Books catch up: Stealth Raiders, more myths of the AIF and the military & tropical medicine


Stealth Raiders
A few daring men in 1918

By Lucas Jordan
Published by Vintage
RRP $34.99 in paperback
ISBN 9780143786634

This book is adapted from Lucas Jordan’s PhD thesis, supervised by award-winning historians Professor Bill Gammage (ANU) and Dr Peter Stanley (UNSW), both of whom will be familiar names to readers of Australian history, military and non military.

This book tracks stealth raids, their evolution and their extreme effectiveness which turned the tide of battle on a number of occasions. They were a distinctly Australian phenomenon which relied on the bush skills and bush ‘ethos’ for success.

In 1918 a few daring low-ranking Australian infantrymen, alone among all the armies on the Western Front, initiated stealth raids without orders. These stealth raiders killed Germans, captured prisoners and advanced the line, sometimes by thousands of yards. They were held in high regard by other men of the lower ranks and were feared by the Germans facing them. Using their firsthand accounts, as well as official archives and private records, Lucas Jordan pieces their stories together.

The last word on this book should go to Bill Gammage: ‘Depressingly often we see books promoted as “the forgotten story” or “the untold story” yet Stealth Raiders tells such a story, of a few daring Australian infantry who . . . so demoralised their opponents that they feared to enter the line against them’.


Lessons Learned
The Australian Military & Tropical Medicine

By Geoffrey Grant Quail
Published by Big Sky Publishing
RRP $34.99 in hard cover
ISBN 9781925520224

Geoffrey Grant Quail is certainly well qualified to write this book. In 2014 he was awarded a PhD from the University of Melbourne for his work on tropical disease and the Australian military. For many years, he was a senior consultant and Unit Head at Monash Medical Centre and held academic appointments at Melbourne and Monash universities for over fifty years. In 2014 he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for services to Medical Education.

This book recognizes the efforts of both individuals and the Army’s Tropical Disease Research units since Federation in helping the Army succeed in the battle against tropical diseases. He urges governments to be cognizant of the past and appreciate the need for continuing army medical research so that the welfare of troops sent on deployment in the tropics is preserved and not seriously affected by familiar and emerging diseases.

My own late father could attest to the impacts of malaria (which he caught in New Guinea during WWII). A very debilitating disease.


Bully Beef & Balderdash Vol II
More myths of the AIF examined and debunked

By Graham Wilson
Published by Big Sky Publishing
RRP $34.99 in hard cover
ISBN 9781925520323

The late Graham Wilson delighted in his self-appointed role as the AIF’s myth buster. Sadly he passed away on 17 April 2016 after battling pancreatic cancer for some years.

In this, his second and final volume of Bully Beef and Balderdash, he tackles another eight popularly accepted myths, exposing the ‘Water Wizard’ of Gallipoli who saved an army, dismissing the old adage that the ‘lions of the AIF’ were led by British ‘donkeys’, debunking the Gallipoli legends of the lost sword of Eureka and ‘Abdul the Terrible’, the Sultan’s champion marksman sent to dispose of AIF sniper Billy Sing, and unravelling a series of other long-standing fictions.

Finally, he turns his formidable forensic mind to the ‘lost’ seven minutes at The Nek, the early cessation of the artillery barrage which led to the slaughter of the Light Horsemen immortalised in Peter Weir’s film Gallipoli.

Wilson’s crusade to debunk such celebrated fictions was born of the conviction that these myths do very real damage to the history of the AIF. To demythologise this nation’s Great War military history, he argues, is to encourage Australians to view the AIF’s record on its own merits.

This book is a tribute to Graham Wilson’s extraordinary passion for truth and fact and his drive to set the historical record straight.


Hero or Deserter? New book examines Gordon Bennett and the defeat of Singapore


Hero or Deserter?

Gordon Bennett and the Tragic Defeat of the 8th Division

By Roger Maynard

Published by Ebury Press; Dist. By Penguin Random House

RRP $ 34.99 in paperback

ISBN 9780143783923

On 15th February 1942, senior officers of the Allied forces in Singapore agreed to a ceasefire with the Japanese.

