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Looks like it is just me and Pat Malone.

The Great War by Les Carlyon is the thickest book I have ever read at 850 or so pages. Curious title, as Carlyon makes only brief references to other theatres, concentrating on the Australian divisions on the Western Front after Gallipoli. The author travels to the scene, and describes the places were these events occurred as they are now. Quaint, and quiet.

Carlyon is an Australian historian, and he does not show favouritism, attributing fault and extolling virtues with equal ease, be they English or Australian. If I am interpreting his words correctly, the British High Command and politicians were the least competent of all the combatants, except perhaps Russia. Seemingly unable to grasp the concept of using artillery to clear the way for their infantry, a concept the French had grasped with good success, the most senior British officers were making the same mistakes in 1917 that they had in 1915. Too few, or none of the higher echelons were prepared to visit the ground on which the men had to advance, and the nature of the organisation meant that very few, or none questioned the logic of what was planned. Unnecessary casualties resulted.

The best generals in the British army were Monash and Currie, both part-time soldiers, an Australian and a Canadian. Monash's family were Jewish Germans.

The stories of hardship, mateship, suffering, bravery and horror are equally thrilling and confronting. I rather more like the stories of kindness and humanity that the adversaries show each other. Aussie stretcher bearers reported that sometimes even during a fight the Germans would point out were the wounded were lying. An Aussie was wounded during an advance, not badly, but he could not go on. When he did not show up in a field hospital his mates went looking for him, and found him wrapped in a German overcoat, with a dead German lying beside him. Apparently the badly wounded German has stumbled towards the Australian lines, and upon seeing the wounded man, and believing that the Aussie had a better chance of survival than he, wrapped him in his overcoat, and then lay down beside him to die.

As Carlyon notes, the conflict still comes to the surface in France and Belgium. I remember hearing at the time in 1995 about a tractor driver turning up some remains, and a metal detector finding the soldier's effects, including a wallet with a photo of the Aussie's ten month old daughter inside. Eighty years later. That daughter, Myrtle, attended the funeral of the father she never met as an 80 year old. I wonder what emotions she felt, standing there, surrounded by headstones and strangers, on the other side of the world.
 

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I just finished Wings of Fire: The Brightest Night. Book 5 of 15. They're for young kids, but my nephew loves them and we have great talks about them now that I'm reading them.

Before that, it was Ghost Rider by Neil Peart and The Toolbox Book by Jim Tolpin.
 

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Looks like it is just me and Pat Malone.

The Great War by Les Carlyon is the thickest book I have ever read at 850 or so pages. Curious title, as Carlyon makes only brief references to other theatres, concentrating on the Australian divisions on the Western Front after Gallipoli. The author travels to the scene, and describes the places were these events occurred as they are now. Quaint, and quiet.

Carlyon is an Australian historian, and he does not show favouritism, attributing fault and extolling virtues with equal ease, be they English or Australian. If I am interpreting his words correctly, the British High Command and politicians were the least competent of all the combatants, except perhaps Russia. Seemingly unable to grasp the concept of using artillery to clear the way for their infantry, a concept the French had grasped with good success, the most senior British officers were making the same mistakes in 1917 that they had in 1915. Too few, or none of the higher echelons were prepared to visit the ground on which the men had to advance, and the nature of the organisation meant that very few, or none questioned the logic of what was planned. Unnecessary casualties resulted.

The best generals in the British army were Monash and Currie, both part-time soldiers, an Australian and a Canadian. Monash's family were Jewish Germans.

The stories of hardship, mateship, suffering, bravery and horror are equally thrilling and confronting. I rather more like the stories of kindness and humanity that the adversaries show each other. Aussie stretcher bearers reported that sometimes even during a fight the Germans would point out were the wounded were lying. An Aussie was wounded during an advance, not badly, but he could not go on. When he did not show up in a field hospital his mates went looking for him, and found him wrapped in a German overcoat, with a dead German lying beside him. Apparently the badly wounded German has stumbled towards the Australian lines, and upon seeing the wounded man, and believing that the Aussie had a better chance of survival than he, wrapped him in his overcoat, and then lay down beside him to die.

As Carlyon notes, the conflict still comes to the surface in France and Belgium. I remember hearing at the time in 1995 about a tractor driver turning up some remains, and a metal detector finding the soldier's effects, including a wallet with a photo of the Aussie's ten month old daughter inside. Eighty years later. That daughter, Myrtle, attended the funeral of the father she never met as an 80 year old. I wonder what emotions she felt, standing there, surrounded by headstones and strangers, on the other side of the world.
Wow, what a great synopsis - my GGF fought in this war (an actual ANZAC soldier). As a result, I travelled to Ypres and spent many hours at Tyne Cot, Passchendaele and celebrated Anzac Day service at the Menon Gate. Probably the most moving experiences (next to my daughter's births) that I've ever had.

