Archive | June 2015

A Higher Form of Killing: Six Weeks in World War 1 that forever changed the nature of warfare


A Higher Form of Killing
Six Weeks in World War 1 that forever changed the nature of warfare
By Diana Preston

Published by Bloomsbury
RRP $32.99 in hardback
ISBN 9781620402122

By the standards of my review shelf, this book hasn’t been on it long enough to gather dust and yet I’m happy to tell you, if you are interested in buying it, that the book can be bought on Bloomsbury’s local website marked down to $17.15, a 48% saving. (I’ll trust their maths.)

Author Diana Preston has received very good reviews for this book. I’m wondering if her earlier book about the sinking of the Lusitania was the catalyst for this later work where she chronicles the very beginning of the use of weapons of mass destruction.

In six weeks during April and May 1915, as World War I escalated, Germany forever altered the way war would be fought. On April 22, at Ypres, German canisters spewed poison gas at French and Canadian soldiers in their trenches; on May 7, the German submarine U-20, without warning, torpedoed the passenger liner Lusitania, killing 1,198 civilians; and on May 31, a German Zeppelin began the first aerial bombardment of London and its inhabitants. Each of these actions violated rules of war carefully agreed at the Hague Conventions of 1898 and 1907. Though Germany’s attempts to quickly win the war failed, the psychological damage caused by these attacks far outweighed the casualties.

It has been said that the European leaders spoiling for war in 1914 did not envisage what war would become. In this book, Diana Preston catalogues the birth of weapons of mass destruction and what war became as a result.


Cooking and Aviation: an unlikely pairing in publishing


I was browsing through my shelf of review books this afternoon and I noticed this book:

Stuka Attack
The Dive-bombing Assault on England during the Battle of Britain
By Andy Saunders

Published by Grub Street, UK
RRP $39.99 in hardcover
ISBN 9781908117359

The book came to me via local distributor Capricorn Link – the publisher is UK-based. Over the years, I’ve seen many books via this route, most notably Osprey books. I’d imagine it’s only good bookstores that stock such titles locally.

So I was intrigued to look at Grub Street – they have two streams of publishing interest – cooking and aviation, almost, one might say, an interest for the women and an interest for the men, although it doesn’t always necessarily divide so neatly I’m sure.

The author of this book, Andy Saunders, whose specialist area of interest is the air war over Europe, 1939-1945, has seven titles in the Grub Street catalogue. He is the editor of Britain at War magazine – – (there’s another diversion for you).

In this book, Andy Saunders takes a critical look at every operation by Junkers 87 Stuka (dive-bombing) aircraft against British targets in 1940.

There are stats too. For example, Appendix III lists RAF Fighter Command claims for JU87s July-December 1940.

I recognized quite a number of the titles on Grub Street – I’ve seen many of them over the years – so if wartime aviation is your passion, I think you’ll want to have a look at the site to see what you might be missing out on.

Australians at Home World War I – we manufactured enemies 100 years ago


Australians at Home
World War I
By Michael McKernan

Published by The Five Mile Press
$34.95 in hardback
ISBN 9781760063689

Back in April when I wrote about Michael McKernan’s Australians at Home World War II, I neglected to mention the companion title covering World War I. Once again this is a republication of a book that first appeared in 1980 under the title ‘The Australian People and the Great War’.

It’s interesting to hear from Michael McKernan how he came to be interested in the topic – lunch time reading during his doctoral research period at the Australian War Memorial.

This book is unchanged from that which was published in 1980. In the intervening years, McKernan admits there are now topics that should have been covered – Australian nurses, for example, and the contribution of the indigenous Australians – but he chose not to update the original text.

Chapter 7 deals with Manufacturing the War: ‘Enemy subjects’ in Australia and the appalling treatment of German settlers, who represented no threat at all. It was the reason my grandfather – a Swiss national with a German name – found himself in the Middle East, having volunteered to go overseas, even though he already had six Australian children, rather than face internment.

I have to say that ‘manufacturing an enemy’ goes on to this day in political circles.

It is a book for a broad audience. Anyone who has been unsuccessfully searching secondhand bookstores for the original will be pleased to see it back in publication.

Michael McKernan is now a well known historian and writer. For more than a decade he has led tours to First and Second World War battlefields.

Combat Colonels of the AIF in the Great War


Combat Colonels
of the AIF in the Great War
by David Clare Holloway

Published by Big Sky Publishing
In conjunction with the Army History Unit
RRP $34.99 in hardback
ISBN 9781922132970

Sadly David Holloway did not live to see the book he had toiled over for 6 years come to fruition, although he knew it was to be published. He died, aged 87, on 15 October 2014 after a series of strokes.

So what prompted him to attempt this project? In his preface, he says that over 50 years ago he asked his father, who had been an 18-year-old in the 41st battalion, who his colonel had been and the reply was that he had been ‘too busy to worry about such a thing’. So this became a retirement project. Having started with one battalion, he went on to include them all.

When I look at the work it has taken to research this book – and the author himself described the difficulties and the inconsistencies he encountered – it’s no surprise that the sources and further reading pages are substantial.

