Reader review of Watson’s Pier by Jennifer Cameron-Smith via Amazon:

Stanley Holm Watson (1887-1985) was one of the first ashore at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, and amongst the last to leave on the night of the 19-20th December 2015. The withdrawal from Gallipoli used the pier at Anzac Cove which Watson had built and which provides the title for the book, written by Watson’s great-grandson, Joshua Funder.

‘One Christmas, when I was a small boy, I sat with my brother at the feet of our great-grandfather, Stanley Watson, to hear his account of Gallipoli.’

Sixty-two years after leaving Gallipoli, Stanley Holm travels to Melbourne on a slow train to spend Christmas with his family. He was then aged 90, and it was the account of him shaving with a cutthroat razor whilst on the train that reminded me of my own grandfather, also at Gallipoli, and who was also still using a cutthroat razor until he died aged 80. From that point on, I was spellbound.

‘The war. It was horrible. All the mud and shells and gas.’

This book is a blend of fact and fiction. Joshua Funder states that the events closely follow the historical accounts in Charles Bean’s ‘Official War History’ and in Stanley Watson’s ‘Gallipoli: Sapper Signalmen’. These historical accounts provide the framework for Joshua Funder’ s account of his great-grandfather’s life, for his experiences of Gallipoli. While Gallipoli is the major focus of the book, Stanley Holm’s long life (he was 97 when he died), it is not the only aspect of his life covered.

There’s an account of Stanley Watson’s return to the Gallipoli peninsula in 1977, of his consciousness of what actually happened there in contrast to how it might have been:

‘It had taken Watson more than sixty years and less than two hours to conquer the peninsula.’

And yes, there are mentions of the mistakes made, including (is it fact, or fiction?) that the Anzacs were disembarked at the wrong destination. There’s mention, too, of the bravery, of the disease, fear and injury that was so much a part of the Gallipoli experience.

‘Even in an army, each man has to fight his own battle.’

I read this book, not so much concerned about differentiating fact from fiction or in trying to ascertain what went wrong. I read this book because it enabled me to get a sense of what these men experienced. My grandfather never spoke of his war experiences, never wore his medals and never returned to Gallipoli. But for a short while, thanks to a 90 year old man using a cutthroat razor to shave whilst on a train, I felt some sense of his experience.

This book does not glorify war, not is it a romantic accounting of the Gallipoli legend. It is about one man’s experiences and the impacts on his family. It’s a story worth reading, and remembering.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Melbourne University Publishing for an opportunity to read this book.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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