Archive | June 2017

Badge, Boot, Button: The story of Australian uniforms


Badge, Boot, Button
The story of Australian uniforms

By Craig Wilcox

Published by NLA Publishing
RRP $44.99 in paperback • ISBN 9780642278937

Beautifully illustrated, Badge, Boot, Button traces the evolution of various civilian, corporate, sporting and military uniforms worn in Australia from 1788 through to the present.

Historian, Craig Wilcox, in conjunction with the National Library, has delved deep into the archives to assemble an amazing array of photographs, drawings, posters, postcards and magazines which richly illustrate the changing nature of uniforms.

Our British heritage dictated the first uniforms worn in Australia. The traditional ‘red coats’ were adopted by the Australian Army until common sense prevailed and they were replaced by a uniform more in tune with the new environment. Wilcox also traces the introduction of the slouch hat which was initially seen as resembling a bush hat but eventually won general acceptance.

Nurses, cricketers, surf lifesavers etc, all have been subjected to radical uniform changes. The evolution of tennis uniforms particularly the women’s, has been a revelation clearly illustrating the greater freedom afforded to women in later years. Likewise the uniforms worn by airline flight attendants. When Virgin Australia made the decision to change their business direction, so their uniforms were sharpened to reflect this change.

This is a highly entertaining book with something to capture the interest of the most discerning reader.


Line of Fire: the true story of an Australian woman and her 11 year old son executed as spies in 1942

Line offire

Line of Fire
After Pearl Harbour came Rabaul

By Ian Townsend

Published by Fourth Estate/HarperCollins
RRP $29.99 in paperback • ISBN 9781460750926

Ian Townsend had planned to write a novel about life in 1942 but along the way he stumbled across the tantalizing true story of an Australian woman and her 11 year old son executed as spies in 1942. His book, Line of Fire, is the end result of his journey.

Not long after the attack on Pearl Harbour, the Japanese swept into the strategically important coastal town of Rabaul in the then Australian Territory of New Guinea.

Marjorie Manson, a dressmaker from Adelaide, was living in Rabaul at the time with her son Richard (Dickie). She had left her husband in Adelaide to live with plantation owner Ted Harvey in Rabaul.

When the Japanese invaded, the trio, along with Marjorie’s brother Jimmy and plantation manager Bill Parker fled into the jungle. They were a small part of the 1500 Australian contingent in Rabaul at the time.

Unfortunately they were betrayed. When caught they had in their possession a pistol and a radio. After a three day trial, the five Australians were found guilty of being spies and soon after executed by firing squad.

Townsend has captured the mood of this terrible act in a story that successfully combines fact with fiction.

Australia’s Defence Strategy: Evaluating alternatives for a contested Asia

Australia's Defence Strategy

Australia’s Defence Strategy
Evaluating alternatives for a contested Asia

By Adam Lockyer

Published by Melbourne University Publishing
RRP $59.99 in paperback * ISBN 9780522869316

How would we know a good defence strategy if we saw one? This is one of the first questions Adam Lockyer poses in his book, having first acknowledged that there is no shortage of defence strategy suggestions across the range of Australian defence scholarship.

As he writes, the central aim of his book is to take our knowledge of strategy that final mile and construct a framework that can ‘test’ proposed defence strategies and identify their respective strengths and weakness.

By doing so, this book breaks new theoretical ground and makes an important contribution to our understanding of strategy in general and defence strategy in particular. Lockyer then applies this analytical tool to the leading arguments in Australia’s defence debate and finds that there is still substantial work to be done.

He writes compellingly of his understanding of ‘measures short of war’ that nations use to expand their spheres of influence, stopping short of anything that would prompt a military response.

Lockyer concludes by proposing a new Australian defence strategy for a contested Asia that would pass the test for a ‘good’ defence strategy.

The result is essential reading for anyone interested in strategy or the future of Australian defence policy.

The Battles Before: Case studies of Australian Army leadership after the Vietnam War

Battles Before cover 2

The Battles Before
Case studies of Australian Army leadership after the Vietnam War

Edited by David Connery

Published by Big Sky Publishing
RRP $19.99 in paperback • ISBN 9781925520194

Published as part of the Australian Military History Series, The Battles Before examines the role of our senior Army leaders in preparing the army for war.