After little more than 70 days of warfare the Allied forces were faced with the inevitability of surrender. More than 15,000 Australian men became prisoners of war.

But there is a story from these events that has divided opinion ever since – the escape of 8th division commander Major General Gordon Bennett.

As Maynard writes, the “events surrounding his departure and the fall of Singapore have tended to overshadow a courageous fighting force who have been much maligned over the years.”

Maynard has drawn on eye witness accounts and Bennett’s own detailed recollections to piece together the story of the fall of Singapore. What he also reveals is Bennett’s stated objective of escaping and that he had begun planning his escape days before the surrender.

Bennett was firm in his belief that he should not fall into Japanese hands and that his greater responsibility was to get back to Australia to warn the government of the danger the country faced.

After the war Bennett faced first a military inquiry and then a Royal Commission, neither of which found in his favour. Maynard has written an excellent account of events that made headlines at the time and divide opinion to this day.

This is an interesting book for readers wanting to read more about the defeat in Singapore. It’s clear that Bennett failed to court favour among his fellow officers – he had been promoted ‘in the field’. When he most needed their support he found it was not forthcoming.

NOTE: This period of the war is of particular interest to me – my uncle was a 17 year old prisoner of war in Changi. He survived and as I write this he is alive and well, approaching his 95th birthday. He will not speak about the war and who can blame him.


New book on the Cowra breakout


The Man Inside: The Bloodiest Outbreak

By Graham Apthorpe

Published by Big Sky Publishing

RRP $29.99 in paperback

ISBN 9781925520491

The breakout of over one thousand Japanese soldiers from the Cowra prisoner of war camp in August 1944 is well known to most older Australians.

The breakout resulted in the deaths of 234 prisoners and four Australian guards. What is perhaps not so well known is that the breakout had its genesis sixteen months earlier when LT Maseo Naka, a junior Japanese officer, escaped singlehandedly from the camp. Naka, unlike most of the inmates, was not content to see out the war in a POW camp.

He was riven with guilt and shame and thought constantly of escape or suicide. Naka’s freedom, however, was short-lived but the ease with which he managed to escape should have alerted the authorities to the shortcomings of the perimeter fence. Sadly this was not the case.

Naka was later court martialled for striking a prison guard.

Graham Apthorpe is the director of corporate services for Cowra Shire and, as noted by Professor Peter Stanley in his foreword, he has been largely responsible for Cowra’s efforts ‘to recall and reflect on its heritage from the Second World War’.

Graham Apthorpe’s account of the Cowra outbreak is outstanding. It deserves a wide readership.

New Book: Pompey Elliott at War – in his own words

PompeyElliottPompey Elliott at War
In his own words

By Ross McMullin

Published by Scribe
RRP $59.99 in hardback • ISBN 9781925322415

Ross McMullin returns to his favourite subject, Pompey Elliott, following his much awarded and applauded 2002 biography of Australia’s most famous fighting general.

In doing so he fulfils an ambition Elliott himself had expressed to publish a narrative based on his wartime letters and diaries but he died before he could complete the task.

Through his letters home and his diary entries Elliott writes evocatively of places he was seeing for the first time. There is a strong sense of connection with place as he writes of Cairo and its people, although in a way that would be seen as politically incorrect a hundred years on.

McMullin has successfully interspersed his own interpretation of events to assist readers with the context of the diary entries and letters.

Elliott counted himself fortunate to have been wounded early on during the landing at Gallipoli compared with the fate that befell many of his men. He later returned to Gallipoli until the successful withdrawal in late 1915. By mid 1916 he was bound for the Western Front.

So what can diaries and letters tell us of these events that later examination and interpretations by historians can’t? For one thing, we see well-known events unfold first hand. For another we hear the writer’s unconstrained opinions, such as Elliott’s opinion of General William Birdwood, describing his appointment as ‘the greatest possible misfortune for the Australian army that [we] were ever placed under his command’, despite his wife Kate advising him not to be so forthright. Yet history records that Birdwood was ‘loved and respected by those who served under him’. Elliott was, it seems, no diplomat.

It is a shock to discover that Elliott committed suicide at age 52, unable to shake off the after effects of war despite an apparently busy and successful post-war life.

