Archive | May 2017

Australian Light Horse: The Campaign in the Middle East, 1916-1918

Australian Light Horse

Australian Light Horse
The Campaign in the Middle East, 1916-1918

By Phillip Bradley
Published By Allen & Unwin
RRP: $39.99 in paperback • ISBN: 9781760111892

This excellent new book covers the operations of the Australian Light Horse and camel troops in the Middle East from early 1916 through to the end of the war.

It does so by looking at the experiences of the men who served, using their own words.

Some 70 diaries or collections of letters have been used to tell their story in the desert campaign while Henry Gullett’s comprehensive official history of the campaign has provided the framework for the narrative.

But for me, the real interest lies in the 186 images taken from the private photo collections of light horsemen that appear in the book.

As Frank Hurley is quoted as saying: ‘The Kodak appears to be part of the equipment of the Light Horse.’

This book has special interest for me too as my grandfather served in the Middle East with the 1st Australian Light Horse. It took him a long time to recover from his injuries, sustained when ordnance exploded in the camp.

Author Phillip Bradley is a noted Australian military historian with many fine books to his credit. Once again, he has produced a highly readable and fascinating account of a significant period in Australia’s military history. 


Passchendaele – Requiem for doomed youth – Paul Ham’s latest book


Requiem for doomed youth

By Paul Ham

Published by William Heinemann
RRP $45.00 in hardcover * ISBN 9781864711448

Officially known as the Third Battle of Ypres, but more commonly known as the Battle of Passchendaele, these epic engagements were fought from July to November 1917 and resulted in unimaginable carnage.

Acclaimed historian Paul Ham has produced a masterful account of the “pointless butchery” that was Passchendaele.

The casualty rates suffered by the British and Dominion troops were truly horrific. 271,600 killed, wounded or missing which included 38,000 Australians. German casualties were lower, totalling 217,000. And yet Ham maintains that these “huge casualties were not some epic blunder; they were expected, they were planned for”.

British Field Marshal Douglas Haig launched his Flanders offensive with a stated aim of smashing through the German defences and capturing the Belgian ports of Ostend and Zeebrugge, thus impeding German submarines from attacking Allied shipping.

But Ham believes that Haig’s real aim was to wear down the enemy in a battle of “attrition, the point of which was to drain German lifeblood, at a higher cost than to their own ranks”.

This is a sobering book, which confirms that the lives of men in the trenches were totally expendable. How sad it is to think that the young Australian men who died at Passchendaele were considered no more than cannon fodder.

Australia’s American Alliance: New book from MUP

Australia's American Alliance

Australia’s American Alliance

Edited By Peter Dean, Stephan Frühling & Brendan Taylor

Published by Melbourne University Publishing
RRP $59.99 in paperback
ISBN: 9780522868616

This book is specifically designed as a companion volume to Australia’s Defence: Towards a New Era?

The Australia-United States Alliance has been critical to Australian foreign and defence policy since the ANZUS Treaty was signed in 1951.

For 63 years it has been an enduring feature of Australian defence planning, yet the contemporary alliance is, arguably, in one of the more important phases of reinterpretation in its long history.

While the Alliance by its very nature is a bi-lateral relationship, this book focuses on Australian perspectives and policy choices, while providing context on the role of the United States in the Asia-Pacific and its position as a global power.

The list of expert contributors to this book is substantial with familiar names such as Kim Beazley among them.

Donald Trump rates little attention beyond his campaign promise to substantially revise the terms of US alliances if allies do not contribute more to their own defence. In the light of his subsequent election as US president, this book may require revision in the near future as analysts come to understand the full implications for the US/Australia Alliance under a Trump presidency.

The Hero Maker: Biography of the Dambusters writer


The Hero Maker: A biography of Paul Brickhill
The Australian behind the legendary stories The Dam Busters, The Great Escape and Reach for the Sky

By Stephen Dando-Collins

Published by Vintage Books
RRP $34.99 in paperback * ISBN 978085798812

I think it is fair to say that Paul Brickhill’s name is not as well known as the stories he penned, among them The Dam Busters, The Great Escape and Reach for the Sky: The story of Douglas Bader.

Yet this remarkable Australian writer should be better known when you consider the movies that emerged from his books have endured across the generations.

Who knew that he was the highest-earning author in the UK of the period?

Yet life for the enigmatic Brickhill was complicated. He was beset with mental-health issues and his marriage to model Margot Slater was tempestuous. He struggled with alcohol and writer’s block too, as his success – and all that accompanied it – threatened to overwhelm him.

In The Hero Maker, award-winning historical author and biographer Stephen Dando-Collins exposes the contradictions of one of Australia’s most successful, but troubled, writers.