I'll seek that book out !

Thank you
 

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Wow, what a great synopsis - my GGF fought in this war (an actual ANZAC soldier). As a result, I travelled to Ypres and spent many hours at Tyne Cot, Passchendaele and celebrated Anzac Day service at the Menon Gate. Probably the most moving experiences (next to my daughter's births) that I've ever had.

I'll seek that book out !

Thank you
I would offer to post it to you Tim but I have recently discovered just how expensive international post is. There are also some cracking books about the NZ contribution to the not so great war.

Some years ago while at a function at the Aust War Memorial a staff member asked me if I knew the name of family members that had served, and then printed out a whole swag of documents about the two whose names I was sure of. There were official records and hand written letters from the family thanking the Army for returning their effects, and something that I did not expect, reports of how the artilleryman and infantryman had died. Sitting around eating fine food and drinking fine wine felt quite weird afterwards, and I could not help but wonder what they would make of me, in my suit and tie, amongst all the history and weapons of war. I think they would have been amused, and maybe even proud.
 

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Oh man, thanks for even considering sending it - I'll definitely source my own copy - but thanks anyways.

And just to be clear, although it's a little unusual, I'm actually a fifth generation Aussie. I moved to NZ about 25 years ago (1 in 30,000 going the opposite way) and it's definitely home for me now. I'm just slightly schizophrenic when it comes to my nationality - it all depends on the circumstances. My parents and siblings are all still in Aussie but my daughters etc. are all here in NZ so that's definitely home for me.
 
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After the horrors of the western front and Gallipoli, and before I return to France 20 years later, I thought I needed something light and fluffy, and what is lighter and fluffier than a cloud?

The Cloudspotter's Guide (The Science, History and Culture of Clouds) by Gavin Pretor-Pinney is a delightful read, especially, if like me, you have ever been recumbent, perhaps with a bottle of something or the herb superb, watching the clouds and wondering what was going on, and why.

Pretor-Pinney is the founder of the Cloud Appreciation Society, and co-founder of Idler magazine. I like the sound of that, Idler. Inertia is much under-rated.

The Cloudspotter's Guide is not too heavy on the meteorological science for the lay-person, and contains numerous amusing observations and anecdotes. One such story is about a cloud unique to Australia and celebrated by the local Indigenous people in the Gulf country, called the Morning Glory. This cloud can reach 600 miles in length, and is much sort after by glider pilots, offering the chance to break speed and distance records. Getting the cloud wrong for a glider pilot is very bad news, it is very remote and there are crocodiles below. Is there anybody out there?

There is also one ripping yarn, which I will share in edited form.

Lt Col William T Rankin, a WW2 and Korean war veteran, was flying in the summer of 1959 over Norfolk, Virginia, USA, and had to climb to 48,000 feet to get over some cumulonimbus (aka thunderstorm) clouds. At this point his aircraft failed. Bugger. It was -58F outside, he was wearing a summer flying suit, at 6pm he ejected from the plane and began his descent.

Suffering from the extreme cold and de-compression, he had no sense of falling, but of ‘zooming through the air’. His body was distending as a result of his insides expanding and he was bleeding from his eyes, ears, nose and mouth.

Five minutes after ejecting he entered the top of the storm clouds. His parachute had failed to open, so he was relieved when it did, but he was being hammered by freezing hailstones.

Ten minutes after ejection he should have been reaching the ground, but he was in fact going up, driven by the violent wind gusts. Rankin along with hundreds of thousands of hailstones were falling one minute, and then being blasted back up into the cloud.

While being beaten up by the hailstones, thunder and lightning started. The lightning appeared as huge blue blades, several feet thick, and he didn’t hear the thunder so much as feel it. He had to hold his breath so as to not drown in the freezing rain. At one point he looked up as a bolt of lightning passed behind his ‘chute, illuminating the canvas so that it looked to him like a giant white domed cathedral. He thought he had died.

Rankin landed in a pine forest shortly after this, with the storm still raging. A descent from 48,000 feet would normally take about ten minutes, he landed at 6.40pm. The doctors were as amazed as Rankin that he had survived.
 

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Not a book but a documentary of a similar bizarre incident paragliding, I found it fascinating as my brothers and I did some hang-gliding many 🌙moons ago, 🌈

 

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Thanks for your post, I have studied Gallipoli to some degree, mainly from Churchill's strategy and the technical challenges. One big upside, and lesson of the Gallipoli campaign: it was a guiding lesson for later WW II invasions of Europe and Pacific. I am sure my dad benefitted as he was at Normandy on June 4th, 1944.

