Archive | July 2017

Re-published: Ray Ollis’s 101 nights – for Bomber Command enthusiasts


101 Nights

By Ray Ollis; Edited by Robert Brokenmouth

Published by Wakefield Press
$29.95 in paperback
ISBN 9781743054055


ABOUT THE BOOK: The bombing campaign to destroy Hitler’s Nazi Germany was waged by Allied flyers from not only England and the US, but also with many Australian men like Ray Ollis. Flying as a navigator, Ray was assigned to 101 Squadron operating the famed Lancaster bomber, fitted with the latest electronic warfare measures. This book – Ray Ollis’s lightly fictionalised record of his own experiences flying over the heart of Germany at night – provides a gripping account of this critical phase of history.

This book was first published in 1957. In this 2016 edition, editor Robert Brokenmouth discovered that, despite its official status as ‘fiction’, this book had found its way into the collections of several Bomber Command veterans.

As Brokenmouth says, ‘here was a novel written by a veteran unable, at the time, to describe his actual experiences. Fiction allowed Ray Ollis to tell his story in a way that non-fiction would not, could not allow.’

According to Brokenmouth, ‘there are so many things in 101 Nights which are described, as near as my research can tell, very accurately indeed, one is drawn to the conclusion that 101 Nights is less fiction than a sort of ‘fictionalized memoir’.’

What readers of the new edition will find helpful are the extensive notes and glossary which provide important background to many aspects of the book. These notes are intended, I believe, to give readers unfamiliar with the Bomber Command role and activities important information that will enhance their understanding of the story.

I know there will be many readers delighted to know that this long out of print book is available once again.



New Books Roundup: Australia’s first military pilot, contemporary war reporting and an orphan of the First World War

Just trying to catch up on my book review bookshelf before it gets completely out of hand. Here are three recent titles that were in danger of getting overlooked, but shouldn’t be.


The High Life of Oswald Watt
Australia’s First Military Pilot

by Chris Clark
Published by & available from Big Sky Publishing
ISBN: 9781925275797 • $29.99 in paperback

This book has a well-credentialed author. Chris Clark graduated from the Royal Military College 1972 and served in the Australian Army Intelligence Corps until 1979. He then worked in various Commonwealth departments before completing a PhD at the Australian Defence Force Academy. From 2004, until he retired nine years later, he was RAAF Historian and Head of the Office of Air Force History.

Variously described as the ‘Father of the Flying Corps’ and ‘Father of Australian Aviation’, Oswald (“Toby”) Watt died in tragic circumstances shortly after the end of the First World War. He had become the Australian Army’s first qualified pilot in 1911, but spent the first 18 months of the war with the French Air Service, the Aéronautique Militaire, before arranging a rare transfer to the Australian Imperial Force. Already an experienced combat pilot, he rose quickly through the ranks of the Australian Flying Corps, becoming a squadron leader and leading his unit at the battle of Cambrai, then commander of No 1 Training Wing with the senior AFC rank of lieutenant colonel.

This extensively researched book attempts to establish the true story of Watt’s life and achievements, and provide a proper basis for evaluating his place in Australian history.

Note: It was fascinating to learn that one of the most recent recipients of the Oswald Watt Gold Medal awarded for “A most brilliant performance in the air or the most notable contribution to aviation by an Australian or in Australia” was Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston (ret’d) for his leadership in directing the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 as well as his work to recover Australian passenger remains from MH17 shot down over Ukraine.


Young Digger

By  Anthony Hill
Published by Viking/Penguin Books
$29.99 in paperback • ISBN 9780670079292  BUY HERE

The book was first published in 2002. As Anthony Hill writes in his introduction, he was touched by the heartfelt response to the first edition, which brought forward new sources of information. A Melbourne reader found old photographs in his late father’s album, one of which has been reproduced on the cover of this new edition.

A small boy, an orphan of the First World War, wanders into the Australian airmen’s mess in Germany, on Christmas Day in 1918. A strange boy, with an uncertain past, he became a mascot for the air squadron and was affectionately named ‘Young Digger’. This solitary boy was smuggled back to Australia by air mechanic Tim Tovell, a man who cared for the boy so much that he was determined, however risky, to provide Young Digger with a new family and a new life in a new country, far from home.