Brickhill’s extraordinary story – from the youth with a debilitating stutter to Sydney Sun journalist to Spitfire pilot and POW to feted author – explodes vividly to life on the centenary of his birth.

In fact the story of his life seems the equal in many ways of the blockbusters he created.

Victory at Veillers-Bretonneux: New book from Peter Fitzsimmons


Victory at Villers-Bretonneux
Why a French town will never forget the ANZACS
By Peter Fitzsimons

Published by William Heinemann
RRP $ 49.99 in hard cover   ISBN 9781742759524

After four brutal years, the fate of the Great War hangs in the balance. With the Bolsheviks in power in Russia, German attentions could be transferred to the Western Front. But with America about to enter the war, the Germans realise that their only hope is striking at the Allied lines first.

On the morning of 21 March 1918, the Kaiserschlacht, the Kaiser’s battle, is launched.

Across a 45-mile front, no fewer than two million German soldiers hurl themselves at the Allied lines, with the intention of splitting the British and French forces, and driving all the way through to the town of Villers-Bretonneux.

For nigh on two weeks, the plan works brilliantly. The Germans are able to advance without check. In desperation, the British commander, General Douglas Haig, calls upon the Australian soldiers to stop the German advance and save Villers-Bretonneux. If the Australians can hold this, the very gate to Amiens, then the Germans will not win the war.

The Australians are indeed able to hold off the Germans, launching a vicious counterattack that forces the Germans back the first time.

Victory at Villers-Bretonneux is the final instalment of Peter Fitzsimons’ Great War trilogy. This book, like those before it, is a substantial yet easy read.

Solider Spy: the true story of an MI5 officer


Solider Spy
The true story of an MI5 officer risking his life to save yours
By Tom Marcus

Published by Penguin Random House
RRP $32.99 in hardcover  ISBN 9780718184858

At first glance, Soldier Spy reads like a John Le Carre novel but then you realise this story is real.

Tom Marcus, not his real name for obvious reasons, was an MI5 counter terrorist field operative from 2005 to 2013. He lived in constant fear of being outed.

That he rose to this position is remarkable given that he grew up in abject poverty with no mother and an alcoholic father. His life skills came from living on the streets.

Putting these to good use, he cheated on his final school exams to qualify for the British Army. After a posting in Germany, he was selected for the Special Forces Unit serving in Northern Ireland where he proved to be an effective operator. He was then drafted into MI5.

Ironically his appointment coincided with the terrorist attacks in London. He recounts some of his missions, which took on a heightened sense of danger.

His ability to observe and remember faces proved vital for his work.

But the job extracted a heavy price. A series of incidents convinced him that he was suffering PTSD and needed help. He documents his struggle to adjust to a ‘normal’ life. This is a revealing memoir and one worth reading.

New book from Big Sky: Allenby’s Gunners


Allenby’s Gunners
Artillery in the Sinai & Palestine Campaigns 1916-1918
By Alan H Smith

Published by Big Sky Publishing
RRP $34.99 in hardcover • ISBN 9781925275759

A subject rarely covered because of the obvious emphasis on the Western Front, Alan Smith’s Allenby’s Gunners examines how support was provided by the British Territorial Artillery Units during the Middle East campaigns of 1916-1918 to the British, Australian and New Zealand forces.

During the first 12 months of the campaigns, the Allied forces were outgunned by the increased Turkish artillery and suffered heavy losses. The reconstitution of the Australian and New Zealand forces following Gallipoli had resulted in insufficient artillery being available for the desert campaigns.

But with the appointment of the British General, Edmund Allenby, in June 1917, more resources were allocated via the British artillery and the tide began to turn in favour of the Allies.

Smith records some detail of the various battles which ensued in the campaigns. From Romani and the coast plain, the Palestine desert, Jordan Valley and the Eastern Escarpment to Amman, until the theatre armistice in October 1918.

But it is Allenby’s victor at Megiddo which Smith believes was the outstanding feat of the campaigns. Allenby’s Gunners is a welcome addition to the story of the Australians in the Middle East campaigns of World War I.

Kampong Australia: The RAAF at Butterworth


Kampong Australia
The RAAF at Butterworth

By Mathew Radcliffe
Published by New South
ISBN 9781742235141
RRP $39.99 in paperback

Reviewed by guest reviewer Kelli Jones

I lived in Malaysia from June 1980 until July 1982 because my father was serving in the RAAF at Butterworth. Consequently, I was delighted at the prospect of reading Mathew Radcliffe’s Kampong Australia.

