Journal of the Australian War Memorial
Issue 29 -- November 1996
Australian War Memorial
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In his own words. John Curtin's speeches and writings
David Black (ed.)
The Battle of Long Khanh: 3 RAR, Vietnam, 1971
Refugees in our own country,
The Royal Australian Navy in World War II,
David Stevens (ed.)
Australia's War, 1939-45
Joan Beaumont (ed.)
Staff wallah at the fall of Singapore
Going solo: The Royal Australian Air Force, 1946-1971
David Black (ed.), In his own words. John Curtin's speeches and writings, Paradigm Books, Curtin University of Technology, Bentley, 1995, 273 pp., illustrations, index, soft cover, rrp. limited edition hard cover $60.00; soft cover $34.95.
Reviewed by: BOBBIE OLIVER, Australian War Memorial
Using material from a variety of sources, including previously unpublished photographs and other documents in the possession of Curtin's daughter, Elsie MacLeod, David Black -- Associate Professor of History at the Curtin University of Technology -- has produced a scholarly and well-balanced portrait of John Curtin. He reveals both the public figure whose leadership qualities during Australia's greatest crisis, the Pacific War, continue to be the stuff of heated debate among historians, politicians, journalists and members of the public and the private family man.
Unlike Lloyd Ross' 1977 biography which concentrated largely on the last decade of Curtin's life, Black's book contains much material from Curtin's pre-Canberra years. Each of the nine chapters is a skilful blend of narration and documents. The first two chapters concentrate on his early radicalism in Victoria, his marriage and move to Western Australia as editor of the Westralian Worker. Curtin's inter-war years -- including his entry to Federal Parliament when, after several attempts, he gained the seat of Fremantle in 1928 -- are well documented in Chapters Three to Five, whilst Chapters Six to Nine cover his rise to Leadership of the ALP and the Federal Opposition and thence to the Prime Ministership of wartime Australia.
Curtin was a founding contributor to the Socialist in 1906. Although his written expression seems wordy and florid today, his early articles reveal him as a man of considerable insight and vision. He would not have been surprised that Russia &endash; rather than England or Germany -- became the world's first Communist State, for he saw that suffering, not political education, was the spark that ignited revolutions (p. 5). A later chapter reveals another example of Curtin's capacity to forecast policial outcomes. In a speech on the Defence Estimates in the Federal Parliament in 1936, he remarked that 'the dependence of Australia upon the competence, let alone the readiness, of British statesmen to send forces to our aid' was 'too dangerous a hazard upon which to found Australia's defence policy' (p. 142). Tragically he was proved correct when Singapore fell to Japanese forces in 1942.
Curtin was an active campaigner against conscription for military service overseas during the First World War. Unlike many who left peace organisations when the war began, he joined the Australian Peace Alliance in September 1914. In the same year, he stood unsuccessfully as an ALP candidate for the Victorian seat of Balaclava. He steadfastly resisted war-inspired patriotic fervour, asking in the Timber Worker in February 1915 why the same effort which was being brought to bear to 'protect the community against German bullets and German shrapnel' could not be focussed 'to safeguard the population against destitution, exploitation, and social disaster?' (p. 15). Socialists have raised similar questions in every war since then.
As editor of the Westralian Worker, Curtin aided the anti-conscriptionist cause at a time when the ALP in the West was evenly divided between pro- and anti-conscriptionists. Black makes the point that the pro-conscription vote in WA in the 1916 conscription referendum was by far the highest in Australia. Curtin's presence was certainly felt in the 1917 anti-conscription campaign, despite another high 'Yes' majority in WA.
While the material of the early chapters is extracted mostly from his writings in the Socialist, the Timber Worker and the Westralian Worker, the later chapters draw on his Parliamentary and other speeches. Reading the often eloquent and stirring wartime speeches, this reviewer regrets that the post-war generation of Australian children was brought up on Churchill's exhortations to 'fight them on the beaches' rather than Curtin's warning that '[t]he fall of Singapore opens the Battle for Australia', or his demand for total commitment to the war effort:
There is no man so humble who cannot contribute or do something: there is no woman so weak but that there is not available to her some act of service so that this Commonwealth may function...and play its part in the greatest crisis that has ever come to free men in any period of human history... (7 October 1941).
Or his grim warning of imminent peril:
I say then to the people of Australia: give of your best in the service of the nation... This is our darkest hour. Let that be fully realised... (Broadcast to the nation, 8 December 1941).
or his words of encouragement and bravado:
For remember, we are the ANZAC breed... Our men...will give more than their best on their own soil, when the hearths and homes lie under enemy threat... We fight with what we have and what we have is our all. But I give you this warning: Australia is the last bastion between the West Coast of America and the Japanese. If Australia goes, the Americas are wide open... (Broadcast to the American people, 14 March 1942).
Curtin was both a man of foresight and a man of his time and culture. While Black admits that the book is largely celebratory, he has not avoided including 'politically incorrect' quotes, such as Curtin's remark that 'the flame of freedom' was lit by 'our first settlers' -- no mention of frontier wars between Aboriginal and white or the consequent attempts at Aboriginal genocide -- and that '[Australia] is a White Australia, with God's blessing we shall keep it so' (pp. 200-201). Racism was deeply ingrained in the Australian working class of Curtin's origins, so such comments should not surprise us. It is harder to imagine that he really believed that 'no one in Australia is cold, hungry or thirsty...' (p. 250).
Curtin's attitude to women's participation in public life was relatively enlightened compared with that of many Labor colleagues. He supported women's entry into Parliament in 1943. He believed that women had a role in defeating the enemy in wartime and a right to equal pay for equal work (pp. 107-108). He did not, however, envisage them moving out of the 'sphere of the home' in large numbers (pp. 228-30).
Curtin's speeches and writings are complimented by a fine set of photographs, many never previously published. A photograph of the 'Curtin clan', dating from the early 1900s reveals a distinct family resemblance between John and his siblings. There are snapshots of Curtin embracing his wife and children whom he loved dearly, and of the family home at Cottesloe. By all accounts, John Curtin was a man who suffered enormous self doubts, depression and lack of confidence, yet in his last few photographs &endash; most notably one taken with Churchill and other Commonwealth Prime Ministers in London in 1944 -- his face appears remarkably peaceful, though tired. In his last year of life, Curtin suffered failing health. He died on 5 July 1945. An estimated 30,000 people attended his funeral in Perth, among them the nine-year-old David Black.
This book is an excellent and worthy tribute to Australia's wartime Prime Minister. It deserves a wide circulation.
Jemima Garrett, Island exiles, ABC Books, Sydney, 1996, 200 pp, bibliography, illustrations, maps, soft cover, RRP A$16.95, ISBN 0733304850.
Reviewed by: ROGER C. THOMPSON, Australian Defence Force Academy
Jemima Garrett has written a very interesting book. It is based principally on interviews with fourteen Nauruans who survived the Pacific War plus some other written Nauruan recollections. The author has skillfully woven these words into a satisfying story that covers the previous gap in our knowledge of the impact of that war on those people. The book has some Australian relevance. Australian farmers drew enormous benefit from imports of the phosphate that were the only rationale for the Australian administration of that small Pacific island. The book highlights the inability of Australia to defend Nauru and the inadequate efforts to transport all of the island's expatriate workers to safety. However, five Australians chose to stay behind to face beheading by the Japanese.
