War diaries written in mud and blood

Elva Cunningham and Peter Paterson who assisted Elva in getting her father's significant war diaries published. 171872 Picture: DEREK SCHLENNSTEDT

By Derek Schlennstedt

If ever there was a book that documented a firsthand account of what soldiers of the First Australian Imperial Force (AIF) had to endure in World War I, then Elva Cunningham’s ‘Who Wouldn’t Be a Soldier’ is certainly it.
The last living child of WWI Sgt Thomas Arthur Dykes, Elva Cunningham has dedicated more than 30 years to writing the book that entails all her father’s war experiences.
The book release will be at Mount Evelyn RSL on 17 September.
Nine diaries of immense detail were left to Elva after her father passed in 1967, and she said that it was her responsibility to ensure the vivid records kept by her father were published.
“I feel it is a responsibility; they have always been mine since I was little, and you can’t just push them away into the back of the cupboard,” she said.
“You have to share it with people who are interested and especially the families, who might have lost someone in the war.”
The nine pocket-sized diaries record Sgt Dykes’ raw and uncensored account of an Infantryman’s daily struggle to survive in the Gallipoli campaign and the horrors of the Western Front.
Now the diaries which were recognised as an ‘extraordinary document’ by Major-General Mike O’Brien CSC have been chronologically collated and published in the book titled ‘Who Wouldn’t be a Soldier’.
Mount Evelyn RSL secretary Anthony McAleer, who edited the diaries and collated the book, said the amount of detail and the flowing style of writing was astounding.
“I’ve published war diaries before, but this one is very well written and detailed, in some parts it’s quite graphic and he doesn’t hold back in describing the conditions and what people had to live under.”
Having finally completed the book after 30 years, Elva told The Mail she funded it herself and was excited to have it published. Elva said she wouldn’t stop there and would be sharing it with everyone involved and even send it to many of the locations mentioned in the book.
“He used to tell my mother they were written in the mud and the blood, and I believe that because they are quite worn and stained.”
“I’ve probably done the most important thing in my life I could have done – they’ve been my most valuable asset.”
“I’m very excited, but it’s not over yet, because we have a lot of sharing to do,” she said. The book will be launched by Major-General Mike O’Brien CSC on Sunday 17 September at Mount Evelyn RSL hall. For more information, visit mtevrsl@gmail.com or for any questions about the book contact Elva on elva.cunningham2@gmail.com