Archive | May 2016

Heard of the ‘Fair Dinkums’?

Fair Dinkums Cover copy

The Fair Dinkums
After Gallipoli, Australia needed… The Fair Dinkums
By Glenn McFarlane

Published by Pan Macmillan Australia
RRP $34.99 in paperback
ISBN 9781743537541

We have a guest blogger for this post – Kylie Leonard. Earlier this month, Kylie’s daughter, 12 year old Rebecca reviewed A Soldier, A Dog and A Boy by Libby Hathorn. Kylie’s grandfather served in WWI (see below).

The original ANZACS that landed at Gallipoli Cove on the 25th April 1915 left Australia with a sense of adventure and with the hope that the war would not be over before they arrived at the front and if not by then, it would definitely be over by Christmas. Those that followed had no such illusions, they had seen the causality lists, read the growing lists of dead and missing and yet they still enlisted.

The men of the 8th Reinforcements of the 7th Battalion Australian Expeditionary Force earnt the nickname the “Fair Dinkums” as they must have been have been fair dinkum about their loyalty to King and Country to sign up to serve after the mess of Gallipoli was known.

Through the use of personal letters, individual war records and diaries, Glenn McFarlane traces the war and post-war lives of members of the Fair Dinkums. The Fair Dinkums were amongst the last to arrive at Gallipoli, arriving only a month before the withdrawal, but were among the last to leave. It was due to the invention of delayed action rifles by Fair Dinkum member, Billy Surry, that the withdrawal was completed with ‘hardly a casualty’. The Fair Dinkums then went on to serve in Egypt and the Western Front.

This is an in depth, deeply personal and at times moving study of the lives of the men of the Fair Dinkums. Very few of these men lived into old age, either dying as a direct result of battle or the physical, emotional and psychological effects of the war once they returned to Australia.

This book has special significance for me, as I believe my Grandfather William Cedric Smith was among those men mentioned although his story in this book doesn’t accord with what has been passed down in the family regarding his wartime experiences, although the service number is identical. – Kylie Leonard


The Soul of ANZAC: New book on Birdwood


The Soul of ANZAC
General Sir William Birdwood and the AIF, 1914-18
By John Dermot Millar 

Published by Australian Scholarly
RRP $44.00 in paperback; 203pp
ISBN 9781925003475

There is no doubt we rely on small publishers to give us rare histories of almost forgotten figures from the past. 

On this occasion, Australian Scholarly Publishing has given us John Dermot Millar’s biography of General Sir William Birdwood, the first commander of Australian troops during the Great War.

As Millar writes in his introduction, this book first saw the light of day as a doctoral dissertation at the Australian Defence Force Academy, UNSW Canberra. He writes that he examined Birdwood’s abilities and shortcomings as a high-ranking commander during the First World War, an area of research he described as ‘comparatively barren’ when he embarked upon it.

The name Birdwood will, I am sure, be known to anyone who has read books about Australia’s involvement in Gallipoli or the Western Front.

Birdwood was loved and respected by those who served under him, although not regarded as a military genius, his legacy framed against the backdrop of the far better remembered General John Monash, who succeeded him as the first Australian corps commander, when Birdwood was promoted.

Yet even when Monash took over from him, Birdwood retained the administrative command of the AIF, a move popular with the officers but not with the agitating Keith Murdoch.

After the war, Monash maintained a respect for Birdwood’s leadership, praising him for his ability to deal with those who served under him.

In this biography, Millar deals only with the period of the First World War in detail. Birdwood’s happiest time, Millar writes, was to come late in his career when he was unexpectedly appointed Master of Peterhouse College, Cambridge, which gave rise to the title of his autobiography Khaki and Gown, published in 1941, copies of which are available on the internet.