The bulk of the book is about how Nauruans fared under the Japanese occupation. The author reveals a complex story. There were Japanese efforts to win islanders to their cause. But such attempts were overwhelmed by the harsh Japanese exploitation of Nauruan labour in the process of transforming the island into a major air base. The author reveals how many Nauruan women escaped sexual exploitation through the intervention of their head chief, Detudamo, who arranged marriages for many single girls. Also the commandant, Hirrumi Nakayama, who was a Christian, punished soldiers and others who molested women. Nevertheless, some attractive girls did not escape Japanese officers' demands on an island where there were no imported 'comfort women'. The author also portrays the problems of dwindling food supplies caused by American sinking of Japanese supply ships. Worse food problems were faced by over 1200 Nauruans who were shipped to work at the major Japanese naval base at Truk. Those who never returned to Nauru were the the major contribution to the more than one quarter decline in the Nauruan population during the Pacific War to only 1350 people.
The book has some weaknesses. It has no index. More seriously, the book is not well-grounded in wider Nauruan history. The author relied on Nancy Viviani's history of Nauru, which was published in 1970 and used no archival sources, in contrast to this reviewer's later publications about Nauru's prewar history. Consequently, the book gives a misconception about the early imprisonment of Detudamo, which was not by the Australian authorities for advocating a Nauruan store to compete with the one run by the British Phosphate Commission (p. 45). Detudamo's imprisonment was imposed in 1919 by a British Resident Commissioner for seditious and libelous language. He was released in 1921 by the first Australian administrator and was appointed manager of a new Nauruan cooperative store. Also Jemima Garrett is unaware of the signs of Nauruan discontent under later Australian prewar administrators, which were an important background to the impact of the Pacific War on postwar Nauruan dissent.
Nevertheless, this is an important book, which is well worth reading by all who have an interest in the history of Nauru and of the experiences of Pacific Islanders during the Second World War.
J.M. Church, Second to none: 2 RAR as the ANZAC Battalion in Vietnam, 1970-71, Army Doctrine Centre, 1995, 229pp + xvi, index, appendices,photographs, maps.
Michael English, The Battle of Long Khanh: 3 RAR, Vietnam, 1971, Army Doctrine Centre, 1995, 74pp + xii, appendices, bibliography, photographs, maps.
Reviewed by: ROBERT A. HALL, Australian Defence Force Academy
With the publication of the official history of Australia's involvement in Southeast Asian conflicts, Michael O'Brien's Conscripts and Regulars: with the Seventh Battalion in Vietnam, and the reprinting of Robert O'Neill's Vietnam Task: the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, it could be asked whether further battalion histories add to our understanding of Australian operations in the Vietnam war. This is particularly so since unit histories seem to have settled into a pattern: they open with the training of the unit in Australia, describe the deployment to South Vietnam and discuss Phuoc Tuy Province and the enemy before settling into a chronological progression through each of the unit's operations. Finally they describe the return to Australia and offer a sparse analysis of what it all meant. Though some, like O'Brien's Conscripts and Regulars, do this quite well, others are less successful.
Church's Second to None conforms to this pattern. That may please many of those who served in 2RAR who may want nothing more than to recount their year of service, but it leaves the rest of us wanting more. Nevertheless, Second to None does deliver useful insights on the nature of Australian infantry operations in Vietnam. Written by the battalion's Commanding Officer, and from his point of view,Second to None provides a too rare perspective of a battalion in Vietnam. Church is able to inform us of the powers and limitations of the commanding officer, of the problems of discipline, the fluctuations in morale, the wearying effects of lengthy operations.
After its training in Australia, 2RAR was deployed to Phuoc Tuy Province in Vietnam, taking over from 6RAR. After its arrival, 2RAR took over operational command of two New Zealand rifle companies, becoming 2RAR/NZ (ANZAC). The Australian Army prides itself that full strength units, trained by the commanding officer who would take them to war, were deployed to Vietnam and that this contributed to the building of unit cohesion which was an important element in the battlefield success of Australian units. The Australian mode of unit deployment is often favourably compared with the trickle replacement system employed by the US military in which individuals trained in the United States were cycled through units permanently deployed to Vietnam for the duration of the war. But despite this contrast, Church does not discuss whether 2RAR experienced any difficulties absorbing these two new New Zealand companies with which it had not previously trained or exercised.
Nevertheless, now at its full compliment, 2RAR engaged in a series of operations which tested the skills of its soldiers, the efficiency of its command and the responsiveness of its supporting mortars, artillery, armour and engineers. Like other battalions during this period of the war, 2RAR was faced with a fleeting enemy, the destructive effects of the enemy's mine warfare and the frustrations of being unable easily to strike back. Church reveals his dissatisfaction with the quality of his soldiers' fire control and shooting, and through this, the commanding officers' isolation from the reality of the battlefield in that unusual war. Yet we see in Second to None that in a series of mostly small scale clashes with the enemy the discipline and training of Australian forces in Vietnam asserted itself.
The book contains some surprises. Church attributes the unit's motto, which is the book's title, to an alliance approved by the Queen in 1952, between 2RAR and the second regiment of Foot Guards, the Coldstream Guards, whose motto was 'Second to None'. It is strange that 2RAR should draw its unofficial motto from this source rather than from the Second Battalions of the AIF and Second AIF with their famous motto 'Nulli Secundus'; units which helped build 2RAR's heritage if not its lineage. Strange too that Church, as Commanding Officer of the battalion, should claim that the Director of Infantry rather than himself, was responsible for the removal of unsuitable officers from the battalion before its departure for Vietnam. Surely the Director of Infantry merely acted on Church's advice.
The Battle of Long Khanh takes a quite different approach yet it reveals interesting contrasts and parallels with Second to None. It examines a single battle in detail; a 3RAR battle against an enemy bunker system. Michael English skillfully weaves the story of this clash, letting a series of representative participants describe the events in their own words. Whereas Church in Second to None is the sole voice, and the book reads like a lengthy commanding officer's after action report, English has his players tell the reader what they saw and felt. As a result, The Battle of Long Khanh has an immediacy and liveliness that Second to None lacks. This is not to say that Second to None lacks interest. On the contrary, its strength lies in the unique perspective it gives of the commanding officer's view of his battalion at war.
In the Vietnam War, though any contact with the enemy could engender fear, attacks against occupied bunker systems were by far the most feared battles. The advantage was with the enemy. He had selected the ground, prepared it for battle, provided himself with protection against fire and observation and probably booby trapped or mined the approaches. The Australians were almost always unaware of the extent or disposition of usually well-concealed bunker systems. Fire was often opened by the enemy at very short range. Casualties amongst the Australians were common. In this detailed account, The Battle of Long Khanh manages to convey the fear, excitement, confusion, noise and colour of battle as well as the fluctuating fortunes of the Australians. Tension builds throughout this short book as the initial contact is made and 'B' company of 3RAR withdraws to a night harbour to plan its attack the following day. Inexplicably, the enemy -- elements of D445 Battalion and 3/33 NVA Regiment -- has chosen to stay and fight so the attack, when it is pushed home, meets intense resistance. Finally, after heavy fire support and vigorous attack 3RAR drive the remaining enemy from the bunker system.
