Archive | December 2015

8 May 1942: USS Lexington: New book tells the story of a valiant ship



Stay the Rising Sun
The True Story of USS Lexington, Her Valiant Crew, and Changing the Course of World War II
By Phil Keith

Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages, RRP A$45.00
ISBN: 9780760347416
Publisher: Zenith Press

I had every intention of doing quite a number of blog posts before Christmas but illness got in the way, I’m afraid. So I am trying to catch up and give you some interesting books to consider.

Stay the Rising Sun came across my desk mid year and I think it will be of interest to Australian readers with its focus on the USS Lexington’s role in the Battle of the Coral Sea. RAN ships took part in the Task group alongside the Lexington.

The Lexington was one of the US Navy’s first aircraft carriers. It was commissioned in 1928. It was the forerunner of a class of ship that enabled the development of naval aviation as we know it today.

The ship had been at sea when Pearl Harbor was attacked on 7 December 1941.

It was during the Battle of the Coral Sea, 5 months later, that the ship was badly damaged, although initial reports had under-estimated the extent of the damage. Despite valiant efforts to keep the ship afloat, at 1707 hrs on 8 May 1942 the order was finally given to abandon ship. Of the complement of 2,951, 2,735 were evacuated.

Back in the US, another carrier was nearly ready for launch when the news arrived of the fate of the USS Lexington, so the navy changed her name to Lexington, confusing the Japanese.

Lexington’s legacy did not end with her demise, however. Although the battle was deemed a tactical success for the Japanese, it turned out to be a strategic loss: for the first time in the war, a Japanese invasion force was forced to retreat.

The lessons learned by losing the Lexington at Coral Sea impacted tactics, air wing operations, damage control, and ship construction.

This book is set out like a ship’s log, but with much more emphasis on the narrative. In fact, it has been well-received with many good comments on

There is a more detailed review of the book at this link:

For anyone interested in the Battle of the Coral Sea and the fate of the original USS Lexington in particular, this book will be a welcome addition to the bookshelves.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Phil Keith is a historian, ex-navy pilot and Harvard graduate. He served in the Vietnam War with distinction as a naval aviator.



Australian Women War Reporters

Australianwomenwarreporters copy

Australian Women War Reporters
Boer War to Vietnam
By Jeannine Baker

Published by New South
RRP $39.99 in paperback; 272pp
ISBN 9781742234519

This book has attracted more publicity than most military history releases of recent months.

Sarah Dempster reviewed the book for The Australian (Review, 21-22 Nov 2015), Helen Vatsikopoulos for The Sydney Morning Herald, (Spectrum, 5-6 Dec 2015) and Phillip Adams devoted a program to Australian women war reporters on his Late Night Live program on Radio National on 18 November 2015 – link herebut be aware, this link is going to expire in less than a week.

Women war reporters have encountered the predictable road blocks on their chosen career path. Inevitably, if permitted to report, they were directed to write from the ‘women’s angle’.

As Baker writes, this book charts the emergence of the Australian woman war reporter, her rise to prominence in World War II, and her growing acceptance following the Vietnam War. In essence, this is the story of the women who paved the way for the opportunity that women journalists have today.

And yet women journalists continue to expose themselves to the additional risk of sexual violence in dangerous environments in places where women are not respected, for fear their bosses will see their gender as a liability and they won’t be sent on the plum assignments.

As well known ABC reporter Sally Sara says: ‘women reporters want to be judged on the basis of their professionalism, not their gender’. Amen to that, says my wife.

For anyone interested in war reporting and journalism, this could be a book for your Santa list.

Monash: The soldier who shaped Australia


Monash: The soldier who shaped Australia
By Grantlee Kieza

Published by ABC Books/Harper Collins
RRP $39.99 in hardcover
ISBN 9780733333538

This is one of four books published on John Monash this year. It is a new ‘big biography’ that goes well beyond his military career, although that aspect of his life is well documented in the book.

Tim Fischer, himself the author a book about Monash, has written a review of Kieza’s book for The Courier-Mail, where Kieza works as a journalist. His verdict: ‘This book does great justice to the military career of Monash, from private to general.’

