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Book Review: Just Soldiers, By Darryl Kelly

Published by the ANZAC Day Commemoration Committee of Queensland

Reviewer: Catherine McCullagh

Readers of Army – The Soldiers’ Newspaper will be familiar with many of the stories in Darryl Kelly’s Just Soldiers, published to coincide with ANZAC Day 2004. Sensitively edited to echo the voice of the Digger, these gritty tales depict the ordinary soldier in time of conflict. 

Kelly’s subjects are real people with flaws and weaknesses, many of them beset by tragedy of their own making, or simply cursed with bad luck. Based on exhaustive research, including hours of interviews with the soldiers’ descendents, these stories bring to life those men and women who embarked on the great adventure of World War I. Their stories are ripping yarns in the wildest sense — except for the fact that they are all true. 

These are tales of heroes, murderers, ministering angels, suicides and disappearances: a deserter from the French Foreign Legion is rescued at gunpoint from the firing squad; twins are killed by the same shell and misidentified as the one person; a padre joins a mutiny in the ranks and is later felled by a German sniper as he prays over the body of a fallen comrade; and a Digger survives the hell of the Burma-Thai Railway only to be shipwrecked in the shark-infested South China Sea.

This is an honest book in narrative style that tells the story unembellished and without the judgement of hindsight. Kelly’s use of direct speech to add realism to the stories presents an innovative use of the anecdotes of diaries, letters and family recollections. While not to every reader’s taste, it adds the flavour of realism to what may otherwise appear a dusty, far-off memory. Kelly’s soldiers live, and their thoughts and actions resound with that tough Digger tenacity, the larrikin irreverence and the muted understatement of courage under fire. This book is a gem, well worth reading, even just as a timely reminder of the unheralded achievements of ordinary people in extraordinary times.

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Foreword by Digger James – Infantryman and Army Doctor – “This enthralling story will have appeal not only to those who have served or have known someone who served in the Australian Army in war, it will fulfil the thirst for knowledge of the growing numbers of young Australians who yearn to uncover the deeds of their forefathers…”

R.L. (Ray) Burnard – Infantryman – “I found it enthralling, entertaining and so very readable. It is a superb book, which I hope many young soldiers read, as it encapsulates so clearly the ethos of the Australian infantryman in the Vietnam era.”  

W.T.C. (Wally) Thompson – Infantryman and 1st ever Regimental Sergeant Major of the Army – “We Band of Brothers is well worth the read… As seen through the eyes of an infantryman, the Vietnam chapters are pure insight into the war and the calibre of the men who fought it. The professionalism and bravery described, and the wonderful “digger” humour are an inspiration to any reader.”

We Band of Brothers is a grand, A-4 size, hard cover, high quality, glossy, coffee-table book of 375,000 words, with five hundred and fifty photographs, including three colour sections covering Malaya, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam.

For readers in the USA, UK, Canada, NZ and PNG - Order Forms and lots more information on the book can be found on the websites -


 In Australia, the price of the book, delivered to your home, incl GST, is $59-95

Order from EXACT PRINT + DESIGN, PO Box 250, Broadmeadow, NSW 2292

Phone:  02 4961 4507     Facsimile:  02 4962 2902     E-mail:  



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Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces