Publishers Penguin Random House have announced that Paul Ham’s book Passchendaele: Requiem for Doomed Youth has won the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.
In making the award, the judges commented that Passchendaele is both a moving examination of the suffering of individuals within this worldwide catastrophe and a skilful exploration of the large-scale political machinations that created it. In his meticulous description of the events and miscalculations that led to its pointless bloodshed, Ham cleverly and subtly reminds us of the continuing relevance of this long-past battle to government decision-making today.
We offer our congratulations to Paul Ham who has become a significant contributor to the Australian military history oeuvre.
About the Prize
The Douglas Stewart Prize ($40,000) is for a prose work other than a work of fiction. Books including biographies, autobiographies and works of history, philosophy and literary criticism may be nominated provided they display literary qualities. Oral histories are ineligible unless the author claims artistic responsibility for the majority of the text. Books compiled by an editor and/or consisting of contributions of more than four writers are not eligible for the Douglas Stewart Prize. An award will not be given for a work consisting principally of photographs or illustrations unless the text is of substantial length and of sufficient merit in its own right. In such cases, no part of the prize money will be paid to the photographer or illustrator. Nominators should be selective about the works entered into this category. Works must be considered literature.
From Bomber Command to the French Resistance
By Michael Veitch
Published by Hachette CLICK HERE TO BUY
RRP $35.00 in paperback | ISBN 9780733637230
Many young Australian men volunteered to serve in Britain’s Bomber Command but not many also fought with the French Resistance. Barney Greatrex was one of the few.
He joined the RAAF and trained as a bomb-aimer before being despatched to England and serving in 61 Squadron, flying Lancaster bombers over Europe.
Good fortune was a commodity needed in spades if one was to survive these frequent bombing raids but Barney’s luck almost ran out on his twentieth mission. His plane was shot down over occupied France but fortunately for Barney, he was able to escape the burning aircraft and parachute to safety. He was the only crew member to survive. He then had a second stroke of luck.
After stumbling through the forest for days, he came across a small village and was taken in by a French family who had connections with the local resistance group. And so began the second part of Barney’s war experiences.
He became a fully paid up member of the French Resistance and was part of the group which greeted the Allies after the landing at Normandy, having evaded capture which would have meant sure death at the hands of the German army.
He was later awarded the French Legion of Honour but kept all this secret until approached by Michael Veitch to tell his story. Veitch is an accomplished storyteller who has brought Barney’s incredible story to life and ensured that his story is known to future generations.
Sadly Barney died on 17 February this year at the grand age of 97. RIP Barney. Lest we forget.
Charles Bean: Man, myth, legacy
By Peter Stanley (editor)
Published by New South Books/UNSW Press
RRP $39.99 in paperback • ISBN 9781742234892
As Australia’s official war correspondent during World War I, Charles Bean shaped Australia’s interpretation of the Great War. He was also the driving force behind the creation of the Australian War Memorial.
This book results from a conference held in July 2016 to examine Charles Bean’s legacy. It includes a stellar cast of Australia’s top military historians – including Peter Stanley, Peter Burness, Michael McKernan, the late Jeffrey Grey, Peter Edwards, David Horner, Peter Rees and Craig Stockings.
An exhibition Charles Bean: Life and Work was mounted at the Australian Defence Force Academy Library to complement the conference. It included, as Peter Stanley notes, family items which revealed facets of Bean’s life and character not easily visible in his official writing.
Bean’s granddaughter Anne Carroll OAM was a co-curator of the exhibition and has written a foreword for this book. In this she reveals that her grandfather had a bullet lodged in his right thigh, fired by a Turkish sniper on 6 August 1915. It was to remain there until his death in 1968. It’s interesting to hear of his social campaigns and his wish to see Australia become a compassionate, educated and healthy nation. It’s sad to know that he developed dementia in his final years, a cruel disease from which no one is immune.
Peter Stanley notes that one of the contributors – Jeffrey Grey – died suddenly just three days before the opening of the conference. His more-or-less finished paper was delivered by Tom Frame but his unexpected death overshadowed the conference.
The holy grail for collectors of Australian military history books is The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914 – 1918 (15 volumes), of which Bean was editor and of which he wrote six.
As this collection demonstrates, Charles Bean is not a footnote to history. He remains an important figure for Australian military historians and those who seek to understand and interpret Australia’s military history.
