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Peter Stanley’s The Crying Years: Australia’s Great War


The Crying Years

Australia’s Great War

By Peter Stanley
Published by NLA Publishing
RRP $44.99 in paperback
ISBN 9780642279057

Not your usual examination of the Great War. Historian Peter Stanley collaborated with the National Library (NLA) to access elements of their collection from that period in time. Stanley believes that the Great War was much more than just the battles at Gallipoli or the Western Front and had far reaching effects on all Australians.

In this interview, published on the National Library’s website, Peter Stanley describes the birth of this book and the pleasure he found in researching little used archives of the National Library. LINK HERE FOR THE INTERVIEW.

Stanley believes that the material he has chosen illustrates that “the Great War meant many things for Australians: triumph and tragedy, unity and division, success and failure, loyalty and disloyalty, idealism, pragmatism, opportunism, principle, creative endeavour and many other aspects of humanity that emerge under the stress of extreme experience”.

Using a broad range of items from the NLA’s collection (cartoons, posters, photographs, leaflets, newspaper items etc), Stanley has woven a fascinating narrative around these images. The images illustrate how divided Australia became as the war progressed. He connects the war overseas (battles at Gallipoli, Fromelles, Passchendaele etc) with the equally bitter war at home over the referendum on conscription. The war “killed at least 60.000 men directly … and ruined the health and happiness of many more and brought division and bitterness lasting decades”.

This is a beautifully constructed book, written with sensitivity and accompanied by wonderful imagery.


Defusing IEDs: Painting the Sand


Painting the Sand
One man’s fight against the Taliban bomb-makers of Helmand

By Kim Hughes GC
Published by Simon & Schuster
RRP $32.99 in paperback
ISBN 9781471156717

I still remember enjoying the British TV series “Danger UXB” which followed the trials and tribulations of a team of British servicemen whose job it was to defuse unexploded ordnance in London during the Second World War. Well, fast forward to 2009 and in real life we have a British team of bomb disposal operators serving in Afghanistan, whose job was to defuse IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices).

And one of the experts in this field was Warrant Office Class 1 Kim Hughes, who, during a six month tour of duty in Helmand province, defused 119 IEDs despite, on many occasions, being subjected to Taliban ambushes.

The title of this book is apt as the humble paintbrush is a bomb disposal operators most treasured possessions. The paintbrush, used to dust the sand and grit off the IEDs, is described by Hughes as “a fundamental piece of our equipment in Afghanistan”.

But his most arduous day was 16 August 2009 when his team was called upon to clear a minefield where men lay dying.

He dismantled seven IEDs with his bare hands and, for his service and bravery that day, was awarded the George Cross Medal and his actions were described as “the single most outstanding act of explosive ordnance disposal ever recorded in Afghanistan”.

A truly amazing story of bravery and courage.



The Killing School
Inside the world’s deadliest sniper program

By Brandon Webb
Published by Quercus. Distributed by Hachette Australia
RRP $32.99 in paperback
ISBN 9781786487513

Brandon Webb, a SEAL sniper and combat veteran, was tasked with revamping the US Naval Special Warfare (SEAL) Scout/Sniper School, incorporating the latest advances in technology to create an entirely new course. In this absorbing book, Webb takes readers through every aspect of the elite training.

But don’t be lulled into thinking this is just another dry instructional manual. Webb’s opening sentence reads: “I have an unusual relationship with death … For me, the face of death is as familiar as the barista at my local coffee shop”. And this sets the stage for a journey following four elite special operation snipers as they move from childhood to battlefield missions, incorporating these techniques developed by Webb.

Webb uses the experiences of Rob Furlong, Jason Delgado and Nick Irving, all experts in their field, to illustrate how this training plays out in real-life combat. Irving, a US Army Ranger, is credited with 33 kills in a single three month tour in Afghanistan. Webb uses this statistic to reinforce his belief in the value of the elite sniper, “a single sniper can sow confusion and insecurity in the minds of thousands of enemy troops”.

The Killing School is a very revealing book.

