Archive | September 2016

44 Days: 75 Squadron and the fight for Australia


44 Days
75 Squadron and the fight for Australia
By Michael Veitch

Published by Hachette Australia
RRP $32.99 in paperback; 352 pages
ISBN: 9780733633638

Michael Veitch’s previous books include the critically acclaimed accounts of Australian pilots in World War II, HEROES OF THE SKIES, FLY, and FLAK.

This latest book, according to an interview he gave to The Daily Review, was suggested by the son of a pilot in the RAAF 75 Squadron who came up to chat to him after he had given a talk at an RSL club. Veitch knew of the air battle over Port Moresby, but only vaguely. The pilot’s son, Peter Tucker, the son of Arthur Tucker, suggested he write a book on the episode and later presented Veitch with a box of cassette tapes of Arthur talking about his war experiences.

These raw source materials were augmented by Veitch’s discovery of a sound archive at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra that held the accounts of 75 Squadron pilots that had been recorded in the 1980s, allowing him to quote from men who were long dead.

In March and April 1942, RAAF 75 Squadron bravely defended Port Moresby for 44 days when Australia truly stood alone against the Japanese. This group of raw young recruits scrambled ceaselessly in their Kittyhawk fighters to an extraordinary and heroic battle.

The recruits had almost nothing going for them against the Japanese war machine, except for one extraordinary leader named John Jackson, a balding, tubby Queenslander – at 35 possibly the oldest fighter pilot in the world – who said little, led from the front, and who had absolutely no sense of physical fear.

Time and time again this brave group were hurled into battle, against all odds and logic, and succeeded in mauling a far superior enemy – whilst also fighting against the air force hierarchy. After relentless attack, the squadron was almost wiped out by the time relief came, having succeeded in their mission – but also paying a terrible price.

I couldn’t help but notice that one of the pilots who volunteered to remain while others were evacuated as the Japanese fleet headed towards Port Moresby was my namesake Peter Masters. Digressing completely, I’m relieved to know he survived the war and actually, in 1998, wrote his autobiography Born Lucky.  He was the first Australian CEO of the Chrysler Corporation and later Chairman of the Board of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards in South Australia.

Born Lucky, ISBN 9781876070564, is available from this excellent second hand bookshop in Adelaide

Back to 44 Days: This is a book for all those whose passion is military aviation and especially for RAAF stories. No doubt the earlier Michael Veitch books are already on your bookshelf. This one should join them shortly.

For more detailed interviews with Michael Veitch about 44 Days:

The Daily Review: Raymond Gill interviews Michael Vetch LINK HERE


Inside History: There is also a review of 44 Days in Inside History, LINK HERE



History of military detention


Accommodating the King’s Hard Bargain
Military Detention in the Australian Army 1914 – 1947
by Graham Wilson

Published by Big Sky Publishing
Australian Army History Collection

RRP $34.99 in hardback, 496 pages
ISBN 9781925275834

When I picked up this book from my review bookshelf, I couldn’t help but reflect on the disciplinary record of my father Frank during his time in the Army in WWII. From his war record, I know of a couple of times at least when he went AWL – one when he married my mother – and another a telling 9 months before my eldest brother was born.

My father’s indiscretions seemed to elicit nothing more than loss of pay and/or loss of proficiency awards but clearly the Army, over the period, has had to deal with far more serious misdemeanours from those within its ranks.

Graham Wilson, whose previous works include Bully Beef and Balderdash (April 2012) and Dust, Donkeys and Delusions (June 2012) describes the systems of military discipline and illustrates these with individual stories, noting that Australia’s system was very much based on the British system on which our armed forces had been modelled.

World War I was Australia’s first experience of a mass army and the detention experience was complex, encompassing short and long-term detention, from punishment in the field to incarceration in British and Australian military detention facilities.

The World War II experience was similarly complex, with detention facilities in England, Palestine and Malaya, mainland Australia and New Guinea. Eventually the management of army detention would become the purview of an independent, specialist service.

