Crew : J For Jig RAAF Lancaster.

Mike Colman is an Award winning Australian journalist. A couple of years ago I remember reading an article he wrote for Brisbane’s Saturday newspaper which immediately appealed.

Essentially, whilst watching his children play in a park at St Johns Wood in inner Brisbane, Colman spotted a giant tree with a big boulder placed in front. On that boulder was a plaque saying the tree was planted in memory of Clifford Berger Hopgood who’d been killed on a bombing raid over France in 1944.

Colman followed through with the story of Cliff Hopgood, and vowed to chase up the story of the other six crew members in that plane that night

“Which I did, it took me six years and that’s the book”, he says. Published in 2018 Crew : The Story Of The Men Who Flew RAAF Lancaster J For Jig is a great read. 

Colman’s introduction sets it up beautifully. “There were seven men in J For Jig that night in February 1944, heading for Germany – seven out of a total of 125,000 who served as aircrew for RAF Bomber Command between 1940 and 1945. Their backgrounds were not unusual. They weren’t a special crew, a famous crew, they were as ordinary as can be. And that’s what makes them important. Because their stories are also the stories of the 125,000- who they were, what they did, whom they loved and whom they left behind.”

Four died and are buried together in a little French village (Villers-sous-Preny), two escaped to Switzerland with assistance from the French Underground, and the badly injured pilot did it awfully tough being moved from one German prison camp to another. It’s not pleasant reading though I think it important that we do, if only so that we can learn from our mistakes.

Not only has Colman gathered information that is interesting for historical purposes, and written in a manner that makes it palatable to all demographics ( such as us non technical types), but the human interest side is equally fascinating, including the French reaching out to the families of the fallen some years after wars end.

This book is also another hats off to the families, the loved ones, and the civilians who simply kept “soldiering on” in order to survive during this period in our history. Marvellous stuff.

Finished this one in a single sitting.

Thanks, Cait, my youngest Easter Bunny – oh, and I ate all the chocolate in one sitting too.

Anzac Parade and the AWM.

Anzac Parade starts at the steps of the Australian War Memorial, in Canberra, and ends at Lake Burley Griffin. On the other side of the lake is Parliament House (which houses our politicians.) 

View from the top of Mt Ainslie

The Parade is visually powerful, with a red gravel central strip and dark eucalypt ‘walls’. The red gravel of the central strip was originally made from crushed Canberra house bricks. The material was chosen in part for the similarity to the ‘crunch’ made by military boots during a parade (and some suggest refers to blood). The ‘walls’ are created by the Victorian Blue Gum, Eucalyptus bicostata, and the planter boxes, which contrast in colour to the crushed red brick paving, have the native New Zealand plant Hebe ‘Autumn Glory’ growing in them, symbolising the ANZAC connection.

Taking a self guided walking tour along the Parade is something I do every visit to Canberra, regardless of the season. The fragrance from the Eucalypts and the overhanging branches are stunning. At dawn or dusk you’re more than likely to spot a grazing kangaroo, and the parrots and cockatoos that feed on the flowering gums are a constant reminder that Canberra is indeed our “Bush Capital”.

Lining each side of the Parade are monuments commemorating the military conflicts in which Australia has played a part. It officially opened on 25 April 1965 to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the ANZAC landing in Gallipoli.

One of the most recent additions to Anzac Parade, and also my favourite, is a monument to the Boer War. It was unveiled late last year.

The monument shows Australian troopers mounted on horses breaking through the trees of Anzac Parade. The significance of the four troopers is that they represent a four-man section, a formation for fighting and patrolling. When they went into combat, three men would dismount while the fourth would lead the horses to cover.  Letters from a soldier are at the feet of the horses.

There is also a nod to Australian Bush Poet and journalist, A B (Banjo) Paterson, who served in both the Boer War and WW1.

There are no Entry Fees to visit the Australian War Memorial.

See you in a couple of weeks!

“Weary” Dunlop at the AWM.

Edward “Weary” Dunlop was working as a Surgeon in the UK when WW2 started. He enlisted in the Australian Army Medical Corps (6th Division) almost immediately and was posted in December 1939 as Medical Officer, Headquarters, Australian Overseas Base, Jerusalem, and appointed Acting Assistant Director of Medical Services. He was promoted to Major in 1940 and appointed Deputy Assistant Director of Medical Services on the staff of the Australian Corps Headquarters and AIF Headquarters in Gaza and Alexandria, serving in both Greece and Crete. Remaining with this unit as senior surgeon (and second in charge) he subsequently served with them in Tobruk.

