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Len Johnson. Love Letters from a War.: the letters of Corporal John Leslie Johnson and his family June 1940-May 1941.

ABC Books, pbk, $32.95

This book allows us to share the life of a large rural family at Walwa in the Upper Murray Valley whose breadwinner, John Johnson, the author's father, had volunteered to join the Second Australian Imperial Force and who was assigned to the 2/23rd Battalion (known as Albury's Own). All too soon John was posted overseas, was training in what was then Palestine and not long afterwards was helping to stem Rommel's advance in North Africa. By and large the period covered in this book is quite brief, from June 1940, when John Johnson enlisted, to 17 May 1941 when he met his death by a sniper's bullet during the siege of Tobruk.

John and his wife Josie exchanged many letters and John often appended notes addressed separately to each of his seven, later eight, children and many of their letters are fully reproduced in this book. Although Josie was left to bring up their children on her own while John was away in the Army, she never complained but kept him abreast of the doings in Walwa and among their relatives and friends. Responding John did not write a great deal about the dangers he experienced but wrote about his mates and his own duties as an NCO (Corporal). It is quite obvious from. their letters that they were very devoted to each other and to their family and relations. It did seem to this reviewer however that perhaps too many letters had been reproduced when it might have been better to allow the story to move on.

I very much enjoyed the reminiscences by the author, by some of his siblings and by some of those who had known John during his all too brief military career. Chapters 9 and 10 provide an excellent and very graphic account of an ill-planned and ill-fated attack against some German posts along the Salient at Tobruk carried out by B and D Companies of the Battalion and during which John Johnson lost his life.

The narrative ends with the family's move from its rural setting in the Upper Murray Valley to urban life in Melbourne--a most difficult transition.

Finally there is a short explanation of the Army's organisation, military abbreviations are demystified, there are copies of John Johnson's documents and a bibliography--all very helpful.

Apart from the Johnson family, the book will be of special interest to the descendants of those who then lived in or near Walwa, to those connected with the 2/23rd Battalion and to those interested in how ordinary folk experienced life during the Second World War.
COPYRIGHT 2003 Military Historical Society of Australia
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Main, Jean
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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