I smiled at Fischer’s assessment of Monash’s preoccupation with recording all aspects of his life, describing him as a man ‘silly enough to keep very personal diaries and write down every encounter with the fairer sex in and around Melbourne during his bachelor years’.

By the standards of the day, his love life was, to put it mildly, unconventional.

No doubt, though, the extent of the primary source material has been a great benefit to his biographers.

Grantlee Kieza was interviewed on the Victorian ABC Radio program Mornings with Jonathon Kendall about the book; the interview is really worth listening to – this is the link to the program:


Monash established himself as a major force, not just on the bloody fields of wartime Europe but also in post-war society, where he oversaw vital developments in making Australia into a modern nation. When he died, an astonishing 300,000 Australians attended John Monash’s funeral in Melbourne.

In this book, which, for its size, is very well priced a $39.99 for a 714pp hardcover, Kieza successfully explores the character of this unconventional man and what drove him to his incredible achievements and, ultimately, his unlikely folk hero status..

Other Monash titles

  • Monash: The Outsider who won a war  by Roland Perry (Random House)
  • Maestro John Monash: Australia’s greatest citizen general  by Tim Fischer  (Monash University Publishing)
  • John Monash War Letters of General Monash by A K MacDougall (ed.) (Black inc)

Beyond Surrender: Australian POWs in the 20th c.


Beyond Surrender
Australian Prisoners of War in the Twentieth Century
Edited by Joan Beaumont, Lachlan Grant, Aaron Pegram

RRP $59.99 in paperback; ebook and hardback editions available
Published by Melbourne University Publishing
ISBN 9780522866209

It seems quite ironic that having blogged about The Changi Book a couple of days ago, the next book I pick up also has Lachlan Grant among its editors, and, again it’s about POWs.

Lachlan Grant is an historian in the Military History Section of the Australian War Memorial.

Co-editor Joan Beaumont’s seminal work Broken Nation: Australian and the Great War, was published in 2013, and yes, that is on my bookshelf too.

The origins of this book, published in June this year, lie in a two-day conference sponsored by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and co-hosted by the ANU and the Australian War Memorial on the subject: Prisoners of War: Australian prisoners in the 20th century. This event was held 5-6 June 2013.

Over the twentieth century 35,000 Australians suffered as prisoners of war in conflicts ranging from World War I to Korea.

Beyond Surrender seeks to present the reality of their captivity and the diversity of the Australian ‘behind-the-wire’ experience, separating fact from fiction and myth from reality.

The book examines the impact that different types of camps, commandants and locations had on surrender, survival, prison life and the prospects of escape.

The insights into the crime and the black market that operated in Changi are interesting. Unsurprisingly there was resentment at the privileges of rank that the officers enjoyed. In the end participating in the black market became a matter of survival as food rations were cut.

As Joan Beaumont writes, one of the purposes of this book is to provide a much more diverse picture of captivity and perhaps, in doing so, to provide some understanding and insights into what she describes as the ‘memory boom’ of recent years.

Changi book: 70 years late

Changi Case2proof.indd

The Changi Book
Edited by Lachlan Grant
Published by NewSouth
RRP $59.99 in hardback
ISBN 9781742231617

Editor Lachlan Grant makes the point, in introducing this interesting collection of essays, cartoons, paintings, and photographs, that many myths persist about the wartime experiences of prisoners of the Japanese, derived, he says, from the ‘knowledge of the horrific conditions on the Burma-Thailand Railway’. Of the 87,000 Allied prisoners who passed through the Changi camp, 850 died there. Those who remained were the lucky ones compared with those who endured the brutal enslavement in other camps throughout Asia.

What is interesting is that Lachlan Grant, in the course of other research, stumbled across a collection of material in the Australian War Memorial archives labeled ‘8th Div. Papers’ which turned out to be 51 mostly handwritten essays about various aspects of life in the camp. This is the source of the material for the book, publication of which had been planned but never happened.

It is an ‘insiders’ account’ of life in Changi but I would resist the temptation to buy it for a very elderly relative who spent time in Changi. I have an uncle who fills that description. He is 92 now but will not speak about the war or his time as a POW. Generally they do not want to revive painful memories at this point in their lives. Far better to buy the book for younger members of a family to help them understand the experience.

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