Archive | March 2016

New book records Australian Army’s customs & traditions


Preserving Our Proud Heritage
The customs and traditions of the Australian Army
By Les Terrett & Stephen Taubert

Published by Big Sky Publishing
RRP $59.99 in hardcover | ISBN 9781925275544

Preserving Our Proud Heritage is a comprehensive and beautifully presented book which details the Australian Army’s customs and traditions developed over the previous 114 years. This massive undertaking was seven years in the making and owes much to the determination and research skills of the authors, in conjunction with the Australian Army History Unit.

The book is divided into 14 chapters, each covering a particular aspect of the Army’s customs and traditions. There are chapters devoted to uniforms and accoutrements; insignia and flags; military funerals; honours and awards and my favourite, Officers’ and Sergeants’ messes customs and etiquette. All are exquisitely illustrated with full-colour images.

The then Chief of Army, LTGEN David Morrison, concluded his foreword to this book by commending it to all who have a professional interest and passion for the Australian Army’s customs and traditions.


Australian Confederates on the CSS Shenandoah

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Australian Confederates
How 42 Australians joined the rebel cause and fired the last shot in the American Civil War
By Terry Smyth

Published by Ebury Press, Random House
RRP $34.99 in paperback
ISBN 9780857986559, 384 pp

ASPI Chairman and one time Labor senator for New South Wales Stephen Loosley has written a detailed review of this book entitled Our rebels who fought on (The Australian, 12 Sep 2015) – I think this is certainly worth reading – link here


I feel there would be few Australians who know that, in the summer of 1865, a Confederate warship, the CSS Shenandoah, sailed into the port of Melbourne, and secretly enlisted 42 men to fight for the South in the American Civil War.

In fact, some 120 Australians are known to have fought in the American Civil War, on both sides.

Looking back, it seems hard to imagine now the level of sympathy that existed among Australians at the time for a society based on slavery, yet while officialdom in the colonies backed the Union and British neutrality, public opinion generally favoured the South. The gold rush era, during which the Shenandoah arrived, tended to glorify rebel causes, and the Southerners had no difficulty finding willing recruits.

Of the 42 men who signed on in Melbourne as petty officers, seamen and marines, some returned home, others dropped out of sight and one died aboard ship – the last man to die in the service of the Confederacy.

Smyth, a Sydney journalist, has brought this little known story to life. As he writes in his introduction, the men who sailed away on the Shenandoah in the summer of 1865 were ‘men of their times’. We don’t know what their views on slavery were but we do know they fired the last shot of the American Civil War and they destroyed 32 Yankee merchant ships. They were the last rebels to surrender, having sailed their ship 60,000 miles around the world.

This is quite a story.


Peter Hart’s Voices from the Front

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Voices from the Front
An Oral History of the Great War
By Peter Hart

Published by Profile Books; Dist. by Allen & Unwin
RRP AUD $49.99 in hardback
ISBN 9781781254745

As I was beginning to write this blog piece, I was doing my usual search of the internet – I know Peter Hart is a name that will be familiar to many with an interest in military history. While his website could do with an update, he is active on Twitter – @PeterHart1915 – on which he describes himself as a ‘military historian of sorts’ – I’m sure many of you will be interested in following him.

Despite Hart’s modest description of his skills, he is, in fact, the oral historian at the Imperial War Museum and has written several books on the First World War. His latest books for the publisher Profile are Gallipoli, The Great War and Voices from the Front.

This latest book – Voices from the Front – is an oral history of the British military involvement in the Great War, based on 183 interviews with veterans that Hart carried out for the Imperial War Museum Sound Archive in the 1980s and early 1990s, a resource that could no longer be assembled.

The stories are from across the conflict, from soldiers, sailors and airmen, from officers and privates alike. In the course of his research, he talked to men who saw their friends die in front of them, who were seriously wounded themselves, men who refused to fight on principle and those whose indomitable spirit carried them through thick and thin. Sometimes they were there at crucial turning points in the war – going over the top in the slaughter of the Somme in 1916 or punching through the German lines to victory in 1918 – and sometimes they sweated, toiled and suffered on a forgotten front, thousands of miles from home.