David Connery, in his introduction, characterises the work of generals in peacetime as “battles” – whether this be battling for budgets in committee rooms; battling the volume of paperwork; shaping the army’s image in the media or fighting for the acceptance of ideas that may lead to change in the service.

The five case studies cover the period from the early 1970s to 2010 and involve a series of pivotal moments in the history of the Australian Army:

  • the dramatic downsizing that followed the Vietnam War;
  • the 1985 Dibb Review and
  • the build up to the East Timor intervention in 1999.
  • The final chapter focuses on the crucial role of the Army’s leadership in developing the next generation of leaders.

Brigadier Nicholas Jans, in his foreword, highlights the fact that, of the 100 or so Australian officers who achieved the rank of major general since the Vietnam War, only a small number commanded troops on overseas operations, but all of them would have experienced a number of campaigns.

Verdict: Highly recommended for military leadership aspirants.

Soldiers and Gentlemen: Australian Battalion Commanders in the Great War, 1914 -1918

Soldiers & Gentlemen

Soldiers and Gentlemen
Australian Battalion Commanders in the Great War, 1914 -1918

By William Westerman

Published by Cambridge University Press
RRP $59.95 in hardback • ISBN 9781107190627

Published as part of the Australian Army History Series, this book by historian William Westerman examines the background, role and conduct of the Australian infantry battalion commanders of the AIF during the Great War. Despite being a vital position within the AIF hierarchy, their contribution has often been overlooked in Australian histories of the war.

In seeking to redress this oversight, Westerman has identified 183 substantive battalion commanders. Each battalion had on average just over three COs over the period of the war. Though they held positions of power, COs inhabited a leadership no man’s land – they exerted great influence over the units but they were largely excluded from the decision-making process and faced similar risks as junior officers on the battlefield. Yet a soldier’s wellbeing and success in battle was heavily dependent on his CO’s competence.

In examining their stories, Westerman has assessed their ability to exercise command against three criteria: tactical ability, administrative ability and leadership.

His study demonstrates that, by 1918, Australian battalion commanders were largely competent in all three. “Both battalion commanders and the organisation to which they belonged had reached such a level of maturity and proficiency that battlefield success was a realistic expectation,” he writes.

To Paint a War: New book explores the lives of the Australian artists who painted the Great War

To Paint a War 3

To Paint a War
The lives of the Australian artists who painted the Great War, 1914 – 1918

By Richard Travers

Published by Thames & Hudson
RRP $50.00 in hardback • ISBN 9780500500903

Guest reviewer Kylie Leonard

The Great War changed the men who fought and it changed the men who through their paintings and drawings recorded it.

Before 1914 Australian artists were drawn to England and France to prove to their critics their art was worthy of consideration outside Australia.

The men of the Heidelberg School, their wives and lovers enjoyed a bohemian existence on the fringes of the London art world.

At the outbreak of the war most were too old or medically unfit to enlist. Eager to ‘do their bit’ Tom Roberts, George Coates and Arthur Streeton served as wardsmen at a London hospital.

In the early years, the British War Office severely limited access to the front for artists and photographers but eventually attitudes changed.

In May 1917, following Canada’s lead, the Australian War Records Section was formed. Their initial brief was to collect all the written records of the Australian Army. This was later extended to include photographs and war relics.

The first artists arrived in France in September 1917. Travers weaves the history of war, the development of art in the fledging Australian nation and the stories of artists themselves into an engrossing and very readable book. – Kylie Leonard

The Man Who Carried The Nation’s Grief

The Man Who Carried the Nation's Grief

The Man Who Carried The Nation’s Grief

James Malcolm Lean MBE & the Great War Letters

By Carol Rosenhain
Published by Big Sky Publishing

RRP $29.99 in paperback • ISBN 9781925520170

Major James Lean’s work was pivotal to the effective operation of the AIF in the Great War. Lean was in charge of a department commonly known as ‘Base Records’ established soon after the outbreak of war. It was tasked with being the “repository for all the records pertaining to the AIF”. It eventually became the principal point of contact for families seeking news of loved ones killed or missing in action.

It began life with Lean in charge and just two clerks. By the end of 1918, the staff had grown to over 400. At its peak, Base Records was receiving thousands of letters weekly from distressed families.

Lean’s work was all-consuming. He worked daily from 9.00am-10.30pm with an occasional weekend afternoon off.

While Lean did not compose every letter sent, he personally signed each letter once he was satisfied with its content.

