Neil Dearberg was an Army officer for 15 years and principal of a financial planning practice for 20 years before taking up six years of conflict archaeology, military history research and photography. He attended four field projects with the Great Arab Revolt Project of the Bristol University UK and three field trips to assist an American PhD candidate. Focusing on the Sinai Palestine campaign, he has had over a dozen articles published in Australia, Jordan, UK and USA. He has given lectures in Australia for the Australian History Association and Jordan for the Australian Embassy and American Centre for Oriental Research. He has been invited to give a presentation to the 2018 T.E. Lawrence Society conference in Oxford, UK. He was Head of Research for a three-part documentary on the Arab Revolt in Jordan and member of a research team for the Petrie Museum (University College of London) on war in the Middle East 1915-1918. USAID contracted Neil to conduct a project for the establishment of an Arab Revolt museum in Aqaba.
Neil has three sons, one daughter and four grandchildren. Still competing in international and national masters surf lifesaving competitions, he also holds a pilot’s licence and has been a scuba diving instructor for over 30 years.
This is Neil’s first book, written through the exploratory and explanatory eyes of a military officer to better describe events. Yet he shows the ability to speak plainly after more than 30 as an ‘educator’. He lives on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.
Why I wrote this book the way I did
I had to write this book. No one had done so since the official history and a few involved soldiers, nearly ninety years ago. Yet, we are inundated with books about Gallipoli and France/the Western Front. Why not Palestine? Why had this campaign been ignored? This book completes Anzac involvement in WW1, the trilogy of campaigns – Sinai Palestine needs to be known; the soldiers need to be honoured; their legacy needs to be acknowledged and commemorated – just like the other campaigns so rightly and brightly told.
This book is in a war setting BUT it is NOT a book about battles, fighting, death statistics, regimental names and numbers – it IS a book about people, the soldiers, their thoughts and emotions; British blunders and successes, Anzac successes and failures, AND the outstanding leadership by Australia’s General Chauvel and New Zealand’s General Chaytor. It includes viewpoints from the vanquished, usually neglected when the victor tells his story; they too were sons, brothers, husbands and fathers. This story is told through the words from soldiers’ diaries and own books, often quoted in my book so you know what they thought. No invented dialogue, just real quotes.
It is clearly arguable that had this war in the East been lost the domino effect would have been the loss of France and the Western Front. The loss of the Suez Canal would have been devastating and men, supplies and materiel would not have had safe passage around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope and up the western side of Africa that was then saturated with German battle ships and submarines. Instead of the Ottoman Empire being crushed, the British Empire may have been crushed. Had victory not been achieved in the East, the chances of a German victory in the West would have multiplied and the British Empire may have been no more. Today, you may have been speaking Turkish, German or Arabic – fluently. But very few Aussies and Kiwis, or the blinkered British, know this.
Anzacs made an enormous contribution to the Sinai Palestine campaign, and whilst not the largest participants in numbers, the soldiers of generals Chauvel and Chaytor played a major role.
Further, the impacts of the Eastern Front also contributed to today’s Middle East where we see the global devotion to oil, conflicts between Arabs, ISIS, anti-Israel fractions and global tensions. Yet much of these discussions and opinions are based on emotion, not the facts. The Sykes-Picot Agreement and Balfour Declaration, post WW1 ‘peace conferences’ that ensured WW2 and an Arab Spring, an ineffective United Nations and Arab disunity all come back to here.
But no one knows, until now. These issues had to be told. Desert Anzacs tells some of the reality of then and now.
So, to tell these stories, the book had to be appealing for general readership. It’s not academic, not just for historians or military enthusiasts. Ladies read it and feel the spirit. Former military people read it and feel the personality of the soldiers. Academics and historians read it and meld into the thoughts and emotions and feel part of the scene. This is (factual) storytelling. This is about people.
How I Did The Research - A Book Like This Has To Be True
I was all signed up to go to Jordan for a ‘conflict archaeology’ trip with Bristol University’s Great Arab Revolt Project (GARP) in October 2008. We were to dig along the railway line that Lawrence of Arabia and his Arab mates kept blowing up – so the movie said. In June, one of the Directors phoned me from London and asked, “As you’re the only Aussie coming, could you see if you could find any connections between the Anzac soldiers and Lawrence?” I’d never heard of any but agreed to “have a look “.
Bloody hell! They were prolific. But little had been reported. Only bits n pieces.
Mr Google was a beginning. Then to the Australian War Memorial (the Official History of the Sinai Palestine campaign is monumental) and National Library (where otherwise out of publication and current books are held); Qld State Library; NSW State and Mitchell Libraries – I found papers soldiers’ families had donated. Books written by soldiers. Postcards. Letters. Photos. Horsemen. Cameleers (what was a cameleer?). Airmen. Medics and vets. ‘Banjo’ Patterson. Waler horses. I became a part owner of Amazon through book purchases and their handling fees. Military museums across Australia were visited. In talking with people about my project, some gave me notes, letters, and a couple of fabulous diaries – the truth of feelings and emotions. There were books of isolated parts of the campaign by more modern authors.
What quickly became apparent was conflict of stories. Original authors knew of their role in the campaign but were not privy to the whole. Modern authors only covered one aspect. Some key authors were superficial and deficient in their accuracy and consistency. In non-fiction history it is imperative to be correct and true to the participants, now gone. Statements had to be crosschecked and referenced. For this missing piece of national history to be accepted it had to be right, and it had to be an interesting read; it had to tell stories, not statistics.
Desk research was only part of it. To get a true understanding of how the soldiers felt I had to go there. As it turned out I attended four GARP projects in Jordan. I attended another three projects in Jordan with an American colleague as part of his PhD thesis on the Arab Revolt. Lived in Jordan for nearly a year researching Arab and Turkish archives. I studied at the American Center (US spelling) of Oriental Research. From there I went repeatedly to Israel and the Centre (UK spelling) for British Research in the Levant. Syria and Lebanon field trips.
The Poms were in it so London’s Imperial War Museum, British Library and a few military museums were essential research places. I lived in London for nearly nine months (where else can you stay indoors and not be tempted to go outdoors to get the writing done?)
Above all, massive reading, note taking, crosschecking, referencing, my own (wicked) filing system, all combined to create a manuscript. But my writing is like how I talk – I get it but not everyone does. I figured the manuscript had to be edited. It was, in the end, four times – good to have different ideas on what is appealing to a reader. I discovered editors and publishers aren’t big on military terms so we had a few quiet chats from time to time. Editors don’t always get the need for informal descriptions and a bit of humour amongst serious stuff. Few more quiet chats. In the end, what you see is how it turned out. It’s about the people, their stories, feelings and emotions. Some readers have said they feel as if they were there.
Proof being in the eating, the reviews so far have been great.