Each ANZAC Day, I think of my father Frank (pictured) who served first in the Middle East and then in New Guinea. He told funny stories about his time in the Middle East (I have his photo album from that time) but fighting the Japanese on the Kokoda Track was much more challenging and demanding.
His story is a familiar one. He was only 19 when the war began in 1939. He was drawn to the Army initially as a means of employment – his Army records continue to record the lie of his birth date which he put back by two years (1918 instead of 1920) because he enlisted in the militia as early as 1936. Clearly he was pretending to be 18, instead of the 16 he actually was.
He was in transport and later Field Ambulance, mainly in the 2/1 Field Ambulance. He did some training on the Atherton Tableland. It was the war in New Guinea and his work recovering the bodies of the fallen that haunted him in his final years. Now we understand it as late onset PTSD.
It happened so often with men who, during the busy years of work, marriage, raising families and all that entails, could bury the brutal psychological experiences and think them forgotten, only to have the memories re-emerge when life was less busy and they had time to think. He passed away in 2004 aged 83.
My mother Doris was a young woman in Sydney during the war – she made uniforms – and recalled how the girls would put notes in the pockets and often the hopeful young men would come looking for the girls, who were clever enough to inspect the hopeful lad from the window before agreeing to meet them. If he wasn’t good looking, she said, they wouldn’t go out to meet him.
And then there is my Uncle Jacky, now in his 90s, who became a prisoner of war in Changi at the age of 17. He won’t speak of it and who can blame him.
I must go back a generation to the 1st Light Horse. My paternal grandfather with the German name of Herman Meisterhans volunteered for fear of internment (he was Swiss, though born in Altona, Germany). Having arrived in Australia as a migrant with an English wife in 1908, by the time he enlisted in June 1915 he already had 6 children. He arrived in the Suez in March 1917 as part of the 23rd reinforcement, was badly injured in the camp on 27 September 1918 when a detonator from an aerial ordnance exploded (accidentally). It was two months before he was off the dangerously ill list.
He returned to Australia in early 1919, but was in Liverpool Repatriation Hospital for months. He was never able to return to his profession of chef because of his injuries – he was a cook in the Army. Had he not survived, my father – the first of the children to be born on his return – would never have been born. Well, you can draw the conclusions.
My maternal grandfather Alfred Woodward enlisted late – July 1918 – possibly because he was in essential work, we believe, and was on board the troopship HMAT A7 ‘Medic’ which sailed from Sydney on 2/11/1918 only to be recalled and returned to Sydney, no doubt to the relief of all.
That’s just a snapshot of my own family’s experiences. I’m sure every family has similar stories, if only they know them.
It was my father who gave up the German name for an Anglicised version, just prior to marrying my mother at the end of 1943. He was not a model soldier – a typical Australian larrikin, often getting fined and yielding up proficiency pay – and going AWOL such as when he married my mother (absent for 5 days). I know it took him several years after the war before he could settle into a job and the routine of civilian life. I know that is a familiar story too.
Today we honour the contribution of all our men and women in uniform.
Lest we forget.
You might have noticed I haven’t been very active in the past week …. you can blame it on the ‘flu.
I thought this might be of interest – the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) will this evening launch the Anzac Surgeons of Gallipoli Exhibition and an accompanying book that commemorates the role of Australian and New Zealand surgeons and medical students who later became surgeons, in the Gallipoli campaign.
The Gallipoli Exhibition features a mock-up of a casualty clearing station in the foyer of the College offices in Melbourne, making reference to the 1st Australian Casualty Clearing Station, which remained on Anzac Beach throughout the campaign.
The College Exhibition will feature WW1 artefacts, some borrowed and others from the College’s collections, such as surgical kits and instruments, original stretchers and newspapers from 1915.
It also includes Captain Poate’s map of Gallipoli and Archibald Watson’s surgical diaries.
