Angels of Kokoda, by David Mulligan

Thank you David Mulligan. Thank you for writing a book that taught me so much about the atrocities of war alongside the power of mateship. I am ashamed to admit that, before I read Angels of Kokoda, I knew very little about Australia’s plight in Papua New Guinea. I knew nothing of the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels. Sure I’d heard of the Kokoda trail, friends of friends had backpacked there but after reading Mulligan’s book I now feel that I have been there, really been there.

Angels of Kokoda is told through the eyes of twelve year old Derek, the son of missionaries. It is about human frailty, human strength and human survival. It is about respect. Derek’s respect for his friend Morso and his native culture, and Derek’s increasing respect for his often prejudiced yet committed father.

Angels of Kokoda is about self respect, about being the best that you can be, about never giving up. It is an inspirational tale, a moving tale, a tale that should be told to all our children. And I can only be thankful that it has now been told to me.

Angels of Kokoda, by David Mulligan
Lothian Books, 2006

Quinn's Post, by Peter Stanley

Whilst there are many, many books available about Gallipoli – the campaigns fought there, the men who fought them and the impact they had on the course of Australia’s history – this latest book offers a different perspective, by focussing on the Gallipoli campaign as it played out at Quinn’s Post, a tiny patch of ground on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

Quinn’s Post is a name which many Australians will be familiar with, but few know much about it or understand why it is famous. Historian Peter Stanley attempts to remedy that situation by providing a unique insight into the history of the post. Rather than presenting a chronology of facts, Stanley’s emphasis is on the stories of the men who fought at Quinn’s, with individual accounts woven into every page of the text .

This is an accessible history, with plenty of human interest and language that laymen can understand. It is not, however, either simplistic or idealistic – Stanley recounts the events frankly, and using personal accounts adds to that honesty.

Quinn’s Post is a fascinating read.

Quinn’s Post, by Peter Stanley
Allen & Unwin, 2005

The Silent 7th, by Mark Johnston

The 7th Australian Infantry Division fought in some of the most famous battles of Word War II. Yet, while these battles and the places they were fought – including Tobruk, Milne Bay and the Kokoda Trail – have remained well-known, few Australians would realise the part the 7th Division played in them. It is this lack of public recognition, even during the division’s active days, that led to its members coining it ‘the silent 7th’.

Now, historian Mark Johnston chronicles the history and achievements of the division in an illustrated hardcover volume: The Silent 7th. With over 200 photographs, some official but most unposed, the volume provides an in depth view of the conditions in which the soldiers fought and lived. As well as maps, there are two appendices which detail casualties suffered by members of the division and honours and awards won.

This is an important book, because it fills a gap in the written history of Australia’s military campaigns. It will be of interest to historians and military enthusiasts, but is also accessible to anyone with an interest in Australia’s past.

The Silent 7th: An Illustrated History of the 7th Australian Division, by Mark Johnston
Allen & Unwin, 2005

That Magnificent 9th, by Mark Johnston

Best known as the ‘Rats of Tobruk’ for their involvement in that well known seige, the Australian 9th Division was one of five volunteer AIF divisions raised in Word World II. From its formation in 1940 until it was disbanded in 1946, the division fought in Tobruk, El Alamein, New Guinea and Borneo, being widely praised and gaining more fame than any other Australian division.

In That Magnificent 9th author and military historian Mark Johnston traces the history of the division. Whilst there are plenty of facts, figures and maps, the focus is on providing a visual record, with hundreds of photographs providing unique insight into the life and feats of the members of the division. Whilst there are official and press photographs, some of the most telling and personal come from the private collections of veterans.

Of course, the photographs themselves are well supported with Johnston’s well-researched commentary, providing a detailed history of all aspects of the Division’s entire existence. There are detailed tables of the Divsion’s casualties and of bravery awards bestowed on members of the Division.

Not light reading, this is instead informative but accessible, sharing an important part of Australia’s history to those who may not know it, and providing greater insight for those who do.

That Magnificent 9th, by Mark Johnston
Allen & Unwin, 2002, this edition 2005

In the Line of Fire, by Rex Sadler and Tom Hayllar

In the years since Federation, a large element of Australia’s national identity has been forged by our role in international conflicts. In In the Line of Fire, authors Rex Sadler and Tom Hayllar explore this role. What sets this book apart from other such books is that much of the talking is done by the very men (and women) who fought in these conflicts.

