A pile of books and a cuppa

Summer reading guide

RSL Queensland 17 December 2020

If you’re looking for a good read to enjoy during your downtime this summer, we’ve got some suggestions.

From a brother’s quest to find answers, to evocative wartime fiction and thrilling memoirs, our Summer Reading Guide has something for everyone.

RAAF BLACK CATS

The secret and dangerous operations of Australia’s Pacific War Catalina crews told for the first time.

In March 1945, Reg Cleworth, a navigator on PBY Catalina seaplanes flying out of Darwin, went missing in action. No details were ever given about the incident that took his life, nor the reason his plane went down. For Reg’s younger brother, Robert, the news came as a fulfilling prophecy. The last time they saw each other, Reg confided in Robert, “I don’t think I’m coming back”.

Forty years later, Robert decided to investigate what happened to his brother. What he uncovered was an extraordinary story of a covert Australian airborne mine-laying operation in cooperation with the US Seventh Fleet to disrupt the Japanese supply routes. One of the riskier and more dangerous RAAF undertakings of the Pacific War, secrecy restrictions were imposed on everyone involved. They were never formally lifted.

Had it not been for a chance meeting that allowed Robert access to previously unopened files in the US national archives, this remarkable story may never have been told. What he unearthed revealed the sacrifice and achievements of the RAAF Catalina crews and the vital role they played in MacArthur’s strategic plan for the south-west Pacific.

RAAF Black Cats by Robert Cleworth and John Suter Linton is published by Allen & Unwin (RRP: $32.99).

THE DECEPTIONS

The Deceptions was inspired by the lives of Suzanne’s former landlords, Fred and Eva Perger, who were Czech and Jewish and had both survived the Holocaust. Over years of friendship, their stories were gifted to Suzanne to form the inspiration behind this powerful novel of wartime betrayal.

Prague, 1943. Taken from her home in Prague, Hana Lederová finds herself imprisoned in the Jewish ghetto of Theresienstadt, where she endures the threat of transportation to the east. When she attracts the attention of her guard, a Czech gendarme, Hana reluctantly accepts his advances – hoping for the protection she so desperately needs.

Sydney, 2010. Manipulated into a liaison with her married boss, Tessa knows she needs to end it, but how? Tessa’s grandmother, Irena, also has something to hide. Harking back to the Second World War, hers is a carefully kept secret that, if revealed, would send shockwaves well beyond her own fractured family.

Moving from wartime Europe to modern day Australia, this book follows a fractured family whose lives are built on the foundations of lies, love, deception and regrets.

The Deceptions by Suzanne Leal is published by Allen & Unwin (RRP: $29.99).

ANZAC AND AVIATOR

This is the story of an extraordinary Australian, Ross Smith, who rode to war at Gallipoli on horseback and by the end of the war was one of the most highly awarded fighter pilots.

In the smouldering aftermath of WWI, a young Australian pilot and his crew prepare to attempt the inconceivable: a flight, halfway around the globe, from England to Australia. The 18,000-kilometre odyssey will take 28 days and test these men and their twin-engine biplane to the limit.

It is a trans-continental feat that will change the world and bring the air age to Australia. It will also prove to be the culminating act in the extraordinary and tragically brief life of its commander, Captain Sir Ross Smith.

Raised on a remote sheep station in the dying days of Australia’s colonial frontier, there was little in Ross Smith’s childhood that suggested a future as one of the world’s great pioneering aviators. He went to war in 1914, serving with the light horse at Gallipoli and in the Sinai before volunteering for the fledgling Australian Flying Corps.

ANZAC and Aviator by Michael Molkentin is published by Allen & Unwin (RRP: $32.99)

TOBRUK TO LABUAN

Tobruk to Labuan is an account of Brigadier Colin ‘Hugh’ Boyd Norman’s life, primarily told through selected letters from his service during WWII.

Known as a soldier of unswerving integrity, he was a Captain of the 24th Anti-Tank Company at the 1941 siege of Tobruk, where he won a Military Cross in the Battle of the Salient against German troops led by General Erwin Rommel.

Eighteen months later, after the battalion’s devastating losses at Ruin Ridge, he would be an eyewitness to the third and final battle of El Alamein.

By 1943, as Lt Colonel of 2/28th Battalion, he won a Distinguished Service Order for the battalion’s crossing of the Busu River in New Guinea and its surprise attack on the Japanese, contributing to the successful capture of Lae.