English gives due credit to the enemy. He notes that they imposed delay on the Australians and their withdrawal was controlled and successful; none of the usual detritous of battle was left behind, signalling that the enemy had made a planned withdrawal. During the operation the enemy had killed 10 Australians and wounded 24. Yet, as English explains, the initial contact with the enemy bunker system had been by an outnumbered platoon of 3RAR which, though low on ammunition, had held its ground against its formidable opponent.
Second to None and The Battle of Long Khanh are published by the Army Doctrine Centre. Both provide useful insights into the nature of infantry operations in Vietnam.
Clem Sargent, The colonial garrison 1817-1824: The 48th foot, the Northamptonshire Regiment in the Colony of New South Wales, TCS Publications, Canberra, 1996, 200 pp, black and white and colour illustrations, eleven appendices including biographical notes, endnotes, bibliography and index
Reviewed by: PAMELA STATHAM, University of Western Australia
This very readable book will delight military historians; genealogists and all those interested in Australia's beginnings. Thorough research has given Sargent an intimate knowledge of the 48th Regiment -- from its arduous campaigning in the Peninsular Wars, through the years of service in the infant Australian colonies, to India where it was stationed before final recall to England. In a clever 'Prologue', Sargent links the Peninsular War experience to that in the early Australian Colonies by showing how the officers and men involved had to learn to 'rough it' and make do in an often harsh environment.
Chapter 1, 'Bound for Botany Bay', begins by briefly tracing the history of the Regiment from formation in 1741, with emphasis on the battles and postings the Regiment experienced prior to its service in NSW. Relieving what might otherwise be a dull narrative are pen portraits of the officers and men who served in NSW, introduced as they joined. The rest of this chapter deals with the voyage out to NSW- both on convict ships and on specially raised troop ships.
Chapter 2, 'Sydney 1817-1820', is a delight. Sargent recreates early 19th century Garrison life in a small town, albeit in a convict colony. He describes the ceremonial and everyday duties of the troops, helped by a contemporary illustration which is reproduced in colour in the centre of the book. All the major players in the colony, from Governor Macquarie down, are introduced and brought to life by anecdote. The character of the 48th's Commanding Officer, Erskine, is also revealed by anecdote -- his sympathy with Macquarie's wish to admit emancipists to polite society being juxtaposed with his irascibility in dealings with his senior officers.
In 1819, when Commissioner Bigge arrived to inquire into the State of the Colony, the 48th mustered 42 officers; 714 men as well as 145 women and 151 children (more than the normal allowance for an overseas Regiment). Thanks to Bigge's diligence, much is known of military life both in Sydney and in the various outposts where detachments of the Regiment were stationed. This chapter includes details of the Newcastle settlement, where 88 officers and men supervised 671 convicts (in coal mining and cedar cutting) and guarded settlers and their families.
Chapter 3, 'Van Diemen's Land 1817-1824', concerns detachments sent to man the outposts at Launceston in the North and Hobart in the South. Much is made of Macquarie's efforts to move the Launceston base to George Town, and more of the constant conflict between the Commanders of both stations -- Major Cimitiere in the North and Lt Governor Sorell in Hobart -- due mainly to Macquarie's refusal to give up direct reporting lines.. The chapter concludes with an account of the establishment of an outpost at Sarah Island in Macquarie Harbour, 100 miles west of Hobart, as a base for recalcitrant convicts. The detachment involved was led by Lieutenant Cuthbertson -- whose reputation for tyranny is reviewed and countermanded.
Chapter 4, 'Sydney 1821-1824', begins with the Regiment at full strength, 916 rank and file. Of these, 471 were at Headquarters in Sydney and 413 at the various outposts (32 were in hospital). The establishment of Port Macquarie as another place for recalcitrant convicts is dealt with in this chapter, as is Macquarie's last round of visits before being replaced by Governor Brisbane in November 1821. Brisbane's career, especially his friendship with the Duke of Wellington, is detailed as well as his not always happy dealings with the Military Officers. The rest of the chapter looks at those officers and men who chose to remain in the colony when the regiment was transferred to India. Some applied for transfers to incoming regiments, some became police constables, others applied for grants of land or, in a spate of 'matrimonial activity', formed alliances outside the regiment (previously it had been noted that most army widows remarried within the 'Regimental family').
On the 25th of February 1824, 624 rank and file, 14 Officers, 103 women and 263 children left for India on ships contracted for the purpose. The 3 remaining companies of the 48th left exactly a year later. A brief history of the Buffs and the 40th Regiment who replaced them is included. In this 'Epilogue Sargent' outlines the fate of the troops sent to India, where 10% (227) of the men, and far more women and children, died of cholera. Those who returned to the colony after the India posting are also mentioned. In an admirable attempt to pull the book together, (for the Peninsular War experiences of all characters mentioned are given in detail), Sargent concludes that 'Garrison service in the colony brought no honour to the red-coats of the 48th but Veteran and young soldier alike had shown that they were still skilled in the 'art of roughing it'.'
Janet Dickinson, Refugees in our own country, Historical Society of the Northern Territory, 1995, 83 pp., photographs, bibliography, rrp $12.00
Reviewed by: ALAN POWELL, Northern Territory University
The Northern Territory's past in the Second World War has received considerable attention in recent years; but much of the personal experience undergone by the Territory's people remained undocumented; none more so than the women and children forcibly evacuated from Darwin between December 1941 and February 1942. Some two thousand of them went south, many by sea, at short notice, leaving behind their men, their homes and virtually everything they possessed. They were, as Dickinson says, refugees in their own country. She was one of them, a small child in her mother's arms; and in 1992 she organisd a reunion of evacuees which drew more than 450 people to Darwin. That experience led her to interview many of them and to distill their memories in this book. It begins with the story of the evacuee reunion and continues with comment on life in Darwin before 1942, evacuation preparations, four chapters on the five ships -- Koolinda, Koolama, President Grant, Montoro and Zealandia -- that carried most of the evacuees, chapters on their southern experiences, the later fate of wartime Darwin and the return of families after the war. Many more would not return and some of their stories, too, are included.
Causation has been covered by others and the author does not attempt a re-evaluation. Her focus is personal experiece -- and a vivid picture it makes; of women's life in pre-war Darwin where, as Elsie Masson had said twenty years earlier, men came for adventure ofra new career and women came because their men came. For many, that meant life without electricity, running water or means of fending off the all-pervasive heat and humidity. Officers' wives and other of the social elite fared better; but all suffered the stress of abandoning their homes at government decree; most eventually lost their possessions to looters, vandals and, to a much lesser degree, Japanese air raids. The luckiest went out by air; three quarters of them went by sea, in conditiions that varied from the comfort of the American luxury liner President Grant to the gross discomfort of the overcrowded 'hell-ship' Zealandia.
