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Desert Diggers

Writings From a War Zone

‘Somewhere in the Middle East’ 1940-1942


David Mitchelhill-Green

Newport, NSW: Big Sky Publishing, 2023

Paperback    448pp   RRP: $32.99


Reviewer: Robert Dixon, May 2024


I enjoyed reading this book as the author has managed to achieve something which is very difficult, namely, to seamlessly combine brief excerpts from a large number of letters with the author’s own narrative of the history of the fighting in North Africa, mainly involving the 6th and 9th Divisions (although there is some mention of the 7th Division). 

The work opens with the departure of the 6th Division from Australia in 1940 and ends with the return to Australia of the 9th Division in early 1943. The book covers all of the battles which Australian troops were involved in between those two dates but, understandably, most attention is given to the capture of Bardia in January 1941 (52 pages out of  a total of 362 pages), the Australian involvement in the Siege of Tobruk over the period April – December 1941 (81 pages) and the battles around El Alamein over the period July – November 1942 (73 pages). The inclusion of letters from the soldiers is very effective in drawing the reader into the reality of battle, something which the ‘usual’ military history fails to do because they tend to focus on the activities of army units and rarely incorporate the experiences of individuals. 

The book is extremely well written and full of fascinating stories. To take just one example, in his account of the aftermath of the fall of Bardia the author tells us (and here I quote from p 118 of the book): “Brigadier Arthur Allen (16th Brigade) was already managing a large influx of prisoners when a new body of Italians appeared, also wishing to surrender. Allen [told them] ‘that it was too late and to come back next morning’. The enemy troops retired, returning the next day”(!).

The font size is very ‘reader-friendly’ and the book has a very useful bibliography, endnotes and index, including a separate list of the names of the letter-writers.

David Mitchelhill-Green is the prize-winning author of Tobruk 1942: Rommel and the Battles Leading to His Greatest Victory, Hitler's War in Africa 1941–1942: The Road to Cairo, Rommel in North Africa: Quest for the Nile (A collection of photographs) and With Rommel in the Desert Tripoli to El Alamein (also a collection of photographs). Many of his photographic investigations have featured in the UK magazine After the Battle. Clearly the author is in a very good position to write about the activities of Australian Army units in North Africa and the Middle East.



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

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