With the end of the war, the army reconsidered detention and, based on lessons learned, established a single ‘corrective establishment’, its emphasis on rehabilitation.

Graham Wilson gives readers the back story of Australia’s colonial regiments and multiple appendices to explain many aspects of military structure.

Discipline is at the very core of successful military forces. It is in pursuit of this war-winning intangible that detention facilities are considered necessary — a necessity that continues in the modern army.

Anzac Day: Then & Now


Anzac Day
Then & Now
Edited by Tom Frame

Published by UNSW Press
RRP $39.99 in paperback
ISBN 9781742234816

Anzac Day, Then and Now, challenges the reader to think again about the origins and purpose of Anzac Day.

A stellar cast of contributors – Peter Stanley, Jeffrey Grey, Carolyn Holbrook, Tom Frame and others – explore the rise of Australia’s unofficial national day.

Does it honour those who died pursuing noble causes in war? Or is it part of a campaign to redeem the savagery associated with armed conflict? Does the annual ritual console loved ones?

Contributors explore the early debate between grieving families and veterans about whether Anzac Day should be commemorated or celebrated, the effect of the Vietnam War, popular culture’s reflection on the day and our political leaders’ increasing profile in public commemorations.

This book is part of a series produced by the Australian Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society (ACSACS), a UNSW Research Centre at ADFA, which has been established to become a focal point for academic research relating to the significant military anniversaries that lie ahead. Anzac Day, as Tom Frame writes, seems to embody a quest for the sanctity that now envelopes ‘the fallen’, whatever the personal failings and frailties of these long dead men.

The discussion will no doubt continue.

SOE: Churchill’s Secret Agents – a little book on a big topic


SOE: Churchill’s Secret Agents
By: Terry Crowdy

Published by Shire Library, part of Bloomsbury UK
Distributed in Australia by Allen & Unwin
RRP $16.99 in paperback
ISBN 9781784420406

I was intrigued when this small volume arrived on my review bookshelf. This is a big topic to be contained in 64 pages.

It turns out that the Shire Library publishes a ‘charming and eclectic range of titles exploring British history and heritage, including the bestselling Bradshaw’s Handbook’.

Bradshaw’s will be familiar to anyone interested in UK and European railway journeys. Michael Portillo, one time UK Secretary of Defence in the Thatcher Government, has made a new career of following in the footsteps of the 19th century Bradshaw with his TV series Great British Railway Journeys and Great Continental Railway Journeys, but I digress.

The first name that springs to mind for any Australian when they see the acronym SOE should be Nancy Wake, who gets a small mention on p.56.

This small volume offers an overview of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) whose mission was to export resistance, subversion and sabotage to occupied Europe and beyond, disrupting the German war effort and building a Secret Army which would work in the shadows to help defeat the Nazis. Potential agents were put through intensive paramilitary and parachute training, then taught how to live clandestinely behind enemy lines, to operate radios and write in secret codes. They lived in constant fear of arrest, and of betrayal by treacherous collaborators.

This book uses rare images from the collections of The National Archives and the Imperial War Museum to illustrate the work of the SOE and some of the clever gadgets they dreamed up.

There is a list of Places to Visit for those interested in the SOE, including the obvious Churchill War Rooms (definitely worth a visit) and Bletchley Park (on the itinerary for my trip next year).


On War: The Battle of Pozieres, talk by Dr Meleah Hampton

National Library of Australia – Sound Cloud
On War: The Battle of Pozieres

I came across this audio link in the latest enewsletter from the National Library and I thought it might be of interest.

In this presentation, Dr Meleah Hampton, Australian War Memorial historian, explores the allied efforts to capture the OG (Old German) trench line near Pozières, France, in 1916. This was among the most costly battles for Australians during the First World War.

This talk was given in association with the Canberra Great War Study Group, the Estaminet


While it hasn’t come on to my review bookshelf, Dr Meleah Hampton is the author of the recently-published book:


Attack on the Somme: 1st ANZAC Corps and the Battle of Pozieres Ridge, 1916.

The book is published by UK publisher Helion & Company
ISBN 9781910777657

You can find details at this link

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