Focussing on on the two world wars, Korea and Vietnam, the book details the important events of each conflict and then shares stories from these conflicts. These stories include first-hand accounts – recollections, biographies, letters home and extracts from other book-length accounts. There are also more than 60 photographs included to add visual weight to the words.

As well as focussing on different campaigns – including Gallipoli, the Kokokoda Trail and Tobruk – there are also chapters devoted to the role of women, war photographers, and Victoria Cross recipients.

The use of first-hand accounts makes this a highly personalised, very real offering, providing personal insights into the hardships of war.

In the line of Fire, by Rex Sadler and Tom Hayllar
Macmillan, 2005

A Bastard of A Place, by Peter Brune

When Australians think of the brave men who fought in Papua in the Second World War, they immediately think of the Kokoda Trail. But as well as the Kokda campaign, Australian men fought against the Japanese in Milne Bay on the eastern tip of the island, and in Gona, Buna and Sanananda in the north.

A Bastard of a Place details the efforts of Australian soldiers in all of these places in the years 1942 and 1943. It describes and explores the men who fought there, the battles that they fought and the victories they won. Importantly, it also debunks some of the myths and outright untruths about the events.

The war against the Japanese in Papua and New Guinea was one which was vital for the protection of Australia. The story, as it is told here, is an important piece of our history, yet one which is not well known. Peter Brune, in this honest and well-researched volume, seeks to make up for this lack of renown and bring this piece of history to the common Australian.

Essential reading.

A Bastard of a Place: The Australians in Papua, by Peter Brune
Allen & Unwin, 2003

The Spirit of the Digger-Then and Now, by Patrick Lindsay

Much has been said and written about ‘The Digger’ – the soldier who has fought for Australia in numerous conflicts and who, to many, represents the spirit of Australia. But who exactly is the digger and what elements have gone into the forging of his spirit?

In The Spirit of the Digger author Patrick Lindsay explores just what it is that sets Australian soldiers apart from those of other nations. Using the words and recounted actions of Australian soldiers, he reveals the human aspect of the campaigns they have been involved in and provides insight into their lives, their thoughts and their spirit, to give the reader a deeper understanding of the character of the digger and the heritage they have forged for all Australians.

Lindsay looks at diggers both past and present – from the campaigns of Gallipoli, the Somme, North Africa, New Guinea, Vietnam, East Timor, Afghanistan and more. He prefaces the book with an example of how the spirit of the digger plays out away from the battlefield, describing Australian spirit and actions in the terrorist bombings of Bali in 2001.

This is not an easy read but it is inspirational, exploring an aspect of Australia’s history of which all Australians can be proud.

The Spirit of the Digger: Then and Now, by Patrick Lindsay
Pan Macmillan, 2003

One Fourteenth of an Elephant, by Ian Denys Peek

At the start of the Second World war, Denys Peek was living as a civilian in Singapore, with his brother Ron and his parents. Like most other able bodied expatriates, he signed up as a volunteer to help in Singapore’s defense. When Singapore fell, in February 1942, Denys and his brother became prisoners of war, interred with tens of thousands of other British, Australian and Commonwealth men.

Transported to Siam, Denys spent the next three years living in Japanese run labor camps, forced to work on the building of the Burma-Thailand Railway.


In appalling conditions these men fought to keep both bodies and spirits alive, whilst enduring harsh and unreasonable work expectations, limited food rations, no sanitation, and the dismal prospect of never seeing their families or their countries again.


Over 20,000 men died in the construction of the railway. Many times during his three year ordeal Peek faced the prospect of joining their ranks. Miraculously, he survived, spurred on by a stubborn refusal to die, the bond he shared with his brother and his mates, and, at times, by psychic happenings that defied explanation.


In One Fourteenth of an Elephant, Peek shares his story with an intimacy and openness that stirs deep feelings in the heart of the reader. Writing in present tense, he recounts events as they happened, taking the reader with him on his daily quest for survival.


This is a book which reveals horrific suffering, events and brutality that almost defy belief – yet it is not a depressing story. Peek’s own survival and the courage and humanity showed by his fellow prisoners are an incredible demonstration of just how people can triumph over the strongest adversity.


Powerful, evocative – essential reading.


One Fourteenth of an Elephant, by Ian Denys Peek
Pan Macmillan, 2003