Captain Hugh Poate, an enlisted Sydney surgeon, was posted to the 1st Field Ambulance, where at the beginning of the campaign he worked on transports ferrying the wounded from Gallipoli to Egypt.
Archibald Watson was a Professor of Anatomy at the University of Adelaide and was the Chief Pathologist in Egypt during the Gallipoli campaign.
The history of the campaign is well documented in the exhibition by museum posters detailing medical arrangements, information on ‘Black’ ships, hospitals on Lemnos and Egypt, as well as information on wounds and infectious diseases.
The accompanying book entitled Anzac Surgeons of Gallipoli, contains 128 biographies written by Australian and New Zealand RACS Fellows and College staff and was edited by the College’s archivist Elizabeth Milford and the incoming RACS President, David Watters.
According to Professor Watters, the book tells the story of the 1915 campaign fought in the Dardanelles by Great Britain, its Empire and France on behalf of their ally, Russia.
“It talks about the medical arrangements, how war wounds were managed almost 100 years ago and is packed full of biographies of the surgeons who served in the Anzac forces on hospital ships and military bases,” Professor Watters said.
The exhibition will be open to the public during standard RACS museum open hours from 10am-4pm Monday to Thursday at 250-290 Spring Street, East Melbourne, Victoria.
The Search for HMAS Sydney: An Australian Story
Ted Graham, Bob King, Bob Trotter, Kim Kirsner
Published by New South (UNSW Press)
Link here to buy
RRP $69.99 in hardcover
I was reorganising my review bookshelf this afternoon – what else do you do on a Friday afternoon? I picked up this book about the search for HMAS Sydney, published late last year by New South (UNSW Press). I’d only given the book a cursory glance when it came in, but I’ve got to tell you, it deserves more than that.
I did not know, for example, of DSTO’s role in assembling a compartment by compartment virtual model of the ship which enabled their weapons vulnerability assessment tool to simulate the effects of every significant weapon strike on Sydney’s structure.
This is a beautifully presented book that is much more than a coffee-table book. This is the story of the search and the science behind it, told in forensic detail.
Brendan Nicholson, writing in The Australian (27/12/14) offered up a very good review of this book under the headline:
(Click on the headline to go to the piece)
The story: In November 1941 HMAS Sydney, the pride of Australia’s wartime fleet, and its crew of 645 disappeared without a trace off the Western Australian coast. All that was known was Sydney had come under fire from the German raider HSK Kormoran, which also sank.
After numerous unsuccessful searches from the mid 1970s onwards, the Finding Sydney Foundation was set up and in March 2008 one of Australia’s greatest maritime mysteries was solved when both wrecks were finally discovered.
The Search for HMAS Sydney pieces together the incredible story of Sydney, its crew and the families left behind. It details the innovative and powerful research procedures implemented by the Foundation to locate the wrecks of Sydney and Kormoran, their discovery and the detailed forensic analyses and commemorations that followed.
The Good Soldier
The Biography of Douglas Haig
By Gary Mead
Published by Atlantic; Dist. by Allen & Unwin
RRP $29.99 in paperback
This is another book from the bottom shelf of my review books – it is actually the paperback edition of The Good Soldier which was published in hardcover in 2007. At the time the book was well reviewed and I’ve included a link here to the Telegraph (UK) review.
The book re-examines Haig’s record and presents his predicament with a fresh eye. More importantly, it re-evaluates Haig himself, exploring the nature of the man, turning to both his early life and army career before 1914, as well as his unstinting work on behalf of ex-servicemen’s organizations after 1918.
Stoker Munro, Survivor
By David Spiteri
Published by Harper Collins
RRP $27.99 in paperback
During his navy career, author David Spiteri served aboard HMAS Perth and it was this that sparked his interest in the history of the first Perth and the story of Stoker Munro, an inexperienced seventeen year old who went to war and turned out to be an extraordinary survivor.
