was that 121 men serving with Australian military forces were sentenced to death during the conflict, many of them volunteers from rural regions. 

The Australian government refused to execute the men however the British government executed its soldiers for misdemeanours such as sleeping at a post, shell-shock, striking an officer and other similar "crimes”. 

During the four years of the war, a total of 346 men were executed by British firing squads for such offences, and Dr Matthews said he had written A Dawn with no Birdsong as a "tribute to all those soldiers who were killed unnecessarily by their British masters”.

"The story is really about a young British soldier who's fighting alongside the Australian troops and the juxtaposition about how he's treated and how they're treated,” he said.

"The British soldiers were very much facing that death penalty.

"They were put up against a stake and shot at the rate of one man approximately every four days for the entire four years of the war.

"Additionally, the men who had been forced to form the firing squads also had to live with their actions and the guilt never left them.

"Some in later life committed suicide.”

Dr Matthews said the details of the executions had been a "taboo” subject, with the families of the men keeping quiet because of the negative stigma attached to the deaths.

"The British government didn't release the details so a lid was kept on it and it took years for the documents to be released - that was no more than 10 years ago.”

He said 309 of the men had now been pardoned posthumously by the British Government and a Shot at Dawn memorial was erected in Staffordshire, England. 

A Dawn with no Birdsong will be launched at the Brolga Theatre, Maryborough, on November 17. Members of the public are welcome to attend the free event. To register, phone the Maryborough Library on 41905788 or the Hervey Bay Library on 41974220.

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