Salute from a Yank.
WW11 was where my dad spent 4 years in a Borneo and a Sandakan pow camp,
I always try to think how lucky we are to virtually do and have anything we want and stop fussing over such little or big things that piss me off,
He said if they held on for one more day then the Jap's [whom he never held a grudge] would have run out of ammo and it would have been all over,
He was obviously grate full to make it back as any man or woman would so he helped mum fire out 11 kids, yep we had enough for our own cricket team,
Hence I had a lot of hand me down clothes and motorbikes, I was the coolest kid on the street, being 4th youngest had me learning to wrestle my elder bro's and sisses,
I would like to read some of Fitzpatricks books on the way it was, not sure if its to unrealistic or media enhanced to give a full picture,
There is some interviews given that I know of that are enlightening and in the Canberra war memorial records they share some of them,
A bike running rough and other issues and sweating on it is not comparable so I don't care about it too much, its a hobby, we all need one, arrivederci, 🤗
 

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Not a book but a documentary of a similar bizarre incident paragliding, I found it fascinating as my brothers and I did some hang-gliding many 🌙moons ago, 🌈
Yeah, thanks, I had forgotten about this. I have a mate who is a hang glider.
 

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I have been working through some recently acquired military history books, chronologically by campaign, most recently The Battle of France 1940 by Colonel Adolphe Goutard.

A concise and clinical 250 pages, published in 1958 and translated from the French, there is none of the sort of fanfare that one gets now with this hardback, just a brief note on the inside cover and a foreword by Captain BH Liddel-Hart. In some quarters Liddel-Hart is credited with the mobile military strategy that the Nazis adopted as blitzkreig. An Australian, Lieut-General Monash, used a similar strategy at Hamel in 1918. Just common sense really.

I suspect that this is quite a rare book, my copy is a former public library book, last borrowed on 10 May 1972. I did not really know what to expect, and it has been very interesting and thought provoking indeed. It reminded me that the promises to Poland were not met, and that none of this should have happened.

Goutard’s opinions were apparently not well received by the French military establishment at the time. Goutard refuted the conventional view that the invaders had a superiority in numbers and equipment, and in fact blamed the French High Command (FHC), who were unable to deal with the new mobile warfare, had poor planning and strategy, and plenty of plain bad luck as well as bad management. At a critical point in the conflict, one of several, the most senior French general was killed in a car crash, it took days for the FHC to get re-organised. So capable in the ’14 -‘18 war, the FHC thought all wars would be fought in that static way that they had mastered so much earlier and better than their British allies during that first war. This time the invaders had other ideas, and appeared with dive-bombers and tanks in numbers where they were least expected, and where the most inexperienced troops were.

One of the myths that I have heard about the ’39 -‘45 war is that the French lacked the will to fight. The battles of Lille and Dunkirk amongst others disprove that myth. So many opportunities to at least halt the invaders, and probably repel them completely, missed or not taken.

At some point, a decision was made by someone, or not made, or someone influenced a decision, or did not influence a decision, and as a result, all was finally lost and France was occupied. As a direct consequence, in the years to come tens of millions of people died, and untold destruction occurred as a result. Oops.

But still the political and military hierarchy did not learn, fucking around with their colonial imperialism in North Africa and South East Asia.

There is a copy of Goutard’s book for sale on Amazon, for $110, that is 22 times what I paid for mine.
 

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I am not much interested in economics or statistics, although I might be if I was smarter, but I am interested in egalitarianism, and if you are then I can recommend Battlers and Billionaires (The Story of Inequality In Australia) by Andrew Leigh, published in 2013.

Leigh is the Member for Fraser in the Australian House of Representatives, and is from the Australian Labor Party (ALP). He was an economics professor at the Australian National University, and holds a PhD from Harvard. Given how clever and decent he is, why is he on the backbench and not in the shadow cabinet? You would have to ask the ALP.

This is an easy 150 page read, not at all complicated or cumbersome, simple graphs and explanations, good for rainy or cold days inside. To conclude, Leigh outlines eight suggestions for addressing inequality, and whether or not in some circumstances inequality can be useful. Australia was one of the most equal countries in the world from about 1940-1980, and since then inequality has returned, but not to the levels that were about in the 19th century.

There are a couple of interesting examples of attitudes towards inequality, one of which is very topical.

Leigh cites work by historian Gavan Daws on his study of men in Japanese POW camps. Daws thought that under the circumstances, national character would disappear, but it did not. “The Americans were the great individualists of the camps, the capitalists, the cowboys, the gangsters. The British hung onto their class structure like bulldogs, for grim death. The Australians kept trying to construct little male-bonded welfare states. Unlike the Americans, Australians could not imagine doing men to death by charging interest on something as basic to life as rice. That was blood sucking, it was murder.” The Australians mostly pooled and shared evenly what they had. The virtues of mateship, often a tedious Aussie refrain, is not just a platitude.

