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All the Broken Soldiers

Private Kennedy’s War


Jan McLeod and Andrew McCleod

Newport, NSW : Big Sky Publishing, 2022

Paperback    264pp  RRP: $32.99


Reviewer: Robert Dixon, March 2024


This book is based on the wartime diary of Private Nick Kennedy who served as a medical orderly with the 2/4th Australian Army Field Ambulance, an AAMC unit attached to the 7th Division. The first part of the book covers Private Kennedy’s enlistment in May 1940 and his initial training, the journey to the Middle East in October 1940 and activities of the 2/4th in North Africa, Palestine and Syria - Lebanon. This part, which takes up around 120 pages, ends with the departure of the unit from the Middle East to return to Australia in February 1942. The second part of the book contains the most detailed and most interesting chapters and deals with the activities of the 2/4th Field Ambulance (and Private Kennedy himself) in Papua between September 1942 and January 1943. These chapters form the major part of the book, around 150 pages and in my view are a major contribution to the history of the Australian Army in the Second World War. The final two chapters of the book cover the period from January 1943 to Private Kennedy’s discharge in August 1945 and some of his post-war activities. All this is dealt with in just fifteen pages.

While much of the story is personal, there is a very real sense in which it is universal. In particular, All the Broken Soldiers provides a rare insight into an aspect of war fought by soldiers equipped with little more than a basic medical kit and a Red Cross armband and who aim not to kill the enemy, but to save lives and make people well-again. I would urge anyone with an interest in the fighting along the Kokoda track and at Buna-Gona to read these chapters in the book. They greatly enhance our understanding of those events and what all those involved went through. 

The book has a very useful list of Acronyms and Abbreviations, a five-page Bibliography and 24 pages of very comprehensive Endnotes. There are six maps: two (one of Lebanon and Syria and the other of the Japanese advance along the Kokoda Track) of which are marvellous examples of the cartographer’s art. The book has 96 low-quality photographs interspersed with the text. Most of the photos feature Private Kennedy or the places where his unit was located at different times, although some are photographs of documents such as letters or pages from the diary. The book does not have an index, this is most unfortunate as it limits the book’s usefulness as a work of reference.

About the authors: Dr Jan McLeod holds a PhD in History from the University of Newcastle.  Her first book, Shadows on the Track: Australia’s Medical War in Papua 1942-1943, was published in 2019 as part of the Australian Army History Collection and is held in the RUSI (Vic) Library. Dr Andrew McLeod is an award-winning journalist and writer. He holds a PhD from Monash University. This is his first book.


The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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