Newcastle dentist’s lost WW I letters revealed

A book about the World War One experiences of Newcastle dentist Ben Champion, who returned from Europe an amputee, will be launched at Newcastle Library on Tuesday 30 April.
Ben and his Mates The war diaries, letters and photographs of Lieutenant Ben Champion 1st AIF, 1915 – 1920 is a comprehensive and moving wartime account of the adopted Novocastrian, who wrote devotedly to his sweetheart Francis Julia Niland (Frank) from Tarro.
Written by his granddaughter Penny Ferguson, it includes Champion’s diary entries, letters and photographs documenting his time in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) 7th Reinforcements of the 1st Battalion.

“The book is different to many books written on WW1,” Ferguson said. “The story is written in the first person by a young, middle-class boy brought up in a close-knit family.
“It references life and attitudes of the time, his relationships with his peers, his experiences as he embarks to Egypt, life in the trenches and then life back home, learning to assimilate back into society.
“Ben also wrote about the seasons, the songs they were singing and the books he was reading in the trenches.”

She hopes it will help preserve Australia’s wartime heritage, as readers experience the enormity and insanity of World War One through the voice of an 18-year-old soldier.

“We are honoured to launch this book at Newcastle Library to add to the local history of World War One,” City Manager of Libraries and Learning Suzie Gately said.

“It’s difficult today to even imagine the carnage that Dr Champion witnessed in Gallipoli and the Western Front, so it’s edifying to be able to reflect on it all through the eyes of someone who was there in Egypt, in Gallipoli, at Pozieres and the Somme.”

When he returned from the war, the Sydney-born Champion studied dentistry at Sydney University, despite having his leg amputated following a severe shrapnel injury on the Western front, before moving to Newcastle in 1924 to set up practice in the AMP Building on Hunter Street.
He’s still remembered today by patients he helped over 50 years and is also well known as an avid historian who recorded Newcastle’s early history.

Ben and his Mates is available online and in retail bookstores including at MacLeans Bookshop in Hamilton. A list of stockists can be found here.