The sinking of the Perth was only the beginning of the war for Stoker. He suffered through years as a POW, including in Changi and on the Thai-Burma Railway. After the war, he was to serve on HMAS Bataan and once again, he found himself in the war zone, this time the Korean conflict.
He finally left the navy in 1966, his final ship, the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne. This is a book that pays tribute to the human spirit. As Spiteri writes, it was the will to survive that kept Munro alive through it all.
D-Day: Minute by Minute
By Jonathon Mayo
Published by Short Books, UK; Dist. By Allen & Unwin
RRP $29.99 in hardcover
I survived D-Day – I did really. I know that’s an odd thing to write, but can you imagine my surprise when I opened D-Day: Minute by Minute and saw these words on the dust jacket – “… or Commando Peter Masters, walking all alone towards a German machine gun shouting, ‘You are totally surrounded! Give yourselves up! – Copying something he’d seen in a war film.” – It’s likely I would have used these words in a childhood game, but never, I hasten to add, on the battlefield.
So what does anybody in their right mind do next? Turn to the back of the book, of course, to find out the fate of their alter ego – I’m pleased to report that Corporal Peter Masters survived the war, became an art student in London and had a highly successful career as a graphic designer in American television and for the federal government. He died, aged 83, of a heart attack while playing tennis. That, in my opinion, is a much better way to go than dying in a war in your 20s.
As you might expect this book concerns itself mostly with the events of Monday 5th June 1944 and Tuesday 6th June 1944 and their aftermath. D-Day is a purely chronological narrative concerned with what people were thinking and doing as D-Day unfolded, rather than the overarching military strategy of the landings.
You find out some interesting titbits is books such as this. For example, the Admiralty, keen for information on potential invasion beaches in Europe, appealed over the BBC for the public to send them pre-war postcards or holiday snaps of France and the Low Countries to allow them to put together a ‘photographic map’ of the coast of Europe. How useful would Google Earth have been!!
The paperback appears to be due in Australia at the end of May – here is link to Angus and Robertson’s listing
VIDEO LINK BELOW:
I thought this sounded interesting – even though it’s not a book.
I received a press release today announcing that a new website exploring the sights and sounds of World War 1 has been produced in partnership by the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) and Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision in New Zealand.
A curated selection of hundreds of rare films, songs, recorded interviews, documents and photos from the era have been expertly restored and digitised for the website, titled Anzac: Sights and Sounds of World War I .
New content will be added regularly during the Centenary period (2015 – 2019). Initial highlights now available on Sights and Sounds include:
- The First Troopships: Departure (1914): Departure of the Australian Imperial Force from Albany, Western Australia.
- Heroes of Gallipoli (1915): Rare footage of the Gallipoli campaign (loaned from the Australian War Memorial).
- The Exploits of the Emden (1914/1928): Directed by Ken G Hall, this film combines documentary and dramatised incidents relating to the Sydney-Emden naval battle.
- Cartoons of the Moment (c1915-1916): Australian sketch artist and caricaturist Harry Julius provides a satirical commentary of World War I.
- If England Wants a Hand, Well, Here It Is (1915): A song performed by Harrison Latimer.
- Charity Bazaars in Martin Place (c1916): Fundraising for the war effort in Martin Place, Sydney.
- The Landing of the Troops in Egypt (c1916): A musical and dramatic recreation aimed to encourage support for the war effort.
- Mrs Barnard (1965): The gargantuan gingernut-baking efforts to fundraise for the war effort.
- A range of oral histories from soldiers who served at Gallipoli talking vividly about their experiences, the hardships they faced, as well as some of the lighter moments.
Today I thought I’d give Boolarong Press, a small Brisbane-based publisher, a spot in my blog. They recently sent me four books, which I’ve listed below with short descriptions.
