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The Glass Cricket Ball

War · Art · Sacrifice


Jan William Smith

Newport, NSW: Big Sky Publishing, 2022

Paperback    250pp       RRP:$29.99


Reviewer: Robert Dixon, February 2024


The title of this book is a reference to the Hall of Memory in the Australian War Memorial where there are three stained-glass windows, each of which is divided into five tall panels. The fifteen panels each features a figure from different branches of the military in the uniforms of the First World War, surrounded by their equipment and other items meant to illustrate the social, personal and fighting qualities of Australian service men and women. One of the windows includes a cricket ball and stumps, symbolising sporting activity. All fifteen windows are the work of the one-armed Australian artist Napier Waller (1893 – 1972). 

The Glass Cricket Ball is the story of Waller’s life, the creation of the artworks in the Hall of Memory and the bringing home and re-burial in 1993 of the remains of an Unknown Australian Soldier from the military cemetery at Villers-Bretonneux. Waller himself served as a bombardier in France and it was there, at Bullecourt in 1917, that he lost his arm. 

The story is well told but the List of Contents is rather unusual. It records eighteen chapters, but while each chapter number is listed on the page no title is given for any of the chapters!

The author gives a first-hand account of interviews and places visited and also of ‘imagined’ scenes involving Waller and others. Rather than ‘off-putting’ I found that this style very engaging as it can tend to ‘draw the reader in’. I find this stimulates the imagination and results in the reader feeling that they are accompanying the author on his journey. The author is very good at describing things and as a result the text is very evocative of people, rooms in a house, towns and geographic features amongst other things. I enjoyed reading this book and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the life and work of Napier Waller and especially in his glass panels and mosaics in the Hall of Memory at the AWM. I notice that the book won the ACT Notable Book Award for non-fiction in 2023.

The work is 232 pages long but the font is very-reader friendly with only around 200 words per page. As a result it can be read in one or two sittings.  There is no index but there are 18 pages of very useful notes. The book contains 16 photographs of which 11 are B&W. The first photograph is quite striking, it shows Napier Waller in his uniform prior to embarkation for the Western Front set in a garden (in the photographers studio). It is impossible to view the photo and not be mindful of the utter horror which was soon to take the place of this idyllic background. Most of the other B&W photos are from the sketchbook he carried with him during the war. Strangely, given the amount of the text devoted to the stained-glass windows in the Hall of Memory, the book includes photographs of only two of the windows, both in colour. Unfortunately, there is a mistake in the labelling of one of the photographs. The captions tell the reader that both of the photographs are of the west window, but this is not the case. The upper photo (both photos are on the same page) is of the south window not the west window. It is the bottom photo on the page which is of the west window (this one is correctly labelled). Finally, the book does not contain any photos of the east window which, again given the focus of the book (and given also that this is the only window that shows a wounded soldier), is rather puzzling.

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

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