The letters selected by Carol Rosenhain for inclusion record the anguish of loss and hardship inflicted on those who remained at home while many of the letters received from men in the trenches document the horror confronting the young soldiers. She believes that Major Lean’s work was extremely important and it’s hard to disagree with this sentiment.

The Lost Diggers: New edition adds to the story

The Lost Diggers

The Lost Diggers

Fully revised and expanded edition
By Ross Coulthart

Published by Harper Collins
RRP $39.99 in paperback • ISBN 9781460752081

First published in 2012 and now released in paperback, this important book is the result of dogged investigations by Ross Coulthart and his fellow reporters at the Channel 7 Sunday Night public affairs program.

They, along with Peter Burgess, an historian at the AWM, investigated and then located, nearly 4,000 glass negative plates which contained images of Australian, New Zealand, British, Canadian, American, Indian, French and other Allied troops relaxing away from the front.

These intimate images were taken by two French photographers, Louis Thuillier and his wife, Antoinette, in the town of Vignacourt. Located in the Somme Valley region, the town had been designated as one of the main rest areas for Allied soldiers and allowed them a brief respite from the carnage of the Western Front.

Normally, expanded and revised editions merely indicate an updated introduction or similar minor updates but the The Lost Diggers updated edition really does deliver on what it promises.

Since the photographs were first discovered and then viewed by millions on a specially created Facebook page, many families have come forward to identify their loved ones.

So in this revised edition, Coulthart has been able to expand on the original information adding details and stories of the identified men.

This beautiful book is a fitting record of the ‘lost diggers’ from the Great War.

Code Breakers: New book explores Australia’s two Bletchley Parks


Code Breakers

Inside the shadow world of signals intelligence in Australia’s two Bletchley Parks

By Craig Collie

Published by Allen & Unwin
RRP $32.99 in paperback • ISBN 9781743312100

Reviewed by guest reviewer Kylie Leonard

For more than 40 years the feats and accomplishments of the men and women of D Section and Central Bureau remained classified. Their roles in cracking Japanese codes and signals was a secret guarded by the Crimes Act following the end of World War II. Craig Collie brings to light the work of these brilliant but eccentric people in a very readable, well written and entertaining, novel style book.

Based in Melbourne’s Albert Park and at Ascot Race Course in Brisbane, teams of cryptographers were drawn from diverse backgrounds, from the military to academia.

Their achievements were often undermined due to personal rivalries, conflicting agendas, and national pride or clouded by so many layers of misdirection that their involvement in the battles of Midway and the Coral Sea, the invasion of the Philippines and the shooting down of Admiral Yamamoto was never acknowledged, the credit for Allied success often being given to others.

Collie has drawn on many sources for this thoroughly researched but highly readable book. The destruction of nearly all of the documents generated by the D Section and Central Bureau and the post war embargo has left gaps in history as the protagonists pass-on and memories fade and become faulty.

“And that’s the paradox of the shadow world of signals intelligence: the work done there can reverse the destiny of armies and nations, yet more often than not, those who do it are lost to history”.

In this book Collie has done much to fill in the gaps and to recognise the crucial roles played by those who worked in the shadows.

Double Diamonds: Australian commandos in the Pacific War, 1941-45


Double Diamonds
Australian commandos in the Pacific War, 1941-45

By Karl James

Published by New South/AWM
RRP $39.99 in paperback • ISBN 9781742234922

Published in association with the Australian War Memorial (AWM), Double Diamonds traces the Australian commandos force from its formation in 1941 through to the end of WWII. Eight independent companies were raised progressively and subsequently involved in arduous campaigns in the mountains and jungles of Borneo, Timor, Bougainville and New Guinea.

Senior Historian at the AWM, Karl James, has used his position to great effect. The images he chose for this book, from the AWM collection, are unique and compelling, some never before published.

The men who volunteered to join the fledging service were drawn from various walks of life but all were attracted by the mystique surrounding the ‘special forces’. They were trained in irregular and guerrilla warfare, demolitions, advanced field craft and signals work. And it was this training that they put to good use when they went into action in the jungles to attack and disrupt the Japanese communication centres and supply routes.

The Double Diamonds, so named for their distinctive double diamond insignia, were critically important in carrying out reconnaissance in enemy territory and gathering vital information on Japanese troop movements.

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