Peter Barton’s The Lost Legion of Fromelles is a monumental study of a 1916 battle that has come to the forefront of Australians’ consciousness in recent years as the most catastrophic 24 hours in our nation’s experience of war. Barton’s work contextualises this battle by exploring the conflicts that preceded it (which were disturbingly similar). With unprecedented access to the archives of the Bavarian Army, he is able to strip away the sentiment, mythology and censorship that influence our understanding of the war on the Western Front.
The book’s startling discoveries include revelations that captured Australian soldiers were willing to impart information to their captors without coercion. It gives a fearless critique of elements of Australia’s official World War I history, along with chief architect Charles Bean’s willingness to gloss over or obscure unpleasant realities that were antithetical to the Anzac legend. By examining contemporary efforts to identify allied soldiers buried in mass graves at Pheasant Wood, Barton connects insights into the past with how they play out in the present.