Reading Elliott’s first hand first person accounts is to be offered a rare window into the past. Through his keen observations, we see the small inconsequential everyday things set against the backdrop of history-making events.

Organising the vast reservoir of material into a readable format can’t have been easy but McMullin has done an outstanding job. His good fortune is that Elliott himself was an engaging and articulate writer.

For readers interested in this seminal period in Australia’s military history, I think this book will be high on the list of ‘must haves’.

There is a series of forthcoming events at which Ross McMullin will speak about Pompey Elliott and his wartime exploits including

The Finest Thing Yet Done in the War: Pompey Elliott at Villers-Bretonneux

February 21, 2018 @ 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm

Pompey Elliot Memorial Hall 
403 Camberwell Road 
Camberwell, Vic Australia 

Further information:

The Smack Track: new book from Ian McPhedran

SmackTrackThe Smack Track
Inside the Navy’s War: chasing down drug smugglers, pirates and terrorists

by Ian McPhedran

Published by Harper Collins
RRP $32.99 in paperback • ISBN 9781460752920

Ian McPhedran is well known in defence circles through his extensive career in journalism, most recently as the national defence writer for News Corp Australia. In penning this book, he has relied on first hand experience.

He joined the guided missile frigate HMAS Darwin as she embarked on a two week Indian Ocean patrol between Tanzania and the Seychelles, the ship’s seventh and final Middle East deployment, in May 2016.

Prime targets for the operation were drugs and weapons smugglers on what Australian sailors have dubbed ‘the smack track’, hence the title of the book.

Australia is among thirty-one member nations of the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) operating in three Combined Task Forces for counter-terrorism, counter-piracy and Gulf security. Within this group of nations, some focus only on counter-piracy rather than narcotics or weapons smuggling.

The issue of jurisdiction complicates matters. There is no scope to prosecute drug smugglers; their illicit cargo is simply confiscated and destroyed.

McPhedran recounts, in graphic detail, the discovery of a heroin haul from one interception with a street value of half a billion dollars. He photographed the packages neatly arranged on the ship’s flight deck.

McPhedran, as an eye-witness to the story he recounts, offers his readers a real insight into the RAN’s operations in the Gulf and the important role Australia is playing in targeting illicit activity on the high seas.

Special deal from Oxford: The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War

Oxford Value Bundle – save $$$$   ONLY A$100

The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War (print)

First Edition

Dr Michael Molkentin, Jeffrey Grey, Robert Stevenson, John Connor, Peter Stanley, Peter Yule, Jean Bou, Peter Dennis, Paul Dalgleish

Commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I in 2018 with The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War. This five-book series, now available as an Oxford Value Bundle ($100 AUD), explores Australia’s role in the Great War from a range of fresh perspectives.

The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War Series includes five volumes, packaged together here:

Australia and the War in the Air: Volume I
The War with the Ottoman Empire: Volume II
The War with Germany: Volume III
The War at Home: Volume IV
The Australian Imperial Force: Volume V




Value Pack


16 Nov 2017




Centenary Hist of Aust & Great War

New book examines Australia’s conscription conflict during the Great War

The Conscription Conflict and the Great War
Edited by Robin Archer, Joy Damousi, Murray Goot & Sean Scalmer

Published by Monash University Publishing
RRP $34.95 in paperback • ISBN 9781925495393


On two occasions – on 28 October 1916 and 20 December 1917 – the Australian government led by the ‘Little Digger’ William Morris Hughes held a referendum in order to introduce conscription for overseas service.

On both occasions, the proposal was narrowly rejected.

Robin Archer and Sean Scalmer in their introduction comment that “… simply seeking the consent of citizens in this way was quite unique. That they should answer ‘no’ amidst the wartime emotions and censorship of the period is more striking still”.

In this long overdue examination of that turbulent time in Australia’s past, a line up of respected historians have individually contributed essays to this volume.

Murray Goot, for example, re-examines the results of both referendums in an attempt to understand voting patterns and the major factors that may have influenced on voters.

What is clear is that both referendums were bitterly fought, ultimately exposing deep divisions within the nation, divisions which were to remain for many years.