Stone Cold: Len Opie’s story

Stonecold copy

Stone Cold
The extraordinary story of Len Opie, Australia’s deadliest soldier
By Andrew Faulkner

Published by Allen & Unwin
RRP $32.99 in paperback; 300pp
ISBN 9781742373782

Author Andrew Faulkner spoke about his work on this book on 101.5FM Radio Adelaide on January 28, 2016 – I’ve provided the link here to listen to the interview:

The subject of this book, Len Opie, died in 2008. Faulkner was asked by Opie to consider writing his memoirs but he only got the chance to interview Opie twice before he passed away in 2008.

What has emerged from Faulkner’s research is the portrait of a man with a high moral code, someone who didn’t suffer fools; he was someone who set his own bar very high and expected others to do the same. It is the extraordinary story of one of Australia’s most fearless fighters

Through three wars across 30 years, Len Opie carved a reputation as one of the country’s greatest infantrymen. A cold-eyed killer who drank nothing stronger than weak tea, he fought with his bare hands, a sharpened shovel and piano wire. He was a larrikin who went by the book, unless the book was wrong.

Faulkner takes us into the jungles of New Guinea and Borneo and some of the fiercest battles of World War II, then to the cold heart of Korea, where Len emerged from the ranks to excel in the epic Battle of Kapyong and play a key role at the Battle of Maryang San. And he drops us into the centre of the American counterinsurgency war in Vietnam with Len’s involvement in the CIA’s shadowy black ops program, Phoenix.

This is the true story of a remarkable highly-regarded Australian soldier whose story should not be forgotten.


New book for aviation tragics: the story of Concorde


The Rise and Fall of the Supersonic Airliner
By Jonathan Glancey

Published by Atlantic: Distributed by Allen & Unwin
RRP $45.00 in hardback; 384 pp
ISBN 9781782391074

I picked up this book from my review bookshelf and immediately thought, this is one for the aviation tragics, of which I know there are quite a few.

The introduction to the book sets the scene in the very first sentences:

On a looming day of low cloud and swept snow in February 1969, test pilot Jack Waddell lifted a massive Boeing 747 into the air above Everett, Washington. The maiden flight of the Jumbo Jet lasted eight-five minutes. The aircraft was, Waddell told waiting journalists on landing, ‘ridiculously easy to fly, a pilot’s dream ….’

The following month, on a dull and damp day in southern France, Concorde 001 reached for the clouds brooding over Toulouse. Andre Turcat had the dream job of piloting this pencil-thin machine, a supersonic rapier to Boeing’s subsonic broadsword. Keeping Concorde’s drooping nose-cone and stork-like undercarriage down throughout the twenty-seven-minute rite of passage, Turcat returned to tell a packed press conference, ‘Finally the big bird flies, and I can say …. It flies pretty well.”

Jonathan Glancey traces the development of Concorde not just through existing material and archives, but through interviews with those who lived with the supersonic project from its inception. The resulting book is a celebration of the achievement of Concorde, as well as a thoroughly researched history.

As I said, a book for aviation tragics.

About the author:

Jonathan Glancey loves trains and planes – he is a pilot – his previous books include Harrier and the bestselling Spitfire: The Biography.


The loss of 19th Bomb Group Flying Fortress in latest Flightpath edition

FPH May-Jul 16 Cover

Editor: Rob Fox
Vol 27 Number 4

Flightpath is in my wife’s publishing group so I thought I would give the latest issue a plug as it has some great stories of interest to anyone passionate about military aviation, particularly of the historic kind.

In the issue:

  • Michael Musumeci and Andy Wright collaborate to tell the story of the loss of a 19th Bomb Group Flying Fortress and its crew. The article is based on a chapter from the book Aircraft Crashes of Northern Queensland 1942-45 by Michael Musumeci.
  • James Kightly writes about the building (and rebuilding) of the P-40.
  • Mark Lax (who wrote the history of the F-111) writes about the forgotten bomber of WWII, the Martin Baltimore
  • there are Spitfires, Kittyhawks, Air show spreads and much more in the issue.