Examining the man, the myth and his legacy aims to contribute to the scholarship surrounding this most important of observers of Australia’s involvement in the Great War.
Beyond Gallipoli: New Perspectives on ANZAC
Edited by Raelene Frances and Bruce Scates
Published by Monash University Publishing
RRP $34.95 in paperback • ISBN 9781925495102
Some one hundred years after the Gallipoli landings, a cast of the world’s leading Gallipoli scholars gathered on the shores of the Dardanelles to discuss and debate that ill-fated campaign. This book brings together a selection chosen from around 100 papers from half a dozen countries delivered at this event. It approaches old questions in a new way, offering fresh perspectives on the Gallipoli landings.
The collection begins with two essays situating the Gallipoli campaign and challenging popularly accepted narratives of its history. Robin Prior, for example, argues that Gallipoli was an unwinnable battle. The campaign, he concludes, was a folly fought ‘in vain’, notwithstanding the bravery of the men who served there.
A hundred years on, sensitivities remain however. Papers from Turkish academics were withdrawn from the collection when they learned that the word ‘genocide’ would be used in other chapters given that the current Turkish government is keen to silence any discussion of the events of 1915 as ‘genocide’.
Sharon Mascall-Dare and Matthew Ricketson examine the ethics of war reporting within the context of Anzac and the prevalence of cliché in modern reporting.
There is a stellar cast of contributors to this collection beginning with the editors, Raelene Frances (Dean of Arts and Professor of History at Monash University) and Bruce Scates, (professor of History and Australian Studies at Monash). Each has taken a topic and teased out new ideas and insights.
For this reason alone, it is an important collection exploring some of the myths, misconceptions and legacy of Anzac.
As Bill Gammage observes in his essay ‘Anzac Day’s Early Rituals’, ‘no other national day marks so much loss for so little triumph, yet so quickly became a people’s day’.
It’s important to understand how we got to this position and to push back against false memory and distortion.
An elite force, a secret mission, a fleet of Model-T Fords, a far flung corner of WWI
By Barry Stone
Published by Allen & Unwin www.allenandunwin.com
RRP $29.99 in paperback
This is the story of the ‘Dunsterforce’, a secret force of elite solders hand-picked from across the Allied forces and sent to the ethnic powder keg of the Caucasus in 1918 to defend British interests from the Ottomans, Cossacks and Germans.
Little known today, this is an improbable but fascinating story.
‘Dunsterforce’, named for their leader Major General Lionel Dunsterville, matched wits with German spies and assassins. They fought the Turks. They dined with sheiks, outraged local mullahs, forged unlikely alliances with Russian Cossacks, helped Armenians flee genocide, and saved the lives of thousands of starving Persians – their efforts supported by a fleet of 41 Model T Fords.
Author Barry Stone really brings the narrative to life with the stories of individual participants and unlikely heroes.
He gives the reader an insight into what life was like, a century ago, in the Middle East, which was caught up in a battle among the major colonial powers of the day.
It is of course the need to protect British economic interests that lay at the heart of the ‘Secret Army’s’ mission. By then oil was well established as an important economic driver and the control of its supply was vital to western interests.
A hundred years on, nothing has changed.
The Battle of Messines
No.18 in the Australian Army Campaigns series
By Craig Deayton
Published by Big Sky Publishing
RRP $19.99 in paperback
On 7 June 1917, the British Second Army launched its attack on Messines Ridge, detonating 19 giant mines beneath the German front-line positions.
By the end of the day, one of the strongest positions on the Western Front had fallen, a place of such importance that the Germans had pledged to hold it at any cost. It was the greatest British victory in three years of war.
The first two years of the First World War had represented an almost unending catalogue of disaster for the Australians. Messines was not only their first real victory, it was also the first test in senior command for Major General John Monash who commanded the newly formed 3rd Division and would later be hailed as Australia’s greatest soldier.
Messines was a baptism of fire for the 3rd Division which came into the line alongside the battle-scarred 4th Australian Division, badly mauled at Bullecourt just six weeks earlier in one of the worst defeats of the war. The fighting at Messines would descend into unimaginable savagery, a lethal and sometimes hand-to- hand affair of bayonets, clubs, bombs and incessant machine- gun fire, described by one Australian as ‘72 hours of Hell’. After their string of bloody defeats over 1915 and 1916, Messines would be the ultimate test for the Australians.