Tobruk to Labuan by Amanda Hickey can be purchased online at tobruktolabuan.bigcartel.com (RRP: $29.95).

ATOMIC SALVATION

Did atomic weapons bring about a great peace?

Since the initial acknowledgement of the success of the A-bomb attacks in ending World War II, there has been a steady reversal of opinion and sentiment: from a first hearty appreciation to a condemnation by many of the United States for its actions.

Atomic Salvation investigates the full situation of the times to a previously unplumbed depth. It examines documents from both Japanese and Allied sources, but it uses logical, in-depth analysis to extend beyond the mere recounting of statistics. It charts the full extent of the possible casualties on both sides if a conventional assault akin to D-Day had gone ahead. The work is concerned solely with the military necessity to use the bombs,  but it also investigates why that necessity has been increasingly challenged over the successive decades.

Atomic Salvation by Dr Tom Lewis is published by Big Sky Publishing (RRP: $29.99).

PROJECT RAINFALL

Pine Gap is a top-secret American spy base on Australian soil, but how much do we really know about it?

At the height of the Cold War, the chief of one of Australia’s spy agencies joined three CIA men at a remote site in Central Australia to toast the success of a top-secret project known in US intelligence circles as RAINFALL.

The CIA listening station at Pine Gap was officially called the Joint Defence Space Research Facility, but it had nothing to do with research and was joint in name only: Australians were hired as cooks and janitors, but the first spies were all American.

The job of the satellites controlled from Pine Gap was to eavesdrop on Soviet missile tests. While government ministers denied that Australia was a nuclear target, bureaucrats in Canberra secretly planned for Armageddon in the suburbs of Alice Springs. No longer just a listening station, Pine Gap has metamorphosed into a key weapon in the Pentagon’s war on terror, with Australians in frontline roles.

Drawing on declassified documents in Australian and US archives, Tom Gilling’s explosive new book tells for the first time the uncensored story of Australia’s most secret place.

Project Rainfall by Tom Gilling is published by Allen & Unwin (RRP: $32.99).

A GRACIOUS ENEMY

The full story of the three Indochina Wars, warts and all.

The first was the Indochinese people fighting against the French colonists and their suppliers and allies from the US.

The second was the people of Indochina (Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam) fighting against an allied coalition force made up of Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand, South Vietnam and the US.

The second Indochina War is usually referred to as the Vietnam War. This book examines the re-adjustment of Vietnamese society after the uprising of the Tay Son Brothers in 1770 and their stopping of the Trin and Nguyen families’ oppression of the Vietnamese people.

A Gracious Enemy by Michael G Kramer is available via amazon.com.au (RRP: $45.00). 

WINGS OF GOLD

Flying from an aircraft carrier is one of the most difficult things to do in all of aviation. This is the story of a group of young Australians who joined the Royal Australian Navy to take up that challenge in the mid-1960s.

Their story is unique because, unlike those who went before them and those who followed, they were sent to the USA to undertake their flight training with the United States Navy. So began an unusual chapter in the story of the Royal Australian Navy. ‘The Pensacola experiment’, as it was called, was an outstanding success.

This book follows the young men’s initial and sometimes almost accidental encounters with the Navy recruiting office to their arrival as fully fledged naval aviators at the Naval Air Station Nowra, NSW, ready to join their first squadrons.

Wings of Gold by Trevor Rieck, Jack McCaffrie and Jed Hart is published by Big Sky Publishing (RRP: $34.99).

THE LAST NAVIGATOR

An extraordinary first-person story of a boy from the Queensland bush who survived the dangers of Bomber Command to become Qantas’ last navigator.

The choking, chest-tightening feeling of being trapped in a burning Lancaster, enduring the uncertainty, you count down the requisite 60 seconds for the tanks to blow. Your skip has thrown off the fighters with yet another brilliant corkscrew manoeuvre, but will you get your badly wounded bomber home?

Gordon Goodwin was a decorated airman and an inspired leader. During WWII he served in probably the most dangerous occupation of all, flying with the Pathfinders as they led bombing raids into Germany. He undertook 32 Pathfinder missions, including nine over Berlin, and 65 missions over enemy territory with Bomber Command. But to survive his childhood was perhaps a greater achievement. Raised in harsh and loveless circumstances outside Brisbane during the Depression, his accomplishments were remarkable.

This is the powerful first-hand account of Gordon’s dangerous and brave war experiences as recalled for his son Paul.

The Last Navigator is published by Allen & Unwin (RRP: $32.99).