Hart expertly weaves the oral histories into a compelling narrative that provides context and meaning to the personal reminiscences of the men who experienced this brutal war for themselves.


The Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience


I wanted to alert readers of my blog to this travelling exhibition, which you may or may not have heard about.

The Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience is a travelling exhibition that tells the story of Australia’s involvement in the First World War, and the ensuing Century of Service of Australia’s armed forces in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations in which Australia has been involved.

It has already visited some cities but quite a few opportunities remain on the schedule to see it:

Adelaide Mar 2016
Tamworth Apr – May 2016
Toowoomba May 2016
Brisbane Jun 2016
Mackay Jul 2016
Cairns Aug 2016
Townsville Sep 2016
Darwin Oct 2016
Port Augusta Nov 2016
Perth Nov – Dec 2016
Bunbury Jan 2017
Kalgoorlie Jan – Feb 2017
Geelong Feb 2017
Orange Mar 2017
Newcastle Mar 2017
Sydney Apr 2017

The Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience follows a chronological timeline spanning the period from pre-First World War Australia to the present day, using a mix of visuals, artefacts, audio and film to engage visitors.

An important feature of the experience will be the curated ‘local stories’ zone. These zones will be created with the local communities and will contribute a legacy for each region. The Spirit of Anzac Centenary Experience is the flagship community event of the Australian Government’s Anzac Centenary national programme.

Find out more about the Anzac Centenary national programme at this link.

New Book: The Promise – Three Wars, Two Mates


The Promise
Three Wars. Two Mates
By Jamie Zimmermann

Published by Macmillan
RRP $39.99 in hardback
ISBN 9781743534380

This book charts Jamie Zimmermann’s evolution from a bullied boy in the suburbs to an elite soldier and team leader with the 2nd Commando Regiment of Australia’s special forces, waging war in Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. We also follow the sad story of his best mate Sergeant Brett Wood, killed in action, a mere two months after Zimmermann had promised to take care of his wife and financial affairs should the worst unfold.

We learn of the pressures on the home front and the inevitable aftershock of combat fatigue. Zimmermann makes the good point of the difference between the soldiers’ operational environment – where he describes it as a ‘highly controlled, precise job with incredible standards of accountability all the way up the ladder’ – and the less structured and sometimes chaotic world beyond.

It is afterwards, he says, when the soldiers return home that the struggles begin. The home sanctuary, for which everyone has yearned, ‘lacks the certainty of the HQ or the firebase.’ In his case, he describes the home environment as lacking an ‘operating manual for this slightly malfunctioning man’.

It has been quite a journey for Jamie Zimmermann, who came home injured in 2007, and has now made the successful transition to civvie street.

He spoke with Neil Mitchell on 3AW late last year about his book – the link is here if you would like to listen to it.



John Monash books republished


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The Australian Victories in France in 1918
By John Monash
Published by Black Inc
RRP $45.00 in hardcover
ISBN 9781863957458


First published in 1920, this book by General John Monash is his account of the part played by the Australian Army Corps in the closing months of the 1st World War. During the early months of 1918, Monash was in command of the Australian 3rd Division but in May of that year, it was decided to consolidate the Australian Divisions into the Australian Army Corps. Monash was promoted to Lieutenant General and placed in charge.

Monash begins his account of 1918 with the German offensive of 21 March on the city of Amiens. The offensive was repelled but the Germans did manage to capture the village of Hamel from an exhausted British Division. Ironically, it was this same village which gave Monash the opportunity to introduce tactical changes which led to his first success as Corps Commander. His use of tanks alongside the infantry in the Battle of Hamel in July was done against the advice of the ‘so-called tank experts’ but was so successful that a similar tactic was used by the Germans in World War II. This became known as BLITZKRIEG.

The Allies launched their major push on 8 August and the Australian Corps played a vital role in its ultimate success. To quote Monash himself “from early dawn on Saturday , August 31st, until the evening of September 3rd, three Australian Divisions of the Corps engaged in a heroic combat which will ever be memorable in Australian history”.

At the conclusion of this action, the Australians commanded Mont St. Quentin, the town of Peronne and the high ground overlooking the town. It was a brilliant operation, masterminded by Monash despite the scepticism of the British General, Sir Henry Rawlinson.