There is sadly no happy ending of a long, well lived life for Young Digger but this is nonetheless a heartwarming story of love and commitment.

Hack in a Flak Jacket

Wars, Riots and Revolutions – Dispatches from a Foreign Correspondent

Peter Stefanovic
Published by Hachette  BUY HERE
$29.99 in paperback • ISBN 9780733638787

We tend to take reporting from contemporary war zones for granted as the images appear on our nightly news bulletins, beamed into our safe and peaceful homes in Australia. But it’s worthwhile taking a pause to understand the lengths to which foreign correspondents must go to bring us those stories.

For almost ten years Peter Stefanovic was Channel Nine’s foreign correspondent in Europe, the US, Africa and the Middle East. During that time he witnessed more than his fair share of death and destruction, and carried the burden of those images – all while putting his own personal safety very much in the firing line.

This is a thrilling and revealing account of a life lived on camera, delivering the news wherever it happens, whatever the risk.

Exhibition: Nerves and Steel: The Royal Australian Navy in the Pacific 1941-45


The Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne, is pleased to announce the opening of Nerves and Steel: The Royal Australian Navy in the Pacific 1941- 45. This special exhibition will be launched on Friday 21 July, 3pm by Rear Admiral Guy Griffiths AO DSO DSC. It will be located in South Gallery within the Galleries of Remembrance and will open to the public at 10am on Saturday 22 July, 2017.

The exhibition explores the role played by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) in the ultimate Allied victory of the Second World War (1939-45). Specifically, it celebrates the achievements of RAN sailors between December 1941 and September 1945.

The war in the Pacific was essentially a naval struggle. Allied war aims hinged on the destruction of Japan’s powerful navy and the severing of sea communications between Japan and its far-flung Asian and Pacific conquests. The major actors in history’s greatest naval conflict were the immense fleets of Japan and the United States but the RAN played a significant and active role.

Features of the exhibition include

  • paintings on loan from the Australian War Memorial,
  • original memorabilia from the Shrine collection;
  • the RAN Heritage Collection; and
  • living Second World War veterans—HMAS Perthsurvivor, David Manning, and former corvette gunnery officer James Paizis. Both veterans will be attending the launch of the exhibition.

The Shrine of Remembrance will also be holding a panel discussion Words from Our Navy Veterans on Wednesday 9 August, 12pm where the last surviving Second World War navy veterans Jim Paizis, David Manning, Norm Tame, Hiram Ristrom, Ray Leonard and Pamela Nicholls of the WRANS recount tales from their service.

Forthcoming event: The DDGs in Vietnam & Lessons for the RAN

HMAS Brisbane

DDG HMAS Brisbane

Seminar: The DDGs in Vietnam & Lessons for the RAN Seminar

Date & Time:  Thursday 17 August 2017, 1.00pm to 5.00pm

Where:  UNSW Canberra at ADFA, LT12, Building 32, Northcott Drive, Campell, ACT

Marking the 50th anniversary of the RAN involvement in the Vietnam War, the Naval Studies Group of the Australian Centre for Armed Conflict and Society will hold two seminars – the first is ‘The DDGs in Vietnam & Lessons for the RAN’ to be held at UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy on Thursday 17 August 2017. The second will be the RAN Helicopter Flight in Vietnam in October 2017.

Just two years after the first of three Charles F. Adams class guided missile destroyers (DDGs) entered service in the RAN, HMAS Hobart sailed for the Vietnam War. This seminar examines the impact of the DDGs on the RAN, their role in the Vietnam War, logistics and technical issues as well as the human dimension. The papers will be presented by a distinguished array of speakers, including five admirals with a deep understanding of the destroyers service in the Vietnam War.

Further Information:

Dr Rita Parker
Tel 02 6268 8906
Australian Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society,
University of NSW, Canberra


Registration is free.


The Shadow Men: The leaders who shaped the Australian Army from the Veldt to Vietnam


The Shadow Men
The leaders who shaped the Australian Army from the Veldt to Vietnam

Edited by Craig Stockings & John Connor

Published by New South
RRP $34.99 in paperback • ISBN 9781742234748

Many Australians would be aware that Monash and Blamey were important Army Generals in the First and Second World Wars but there were many such influential leaders who served this country with distinction but were unknown to all but the historians.