Leigh also compares the Australian Football League to the English [soccer] Premier League. The EPL is markedly less equal, and recent events have shown that to be even more true. I do wonder though if the AFL clubs had access to the sort of money that the EPL throws around if some rich git would not want to get in on the act and bugger it all up for everyone.
 

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Just me and Pat Malone again.

25 years after the first ANZACS trained in the Middle East they are back in the region in 1941, this time in Tobruk by Peter Fitzsimons. Manfred Rommel, the son of German general Erwin Rommel provides a foreword to the 500+ page book, which was published in 2006.

An interesting fellow Fitzsimons, he played rugby for Australia, is a journalist, broadcaster, documentary maker, and a general chronicler of Australian stories. Fitzsimons father fought in North Africa.

While probably of most interest to Australians and devotees of military history, Tobruk reads a bit like a very well researched novel, with personal stories, letters to and from home, diary notes and so on from all sides woven into the derring-do. And there is lots of derring-do.

Tobruk is a deep harbour in Libya, and control of the town was essential to the Axis plan to capture the Suez Canal. If they had succeeded, the war would have been very difficult indeed for Britain.

The first few chapters of the book summarise the situation in Europe and north Africa post WW1. After Italy joined Germany, the British and Australians arrive to remove the Italians from north Africa. The Italians surrendered in their thousands, Hitler came to Mussolini’s aid, the Afrika Korps got involved, and the Allies were driven back, leaving a garrison at Tobruk.

The garrison was supposed to hang on for two months, they held the Axis off for seven. Ironically, some of the credit for that goes to the Italian engineers who designed the town’s defence's. While not a technical defeat for the Germans, they stuck around trying to break in, it was certainly the first time that they had not won, and were quite unused to having their panzers reverse. They had to reverse, or it would have been a crushing defeat.

Fitzsimons notes that Italian fascism was much more benign than German, and that Italian soldiers were very reluctant to die so that il Duce could retain his patch of inhospitable territory. Many Italian POWs ended up in Australia, were they worked on farms and generally endeared themselves to the locals. In some places, officers were allowed to go into town unescorted.

I found it a most interesting, enjoyable and moving read. I share some of the stories that I liked, one of which is about motorcycles, Italian motorcycles.

When it was all said and done Rommel was doing the Nazis bidding, but Rommel was a firm believer in the Geneva Convention apparently. Both sides triaged wounded men based on the severity of wound, not which uniform the man was wearing. Rommel called it war without hate. The Poles were less keen on that idea when it came to the Germans.

There are few places to take cover in a stony sandy desert. A German Lieutenant sought shelter and found it occupied by Australian infantry. He pulled out his grenade and said they should surrender. The Aussies laughed and told him to put his grenade away, that he was the prisoner. The German noticed a badly wounded Aussie and as he was carrying his now destroyed tank’s first aid kit, went and proceeded to dress the man’s wounds. When he had finished the Aussies gave him a cigarette, slapped him on the back and said ”You’re alright with us, mate”.

A parade ground English Captain came up to the Aussie trenches and asked a man who was digging why he had not saluted. (The Australian’s didn’t much like saluting pommy officers, it just encouraged them.) The digger put his shirt back on, revealing that he was a Major. The Aussie Major says “Now that you are finished saluting, Captain, either grab a pick or fuck off.”

The Italians had very smart uniforms, especially the officers. The Aussies were amazed at some of the things that the Ities were issued with, like silk handkerchiefs, coffee percolators, wine, and other niceties of home. The Italian officers and soldiers generally disliked each other it seems.

The 18th Indian Cavalry Regiment were famous for their stealth, phantoms in the night. They carried knives and would put a knife to a man's throat and feel his collar for the AIF badge, and if they did not find the badge….

About 60 Australians were in the back of Axis trucks, heading to a POW camp. The roar of motorcycles approaching on the road ahead attracted everyone’s attention, it was the elite Italian Bersaglieri Unit, with their sun helmets and enormous black rooster feather cockades. Seeing the Aussies, and presumably to impress the Germans, the lead rider and commander made a rude gesture, clapping his left hand down on his right bicep and raising his fist into the air. The other troops followed suit. Someone up front lost control of their bike, and they all came down. Chaos ensued, and the Aussies laughed loud and long, and one by one so did the Germans, the war forgotten briefly. (According to Wikipedia, they would probably have been riding Guzzis or Benellis.)

During a night fight, a group of Aussies carrying a dying German came upon a group of Germans carrying a wounded Aussie. For minutes, no one spoke or moved, as though none quite knew what to do, or what would happen. Everyone just stood there, waiting, the possibility of death very present. The two groups more or less spontaneously swapped stretchers, and went their separate ways, not a word spoken, the wounded Aussie giving the Germans a respectful wave.
 
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