In its republication, this book has garnered fresh praise, for example:

‘The definitive eyewitness account of Australia’s greatest military achievement by Australia’s greatest military commander, it perhaps eclipse even Bean’s official history as the most important book ever written about Australia’s Great War.’ Hugh White Professor of Strategic Studies, ANU, and author of The China Choice

Also republished as a companion volume:


War Letters of General Monash
By John Monash
Published by Black Inc
RRP $45.00 in hardcover; $79.99 for the two books in a slipcase
ISBN 9781863957441

This book was first published in 1934, three years after Monash’s death. A respected British reviewer, Edmund Blunden, himself an author of military history, said of the letters that he ‘would not be surprised if these letters gained the reputation of being the best penned by any soldier of similar rank and sphere’.

These are two marvellous books and it is a credit to the publisher to see them in print again. The cover designs are also a credit to the publisher (and the book designer).

New book: Hirohito’s War: The Pacific War 1941-1945


Hirohito’s War
The Pacific War 1941-1945
By Francis Pike

ISBN 9781472596703 | Hardback | 1152 pages
Bloomsbury Academic | RRP AU$49.99
Australian buyers: Try QBD – where it is available at the RRP, probably on order, not stocked. Link here


Francis Pike writes in the introduction to this commanding 1,152 page narrative that the main aim of writing Hirohito’s War was ‘to present a balanced, comprehensive and readable one-volume narrative of the conflict’.

Pike offers an original interpretation, balancing the existing Western-centric view with attention to the Japanese perspective on the conflict. As well as giving a ‘blow-by-blow’ account of campaigns and battles, he offers many challenges to the standard interpretations with regards to the causes of the war; Emperor Hirohito’s war guilt; the inevitability of US victory; the abilities of General MacArthur and Admiral Yamamoto; the role of China, Great Britain and Australia; military and naval technology; and the need for the fire-bombing of Japan and the eventual use of the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

This is a substantial work, which is clearly the outcome of a significant research effort. It’s not a book to absorb in one sitting. Nevertheless it is highly readable and follows a logical chronology that will make sense to the reader. It’s worth noting that the maps, appendices and notes have not been included in the book; instead they are available online, so have your iPad or laptop handy when you are reading it.


Hirohito’s War is accompanied by additional online resources, including more details on logistics, economics, POWs, submarines and kamikaze, as well as a 1930-1945 timeline and 178 maps at this link.


Francis Pike studied history at Cambridge and is an historian and economic and geopolitical adviser. He lived and worked for 20 years in Japan, China and India and has advised financial institutions as well as governments in Japan, Australia, India, China, and Singapore. His earlier book, Empires at War: A Short History of Modern Asia since World War II was published in 2009.



New book reveals unseen photos of the Western Front


The First World War
Unseen glass photographs of the Western Front
Edited by Carl De Keyzer and David Van Reybrouk

Published by University of Chicago Press. Distributed by Footprint Books
RRP $US65.00 in hardcover;  AU$119.00 NZ$120.87
ISBN 9780226284286

Acclaimed photographer Carl De Keyzer and historian David Van Reybrouk have combined to bring us an evocative look at the Western Front through the medium of previously unseen glass photographs.

Both men were troubled by the way in which the horror of the First World War had become ‘kitsch, a product’. While discussing the practicalities of this book, De Keyzer proclaimed, ‘We have to bring the war closer. We have to rethink remembering’.

It was on this basis that these 100 odd photographs were chosen for inclusion in the book. Selected by De Keyzer from over 10,000 archive images, the photographs have been scanned from the original plates with scratches and other flaws removed. The result is stunning.

The book has been divided into five basic themes with the final section entitled ‘A Disquieting Silence’. Contained within this section are the Vottem Memorial Portraits. These were a series of photographs taken of the 23 Belgians who died during a small skirmish with German soldiers in the village of Vottem on 7 August 1914, just two days after war was declared. The corpses were seated on a chair with their heads held by a local villager. Some might find this uncomfortable and slightly macabre but it does present an interesting point of difference to the normal images of bodies lying in muddy trenches.

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