Archive | May 2015

Kokoda Track or Trail? What’s in a name!

To Kokoda 9781922132956

To Kokoda

Australian Army Campaigns Series – 14
By Nick Anderson
Published by Big Sky Publishing
RRP $19.99 in paperback
ISBN:   9781922132956

This book is part of the Australian Army Campaigns Series and is great value for money at just $19.99. As you would expect it contains considerable detail and tackles the thorny question of whether it should be called ‘Trail’ or ‘Track’.

My father, who was one of many Australians soldiers sent to New Guinea in World War II, always referred to it as the Kokoda ‘Track”, a habit I fell into as well.

We will publish a more detailed review of this book in Australian Defence Magazine but it is worth noting that this is the 14th book in the Campaigns Series, which followed a decision in 2004 to promote the study and understanding of military history within the Army and especially among the future generation of military leaders.

For the general reader as well, this is an excellent introduction to the Kokoda campaign. It’s available from


Book and Film: Vera Brittain and the First World War


Vera Brittain and the First World War
The Story of Testament of Youth
By Mark Bostridge

Published by Bloomsbury
RRP $29.99 in paperback
ISBN 9781472918574

I noticed this book on my review bookshelf today and it reminded me that I mean to go and see the film, that is now on release.

In this book, Vera Brittain biographer Mark Bostridge tells the story of a remarkable woman and her extraordinary account of the destructive power of war.

In the midst of her studies at Oxford when war broke out across Europe, Vera Brittain left university in 1915 to become a V.A.D (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse, treating soldiers in London, Malta and Etaples in France.

The events of the First World War were to have an enormous impact on her life.

Four of Brittain’s closest friends including her fiancé Roland Leighton and her brother Edward Brittain MC were killed in action, sparking a lifelong commitment to pacifism.

In 1933 she published Testament of Youth, the first of three books dealing with her experience of war.

Mark Bostridge’s Vera Brittain and the First World War, published to coincide with the film of Testament of Youth, explores the effects of the First World War on Vera Brittain, both in terms of her personal life and in terms of its effect on her development as a writer and her eventual decision to become a pacifist. The interest generated by the film will no doubt bring her story to a new generation.

Be sure to read the Afterword for the author’s insights into how he came to write about Brittain and the search for answers to her brother’s death.

Link here to The Independent’s recent review and a trailer for the film.

View a trailer of the film:

Gallipoli in a box


Gallipoli 25 April 2015 – 9 January 1916 Centenary Edition – boxed set

By Dr Peter Pedersen, Dr Haluk Oral and MAJGEN Julian Thompson CB, OBE Published by Hardie Grant Books $59.95 boxed set ISBN 9781742708805 This book tells the story of the campaign in a comprehensive, illustrated manner with three authors describing each of their country’s roles. The Australian contributor is Dr Peter Pedersen, a leading Australian military historian, who has written extensively on World War I. He is the author of the acclaimed Monash as Military Commander, books on Fromelles, Villers Bretonneux and Hamel, and writes regularly for British and American military journals. This is more than a book. It includes removable memorabilia including:

  • The order Mustafa Kemal sent on the day of the Lone Pine attack
  • An annotated sketch of the landing place at ANZAC Cove
  • Lieutenant Colonel Harold ‘Pompey’ Elliott’s account of the brutal fighting at Lone Pine
  • The message ordering the 2nd Australian Brigade to attack on 8 May 1915

Gallipoli is a graphically illustrated record of one of the First World War’s most remarkable campaigns – it would make a nice gift. The presentation is excellent.

Friday 13 March 1942: At midday five Hurricanes of 274 Squadron and 12 Kittyhawks of 112 Squadron took off to intercept an incoming raid in the Tobruk area.


A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945
Volume Two: North African Desert Feb 1942-March 1943

By Christopher Shores and Giovannia Massimello
With Russell Guest, Frank Olynyk and Winfried Bock

Published by Grub Street; Dist. By Capricorn Link
RRP $99.99 in hardback
ISBN 9781909166127

Chapter 1 Halfway Back

The conclusion of Volume 1 found the 8th Army battered and somewhat bewildered at the end of January 1942, defending the Gazala Line, which was a few miles to the west of Tobruk, but east, not only of Derna, but of Benghazi by the full width of the Cyrenaican ‘bulge’. In but a few days, more than half of the territory that it had taken in two months of costly fighting to gain, had been lost.

