At Templeton’s Crossing in October 1942, Private Nick Kennedy paused to write in his diary: “One wonders why all this strife should be… these men, in the prime of their life, cut down like flowers”.
This is just one of the touching excerpts from Private Kennedy’s diary that feature in Newcastle author Jan McLeod’s debut title, Shadows on the Track.
The book explores the 1942-43 Papuan campaign of the Pacific War.
It describes, in harrowing detail, how Australia was “woefully unprepared” to fight a medical war in Papua and how soldiers paid the price, suffering from illness, tropical diseases and death.
The book itself took McLeod about a year from start to finish, but one could argue she had been working towards it nearly half her life.
In the early 90s, McLeod studied a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in History, at the University of Newcastle.
It was then her dear old dad produced an ice-cream container full of her great uncle Nick Kennedy’s war medals and Red Cross armband, as well as a diary.
He, along with another of McLeod’s great uncles, had served as a member of the 2nd Australian Field Ambulance, and was well-placed to reflect on the futility of the war.
McLeod returned to university to complete her Honours project, before finishing her PhD on the Australian Army’s medical campaign in the Papua New Guinea war in 2015.
Her thesis was 160,000 words long.
“I knew I’d have some work to do in cutting it back [for the book,]” McLeod told Newcastle Weekly.
“I never set out to write a book initially, but my supervisor encouraged me to do so.
McLeod’s PhD formed the basis of her book, but it became so much more than that, complete with detailed maps and original photographs only her family had seen before.
“I wanted to give [Private Kennedy’s account] academic rigour; I wanted it to become more than a personal story,” she added.
Released in late January, Shadows on the Track is available for $34.99 from QBD Charlestown and Kotara and online.
McLeod will host a book launch at Newcastle Library on Wednesday 13 March.
Those wishing to attend the event, or who would like to get in touch with McLeod, should email [email protected]