The Lost Boys is a sobering, enlightening and powerful book, telling the previously untold stories of forty underage soldiers who fought as Anzac soldiers in the First World War.
While we know a great deal about the First World War, very little has been written about the underage soldiers who fought and died during this time. These are the young men who lied about their age, forged a parent’s signature and left to fight on the other side of the world. If they weren’t accepted as a soldier at a recruitment camp in Sydney, they could easily travel to Goulburn or Melbourne and have a chance at recruitment there. Many were eager to join, following the footsteps of their fathers or older brothers. Others joined because they needed the money – it has been said that Australians were the best paid soldiers of the war. Others joined to spare the shame of a white feather. But no matter their reason for joining, they soon found they could die as well as any man. Even those as young as thirteen. Just like Peter Pan’s lost boys, these young men have remained forever young. And Paul Byrnes is telling their stories.
The Lost Boys is an extraordinary book that captures the incredible stories of forty Anzac boys who fought in the First World War, from Gallipoli to the Armistice. It is a fresh addition to the military history genre, but also compelling storytelling, reading the individual tales of these young soldiers. From those right at the beginning of the war, eager to prove that they were willing to fight for the Mother Country, to those at the end enlisting during the time when many Australians had started having misgivings about the war. We’re taken on a journey from Turkey, to France, to Belgium, following the trail of where our Anzac soldiers were sent.
Meticulous research has been undertaken by Byrnes to get a whole picture of these young men’s’ lives. The book includes photographs of the young soldiers, both professional pictures, and photos of them at training camps and behind the lines, and Byrnes spoke to many of the families of the young boys, presenting as complete a picture of each young man as possible. These stories are both heartbreaking and rousing, full of daring, ingenuity, recklessness, random horror and capricious luck.
Byrne’s provides a unique perspective on the First World War. He mentions toward the end that “It is no insult to the memory of the lost boys to say they should never have been there, and no justification to recognise that they fought well and bravely and with all their hearts.” The Lost Boys presents an important part of military history, but it is history made deeply personal. It is a touching and powerful homage to youthful bravery and a poignant reminder of the sacrifice of war.
About the author
Paul Byrnes joined The Sydney Morning Herald in 1976, reporting from various corners of the world for a decade, before specialising as a feature writer and film critic. He was director of the Sydney Film Festival for ten years, until 1998. In 2007, he won the Pascall Prize, Australia’s highest award for critical writing in the arts. This book is the result of a lifelong interest in the First World War. He lives in Australia and France.