So begins the second volume of the History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945.

The following 730+ pages are filled with the sort of detail to satisfy the most demanding reader. The book offers a day-by-day analysis of the North African air war recording every single sortie. For each event, a table lists the participants, claims and actual losses. For the first time, the actual losses of both Allied and Axis aircraft is recorded, often down to the serial number of the aircraft involved.

For example, on Friday 13 March 1942:

At midday five Hurricanes of 274 Squadron and 12 Kittyhawks of 112 Squadron took off to intercept an incoming raid in the Tobruk area.

Compiling this book, like its predecessor, has clearly been a labour of love for all those involved. If you appreciate this level of detail to help you understand a military campaign, don’t baulk at the $100 price tag. The work of these authors is worth every cent.

Oddfellows indeed!


The little-known story of the day World War 1 reached Australian soil
By Nicholas Shakespeare

Published by Vintage Books (Random House)
RRP $14.99
ISBN 9780857987181

I thought this was an unlikely author to find his way onto my review shelf. Nicholas Shakespeare is a highly regarded literary figure but not a noted military historian. I think though, for someone who divides his time between Oxford and Tasmania – literally worlds apart – the story of two disaffected ‘Turks’ (they weren’t actually Turks) who undertook the only enemy attack to occur on Australian soil during World War I was too hard to resist.

Today we would call the two men who attacked a New Year’s Day picnic train in Broken Hill terrorists. In 1915, just as we see a hundred years later, they were responding to a jihad against Britain and her allies. This is a forgotten story, tragic in its consequences, that resonates as much today as it did one hundred years ago. Two men, shunned by society and with a mounting sense of grievance, needed little urging to respond to the jihad directive.

There was a very good review of this book in The Monthly in November 2014 – I’ve linked it here for your interest.

The writing, of course, is superb.

The Great War: 10 Contested Questions


The Great War: 10 Contested Questions
Foreword by Geraldine Doogue
Based on ABC RN’s special broadcast

Published by ABC Books
RRP $27.99 in paperback
ISBN 9780733334177

This book is designed to get you thinking.

Based on ABC RN’s special broadcast and with a foreword by respected journalist Geraldine Doogue, this remarkable book challenges and extends our understanding of The Great War by pondering ten contested questions:

  1. What really caused the war?
  2. Were the generals truly incompetent?
  3. Was the fighting in the Pacific, the Middle East and the Alps a distraction?
  4. Were those who objected traitors to the cause?
  5. How did the medical profession rise to the challenge of so many wounded?
  6. Why do the British ‘war poets’ dominate battle literature?
  7. Did Germany engineer the war for its own territorial ambitions?
  8. Did religion lead us into the conflict?
  9. Could the Powers have survived without the assistance of colonised nations?
  10. How big a part did America and Russia play in Germany’s defeat?

Featuring the views of historian and journalist Paul Ham, Margaret MacMillan from the University of Oxford, Peter Stanley from UNSW, journalist and author, Peter Hitchens and many others, the content of these interviews is also available for purchase from ABC Shops on a USB drive (9 hours of interviews).

The RSL Book of World War 1

RSL Book of WWI

The RSL Book of World War 1
True Stories of Aussie Courage and mateship from the annals of the RSL
Edited by John Gattfield with Richard Landels

RRP $28.25 in paperback
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 9780732299651

Published in the run up to the centenary of Gallipoli, this collection of 100 true stories of Aussie courage and mateship in World War I is the first in a series carrying the imprimatur of the RSL.

The stories have the human element: intimate, eyewitness accounts across the breadth of Australia’s war from Gallipoli to the Western Front, related with humour, pathos and vivid detail.

I can’t help feeling though that there was a collective groan when this book was delivered and the date in the introduction was noted – it has the first Australian soldiers returning on the hospital ship Kyarra on 5 February 2015. I think it was a hundred years earlier. Everyone in publishing has made such bloopers, I can assure you.

This shouldn’t distract from the stories contained in this volume and warm applause for the RSL for undertaking the work.