Of the books, one of the most interesting is The Soldiers’ Wall by Lyris Mitchell. This is the wall discovered during the recent renovations of the Brisbane City Hall. It contains more than 150 signatures of men who passed through the Red Cross Rooms in the basement of the building during World War 2. Lyris Mitchell has done an excellent job of researching and recording the details of these men. She’s also provided a timeline of the key events of the war. The book is:
By Lyris Mitchell
RRP $29.95 in paperback
I’ve also provided a link to the Brisbane City Council website that lists the signatures identified on the wall.
OTHER RECENT TITLES FROM BOOLARONG – www.boolarongpress.com.au
The National Service Experience 1951-1972
Edited by Ronald Parsons
RRP $ 24.95 in paperback
Between 1951 and 1972 some 287,000 young Australian men were called-up in two separate schemes for compulsory military service. Of them 212 died and 1479 were wounded on active service. This book provides an insight into the Nashos training and service as told by those who were conscripted. It also explains the reasons for National Service at the time.
Winning from DownUnder
By Noel Tunny
RRP $24.95 in paperback
Winning From Downunder discusses the three advantages namely Leadership, Largesse and Luck enjoyed by the U.S.A. and Australia that brought the Japanese conquest of South East Asia and much of the Pacific to an end. The book gives insights into the personalities of the senior leaders of the Allies as revealed by their own actions and by the opinions expressed by their contemporaries. Some contentious topics are analysed such as what did Churchill and Roosevelt know about the Japanese plans before Pearl Harbour, the facts behind L.B. Johnson’s visit to Australia and his receipt of a Silver Star Medal and whether or not there was a ‘Brisbane Line’ defence planned for Australia.
Queensland’s Last ANZAC
Life Story of Ted Smout
By Arthur Smout
RRP $19.95 in paperback
First published as Three Centuries Spanned: Life Story of E.D. (Ted) Smout, O.A.M, A.S.M., Legion of Honour (Fr). Sgt Edward David (Ted) Smout OAM was Queensland’s Last Anzac who died on 22 June 2004. A man, who typically at the time, lied about his age to enlist, survived the ravages of war after spending some time fighting at the Somme in 1918. He was an eyewitness to the final moments of the infamous “Red Baron”, Manfred von Richtofen. He was discharged on 8 September 1919 10 months following the Armistice on 11 November 1918. Smout was awarded France’s highest honour, a Chevalier of the Legion d’Honneur in 1998 and an OAM for service to the community.
Australia’s Heroic and Daring Commando Raid on Singapore
By Peter Thompson and Robert Macklin
Published by Hachette
RRP $29.99 in paperback
Hachette has just released Operation Rimau written by the team of Peter Thompson (Pacific Fury, Shanghai Fury) and Robert Macklin (Redback One).
Like other books I’ve mentioned recently, this book is a rerun of an earlier book, Kill the Tiger, published in 2002, with new material added.
What is particularly interesting about the updated edition is the prologue and the specific reference to the current prime minister’s enthusiastic embrace of Japan, and especially Japanese submarine technology. The Prime Minister of course is English-born and Oxford-educated, without, perhaps, the memory of a generation who heard snippets and anecdotes from men who fought the Pacific war. My own late father had two trips to New Guinea during the war. It was these experiences that haunted his final years.
Which brings me to the book: In the last months of 1944, a group of elite Australian and British commandos was selected for the biggest Allied behind-the-scenes operation of the Pacific War. Their mission: to devastate the enemy’s shipping by destroying the Japanese ships at anchor in Singapore Harbour.
Operation Rimau was intended as a body blow to the Japanese and a signal to the world that Britain would reclaim her Eastern Empire. Britain was trying to reclaim past glory – while Australia’s wartime prime minister John Curtin had turned to America. In this atmosphere, Operation Rimau was planned.
This book tells what really happened to these brave commandos – from the very beginnings of the operation through to their intense and courageous fighting in the South China Seas, and its aftermath. It exposes the sloppy planning behind the raid, and names of the officers who betrayed and abandoned them in their hour of need, and details the political double-dealing which for so many years hid the real story behind red tape and bureaucratic lies.