THE WAR DIARIES of William Slater

 Paperback book, 270 pages: A$20 plus A$5 postage.

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Book Summary:

At 4 o'clock we go to that beautiful little Armentières Soldiers' Cemetery and there we see poor old Len and Vic being laid to rest. My God these are the times when one's soul rebels against war and everything for which it stands.

So William Slater writes in his diary about his experiences as a stretcher-bearer on the western front during the First World War. His daily account of life in the trenches and behind the lines is moving and insightful.

On his return from the war, he is elected as a Labor member of the Victorian Parliament, and becomes Attorney General at the age of 35. With his brother-in-law he establishes the legal firm Slater & Gordon.

During World War 2 he is appointed by the Curtin Labor Government as the first Australian Ambassador to Russia. He describes his journeys to and from Russia, and his life in the Soviet Union during the height of the War. He writes:

Our car is very closely scrutinised at the gates of the Kremlin. It is too dark to see much, as only the dim outlines of many buildings meet one's view. I am ushered into a solid building, go upstairs and finally enter a very large oblong room with a table, at the head of which sat Molotov.

The book in more detail:

William Slater (1890-1960), founder of the legal firm Slater & Gordon and for over 40 years a Labor member of the Victorian Parliament, served in World War 1 as a stretcher-bearer on the Western Front in France. His diaries from this time cover matters great and small; he describes the political background to the war and the arguments between those wanting peace and the "Jingos" wanting it fought to the bitter end. His daily account of life in the trenches describes the conditions, the jobs he had to undertake and the extraordinary loss of life.

After eight months in the trenches, he is wounded and sent back the "Blighty". While recovering in England, he is unexpectedly elected as a Victorian Labor MP (despite being 10,000 miles away), having been nominated by friends back in Australia. The rest of his WW1 diary details his six months in England and his journey back to Australia.

Between the wars he served as Attorney General in a number of Labor governments and as Speaker of the House. In 1942 he was appointed by the Curtin Labor Government as the first Australian Ambassador to Russia. He resumes writing a diary, describing his appointment and then his remarkable eight-week journey to Russia through the US, Africa and the Middle East. He shows great prescience into the problems that were to develop in Palestine and also meets the new Shah of Iran.

In the USSR he struggles to establish a working relationship with a suspicious Soviet Regime, finding it difficult to obtain any useful information. Eventually, ill health forces him to abandon his post, much to the displeasure of Australian Foreign Minister Herbert "Doc" Evatt. Again he describes his return journey back to Australia, giving many examples of the enormous contrast between life in the USA and USSR at that time.

These diaries provide a first hand account of many of the themes of the first half of the Twentieth Century, with its wars of enormous destruction and political and ideological struggles. It is also the story of the fight to establish a socialist society and the disillusionment caused by the actions of the Soviet Regime. Most of all it is the story of a truly remarkable Australian statesman.

ISBN: 0 646 40295 1)


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