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Introduction by Simon Caterson
The drumming of the guns continued, with bursts of great intensity. It was as though a gale streamed overhead, piling up great waves of sound, and hurrying them onwards to crash in surf on the enemy entrenchments. The windless air about them, by its very stillness, made that unearthly music more terrible to hear.
First published anonymously in 1929 because its language was considered far too frank for public circulation, The Middle Parts of Fortune was hailed by T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, by Lawrence of Arabia and Ernest Hemingway, as an extraordinary novel. Its author was in fact Frederic Manning, an Australian writer who fought in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, and who told his story of men at war from the perspective of an ordinary soldier.
Never before published in Australia, The Middle Parts of Fortune is now recognised as a twentieth-century classic.
‘The finest and noblest book of men in war that I have ever read. I read it over once each year to remember how things really were so that I will never lie to myself nor to anyone else about them.’
‘A classic of enduring validity. I am glad he was an Australian, for this is a profoundly democratic book. I know of no story of the first world war which is so effectively written, not only from the ranks, but from the point of view of the ranks it remains, with Richard Mahony, almost alone among the products of Australian writers.’
‘No praise could be too sheer for this book. It justifies every heat of praise. Its virtues will be recognised more and more as time goes on.’
‘A wise book among the most thoughtful novels of the war.’
‘Frederic Manning’s novel of the first world war, The Middle Parts of Fortune, first appeared in London in 1929, in a limited edition intended for subscribers only. It was issued to the public the following year under the title Her Privates We, with some minor alterations made in concession to the conventions of the time. In rendering the everyday language of soldiers, for example, certain niceties were observed; “fuckin’s” were changed to “muckin’s,” and “buggers” to “beggars.” These transparent amendments did little to diminish the impact of the book, which struck its many readers, particularly those who had served in the war or witnessed its after-effects on their loved ones, as being true to the actual experience of modern warfare in ways that nothing else had managed to be. In the judgement of many of his admirers, Manning’s achievement has not really been surpassed even now, many decades and many wars later.’