Some had families in the south to ease their loneliness; those who did not often found a lack of sympathy and understanding that stemmed from a refusal to acknowledge them as refugees because they came from within Australia. Many of the part-Aboriginal people evacuated later to South Australia ended up camping in miserable conditions at Balaclava racecourse.
For most evacuees the hurried muddle of their departure, government indifference to their fate in the south and great difficulty in obtaining compensation for property -- lost more to their own side than to the Japanese -- soured their view. Not all lost from the move. As Vince Yee stated, 'My four brothers all got university degrees... I doubt if any of the families would have made high school level in pre-war Darwin'. They were not alone; yet the spirit of those who did return to face the harsh conditions of the north and build a new Darwin comes through, not least in the experience of Janet Dickinson's own family. It is a tale worth telling.
David Stevens (ed), The Royal Australian Navy in World War II, Allen & Unwin, 1996, 212 pp., index, photographs, maps, hard cover, $34.95.
Reviewed by: IAN McGIBBON, Department of Internal Affairs, New Zealand
Between 1939 and 1945 the Royal Australian Navy came of age. It took a full part in the operations against first the European enemies and later Japan. Australian naval personnel were to be found in all theatres, serving not only in Australian vessels but in a myriad of British ships. One in five, for example, of the anti-submarine personnel battling to keep open vital supply lines in the Atlantic were Australians, personnel who had been made available to the Royal Navy. The price of involvement was high. More than 2000 Australians lost their lives in the naval war -- a higher percentage in fact than experienced by the other two services.
During the war, the RAN grew to an impressive size. Its 1939 manpower rose seven times, and the number of ships expanded from fifteen at the war's outset to 337. But navies are about more than ships and their crews. Naval power depends upon infrastructure. Bases, industrial capacity, training -- all are vital components of a navy, and the RAN was short of them when the war began. During the conflict, it went a long way towards self-sufficiency, moving away from dependence upon British support, even as it adhered to British methods and traditions.
Aspects of the RAN's wartime role were addressed by a naval conference convened in Sydney in 1995 -- one of a series of events under the broad umbrella of the Australian government's 'Australia Remembers 1945-95' programme. David Stevens has edited the papers of that conference for publication in this book. Such compilations of conference papers are, by their very nature, often uneven in quality. With authors ranging from participants-cum-historians to professional historians and serving naval officers, The Royal Australian Navy in World War II is no exception. But the chapters are relatively short and readable. They offer new perspectives not only on particular naval operations but also on areas that have hitherto been neglected in Australia's limited naval historiography.
The strategic and operational context of the RAN's operations is covered skilfully by James Goldrick and Jozef Straczek. Goldrick usefully breaks down the RAN's experience into six distinct phases. He develops his argument that the RAN operated in a 'context of constraint' (p.2). Beginning the war as little more than an overseas station of the RN, it went a long way towards becoming an independent navy, though always operating under an imposed or received strategy and often being seen as a 'poor relation' by the American allies (p.11). The RAN, Goldrick suggests, 'left its childhood and entered adolescence' (p.17).
Australia's war was one of accommodation with greater allies, first the British, later the Americans. It was also one of re-focusing of attention from the Mediterranean to the South Pacific as the threat from Japan developed. The issues raised are discussed in a series of chapters on operational matters, including the relatively familiar problems of fitting into British or American frameworks. Eric Grove suggests, somewhat controversially, that the British Empire&endash;Commonwealth's Mediterranean campaign was a diversion from the only real strategy to maintain the Empire -- concentration on the Far East. But, of course, concentrating on the Far East might have led to even worse consequences for the Empire, given the Mediterranean's importance to the war against Germany. Bruce Loxton convincingly challenges earlier assumptions about what happened at Savo, an action in which he was involved as a participant. HMAS Canberra, he argues, has been unfairly criticised for her performance in this action. David Stevens covers an area often overlooked -- the exercise of Australian maritime power in its own region: 'a continuous struggle by both sides to keep the sea for their own use while denying it to their adversary' (p.88).
There has been increasing recognition in recent years that naval history must seek to cover more than just operations. There is a need to get down to the less glamorous topics dealing with finance, matriel, and personnel. Chris Coulthard-Clark has provided an excellent summary of industry's contribution to Australia's naval effort. Infrastructural aspects are also covered by David Brown, who looks at the establishment of British bases in the Pacific, and especially Australia, in the latter part of the war.
Jason Sears examines the social background of the RAN's officers in World War II and finds that 'the democratic nature of the RAN's officers has been overstated' (p.117). He concludes that 'as a group they were not representative of Australian society in general' (p.119). Kathryn Spurling provides a useful account of the early years of the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service. These two chapters whet the appetite for more detailed treatment of the social basis of the RAN, especially its lower deck component. There is good scope for oral history here.
A more direct focus on personnel is provided by two biographical pieces on contrasting figures -- 'Vice-Admiral Sir John Collins' by A.W. Grazebrook and 'Commander R.B.M. Long' by Barbara Winter, the former well known as Australia's leading sailor of the war and the latter operating in a twilight world of intrigue, cryptography and espionage as Director of Naval Intelligence. Again, there is scope for other lesser known figures of RAN history to be similarly treated. Two wartime participants, John Betty and Marsden Horden, focus on the operations of the RAN Hydrographic Branch and the Fairmiles respectively. The Hydrographic Branch 'formed part of the spearhead of the Allied thrust in the South-West Pacific' (p.165). Horden vividly describes a Fairmile operation from Darwin to Timor.
In a useful summary Frank Broeze expresses the hope that naval history will not fall victim to 'the tyranny of the round figure' (p.183) -- the apparent need for anniversaries, such as of World War II, to spark both public and scholarly interest. The naval conference had, he suggests, only skimmed the surface of the subject of Australian naval history, and it is important that the agenda for future research is kept firmly in mind after 1995. 'There is virtually no area in the history of the RAN in World War II and by extension during its entire existence that is not capable of being reassessed' (p.183). Such a reassessment will require a sustained effort, rather than episodic treatment as and when anniversaries occur.
The Royal Australian Navy in World War II is nicely produced, with some interesting photographs and eight maps. It opens up a number of areas that need further exploration; it brings to public notice those who have begun to raise the standard of Australian naval history (though Tom Frame is conspicuous by his absence); and it provides a short introduction to the RAN's activities. While Hermon Gill's two-volume official history remains the standard reference, this book provides useful pointers to the main themes of Australian naval history, and encourages further investigation in more detailed sources.
Bobbie Oliver, War and Peace in Western Australia: The Social and Political Impact of the Great War 1914-1926, University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands, 1995, 314 pp., no index, photographs and cartoons, bibliography, soft cover, rrp $24.95.