You can subscribe at the link or call 1800 807 760 (Aust only) to get the issue. International readers can subscribe for the iPad edition (or print edition, but it is obviously slower and more expensive).

The magazine is published 4 times/year.


Devils on Horses: The story of New Zealand’s mounted rifles regiments in WWI


Devils on Horses
In the Words of the ANZACS in the Middle East 1916-19

By Terry Kinloch
Published by Exisle Publishing
RRP $39.99 in paperback
ISBN 9781775592631

First published in 2007, this absorbing book by LTCOL Terry Kinloch details the experiences of New Zealand’s Mounted rifles regiments in the Sinai/Palestine campaign of World War I.

The motivation for this book was simple. Kinloch felt that these brave men were ‘the forgotten men of a forgotten campaign’ and he wanted to ensure that they were forgotten no longer.

Kinloch found a wealth of material in the diaries and photographs of the troops held by their families. Coupled with the official history, this enabled him to examine the individual battles as well as the overall campaign.

From their withdrawal from Gallipoli to their reunion with their horses at Zeitoun Camp near Cairo, Kinloch traces their battles, including Romani, Gaza, Bir el Abd and the massacre at Surafend.

Only one of the estimated 2,500 New Zealand horses that travelled to the Middle East returned home.

Christopher Pugsley, Department of War Studies, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, writes in the foreword that this is a very important book for New Zealanders and for those who read military history. He says this account at last ‘does justice to their story’, commending the book also to students of warfare, citing the author’s professional understanding of the campaign.


New book from Yale re-examines the Speer ‘good Nazi’ myth


Speer: Hitler’s Architect
By Martin Kitchen

Published by Yale University.
Distributed in Australia by Footprint Books
RRP $54.95 in hardcover
ISBN 9780300190441

Albert Speer has been the source of much controversy since being the only major figure from Hitler’s hierarchy to escape the death penalty at the Nuremberg trials. In this new biography, Martin Kitchen seeks to uncover the real Albert Speer as opposed to the one he presented at the trials.

Initially the principal architect and town planner for Adolf Hitler (the new Reich Chancellery being his crowning achievement), he came to prominence when appointed Minister for Ammunition & Armaments in the Third Reich.

In this new post, he was tasked with lifting production after authorities had severely underestimated the impact of Operation Barbarossa. So despite the worsening situation in Russia, in December 1941 weapons production was 30% less than the previous year. Under his stewardship, output certainly increased, but as his critics point out, it was on the back of concentration camp inmates.

Not that Speer ever admitted to the use of such labour. His defence at Nuremberg was cleverly delivered. While accepting ‘overall responsibility’ for the crimes of the Nazi regime, he articulated a clear distinction between that and ‘fully responsible’. He maintained he could not be held accountable for actions taken within other ministries. He also maintained he was unaware of the ‘appalling mistreatment of the hundreds of thousands of unfortunates who worked for him’. However Kitchen provides compelling evidence to suggest Speer was lying.

Adam Tooze, Director of the European Institute at Columbia, has written an excellent and detailed review of this book for The Wall Street Journal (23 Dec 2015) – click on this link to read his full review.

This book is readily available in Australia and New Zealand, either through a local bookshop or direct from Footprint Books (


New from Cambridge: Australia 1944-45


Australia 1944-45
Victory in the Pacific
Edited by Peter J Dean

Published by Cambridge University Press
RRP $59.95 in hardcover
ISBN 9781107083462

This is the final instalment of Peter Dean’s trilogy of books examining Australia’s involvement and contribution in the Pacific War. By early 1944, the majority of US Forces had moved further north leaving the Australians to clear out the remaining Japanese from New Guinea. This was described at the time by the Australian press as ‘mopping up operations’.

In reality, the Commander-in-Chief of the Southwest Pacific Area, General Douglas MacArthur, sidelined Australia’s troops into campaigns that could not affect the outcome of the war. They were effectively no longer involved in offensive operations. In theory however, the Australians were being saved for the anticipated invasion of Japan in 1946-47.