He has divided the book into six key sections reflecting the AIF organisation:

  • Infantry
  • Cyclist, Miner, Tunneller and Pioneer Units
  • Australian Light Horse
  • Imperial Camel Corps
  • Australian Artillery
  • Australian Flying Corps

Age, exhaustion, wounds, death and promotion all contributed to the rotation of battalion and formation COs. By the end of the war, CO appointees for the 60 infantry battalions, 15 light horse regiments, 25 artillery brigades, 5 machine-gun, 5 pioneer, 2 cyclist, 4 camel corps battalions and 5 ammunition columns reached almost 500; the number of individual appointments numbering close to 2000.

I think David Clare Holloway has done an excellent job in addressing the lack of documented history of Australia’s combat colonels from the Great War. From these pages emerge the men who shaped Australia’s battlefield history – both the professional soldiers and the former teachers, accountants, salesmen, clerks, farmers and others from a broad range of occupations whose leadership on and off the battlefield proved so crucial.

Another book for your bookshelf!

Australians: Flappers to Vietnam

Australians: Flappers to Vietnam
Vol 3 of the series
By Thomas Keneally

Published by Allen & Unwin
RRP $49.99 in hardback
ISBN 9781742374536

I realized that this excellent book had sat on my review shelf for far too long, so in the aftermath of being swamped by Gallipoli books, I thought I would give this one some much deserved air.

Given the period covered, much of the book is related to Australia’s involvement in World War 2 and the immediate post war communist threat.

Some reviewers have mentioned omissions (not much sport, for one) but Keneally at least has not overlooked the story of Albert Namatjira, an almost forgotten aboriginal artist eventually repudiated by the art establishment for following the European style in his watercolours yet feted in his heyday.

This book has been widely reviewed – I have linked here to The Sydney Morning Herald Review for those who like more detail.

Keneally brings a warm and authentic voice to his work. He is a much-admired Australian writer.

From Imperial War Museum: Melbourne Museum hosts The WW1 Centenary Exhibition


What: The WW1 Centenary Exhibition

Where: Melbourne Museum, Victoria

When: until 4 October 2015

My neighbours across the road from where I live in Brisbane have just returned from Melbourne. Included in their trip was a visit to the Imperial War Museum’s World War 1 travelling exhibition at the Melbourne Museum.

The exhibition includes over 350 of the most significant historical artefacts from the acclaimed WW1 collections of Imperial War Museums in London.

The WW1 Centenary Exhibition includes a new, innovative and interactive experience with original artefacts, film, rare artworks, sounds and images.

My neighbours were very impressed so I thought it was worth telling everyone about, especially as it still has some time to run.


Sudan 1885: The call for jihad is not new


Sudan 1885
Australian Army Campaigns Series – 15
By Michael Tyquin 

Published by Big Sky Publishing
RRP $19.99 in paperback
ISBN:   9781922132994

A few days ago I posted on my blog about the book ‘To Kokoda’ which was no.14 in the Campaigns Series. Looking deeper into my review bookshelf, I discovered I had no.15 on hand, which takes us further back in history, this time to the involvement of an Australian colonial military force in Britain’s Egyptian campaigns between 1883 and 1885.

This was a very short involvement. Consequently its influence on those campaigns was insignificant. Nevertheless, our involvement in the Sudan in 1885 is part of Australia’s military history.

This book provides the context for Australia’s involvement in the Sudan, and follows operations chronologically.

The call in the 1880s for jihad or ‘holy war’ by Sudanese leaders shows us that some of our current global challenges are not new, nor, might I add, are some of the challenges to establish safe, secure nations in certain regions.

Author Michael Tyquin describes the New South Wales decision to deploy a small force to the other side of the world in 1885 as a ‘milestone in Australia’s military history’. The conflict in the Sudan afforded an opportunity to demonstrate colonial maturity to an imperial audience across the globe. Despite other Australian colonies wanting to make a military contribution, only New South Wales actually deployed any troops. It did so because it had the largest and best organised defence force, and was led by a very opportunist politician.

I think the Royal United Services Institute of Victoria Library summed it up nicely, in their assessment of this book: “It is most refreshing to encounter such a concise, well-researched and informative account presented in this most attractive and readable format.” They could have added ‘affordable’ to their praise.



I thought this might be of interest to Canberrans – there’s a stellar line up of talent at the event.

Seminar: Writing the Great War
National Library of Australia, Canberra
Theatre, Lower Ground 1
Saturday, 20 June 2015, 9.30am-5pm

The First World War was the first to involve literate populations on a grand scale. The conflict inspired widespread creative output as writers attempted to process what the war meant. From eyewitness journalists, soldiers and nurses, through to the response of poets, novelists and historians, this seminar examines the breadth of Australian writing as a result of the war.

Speakers include Joan Beaumont, Janet Butler, Philip Butterss, Adrian Caesar, Susannah Helman, Malcolm St Hill, Jacqueline Manuel, Michael McKernan, Ross McMullin, Peter Rees, and Clare Rhoden.

This seminar is held in conjunction with the Library’s current exhibition Keepsakes: Australians and the Great War on exhibit until 19 July 2015.

Supported by the Maxine Poynton-Baker Bequest.

More information:

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