Reviewed by: JUDITH SMART, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
This book is a very welcome addition to the domestic histories of the different states during the Great War. Thorough, measured and extensively researched, it sits well beside the published accounts of the Tasmanian and Queensland experiences by Marilyn Lake and Raymond Evans. The wartime histories of the two largest states have also been completed but await publication. The argument common to all of them is that, contrary to the view of the official historian of the homefront, Ernest Scott, Australians were seriously divided during the war years and any apparent initial consensus about the war was temporary, superficial and fragile. Perhaps it is because Bobbie Oliver's central argument is a long reiteration of this point that War and Peace in Western Australia lacks a sense of freshness and excitement -- for a 't'othersider', this interpretation of the war's impact and significance is not new. But, on the other hand, Oliver makes a convincing case that the consensus view of history has been especially hegemonic in Western Australia, and the point is emphasised elegantly in a concluding chapter on the beginnings of the Western Australia Historical Society, a group of 'carefully selected, socially influential people' (p. 291) who effectively captured and harnessed the writing of the state's history to the conservative myth of consensus and pioneering stoicism.
Where this book does differ significantly from the other accounts of the homefront during World War I is in its emphasis on postwar consequences; six of the nine chapters deal primarily with the period 1919-26. Thus, the experiences of the war years serve here mainly as a necessary foundation for challenging the dominant view of the 1920s as a period of prosperity and consensus in which the war was largely forgotten. This is the heart of the book and its principal contribution to the historical canon. The three chapters devoted to the war years in Western Australia follow a tried and slightly tired formula-society before the war, the conflicts arising as a result of repression of dissent and fear of 'the enemy within', and finally, of course, the conscription debates and plebiscites of 1916 and 1917. There is nothing inherently wrong with this approach; it is just that it offers no surprises or new insights. This is not to say, however, that these chapters lack some interesting and important analysis, for the specific Western Australia focus not only adds nuance and extra evidence to the new interpretative paradigm, it also helps to shift the weight in the balance of our understanding of divisions in wartime Australia more firmly towards the ethnic and racial intolerance to which Evans and Gerhard Fischer have already pointed. Oliver tells us, for example, that an incredible 21 per cent of the internees at the Liverpool mass concentration camp were from Western Australia, although only 5 per cent of the state's people were German or Austrian born (p. 64) and Western Australians altogether made up only 6.3 per cent of the nation's population (p. 29). As with the component parts of the British Empire, the peripheries of the nation, which fostered organisations like WA's xenophobic All British Association, can tell us a lot about the ways Australians in the more populous centres understood and defined themselves in relation to a racialised 'other'.
Oliver's chapter on conscription is also an important corrective (along with her previously published article in Labour History) to the eastern states bias of most of our general histories, which have represented the debate in the west as minor and asserted that this was the only state in which the Labor Party did not split. From Oliver's detailed examination of the records of the Australian Labor Federation executive and district councils in Western Australia, it is clear that the arguments were as fraught there as elsewhere and that the opponents and supporters of conscription in the extraparliamentary labour movement were evenly divided. Like the rest of the state branches, the Western Australian party ultimately voted to campaign against conscription. The difference lay in the unwillingness of the westerners to mete out retribution to the proconscriptionist parliamentarians -- ultimately they excommunicated only those who allied themselves with the Liberals in the new National Party as National Labor representatives (eleven state members, including leader John Scaddan, and six federal MPs). In contrast with the other states, there was no retaliation against those proconscriptionist MPs who refused to 'rat'. Nevertheless, these attempts at reconciliation failed to prevent bitter and acrimonious exchanges in state parliament in the ensuing decade, and Oliver attributes much of the growth in the ideological militancy of the right, including the National Labor members, not so much to the Bolshevism of their rhetoric as to the legacy of the conscription split.
This said, I still have some reservations about the originality of this contribution to homefront studies and the meanings of war for ordinary Australians. Oliver's account is often flat and lifeless, a product, I suspect, of its focus on the conventional political and economic issues rather than the people themselves and perhaps also of a lack of broad reading outside the Western Australian and, indeed, the Australian literature. The work of Fussell, Ecksteins, Wohl and Hynes, in particular, has immensely enriched the historiography of the First World War and our understanding of its meanings for contemporaries. However, once Oliver tackles the postwar period, the book takes on new vigour and contains richer description of specific people, places and events. 'Bloody Sunday' in Fremantle and the martyrdom of Tom Edwards, the resurgence of sectarianism and race riots on the goldfields, the social and psychological sufferings of traumatised returned soldiers, who were subjected to political manipulation and too often became the victims of poverty and inadequate medical treatment, are all movingly discussed. So too are the sufferings of the unemployed in the winter of 1921 and the hardships endured by the postwar British immigrants, city-dwellers mostly, who were wooed into the inadequately funded and conceived Group Settlement Scheme on isolated and uncleared blocks of land by 'idyllic and inaccurate descriptions of rural life' circulated in Britain by the Western Australian government itself -- another episode in the continuing saga of Australian governments' unrealisable arcadian dream of a prosperous yeomanry. The penultimate chapter, on the conservative response to the widespread industrial unrest of 1924-25, embodies a fascinating cameo study of the establishment's mobilisation and reassertion of ideological leadership through the Western Australian Consultative Council, dedicated to fundraising and organisational co-operation in the interests of the non-Labor parties, and the inauguration of the Argonauts Civil and Political Club, formed to re-educate the youth of the state on the principles of service and loyalty, and to inoculate them against 'the serpent of communism' (p. 274).
In an otherwise carefully researched and documented book, there are some errors of fact that need correction. Joseph Cook was hardly a 'new' prime minister (p. 65) in August 1914; his government had been in office since May 1913. Billy Hughes did not promise the extra Australian troops to Lloyd George before the first conscription plebiscite (p. 104); he was dealing primarily with Andrew Bonar Law. Lloyd George, in any case, did not become prime minister until December 1916. And the conscription plebiscites were conducted according to the procedures established for constitutional referendums, which, according to Sawyer, did include compulsory voting under the Compulsory Voting Act of 1915 (cf p. 124). My only other complaint is the lack of an index, which makes it hard to find first explanatory references to the large cast of historical actors and renders a clearly important book unnecessarily difficult to use for reference and teaching.
Reviewed by: BRIAN DICKEY, Flinders University of South Australia
This is an admirably crisp and up-to-date collection of essays which survey the standard issues raised in teaching courses on Australia in World War Two. Prompted by an absence of such a text for a course at Deakin, the book's virtues will see it adopted by other teachers. I have already determined to do so when I introduce such a topic in 1998.
Beaumont herself has written the introduction, and the two surveys of the conduct of war, in the Middle East and in the Asia-Pacific region. In each of these chapters her capacity to write cool, crisp prose which carries conviction about the judgements offered sets the tone for the rest of the book. Footnotes are helpful references to relevant earlier writing. These references are usefully gathered up in a comprehensive bibliography for the whole book, which is also supported by an index.