Following the withdrawal from Tobruk Dunlop was transferred to Java with the 6th and 7th Divisions where he took command of the Bandung Allied General Hospital. When Java fell he became a Prisoner of War.

Dunlop and the soldiers working under his command were then transferred to Singapore and the POWs referred to as “Dunlop Force” were then sent to work on the Burma-Thailand railway. 

He became a legend among Australian POWs as an inspiration for their own survival, working tirelessly to find solutions to a myriad of medical issues.

Dunlop’s commitment to exservice men in the post war years endeared him to the entire country.

His many awards included the Order of the British Empire (1947), Knight Batchelor (1969), Companion of the Order of Australia (1987), Knight Grand Cross, Order of St John of Jerusalem (1992), Knight Grand Cross (1st Class) of the Most Noble Order of the Royal Crown of Thailand (1993), Honorary Fellowship of the Imperial College of London, Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Honorary Life Member of the RSL and Life Governor of the Royal Women’s Hospital and the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. In 1977 he was named Australian of the Year and in 1988 one of the 200 Great Australians.

I believe that to his mind the greatest honour he received was the respect and affection of his men for whom he continued to fight for their repatriation benefits until the end of his days.

I grew up on a diet of Dunlop which only encouraged my interest in later years. His War Diaries are a fascinating read in that he recounts the conditions under which the POWs survived, sometimes boringly so with accounts of repetitive rice rationing, as well as many of the major medical procedures undertaken to save lives with minimal or no medicines or equipment.

Interestingly, these past ten years I have collected numerous friends who are the children of Dunlop Force. One fella’s Dad worked on Cholera Hill where the bodies of POWs were cremated, and where Weary’s diary notes were safely hidden on scraps of paper as the Japanese were too frightened to intrude.

I found this children’s book today on sale at the local Post Office. I’m the boring Aunt who bitches no end about Disney princesses and fluff. Ten copies on order:)

Simpson and his Donkey.

In the 1960’s at school when we were learning about ANZAC Day and the Gallipoli Campaign, it was all about Simpson and his donkey. That’s it, other than it being an opportunity for the boys to wear their Cub uniforms on the day and the girls, their Red Cross apron and cape. No apron for this black duck – I wore Rosemary pinned to my shirt straight from my mother’s garden.

John (Jack) Simpson Kirkpatrick (6 July 1892 – 19 May 1915), who served under the name John Simpson, was a stretcher bearer with the 1st Australian Division during the Gallipoli Campaign in World War I. After landing at Anzac Cove on 25 April 1915, Simpson began to use donkeys to provide first aid and carry wounded soldiers to the beach, for evacuation. Simpson and the donkeys continued this work for three and a half weeks, often under fire, until he was killed.

Interestingly, Bill the Bastard, the waler horse I recently read about, was the one who would carry Simpson’s body back down the valley when Simpson was shot by a spray of shrapnel.

(Note to self : Interconnectedness. Amazing stuff).

Not a good photo of the statue of Simpson and his Donkey at the Australian War Memorial. It remains very much a part of the ANZAC Legend and as such is difficult to get a look in with the tourists.

What I do like are these chairs located in the onsite Cafe, Poppies. Of course, my daughter virtually disowned me when I enquired how much they were to purchase, and whether the price included Carrot Cake and Coffee.

Elevation of the Senses

When I last visited the Australian War Memorial in Canberra late last year I took the opportunity to walk through the Sculpture Garden. With Anzac Day looming I thought I’de share some of my photos and their stories.

Elevation of the Senses, was created by Sculptor/Painter Ewen Coates, and immortalises the special moment between a soldier and his dog.

These dogs help save lives as they help their handlers find improvised explosive devices, ammunition, and weapons.

From the AWM:

“ The tunnel through the base of the sculpture alludes to the rigorous training undertaken by the dogs, while the rocky outcrops atop the columns represent the foreign landscapes to which the dogs and their handlers are deployed. The elevation of the dog on the central column, where it crouches eye-to-eye with its handler, highlights the deep bonds that are forged between the two, as well as the mutual dependence on which their work is based.