FAMILY FIRST

This is a true story told by a man who believes he is a survivor, and not a victim, despite what he has endured and lost.

The brutality, despair, loneliness, loss of family and childhood have been off-set by the life he later experienced and pursued with his wife of 50-plus years and his children. The author, his siblings, and especially his mother, were subjected to the brutality of a man ill-suited to the responsibilities and role of a husband and father of six.

The family unit finally disintegrated. The father had gone too far, and the children were taken away, with the older three children placed in orphanages and the younger three either adopted or fostered out to families. Women were very much on their own and had to endure. It would be 40 years before the author and his siblings were finally reunited.

George J Knox spent his formative years in orphanages run by the Christian Brothers. He went on to serve in the Royal Australian Air Force, lived in Canada, and joined the Office of the Air Attaché in Washington DC. He worked with the Department of Foreign Affairs as a career overseas officer, serving in Moscow, Santiago de Chile and Chicago, and Moscow as personal assistant to the Secretary of DFAT, Director of DFAT Office in Sydney, and as Senior Foreign Affairs Representative to South Australia.

After retiring from DFAT, he continued his eclectic career path – working as a restaurateur, in the film industry, for the Federal Court in Brisbane, and for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and DFAT.

Family First by George J Knox is published by Fort Knox Productions (RRP: $29.99 for RSL members). Email ado@blokesworld.com

NORM – BOMBER COMMAND

The touching, true story of the first Australian RAAF airman to fly a Lancaster Bomber in WWII.

As a 15-year-old boy growing up in Sydney, Francis Norman ‘Norm’ Crouch knew he wanted to be a pilot after he saw his first airplane – a low-flying Tiger Moth Biplane. He was so transfixed he crashed his bike into a nearby thicket. It was a fascination that led him to become a trainee pilot in the RAAF, where he became notorious for his low-flying antics.

Part of an early group of Australian airmen who went to Canada with the Empire Air Training Scheme, Norm survived the perilous Atlantic crossing to Scotland. He was then sent to Coningsby, England in 1941 to join Squadron 97 – one of the many RAF squadrons in the legendary ‘Bomber Command’ – where he became the first Australian to fly a Lancaster bomber in air raids over Germany.

When the family home burned down in 1957, Norm lost all his war records including his personal logbook. He wrote his memoir to ensure his story would not be lost. His son, James Crouch, used his father’s handwritten notes and other sources to produce this book.

Norm – Bomber Command by James Crouch is published by Footprints Publishing (RRP: $20 for RSL members, including postage). Email jamescrouchauthor@gmail.com

THE KOREAN KID

In 1950, with the shadow of WWII still heavy across the world, a vicious civil conflict erupted on the Korean peninsula and sucked 24 nations, including Australia, into a new round of fighting. The world’s two atomic superpowers – the United States and the Soviet Union – menaced each other across an arbitrary border as Korea became the proving ground for a new Cold War.

The odds faced by Australia’s young pilots were one in three that they would not come back. Most had no combat experience. Their planes were obsolete. Their orders were to dive upon a well-armed enemy with their bellies exposed, where one bullet to a fuel-tank meant an inescapable fireball.

The Korean Kid is the story of Jim Kichenside and the Australian pilots who took to the skies in the ‘forgotten war’ on the Korean peninsula.

The Korean Kid by Rochelle Nicholls is published by Big Sky Publishing (RRP: $29.99).

YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE JOINED...

General Sir Peter Cosgrove AK AC (Mil) CVO MC (Retd) is one of Australia’s most significant public figures. As a soldier he saw action in Vietnam, winning the Military Cross, and rose to the very top of his profession, becoming Chief of the Defence Force. Soon after his retirement from the Army, he was invited to take charge of the huge relief and rebuilding operation in Queensland after the devastation of Cyclone Larry.

In 2014, Cosgrove became Australia’s Governor-General.

As Governor-General, he travelled far and wide, supporting Australians in times of crisis, sadness, joy or celebration, representing us on the world stage with humour, intelligence and a force of personal magnetism felt by everyone.

When he retired in July 2019, it was as one of the most beloved and respected governors-general in Australia’s history. Cosgrove embodies the traits we truly value: warmth, humanity, toughness and loyalty. His humour and empathy shone through the pomp and ceremony, and his time as Governor-General will be remembered as much for his laughter as for the usual dignities of the office.

You Shouldn’t Have Joined… by Sir Peter Cosgrove is published by Allen & Unwin (RRP: $49.99).

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