Some did their work behind the scenes while others were once important figures but have been forgotten in the mist of time. The title of this book is thus quite apt because the men chosen for this study have truly become the shadow men.

Craig Stockings and John Connor have assembled a stellar cast of contributors, which includes the late Jeffrey Grey, to review the ten chosen leaders. These men range from Australia’s earliest army leader and this country’s only General Officer Commanding, Major-General Edward ‘Curley’ Hutton, up to the man who managed the army’s withdrawal from Vietnam, and then guided the army “through an intense period of reorganisation”, Lieutenant-General Mervyn Brogan.

In his introduction, John Connor writes that “The shadow Men aims to bring back to light ten men who played key roles in shaping and moulding the Australian Army”.

By any measurement I believe this book achieves its aim.

Video Presentation: The Battle of the Coral Sea

For the interest of readers of this blog, I’ve provided a link to the presentation given to the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies NSW in a June 2017 Lunchtime Lecture commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea

Link here

This is one of the conflicts that saved Australia in World War 2. The presentation was given by Lieutenant Colonel Peter Sweeney RFD (Ret’d) whose father served on HMAS Hobart.

Sword and Baton: Senior Australian Army Officers from Federation to 2001


Sword and Baton
Senior Australian Army Officers from Federation to 2001

Volume 1: Federation – 1939

By Justin Chadwick

Published by Big Sky Publishing
RRP $34.99 in hardcover • ISBN 9781925520309

Sword and Baton is the first comprehensive review of Australia’s senior army officers (senior being those who attained the rank of Major General) from federation until the outbreak of the Second World War.

Assembled in alphabetical order, the biographical collection numbers 86 and includes chaplains-general, surgeons-general and British army officers who served with the Australian army either with the AIF or the Permanent Forces.

With federation in 1901 came the transfer of responsibility for the military forces from the colonies to the Commonwealth. Englishman, Sir Edward Hutton was appointed to the position of General Officer Commanding, tasked with structuring a federal military force from the disparate pre-Federation militia.

Chadwick’s portrayal of these 86 officers covers a time of great change within the Australian Army. Following the establishment of the Australian Military Force, greater emphasis was given to the development of military skills which ensured that by the commencement of hostilities in 1914, Australia boasted a pool of well-trained, albeit inexperienced officers. And by the conclusion of the First World War, Chadwick believes that “the Australian army boasted some of the best officers in the Allied Forces”.

While this book does not seek to provide definitive biographies it is still an important addition to Australian Military history studies.

The Battles of Bullecourt – 1917: a slaughterhouse of Australian soldiers


The Battles of Bullecourt – 1917

By David Coombes

Published by Big Sky Publishing
RRP $19.99 in paperback • ISBN 9781925520248

“Bullecourt became a virtual slaughterhouse for Australian soldiers”.

Published as part of the Australian Army Campaign Series, this book published on behalf of the Army History Unit, examines the two battles of Bullecourt, fought in April and May 1917.

Historian David Coombes sets the scene for his examination by describing the appalling conditions which confronted the Australians from November 1916 to February 1917. France endured its worst winter in 36 years and many Australian troops suffered accordingly and took no further part in the war.

The first battle commenced on 11 April and despite the failure of recently introduced and much vaunted tanks, and the lack of artillery support, two brigades from the 4th Australian Division captured parts of the impregnable Hindenberg line. However the German counter-attacks soon forced the Australians to withdraw.

The second battle raged over two weeks and was initially supported by preliminary artillery barrage. The end result was the capture of parts of the German trenches which were then held against countless German counter-attacks. The casualties from this battle amounted to just under 7500 and prompted Coombes to conclude that “Bullecourt became a virtual slaughterhouse for Australian soldiers”.

While Douglas Haig considered the capture of Bullecourt “among the great achievements of the war”, Coombes is of the opinion that “… large numbers of Australian and British soldiers were killed or wounded for the capture of a village which, even at the time of the second attack, held no strategic or tactical value whatsoever.

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