Does Beaumont say anything especially new? She is certainly well balanced about the consensual commitment to war in 1939, based on sensible strategic thinking, combined with a sense of imperial and moral duty. Reasonably enough, she and her colleagues review controversies (for example, Menzies and Greece), permitting further debate in the relevant tutorial, rather than offering a firm and highly contentious line (as for example is the wont of David Day). I would have wished she might have condemned General Bennett for his desertion of Singapore more strongly, though she does point out his defence is based on a technical matter of timing. Her survey does reinforce the fact that it is at the level of operational studies and assessments of command in the field that new work is focussed. We have had enough for the time being of 'high command'. We also badly need some detailed work on the operation of the line of communication, especially to PNG.
Kate Darian-Smith canvasses the issues of Australian society that she worked over so well in her book on Melbourne during the war. Not surprisingly, this chapter has a female bias. That is balanced by the most original chapter in the book, by Marnie Haig-Muir and Roy Hay, on the economy, where some important data is summarily tabulated for the first time. Here is the rapidly growing and altering economy being managed fiercely for war purposes by a series of dedicated pro tem mandarins. 'At peak levels of wartime production the economy's total output was more than 40% higher than in the last year of peace': no mean feat!
The authors admit that Andrew Ross, Armed and ready: The industrial development & defence of Australia, 1900-1945 (1995), arrived too late for consideration. Ross's work does challenge the whingeing Aussie account of the munitions story: he suggests there were plenty of armaments, and that the defence forces and the politicians confused matters badly, to the detriment of the front-line forces. Likewise, as Haig-Muir and Hay show, it took some time for the farmers and planners to grasp the significant contribution their sector could play in the war effort. Combined, munitions and farms eventually ensured Australia had a solid credit balance under Lend-Lease at the end of the war.
David Lee on politics covers familiar ground and offers a useful summary. 'Thus, the legitimacy of Labor proved to be ephemeral. It is in the realm of federal-state relations, bureaucratic growth and changing attitudes towards government roles in social planning that we must look for the more lasting legacy of the Second World war', he writes. David Lowe on foreign policy is equally well-balanced, reminding us that the war changed little for such a small to medium power as Australia: 'In some ways, the Second World War merely threw into sharp relief well-established geo-political essentials for Australia.' David Walker on 'The writers' war' is more a collection of lists and more of a particular piece than the others. There might have been other ways of getting at the cultural processes unleashed by the war. Is there a whiff of tokenism in this chapter's inclusion?
In all a useful collection, sensibly illustrated, to be welcomed by academics and their students. It deserves a wide audience.
W. David McIntyre, Background to the ANZUS Pact: Policy-making, strategy and diplomacy, 1945-1955, St Martin's Press, New York; MacMillan Press, London; and Canterbury University Press, Christchurch (NZ); 1995, pp viii and 464, index, bibliography, rrp 47.50 (available through MacMillan UK)
Reviewed by: CHRIS WATERS, Australian Defence Force Academy
David McIntyre is a historian who has long been interested in two major themes of Australian and New Zealand history. The first theme is the search for security in the Pacific by those two nations in the twentieth century and the second is the end of the British empire. In his latest book Background to the ANZUS Pact McIntyre examines the period from 1945 to 1955, when these two themes come together as the United States replaces the United Kingdom as the major guarantor of security in the Pacific. This decade provides rich material for McIntyre to explore the changing of the guard in the Asia/Pacific region. In the climate of the 1990s, with the Howard government placing new emphasis in its foreign policy on the American Alliance, it is timely that this massive and detailed scholarly study of the international origins of the ANZUS treaty has been published. However, this book is about much more than the origins of the ANZUS treaty, indeed the title is somewhat misleading, as it is a study of American, British, Australian and New Zealand strategy and policy during this period. McIntyre explores the search for security by Australia and New Zealand in the context of both the origins of the cold war and the strategic planning of its two great and powerful friends.
In the best tradition of international history Background to the ANZUS Pact is based on thorough research in archives and libraries around the world. McIntyre has used government and private papers in the four countries to throw light upon the personalities, the motivations and the successes and failures of policy makers, both politicians and officials, as they sought a new world order in the aftermath of the Second World War. It is this international perspective which is one of the strengths of this book. Many of the policies, events and decisions covered by McIntyre have been written about before, but never has this period been considered from the perspective of all four nations in a single volume.
The book has an interesting structure, which has both strengths and weaknesses. It begins with a survey of the influential policy makers in all four nations and of the bureaucratic structures within which they worked. After an examination of the rise and fall of American plans for post-war bases on British Commonwealth territory in the Pacific, McIntyre explores in depth the strategic planning of the four nations, which in turn provides the context for the negotiations over the ANZUS treaty. He then details the diplomacy leading to the signing of the ANZUS treaty in September 1951, followed by a brief survey of the continuing search for security over the following four years. While this structure gives McIntyre the opportunity to explore the views of all four countries, it leads to considerable repetition in both the narrative and the analysis. This is particularly true of the chapters on strategic planning, but it must be noted that it is these chapters which provide some of the most interesting and original insights in the entire book.
McIntyre comprehensively covers the origins of the cold war, the development of military strategy by the four nations, the impact of the Korean war on progress towards a Pacific pact, the importance of military planning for the Middle East to the whole story, the history of the Japanese peace settlement, the different attitudes and interests of the four nations, the form of the final ANZUS treaty and the exclusion of the United Kingdom. As a guide to events, plans and policies it will remain a standard work of reference for many years. There are some weaknesses in McIntyre's account, however. For example he underplays the opposition of the Chifley government to British and American planning for the cold war. The Chifley government opposed the designation of the Soviet Union as the enemy in military planning, it contested many of the assumptions which British and American policy makers brought to the cold war and it opposed a planning commitment to the Middle East for Australian military forces. McIntyre does not write about the Chifley government's opposition to Ernest Bevin's Western Union proposal. Indeed, this failure to detail in full the Chifley government's heretical line on the cold war is evidence of a broader weakness of this book. With its tight focus on small groups of policy makers in Canberra, Wellington, Washington and London, both the politics of the period and the broader influences shaping international history in the decade after the Second World War are sometimes lost in the detail of policy making.
McIntyre draws together his conclusions in the final chapter of the book. He sees the wars of the first half the twentieth century as being wars to decide which nation would succeed Britain as the world's dominant imperial power. After the First World War it was unclear whether the United States or Japan would become the dominant power in the Pacific, but this was decided by the American victory over Japan in 1945. For the dominions of Australia and New Zealand the long-term decline of the British Empire posed what is described in the book as the ANZAC dilemma. The dilemma was that the traditional protector, the United Kingdom, could no longer guarantee security in the Pacific, but relations with United States, the new superpower, were mainly untried and unpredictable. The ANZUS treaty was one key element which the conservative Australian and New Zealand governments of the early 1950s hoped would solve this dilemma. In some respects it did, but as McIntyre correctly points out both Australia and New Zealand continued to rely on both the United Kingdom and the United States for defence assistance until well into the 1960s.