Revised edition: the story of HMAS Diamantina


HMAS Diamantina
Australia’s Last River Class Frigate, 1945 -1980

By Peter Nunan
Published by Boolarong Press  BUY HERE
RRP $29.99 in paperback
ISBN 9781925522358

First published in 2005, this revised edition traces the voyage of HMAS Diamantina from its commissioning in 1945 through to its decommissioning in 1980 and subsequent return to Queensland where it is on permanent display at the Queensland Maritime Museum in Brisbane. Diamantina is Australia’s largest surviving World War II warship and the last of the world’s steam driven River Class frigates.

Although commissioned not long before the end of the war, Diamantina saw active service, providing fire support to the Army on Bougainville from mid-1945, and is believed to have fired the RAN’s last shots of World War II. She also carried the Japanese high command to surrender at Torokina and hosted the signing of surrender documents for Nauru and Ocean Islands. After the war, Diamantina was recommissioned as an oceanographic research vessel undertaking tasks in the Indian, Pacific and Southern Oceans. Along with her sister ship, HMAS Gascoyne, she was instrumental in discovering the greatest depth then recorded in the Indian Ocean.

If you have a family member with connections to this historic ship, the book would be a marvellous Christmas Present.

Last Hope Island – Britain, occupied Europe, and the brotherhood that helped turn the tide of war


Last Hope Island

Britain, occupied Europe, and the brotherhood that helped turn the tide of war.

By Lynne Olson
Published by Scribe
RRP $49.99 in hardcover • ISBN 9781925322088

When the German war machine rolled through continental Europe in the early days of the Second World War the leaders of many of these countries fled to London and the city became their refuge and seat of government in exile.

Kings, Queens, Presidents and government officials of Belgium, Holland, Norway, Poland, Luxembourg and Czechoslovakia all retreated to England and in due course, many of their servicemen and women also gravitated to Britain. By 1940, over 100,000 European exiles were residing in London.

The Poles and the Czechs in particular, played a vital role in the air war over Britain, despite an initial resistance from the RAF hierarchy. Additionally, more than 1200 merchant ships (and their crews) from Norway were rescued from the clutches of the Germans, leased to Britain and along with some 600 Dutch ships, helped keep the crucial Atlantic lifeline with America open.

Lynne Olson writes fondly of Holland’s feisty Queen Wilhelmina and her often outspoken broadcasts to her enslaved people.

France’s General Charles de Gaulle however, is not viewed in such a favourable light, being seen as aloof and having “the character of a stubborn pig”.

Olson has produced a lively account of life in war-torn London.

Jewish Anzacs – Jews in the Australian Military


Jewish Anzacs
Jews in the Australian Military

By Mark Dapin
Published by New South – link to buy book
RRP $39.99 in hardcover • ISBN 9781742235356

More than 7,000 Jews have fought in Australia’s military conflicts, including more than 340 who gave their lives. And yet despite their eagerness to serve, Jewish Australian soldiers have been subjected to prejudices which questioned their willingness to fight as well as their loyalty to the flag.

In this extensively researched book, Mark Dapin records that at least 84 Australian Jews volunteered to fight in the Second Boer War in South Africa with five making the ultimate sacrifice.

The First World War brought Colonel John Monash into the public spotlight when he was chosen to lead the 4th Infantry Brigade to Gallipoli. After serving with distinction at Gallipoli and on the Western Front, he was recognised by the British High Command and in June 1918 he was appointed to the newly created position of Commander of the Australian Army Corps.

Not that Monash was alone among Jews in fighting for Australia. Many Jewish soldiers made significant contributions in both World Wars.

Leonard Keyser, the first Australian Jew to receive the Victoria Cross for his gallantry at the Battle of Lone Pine; Major Eliazar Margolin, awarded the DSO at Gallipoli was renowned for his courage under fire and Peter Isaacson who flew 45 missions with Bomber Command and was awarded the DFC after an air raid on Berlin.

And lastly, or actually first – as Dapin writes about this tragedy in his prologue – we hear about the death of Gregory Sher, an SAS soldier, in Afghanistan in 2009.

Dapin’s book is one that the Jewish community can read with pride.

