Signaller Tom Skeyhill landed at Anzac Cove on the morning of 25 April 1915. Quickly recognising danger, he feigned blindness to escape. Wearing smoked-glass goggles he returned to Australia as the ‘blind soldier-poet’. In 1917 he joined the War fundraising effort in the USA, eventually writing the war diary of Sergeant Alvin C. York, America’s most decorated WWI hero. Tom’s book became Howard Hawks’ film, Sergeant York, for which Gary Cooper won his first Oscar in the title role. Spinning exaggerated and often erroneous tales, Tom’s public lectures proved to be excellent theatre but truthfulness was a casualty of Tom’s restless ambition; an ambition which eventually brought him down.
Jeff Brownrigg’s lively biography of Skeyhill follows the thread of Tom’s life in Australia, the Middle East and the USA. The result of years of sleuthing in the manuscript collections of the University of Iowa, as well as dozens of newspapers and other archives, this is a book of unusual interest for WWI historians, the lure of Hollywood and for anybody who is interested in human nature.
About the author
Dr Jeff Brownrigg is Associate Professor of Cultural Heritage Studies at the University of Canberra. Formerly Head of Research and Outreach at Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive, he is in a unique position to analyse Tom Skeyhill’s life and writings. Jeff’s previous books include A New Melba? The Tragedy of Amy Castles (2006) and Echoes of Irish Australia: Rebellion to Republic (ed. 2008). In 2001 he was awarded a Commonwealth Centenary Medal for his services as Australia’s wandering national historian for the Centenary of Federation and is the 2010 Communicator of the Year for the Canberra region.
Jeff Brownrigg with Irish Ambassador Mairtin O Fainin, University of Canberra