McIntyre argues that the course of the cold war, the demands of strategic planning, including the potential commitment to the Middle East, the need to settle Antipodean fears of Japan, the genuine desire of Australians and New Zealanders for an American guarantee and the push for access to American global planning; all provided the favourable circumstances in which agreement on the ANZUS treaty was reached. Australia and New Zealand only agreed to commit forces to the Middle East in time of a hot war with the Soviet Union if the back door was bolted. The ANZUS treaty was to be the bolt for the back door. The Korean war gave urgency both to the need to finalise strategic planning against the Soviet Union and to reach a Japanese peace settlement. Hence a security arrangement was by 1951, as it was not in 1946, in the interest of the United States, Australia and New Zealand and came to pass. While these conclusions have been well established in the body of the book McIntyre could have expanded upon his short chapter of conclusions to reflect further on the demise of the British empire in Asia and the Pacific and its impact on the Pacific dominions, on the relationship of the end of the European empires to the cold war, on whether the United States and the United Kingdom were in conflict as imperial powers in the postwar period and on the political choices which were made in each nation as to their future location in the international security system. European decolonisation was taking place throughout the world in the 1940s and 1950s, but simultaneously a new informal American empire was emerging. Did ANZUS represent the re-colonisation of the Antipodean nations into the informal American Pacific empire?
International history is not just about the thoughts and actions of policy makers, but is also about the thoughts, actions and fates of the people in the nations under study. What influence did the people have on these momentous events? It is to such questions that McIntyre, with his long and knowledgeable interest in the subject, could have devoted more time. But it would not be appropriate to end this review on a negative note as this is a good book, full of important research and original insights, which by its breadth and detail makes a significant contribution to the rapidly growing literature on the postwar international history of Australia and New Zealand.
Reviewed by: ALEC HILL, Canberra
The unusual title of this book is explained by John Wyett in a note at the very beginning, including the Hindi origins of the word wallah used in India to denote a person engaged in some specific occupation. It is a lively, readable account of one mans war from his early difficulties in joining the Second AIF, adjusting to life on the staff of the 8th Division under General Gordon Bennett, then the tragedy of the brief campaign in Malaya and its bitter sequel. Wyett was one of those interviewed by Brett Lodge for his book, The Fall of General Gordon Bennett (1986), but now he has written his own story to combat the ignorance of Australians about the 8th Division and because he has become convinced that the demands of history must supplant a long held sense of misplaced loyalty to his former commander.
John Wyett was a Tasmanian businessman working with the Cadbury Group. He was a fully qualified pharmacist with a degree in science. After service in the Naval Reserve he had been commissioned in the Militia. By 1937 he was a captain and posted to HQ Tasmania Command where he became responsible for chemical warfare (CW) When war broke out in 1939 his attempts to enlist were circumvented by the manpower authorities until he outsmarted them and was at last appointed to HQ of the 8th Division as GS03 (CW).
What follows is probably the most depressing passage in Australian military history, but seen through the eyes of a mature and able officer. His picture of Gordon Bennett is of a commander unfitted for his task on account of his monstrous ego and his inability to use his staff, a general who was still a battalion commander at heart, immersed in the World War 1 tactics of static warfare and too old for the rigours of a tropical climate and the ... demands of an unfamiliar war where a high degree of cooperation with the commanders of other formations was required. Wyett offers much evidence to support this indictment.
But this book is much more than a demolition of Gordon Bennett. Wyetts posting to the Indian Army Staff College at Quetta in the last six months of 1941 provides fascinating stories, some of which shed light on the last days of British India. From Quetta he returned to the 8th Division, now preparing to go into action, and he gives a sad account of the muddles and misfortunes at various levels of a hopeless campaign. His story of the surrender in Singapore and life in Changi will be read with amazement as with emotion, and there is much to be learnt from the way the men of the 8th, including Wyett himself, coped with the Japanese and the problems arising from their inhumanity. Then there is his moving account of his own arrest and struggle with the Kempetai, the marks of whose savagery and tortures he carries with him to this day. Wyetts capacity for obtaining unauthorised transport is a remarkable feature of the book, culminating in his persuasion of a Catalina pilot at Labuan, who was longing for his fiancee in Sydney, to fly Wyett and sixteen others, mainly Tasmanians, to Australia.
Wyett was in a hospital awaiting discharge when he received an order to report at the Supreme Court in Melbourne on 26 November 1945, the opening day of the Royal Commission into Bennetts departure from Singapore. He was the first witness to be called. His account of his role as witness is in the final chapter called, significantly, Death of a General, and he quotes from the transcripts of the Royal Commission the record of the conference at which Bennett gave the orders for the cease-fire and that officers would remain with their men. The chapter and the book end with Bennetts funeral in Sydney, which Wyett attended, but much of it is devoted to a reconsideration of Bennett as a commander. It brings to mind the summing up of Bennett by his own divisional commander in 1918, that great man William Glasgow: Bennett is a pest.
It is disappointing to feel compelled to draw attention to careless editing. A quotation from Coleridge has rain instead of, sleep from heaven, That slid into my soul. Wyett is in difficulties (after fifty years) with senior appointments on a divisional HQ. The GS01 was the commanders adviser on tactics rather than strategy; his opposite number on the administrative side was not the QAMG but the AA&QMG, Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster General. He was usually called the AQ. The reference to the 9th and 11th Indian Divisions and the desert conditions where they had done so well is false, as neither had served in North Africa. Both were short of a brigade and much else. Of the three generals appointed to enquire into Bennetts escape from Singapore, not one name is given correctly in the text or in the index. Allen & Unwin should do better.
Reviewed by: VINCENT ORANGE, University of Canterbury, NZ
This excellent study is focused on military affairs, but it is primarily a work of scholarship, pure and simple, securely based on a wide range of relevant sources, written and oral, and most carefully composed. Like all quality products, it is not to be adequately categorised by a single word, any more than a thorough study of, for example, the origin and growth of Melbourne should be set down as 'urban' history. Going Solo, in fact, makes a significant contribution from many points of view to our understanding of Australian society during the Second World War as well as the following quarter-century with which it is mainly concerned.
Readers familiar with the Alan Stephens Power Plus Attitude (l992), an admirable survey of ideas, strategy and doctrine in the RAAF, 192l-l991, will welcome this detailed official study of a major slice of that period, a study in which the author had the space to set specifically military matters in a general context. There is plenty here about those two eternal, intertwined triangles: the relations in one triangle of airmen with soldiers and sailors and their relations in another with politicians and manufacturers.
The latter, however, receive less attention, for praise or blame, than their influence merits. Men of industry and commerce are absent from both the long bibliography and the list of interviewees: perhaps they are more careful of their records and opinions than military persons or politicians? Yet the pressure of manufacturers (on behalf of shareholders, employees, their own profits and sometimes their very survival) is steadily exerted on airmen, either directly or through politicians. This pressure is an integral part of service history in all countries, and I do not think that enough military historians have yet worked closely with 'business' historians to explore it.