Kokoda – Beyond the Legend


Beyond the Legend

Editor: Karl James, Australian War Memorial

Published by Cambridge University Press
RRP $71.95 in hardback • ISBN 9781107189713

It’s an understatement to say that this book brings together leading historians to re-examine the Kokoda campaign – the contributors acknowledgement reads like a who’s who of military history:

  • Antony Beevor,
  • Phillip Bradley
  • Peter Dean,
  • David Horner and
  • Karl James

to name but a few. The chapters in this edited volume were first presented at the international conference Kokoda: Beyond the Legend convened at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, in September 2012, to mark the seventieth anniversary of the campaign.

Over the years, the story of Kokoda has been told and retold but these popular narratives rarely explore beyond this one campaign.

This book, however, critically assesses not only the campaigns in Papua and their context in the wider lengthy Pacific war, but also the actions of senior Australian, American and Japanese military leaders.

Moving beyond the popular legend, this book addresses the central question of why Kokoda holds such a significant place in Australian military history.

In this book, the stellar cast of eminent military scholars reassesses the principal battles from both Allied and Japanese perspectives, providing readers with a more complete understanding of one of the major turning points in the Second World War.

More on ‘Scorched Earth’: link to author site

Screen Shot 2017-08-29 at 11.20.05 AM

I thought readers might be interested in this link to Sue Rosen’s website – with some interesting material on her new book ‘Scorched Earth’:

What is fascinating about this book is that, in reproducing the actual documents, it captures the language and thinking of the government planners of the day. It demonstrates just how seriously the threat was viewed.

With the benefit of hindsight, modern historians have re-interpreted history, downplaying the likelihood of a Japanese invasion, suggesting there was an uninformed hysteria among the general population.

A full scale attack may seem improbable now but for those caught up in it, including my late mother who remembered clearly the Japanese submarine attack on Sydney Habour, the threat was very real and of great concern.




Scorched Earth – Australia’s secret plan for total war under Japanese invasion in WW II (including smash your vacuum cleaner)


Scorched Earth

Australia’s secret plan for total war under Japanese invasion in World War II

Edited by Sue Rosen
Published by Allen & Unwin
RRP $32.99 in paperback • ISBN 9781925575149

Hidden for 75 years, the top-secret government documents outlining preparations for a Japanese invasion of Australia in 1942 have finally been discovered.

Only a few copies of these plans were ever produced. Heritage consultant and author Sue Rosen came across them unexpectedly in government archives when researching an unrelated topic.

The Forestry Commission file she unearthed – Wartime Activities of the Forestry Commission – revealed the plans for implementing in New South Wales the ‘scorched earth’ policy adopted in 1942 by the Curtin Government.

Rosen has reproduced the documents following a timeline that begins in late 1941 with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour and ends with the 11 June 1943 announcement by Prime Minister John Curtin that Australia is no longer at risk of invasion.

Rosen prefaces each chapter with a short introduction. The original documents have been retyped to make them legible but retain the layout and style of the original.

The detail of these plans is eye watering including what to do with vehicles without petrol, a direction that motors of vacuum cleaners be smashed and wireless valves destroyed.

Altogether the plans reveal the lengths to which Australia would go to thwart a Japanese invasion.

1941 – Fighting the Shadow War: How Britain and America came together for victory



Fighting the Shadow War: How Britain and America came together for Victory

By Marc Wortman
Published by Atlantic Books
RRP $39.99 in hardback
ISBN 9781786491152

Reviewed by guest reviewer Kylie Leonard

Long before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States of America was already at war.

Through the astute and possibly constitutionally questionable leadership of President Roosevelt the USA waged a clandestine war against Nazi sympathisers, German and Japanese spies on home soil and in South America.

FDR was forced to be creative with his assistance to the Allied forces to avoid breaking the Neutrality Acts while contending with growing isolationism and anti-Semitism.

“Unsure which way to turn, a divided America stumbled, argued, and fought, while searching for its place in a world at war.”

With the appalling loss of life and huge monetary cost experienced during the Great War many in the American power structure were vehemently opposed to involving the USA in another global conflict. Others, however, saw supporting England and her allies as the only way to stop Hitler’s advance towards the US.

In 1941: Fighting the Shadow War Marc Wortman investigates the period from the start of World War 2 to the bombing of Pearl Harbour.

This is a highly entertaining and very readable book, which weaves the stories of ordinary people with the machinations of those in power. – Kylie Leonard

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