This book is part of the Campaign series begun in 2004 to promote the study and understanding of military history within the Australian Army. Its aim is to focus on leadership, command, strategy, tactics, lessons and personal experiences of war.
The Light Horsemen’s own story, battle by battle
By Jonathan King
Published by Scribe
RRP $39.99 in paperback
Palestine Diaries is the third instalment of Jonathan King’s World War I trilogy following on from his previously published Gallipoli Diaries and the Western Front Diaries.
The story of the Light Horsemen begins ironically at Gallipoli in 1915 where the men were engaged fighting the Turks but without the use of their horses. Their time would come after the withdrawal from Gallipoli.
Much has been written about the legendary charge at Beersheba in late 1917 which resulted in the capture of the town of Gaza but very little about the battles that preceded this historic event.
In fact the Allies had previously attacked Gaza in March 1917 but because of the complete breakdown in communications between the British and Anzac commanders, the attack faltered and then ultimately failed. The Allies tried again in April 1917 but were once again repelled, this time in large part because of dubious tactics employed by LTGEN Sir Charles Dobell.
A change in leadership by Britain resulted in General Sir Edmund Allenby taking over as commander-in-chief of the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force. Allenby was a more astute commander and his tactics for the Allies’ third attempt to capture Gaza proved successful. The Australian Light Horse led by LTGEN Harry Chauvel played a crucial part in this victory.
The greatest strength of this book lies with the direct quotations from the men involved, which lends a sense of immediacy to the narrative. Among the diaries quoted one belonged to the famous Australian author Ion L Idriess.
And let’s not forget a major character in the whole drama – T E Lawrence (of Lawrence of Arabia) fame. He promised the Arabs that a defeat of the Turks would lead to the creation of an Arab state. This promise was never fulfilled and there are many historians who point to this failure as a root cause of a lot of the problems we see in the Middle East to this day.
Any reader familiar with Jonathan King’s work will know that he a has a strong pro-Australian bias which sometimes seems overdone. Nevertheless I am sure readers will welcome this third instalment of his work on Australia’s involvement in World War I. This is clearly a labour of love from a man who is determined to honour the Anzacs.
Australia’s War with France
The campaign in Syria and Lebanon, 1941
By Richard James
Published by Big Sky Publishing
RRP $29.99 in paperback • ISBN 9781925520927
I must confess to having little knowledge of this campaign and judging from the remarks by the author, I’m not alone.
Australia and France were allies at the commencement of the Second World War but this changed somewhat after the Germans overran France. The new French Government, installed at Vichy, was answerable to Adolf Hitler.
Richard James travelled to Lebanon to discover why Australian troops from the 7th Division were engaged in a campaign in Lebanon and Syria against French Vichy troops.
Britain’s Winston Churchill was deeply concerned that Syria and Lebanon, still under the control of the French Vichy government, could soon fall into the hands of the Germans.
Urged on by the Free French leader Charles de Gaulle, British General Archibald Wavell was instructed to bring a swift resolution to the situation. Wavell’s forces were fully stretched at the time and so he turned to the Australian 7th Division to assist his British troops.
Unfortunately, nobody told the French Vichy troops and the Australians were soon involved in a bitter struggle against an army from a country they had helped defend only a generation earlier.
My father’s war records showed that he spent some time in Syria and Lebanon in mid 1941 and I had often wondered why. This intriguing and well researched book by Richard James now provides me with some answers. This is a very well written history of a little-known and overlooked conflict.
Ethics Under Fire: Challenges for the Australian Army
By Tom Frame, Albert Palazzo
Published by UNSW Press
RRP $39.99 in paperback • ISBN 9781742235493
This book is part of a series produced by the Australian Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society (ACSACS) – a UNSW Canberra Research Centre at ADFA with the expectation that titles will become standard reference works. It has a distinguished list of contributors. It aims to ask questions and raise issues that the Australian Army cannot ignore.
As Tom Frame puts it bluntly, the ‘decision to kill people and to destroy their homes demands a compelling and convincing explanation’ and yet he contends that even now, he is still not convinced that recruits or officer trainees are given an adequate grounding in the whole ethics enterprise.
Beginning with ‘Why Ethics Matter’, the book covers a range of topics including
- ethics in multi-national peacekeeping;
- ethics in special operations;
- operating within an NGO;
- the ethics of tactics and
- the future battle space.
If it raises more questions than it answers, that may be regarded as a success for most importantly it aims to promote discussion and debate on this important topic.