Review Blog

Mar 18 2010

Zero Hour by Leon Davidson

cover image

Text Publishing, 2010. ISBN 9781921656071.
Highly recommended. Subtitled The ANZACS on the Western Front, this non fiction story of how our troops fared along the infamous Western Front from 1916 to 1918 is riveting reading. Whether it be used in a history classroom or read for interest, it will hold the attention of even the most indifferent of readers. After being evacuated from Gallipoli, the NZ and Australian troops were then sent to the Western Front, that line of trenches stretching from the top of Belgium, down past Verdun in Central France. In its four years of fighting, the Western Front claimed the lives of some 3 million soldiers, leaving 11 million wounded. The statistics are incomprehensible, but Davidson's lucid writing makes the reader feel much closer to the facts than any history text read before.
I was enthralled with his other books, Scarecrow Army, the story of ANZACS at Gallipoli, as well as Red Haze, the story of the Vietnam War, both books winning awards in NZ and Australia, and these two books opened my eyes to many stories of the political background of the wars, not widely known. Each of these books gave a personal account of the war, littered with facts, statistics and maps, personal accounts and lists of the dead, all combining to make the story accessible in a way not usually seen.
Zero Hour continues his marvelous writing, as we hear of the men at the front, suffering foot rot as they stand in mud all day and night in the trenches, or the NZ soldiers suffering STD's because the powers that be hesitated in giving out condoms, or the execution of soldiers for ill discipline or desertion. Each of the stories he relates is in the context of their involvement on the Western Front, making it immediate and chilling. I was mesmerized with tales of the men on leave in London, the levels of punishment for misdemeanors in the army, and the lists of the dead, wounded and executed at the end of each chapter. The informal style of writing, augmented with accounts from diaries and letters makes this a book to read and reread, and wonder again at the absolute stupidity of war.
Fran Knight

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