Stories include:

  • the Gallipoli landing as related in an Anzac’s letter home
  • An engineer who was one of the first ashore at Gallipoli and who cut steps up the cliffs for those who followed
  • General Monash on a mysterious meeting on an Anzac beach.
  • Major General Pompey Elliott’s story of a crackshot sniper
  • the curious case of the stolen cheese
  • Firsthand accounts of HMAS Sydney’s victory over the Emden and a battle between HMAS Sydney and a Zeppelin
  • Charles Kingsford-Smith on meeting a German pilot after the war
  • A Light Horse patrol daringly slipping through advancing Turkish troops to warn their mates of danger
  • A sapper’s account of the battle of Fromelles
  • How the Melbourne Cup was run on the Western Front

Churchill’s Secret Warriors The explosive true story of the Special Forces Desperadoes of WWII

Churchill's secret warriors

Churchill’s Secret Warriors
The explosive true story of the Special Forces Desperadoes of WWII
By Damien Lewis

Published by Quercus; Distributed in Australia by Hachette
RRP $32.99 in paperback
ISBN 9781848668539

I think the name Damien Lewis will be familiar to many readers. He has spent twenty years reporting from war, disaster and conflict zones around the world. He has written a dozen non-fiction and fiction books, topping bestseller lists worldwide, and is published in some thirty languages. Two of his books are being made into feature films.

In his latest book, he explores the story of the development of a completely new kind of warfare, demanded by Churchill – the first ‘deniable’ secret operatives whose task was to strike behind enemy lines. Those who volunteered for service were offered nothing but the potential for glory and all-but-certain death.

In Churchill’s Secret Warriors he tells the story of the daring victories for this small force of ‘freelance pirates’, undertaking devastatingly effective missions against the Nazis, often dressed in enemy uniforms and with enemy kit, breaking all previously held rules of warfare.

Lewis brings the adventures of the secret unit to life, weaving together the stories of the soldiers’ brotherhood in this compelling narrative, from the unit’s earliest missions to the death of their leader just weeks before the end of the war.

A Good Place to Hide

A Good Place to Hide A Good Place to Hide
How one French community saved thousands of lives in World War II By Peter Grose Published by Allen & Unwin
RRP $32.99 in paperback ISBN 9781742376141

This is the story of an isolated community in the upper reaches of the Loire Valley that conspired to save the lives of 3500 Jews under the noses of the Germans and the soldiers of Vichy France. It is the story of a pacifist Protestant pastor who broke laws and defied orders to protect the lives of total strangers. It is the story of an eighteen-year-old Jewish boy from Nice who forged 5000 sets of false identity papers to save other Jews and French Resistance fighters from the Nazi concentration camps. And it is the story of a community of good men and women who offered sanctuary, kindness, solidarity and hospitality to people in desperate need, knowing full well the consequences to themselves. Peter Grose is a former journalist, literary agent and publisher. He now lives in France. He has published two highly acclaimed books with Allen & Unwin, An Awkward Truth: The bombing of Darwin, February 1942 and A Very Rude Awakening: The night the Japanese midget subs came to Sydney Harbour. You can listen to Peter Grose In Conversation with ABC’s Richard Fidler, at this link.

Target: Italy The Secret War against Mussolini, 1940-1943


Target: Italy
The Secret War against Mussolini, 1940-1943
The Official History of SOE Operations in Fascist Italy
By Roderick Bailey

Published by Faber & Faber; Distributed by Allen & Unwin
RRP $ 39.99 in hardback
ISBN 9780571299188

In looking at the acknowledgements for this book, it’s not hard to imagine the depth of research that is needed and, indeed, the level of cooperation an author needs to piece this story together. Having a book commissioned by the Prime Minister, in this case British Prime Minister David Cameron, probably helps smooth the way.

The author Roderick Bailey is an historian at the University of Oxford and a specialist in the study of resistance and clandestine warfare, so well qualified to tackle the subject matter.

He has produced the first full account of SOE’s clandestine efforts to strike at Italy and sever its alliance with Nazi Germany, uncovering missions as remarkable as a plot to assassinate Mussolini and plans to arm the Mafia.

It is also the first in-depth history of SOE’s attempts at causing trouble inside an enemy country as opposed to an enemy-occupied one, issuing a sobering reminder of the terrible dangers that foreign agencies can encounter when trying to encourage resistance to powerful authoritarian regimes.

This is a compelling tale, climaxing in one of the most extraordinary episodes of the war: the delicate and dramatic dealings between the Allies and the Italians that led to Italy’s surrender in 1943.

For a more detailed, review go to this link at the Telegraph.

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