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The Long Road: Australia’s train, advise and assist missions


The Long Road
Australia’s train, advise and assist missions

Edited by Tom Frame
Published by UNSW Press
RRP $39.99 in paperback
ISBN 9781742235080

Helping neighbours and partners stabilise their political systems while working towards peace and prosperity is a core activity for the Australian Defence Force as well as other government departments and agencies.

This book, the outcome of The Long Road: the Future of Indigenous Capability Development conference, hosted by The Australian Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society (ACSACS) and the Defence Science and Technology Group (DST Group) in 2016, analyses Australia’s ‘Train, Advise and Assist’ TAA missions over the past fifty years, including Iraq, Afghanistan, PNG and others.

It offers a comprehensive summary of the Australian experience. The book reflects upon those experiences and suggests way to enhance or improve the conduct of these missions. There is a stellar cast of contributors to the book.

In Chapter 23: Assistance Missions and Contractor Support, Aspen Medical’s Glenn Keys writes about the issues of private contractors supporting defence operations overseas. He calls for specific reforms in relation to service providers attached to deployments. He especially calls for both sides to work together more closely and to focus on collaboration rather than just contract compliance.

Verdict: Essential reading for anyone whose role encompasses the ADF’s future planning.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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