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His is the true story of a young Australian soldier whose life of opportunity was challenged by trauma and salvaged by strength.

Nelson Ferguson, from Ballarat, was a stretcher-bearer on the Western Front in France in World War I. He survived the dangers of stretcher-bearing in some of Australia’s most horrific battles: the Somme, Bullecourt, Ypres and Villers-Bretonneux. In April 1918, at Villers-Bretonneux, he was severely gassed. His eyes were traumatised, his lungs damaged. Upon his return home, he met and married Madeline, the love of his life, started a family, and resumed his career teaching art. But eventually the effects of the mustard gas claimed his eyesight, ending his career. Courageously enduring this consequence of war, he continued contributing to society by assisting his son and son-in-law in their stained-glass window business. Advances in medicine finally restored his sight in 1968, allowing him to yet again appreciate the beauty around him, before his death in 1976.

The story of this Anzac will stir your soul. It is a story of war and bravery, pain and strength, hope and miracles.

Don Farrands’ lovingly told story of war and peace Nelson Ferguson’s story – the subject of Hannie Rayson’s play with the same title – is a remarkable one. In 1915 he went to war as a medic and was initially stationed in England. He applied to go to France where he witnessed the catastrophe of World War I hauling stretchers through most major battles, ending up at Villers-Bretonneux in 1918 where he was gassed, which severely impaired his sight. What makes his story remarkable is what comes after. He taught art until the early ’60s, when his sight went. Meanwhile his son and son-in-law started a stained-glass firm, with Ferguson as guiding spirit. In 1969, medical science restored his sight and he saw the glass creations for the first time. Don Farrands uses his grandfather’s diaries to recreate the tale lovingly, like one of the windows.

Sydney Morning Herald Review

Nelson Harold Ferguson enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in July 1915. He was a young art teacher from Ballarat who joined up to be part of the adventure of war. Serving as a stretcher-bearer on the frontlines in Europe, his adventure rapidly became a nightmare. He returned home in January 1919 suffering debilitating injuries and facing an uncertain future. Later in life, Ferguson founded a stained glass business in Melbourne, earning himself the sobriquet the glass soldier. This book is by Ferguson’s grandson and draws extensively from his wartime diaries and letters. It’s a story of determination, faith, and love, and a reflection on the tragic human cost of war. Royalties from sales of the book are being donated to The Fred Hollows Foundation.

Adelaide Advertiser Review

This story shows what wonders can be born of such horrors…we must never forget.

Julian Burnside AO, QC

A truly visionary book as fine on the miracle of sight as John Hull’s masterpiece Touching the Rock or the masterful writings of Oliver Sacks.

Phillip Adams AO

Courage and Compassion is well written and tells an epic story of World War I from the perspective of a single young soldier from Australia. Although Nelson’s war ended more than 100 years ago, it is as relevant today as it was then to help us understand what is happening to soldiers right now. It exposes the lies that drive us to glorify war and downplay the invisible suffering that can last a lifetime for soldiers and their families.

It’s a deeply human story about courage and fear, the mess that is war, about stoicism and determination to persevere under dreadful conditions, and later to deal with disability while still having a wonderful family and good work. There is the bittersweet triumph when Nelson Ferguson regains his eyesight as an old man. For those who want to understand and appreciate the people of Australia, the story of Nelson is a great introduction.

C Burke

Courage and Compassion: A Stretcher-bearer’s Journey from No-man’s Land and Beyond – Book

$24

By Don Farrands QC This is the true story of a young Australian soldier whose life of opportunity was challenged by trauma and salvaged by strength. Nelson Ferguson, from Ballarat, was a stretcher-bearer on the Western Front in France in World War I. He survived the dangers of stretcher-bearing in some of Australia’s most horrific…

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