Jeff Maynard is an author, documentary maker, broadcaster, editor and book reviewer from Melbourne. His previous book ‘Wings of Ice’ is about the Polar Air Race.
The Unseen Anzac is the story of George Hubert Wilkins, later Sir Hubert Wilkins; polar explorer, pilot, Army captain, skilled and dedicated wartime photographer and extraordinarily brave man.
The book is divided into three logical sections: Part I is about Wilkins’ early life until August 1917 when he was appointed an official photographer to the AIF. By then he had already been recognized for his polar exploits and photographic skills. Part II is the main focus of the book and covers his time as official war photographer until June 1919. Part III covers from June 1919 to the present, his life after the war and his many exploits, which is probably worthy of a further book. He died in the United States in 1958.
he book details his extraordinary work as an official war photographer, assigned to Charles Bean. Wilkins was very much influenced by Bean’s desire to ensure an accurate record of what Australians did during the Great War and to collect and catalogue artifacts, art, photographs and Bean’s detailed written record for future
generations. While not the only official photographer, Wilkins was certainly the most prolific and dedicated. He was fastidious about annotating exactly when and where photographs were taken and identifying units and soldiers involved, if not so diligent about claiming credit for his work!
Wilkins spent months on the front line, going ‘over the top’ such as at Polygon Wood. He took photographs from no-man’s land looking back to the Australian lines. He was wounded, had his equipment damaged several times and was awarded the Military Cross and Bar as an unarmed correspondent. General Monash in a speech described Wilkins as the bravest man in the AIF!
The book contains a selection of photographs of battlefields, places and his life. The author also provides an outline of other photographs of battles and places and some of the background to the actual photography. This includes AWM serial numbers for those who wish to do further research. There is a useful Bibliography and Notes as well as a brief list of military acronyms to help the reader.
The author has produced a well-researched account of a unique Australian who made a major contribution to our understanding of WWI. The book is well written and easy to read, especially through the operations of 1917-1918. It is an excellent account of the life of an extraordinary Australian and should be of interest to many general readers.
The Royal United Services Institute of Victoria Library wishes to thank the publisher for providing a copy for review.
Reviewed by Ian Lillie, February 2016
Contact Royal United Services Institute about this article.