My recollections of my family’s time in Malaysia are based almost entirely on a child’s view and experiences, which include the wonderful RAAF School, playing sports at the RAAF Hostel (‘the Hostie’), swimming at the Penang Swimming Club, eating newly discovered food, and experiencing trishaw rides, Lion Dances and the fascinating Hindu festival of Thaipusam.

Fortunately, Kampong Australia provides a vastly broader insight into the RAAF’s time in Malaysia than I had been aware of. It begins with an explanation of the political and historical reasons for the RAAF’s presence in Malaysia, and moves on to discussions of the relationships between the Australians and the British, who were still in Malaysia when the RAAF first arrived, and Australians and the local people.

Differences in the experiences of single versus married RAAF personnel are also discussed, as are various experiences of RAAF servicemen’s wives (virtually all of the serving RAAF personnel seem to have been men).

While I enjoyed the whole book, I particularly enjoyed the last chapter – Remembering Butterworth. In it, Mathew shares comments from various people who experienced life in Malaysia, as serving members, spouses and children, as provided to him via the questionnaire he distributed to inform his research.

An interesting and highly recommended read for anyone with an interest in RAAF history, and particularly with an interest in the RAAF’s time at Butterworth.

Kelli Jones

Rallying the troops: a World War I commemoration

RTT_Cover Vol 1 copy

Rallying the troops: a World War I commemoration
Edited by Kathie Reith, Alan Rost, Janet Turner, Jackie van Bergen and Dave Wilkins

Published by Ku-ring-gai Historical Society: Gordon, NSW
432 pp; ISBN: 9780959867350; RRP $40.00 Published 2014

Review by guest reviewer Russell Linwood

On turning the cover, this first of four volumes in a series presents the reader with a powerful image.

It is a close-up of a field of bright poppies, and the reader’s eyes are drawn to a solitary poppy in a sea of red. In the prime of its youth, above the others, it stands ready to face the day and what it may bring. And that day, like the humans covered in this marvellous volume, did bring something: unprecedented carnage, now symbolised by the poppies of Belgium and France, among those who answered the call to arms in 1914.

The Ku-ring-gai Historical Society is a band of community historians from northern Sydney. In this series, they have set out to commemorate their neighbourhood’s contribution to World War I. Dedicated to both those who deployed – many never to return – and those who shouldered some of their burdens back home, this first volume examines how prospective soldiers from their area were rallied to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force.

This work’s success is already evident, with published data attracting further input and research.

Volume 1 contains data on almost 530 out of 1750 troops now identified (including at least 24 female nurses) who went to war – an impressive figure from a shire population of only 12,000 at the time. Of these, over 260 perished overseas; 130 were decorated for their service. Today, it is generally held that virtually everyone who made it home was a casualty in one way or the other.

Volume 1 was released to coincide with the centenary of the start of the Great War. It comprises five sections, with six support appendices and a first-rate index. It covers the early years of the war, with biographical entries for those whose family names start with A to F. Follow-on volumes progressively will include the remainder, including those discovered as late as the final volume.

The first four sections provide concise information on life in the pre-war era; memorials (both in Australia and on the battlefields); the historian C. E. W. Bean and the vital role he played; and the early campaigns (German New Guinea, Gallipoli). These sections are written by different contributors and are highly illustrated, well-written and suit both the novice reader and serious researcher alike. A glossary allows the reader to easily understand the acronyms. Follow-on volumes address subsequent periods of the war.

The most remarkable section in this book is the fifth – covering those who enlisted from the Ku-ring-gai area.  Each soldier’s story follows a consistent format. Their military service and next-of-kin are followed by their life story, including location and date of death, and where each is commemorated. The devotion by those who have painstakingly compiled these data is compellingly obvious, with the result a record of a community’s contribution to war that is probably second to none, especially on this scale and at this level of detail. Where one exists, photographs of the service personnel are included.

Technically, the book is a first-class product. Photographs are clear, and the layout bears the hallmark of a designer and a publisher who know how to communicate visually with the reader. Footnotes enable deeper enquiry.

Volume 1 of Rallying the Troops is an incisive and deeply personable publication; even today most Australians can relate to the collective hurt and commitment of this community.

The full set of four volumes should provide a remarkable collection that will deserve a place, not only in every household in Ku-ring-gai, but in all repositories of literary art across the nation. As a community group-effort, this work is a standard setter.

Russell Linwood

This book can be purchased from the Society’s website at

I’m back ….

A quick note to apologise for my lack of effort over the past few months …. having taken four weeks off in March/April to travel overseas, my only excuse is that I just didn’t have time to devote to the blog.

So I will try and catch up with some great titles that have hit in the market in recent months.


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