But as my late father attested, the Aitape to Wewak campaign, labelled a mopping-up exercise, was anything but. Casualties were higher than expected and malaria was rife. And this was also the case in other areas of New Guinea and Borneo. The Japanese forces were determined and fearless.

Dean has assembled an excellent cast of historians to help examine this important period in Australia’s history. There is also a revealing chapter by Hiroyuki Shindo who examines the Japanese Army’s strategy and operations from late 1943 through to wars end in the Southwest Pacific Area.

New book: Karl Doenitz and the Last Days of the Third Reich


Karl Doenitz and the Last Days of the Third Reich
By Barry Turner
Published by Icon Books; Dist. by Allen & Unwin
RRP $39.99 in hardback; 304pp
ISBN 9781848319226

This is a powerful new portrait of the second and last – and much-maligned – Nazi leader Karl Doenitz. Among the military leaders of World War Two, Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz remains a deeply controversial figure.

As chief of the German submarine fleet he earned Allied respect as a formidable enemy. He had in fact learned much about submarine warfare during World War I. But after he succeeded Hitler – to whom he was unquestioningly loyal – as head of the Third Reich following Hitler’s nomination of him as successor, his name became associated with all that was most hated in the Nazi regime.

Yet as Turner writes in the epilogue, he believes it is time to move on from the knee-jerk dismissal of him as a failed and unreconstituted Nazi.

Turner believes Doenitz deserves credit for ending the war quickly while trying to save his compatriots in the east. His Dunkirk-style operation across the Baltic – code-named Hannibal – rescued up to 2 million troops and civilian refugees.

Turner describes his trial at Nuremberg in some detail, reminding us that the trials were heavily influenced by the politics of the day and particularly by the Russians. In the end, he was sentenced to ten years, which he served at Spandau prison. He served the full term, finally given his freedom at the age of 65.

Barry Turner’s even-handed portrait gives a fascinating new perspective on this complex figure, to whom history has not been kind.

Church of Spies: New book on Pope Pius XII


Church of Spies
The Pope’s Secret War against Hitler
By Mark Riebling

Published by Scribe Publications
RRP $35.00 in paperback
ISBN 9781925106862

This book is described as a radical reinterpretation of the wartime Pope Pius XII, who is perhaps the most vilified and detested Pope in modern history. The book has also been described by one reviewer as ‘simply the finest work on the subject in print’. High praise indeed! See the links to extended reviews published in other media at the bottom of this blog post.

Pius XII and the Vatican are thought to have appeased Hitler and betrayed international Jewry by staying silent during the Holocaust. The accusation is seen in many quarters as fundamentally damaging to the Catholic Church’s moral standing, earning Pius XII the nickname ‘Hitler’s Pope’.

But this accepted narrative of a spiritual leader prepared to look the other way when confronted by Nazi atrocities is not the complete story. In Church of Spies, Mark Riebling uses recently uncovered documents to redraw the conventional image of the wartime Pope, who, in his account, was not Hitler’s lackey, but an active anti-Nazi spymaster, encouraged to refrain from making public statements against Hitler and the Nazis to allay the fears of German Catholics who were actively working against Hitler.

In this book, Riebling shows that the Church’s wartime campaign against Hitler was far more extensive than ever thought — and that many actions were intended to undermine the Nazi regime, and were approved by Pius XII himself.

There is a very detailed review in the Catholic press, which is worth reading for those interested in the topic. I’ve provided links here:

Contemporary Church History Quarterly, USA

Review of Mark Riebling, Church of Spies: The Vatican’s Secret War against Hitler 
By Mark Edward Ruff, St. Louis University, Contemporary Church History Quarterly, December 2015  LINK HERE

The Sydney Morning Herald

Church of Spies review: Mark Riebling paints vivid picture of wartime Pope
Reviewed by Robert Willson, an Anglican priest, and a regular Canberra Times reviewer.



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