That point raises the comparative issue, which also receives less attention than it merits. Stephens certainly succeeds admirably in completing his assigned mission, which was to concentrate upon the RAAF's record, but how else are we to assess that record except in comparative terms? The performance of the Air Board, to choose one example, is distinctly patchy throughout the period, as the author makes abundantly clear. Both in structure and personnel, the board too often performs inadequately when faced with particular crises, great and small, at home and abroad; so also in its relations with government, industry, other services and the Chiefs of the Air Staff of the day. Were such matters better managed in Britain, the United States or even New Zealand? If so, bearing in mind how frequently senior Australian officers visited two of these countries, what lessons were learned about higher management (as opposed to aviation doctrine) during their time in Whitehall, the Pentagon and various factories and bases? What efforts were made to apply those lessons to Australian experience? Who helped, who resisted? Can Whitehall or the Pentagon at their barmiest produce a match for Athol Townley, Air Minister and then Defence Minister for no less than seven of the years between July l954 and December 1963? And what does his long tenure tell us about the CASs who worked with him and Prime Minister Menzies, whose favourite he was?
As for New Zealand, the strategic problems faced by an enormous country with a very small population are obviously different from those faced by a tiny country with a minute population. On the other hand, the social structures of Australia and New Zealand were similar (moreso in the years 1946-7l than they would be later) and so, too, were many air force problems: organisation, equipment, recruitment, retention and relations with other services and government. But no comparisons are attempted despite the fact that the two air forces often served side by side in operations and exercises.
Could more have been made of the RAAF's assistance to civilian authorities in times of fire and flood or in search and rescue attempts on land and at sea? Such endeavours represent to taxpayers, journalists, camera crews and potential recruits the most attractive public face of armed services in peacetime. Does the Air Board show itself ready and willing to exploit such opportunities? What were the Board's views on employing airmen as strike-breakers in times of industrial unrest? Did any cases arise?
Enough of criticism and query. The outstanding merit of Stephens' book is a refreshing absence of service jargon, including those batteries of impenetrable initials so pleasing to a certain kind of institutional mind, civilian as well as military. Himself a former pilot, he doubtless has no personal trouble with either the jargon or the initials, but as a current scholar and teacher, he has kindly translated it into English.
Official historians are prone to lapse into gobbledegook - indeed, some have positively wallowed in it - for, although it may inhibit communication with unlike minds, it undoubtedly saves the trouble of thinking. Fortunately, the most untechnical reader (and your reviewer leads the pack here) will not find it at all difficult to understand what Stephens is on about, whether it be the various bells and whistles of particular aircraft, the increasing complexity of flying training in the jet age, the problems of installing, maintaining and operating ground-to-air missiles, the intricacies of high command, organisation, logistics, aviation doctrine or strategic options. This clarity and accuracy in expression permit the reader to grasp a whole host of often complicated and sometimes controversial issues without undue effort. I will be surprised, however, if many readers know what a 'kilopascal' is (or does).
The author begins, after the Japanese surrender in 1945, with the chaos of demobilisation, soon to be followed by the equally unedifying muddles of remobilisation. Numerous aircraft types were exuberantly destroyed or fecklessly allowed to disintegrate and, as Australian aviation enthusiasts ceaselessly lament (joining the world-wide chorus of their comrades), what a boost there would have been to overseas income and tourist revenue in recent years if even a few examples of each type had been preserved!
The rest of the book is cleverly constructed to give readers a firm grasp of the RAAF's structure before they are introduced to its particular operations, from the Berlin Airlift in 1948 to the Vietnam withdrawal in 1971, via service in Japan, Malta, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Then certain themes are analysed: principally, the management of joint warfare in theory and practice and the effective employment of fighters, bombers, maritime patrol and transport aircraft. Photographs, tables and maps are, for once, not bundled together but thoughtfully distributed at relevant places throughout the text: for this uncommon consideration, may the publisher be blessed and profit exceedingly.
It is in his 'Joint Warfare' chapter that Stephens makes his most telling criticisms of RAAF conduct. 'Senior officers', he writes (with Air Marshal Sir Alister Murdoch , CAS, 1965-69, firmly in his sights), 'were wrong to treat the Army's legitimate needs peremptorily and they were wrong to treat Army aviation patronisingly.' As a result, he concludes, 'A generation of lieutenant-colonels and majors had come to believe that the RAAF did not care about army support, and they were to carry that belief into the 1970s and beyond.'
The structure chapters include lucid discussions of policy, plans and doctrine (areas in which Stephens is a recognised master), the selection of strategic airfields in Australia and elsewhere, issues of command and organisation, and attitudes to women, which improved markedly between 1946 and 1971 and have continued to change greatly for the better during the last quarter-century.
From the lay reader's viewpoint, there is a particularly interesting chapter on 'Conditions of Service': it deals with the variety of employment available, both on the ground and in the air; the quality (or otherwise) of accommodation, especially for families at home and overseas; rates of pay (these are not systematically compared with civilian rates); and promotion prospects (were pilots as dominant in other air forces as they were in the RAAF?). Could more have been made here of the enthusiasm - if not mania - for sports throughout the military world? It is insufficiently realised how much specific training and general education armed services in the Western World made available to numerous young men - and some young women - in the years 1946 to 1971. The brevity of National Service in Australia meant that the RAAF was unable to achieve anything approaching, even on a pro rata basis, the beneficial impact of the RAF on British society.
As for the operations chapters, each begins by putting the reader clearly 'in the picture' - political and strategic - before offering a summary of the RAAF's actions. The account of events in Korea and Vietnam are models of scholarly exposition, deserving a wide audience. These chapters are uniformly lucid and balanced: never claiming too much for air power (Australian or other) and never flinching, where necessary in the author's considered judgement, from precise, reasoned criticism of men, machines and methods. Stephens admirable qualities are consistently to the fore when dealing with themes, in particular with the F-111 saga, which here receives a comprehensive analysis. If this analysis - too rich to summarise here - is not definitive, it sets a benchmark against which the next study must be measured.
Permit me, however, to conclude on a lighter note. Like all good historians, Alan Stephens has an eye for those humorous moments that sometimes emerge from hours of conscientious research. Placed here and there, neither forced nor overdone, they nicely enliven a long text. Occasionally - as in this example - they make a point validly as well as wittily. 'The Flying Instructor's Lament', inscribed about l963 upon a crewroom wall at No. 1 Applied Flying Training School at Pearce, near Perth, Western Australia, reads thus:
You can tell a transport pilot
By the spread around his rear;
You can tell a bomber pilot
By his straight and level fear;
You can tell a fighter pilot
By his hat and slouch and such;
You can tell a trainee pilot
But you cannot tell him much.
Other books received
Graeme Cheeseman & Robert Bruce (ed.) Discourses of Danger & Dread Frontiers: Australian Defence and Security Thinking after the Cold War, Allen & Unwin, St. Leonards, in association with the Department of International Relations and Peace Research Centre RSPAS, Australian National University, Canberra, 1996, 317 pp., bibliography, index, soft cover, rrp $24.95.
Beverley Boissery, A Deep Sense of Wrong: the Treason, Trials, and Transportation to New South Wales of Lower Canadian Rebels after the 1838 Rebellion, Allen & Unwin, St. Leonards, 1995, 291 pp., illustrated, bibliography, index, hard cover, rrp $39.95