This was a defining episode in Australian history which this new work seeks to comprehend.

Traitors – Frank Walker exposes the scale of war crimes that went unpunished

How Australia and its Allies betrayed our Anzacs and let Nazi and Japanese war criminals go free

By Frank Walker
Published by Hachette Australia
RRP $32.99 in paperback • ISBN 9780733637179


New book exposes the extent of unpunished war crimes.

The conduct of the Second World War saw numerous atrocities committed by Germany and Japan – mass murder of civilians, systematic genocide, human experiments, executions of prisoners of war.

Frank Walker describes the scale of war crimes as ‘unimaginable’ and poses the question as to why many of the guilty were allowed to escape justice.

“Why did governments turn a blind eye to war criminals?”

“Why were so many companies allowed to profit from their evil practices?”

In this revealing book, Walker uncovers how the Australian government, in concert with the US and British authorities, betrayed their own soldiers.

Many scientists, doctors, POW commandants and the like from Germany and Japan who should have been charged with war crimes, were either not pursued or were welcomed by the Allied countries for their expertise or to assist in the Cold War against communism.

The case of IBM illustrates how large corporations benefitted financially from dealings with Nazi Germany and actually assisted in implementing their murderous activities. IBM leased punch-card machines to Hitler which sorted the inmates of each concentration camp by religion, nationality etc and then by classification, thereby making it easier for authorities to identify who should be sent to work and who should be sent to the gas chamber.

And in a macabre twist, IBM serviced the machines every two weeks.

A compelling if disquieting book.

New book: At Any Price – The Anzacs in the Battle of Messines 1917

At Any Price
The Anzacs in the Battle of Messines 1917

By Craig Deayton
Published by Big Sky Publishing
RRP $34.99 in hardcover • ISBN 9781925520514


“The enemy must not get the Messines Ridge at any price” was the order sent to the German troops stationed on the high ground south of Ypres.

This order illustrated the importance the Germans placed upon repelling the widely anticipated Allied attack.

However in the early morn of 7 June 1917 almost half a million kilograms of high explosive in nineteen giant mines erupted under the forward Germany lines destroying their frontline position and killing thousands of soldiers in an instant.

In the attack that followed, Australian and New Zealand troops were heavily involved alongside English and Irish divisions and the village of Messines was soon captured by the New Zealand Division. The Australian force comprised the newly arrived 3rd Division under Major General John Monash and the battle hardened 4th Division under Major General William Holmes . Together they formed II Anzac Corps.

Despite the early success by the Allied forces, Australian involvement in the battle continued against a regrouped, determined German force for another four days resulting in nearly 6,800 casualties.

But Craig Deayton believes the battle for Messines was vital for the confidence and reputation of the Australians following their recent setback in the First Battle of Bullecourt and the earlier defeats at Fromelles and on the Somme. It was also the first major victory for the British on the Western Front and proved to be a turning point in the outcome of the war.

New book examines Australia’s overseas emergency relief operations, 1918-2006

In their Time of Need
Australia’s overseas emergency relief operations, 1918-2006

By Steven Bullard
Published by Cambridge University Press
RRP $179.00 in hardcover • ISBN 9781107026346


This important book is the sixth volume in The Official History of Australian Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and Post-Cold War Operations series. It recounts the activities of Australia’s military forces in response to overseas natural disasters.

The outbreak of Spanish influenza which swept through the South Pacific Islands in late 1918 heralded Australia’s first involvement in humanitarian relief. The RAN’s HMAS Encounter sailed for Fiji and Samoa carrying medical staff and supplies. This was the first of many emergencies where Australian defence forces made a valuable contribution. Ironically Steven Bullard’s grandfather was a boy sailor on the Encounter.

The military’s involvement in overseas emergency management is focused primarily on the period immediately after the disaster strikes: transporting relief supplies, providing medical assistance, restoring basic services and communications and other logistical support.

The 2004 Boxing Day tsunami tragedy is a good example of where Australia was one of the first countries to respond to requests for help. Such assistance is now considered to be an integral part of the ADF’s mission and their role in national security.

This volume is an authoritative and compelling history of Australia’s efforts to help its neighbours.

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