Within the main column itself is a hidden cache of weapons, visible only from the back of the sculpture to illustrate the danger of buried IEDs or hidden weapons that the dogs find with their heightened sense of smell. Next to the pair is a duffel bag and a tennis ball, an integral part of the dog’s training, as well as a valuable reward when the animal has located explosives.”

Inscribed on the side of the sculpture are the names of Australian explosive detection dogs that have been killed in operations – Merlin, Razz, Andy, Nova, Lucky and Herbie.  There is also a human name – Sapper Darren Smith, who died with his beloved dog Herbie in Afghanistan in June 2010. Herbie, Darren, and Sapper Jacob Moreland were investigating metal signature on the footpad of a creek bed, when an IED was triggered. The blast killed Herbie, and mortally wounded Darren Smith and Jacob Moreland.

Mesmerising and made this old heart flutter.

(Note: With Anzac Day comes all the usual controversies, and this year is no exception. The Freedom-of-Speechers are already out in force and I refer to a particular wanker in an educational and leadership role at a southern university. No identification here ; your 15 minutes of fame was 15 minutes too long).

Bill the Bastard and War Horse/s

When I visited the daughter in London ten years ago there were signs everywhere across the city advertising War Horse at one of the city theatres. My immediate thought was what the hell was Broncos Rugby League Captain, Shane Webcke, doing in the UK, and what could he possibly be doing to fill theatres? Embarrassingly parochial, I know.


When the stage production of War Horse later came to Australia I was mesmerised by the puppetry. Great tale too honouring the work of horses in World War 1, though as is often the case with Gemini’s, my interest in the machinations of the production took precedence over the story line. Even the more simplistic goose puppets were spectacular to watch.

Based on Michael Morpurgo’s 1982 novel, War Horse was then turned into a movie  directed and co-produced by Steven Spielberg. All I have to say is that the price of Kleenex shares skyrocketed that year. So dreadfully sad I sat with my skirt pulled up over my head in the cinema shielding me from the brutality on screen with absolutely no regard for retaining any dignity. 

I’ve just read Bill The Bastard by Roland Perry. Bastard is a term of endearment in Australia and Bill, a massive (waler) horse was much respected as a pack horse in the Palestinian campaign in WW1 amongst the Australian Light Horse for the work he achieved and for bringing four men to safety.

The read is a reminder of the value of horses, of all animals, during war. I found it a fascinating reminder that Australia at that time was still such a young country that familiar names were interconnected: Banjo Paterson, Henry Chauvel, John Simpson.

As a tribute to the 100th Anniversary of the end of WW1 the Warrnambool Racing Club in Victoria last year instigated the running of the Jericho Cup.

Why the Jericho Cup?

Approaching the end of the First World War the Australian Light Horse were planning a major offensive against the Turkish Empire. In order to lull the enemy into believing nothing unusual was afoot, a race meeting was organised on the eve of the assault.

The main race was called The Jericho Cup over 3 miles through the desert sands. The winner was Bill the Bastard.

Following the success of this Race Meeting it has been deemed an annual event. Sunday, December 1st, is the date for this years event. Just something else to add to the Bucket List….

The Great Escape – 75th Anniversary

Earlier this week marked the 75th anniversary of the Great Escape when 76 RAF PoWs attempted to escape from Stalag Luft III, of which only 3 successfully escaped and made it home.

Of the 73 who were recaptured, 50 were chosen at random and murdered by the Gestapo.

The International Bomber Command Centre in the UK found 28 of those who were in Bomber Command and whose names are on the Centre’s memorial. A wreath has been laid at The Spire to honour the 50 who died, and a poppy placed in each of the 28 members of Bomber Command on the Memorial Walls.

The remaining 23 who were not shot, were placed in various prison camps including Colditz.

I’m a tad fragile at the moment and swilling with drugs to beat a couple of bugs, thus providing time to think which is more often than not, a huge negative.

I’ve stumbled across the website of an Australian author, who as fate would have it, is also a mate of my late aviation-tragic friend and author, Justin Sheedy.

Kristen Alexander is currently a PhD candidate at University of New South Wales (Canberra) researching the experiences of Australians in Stalag Luft III and welcomes contact with anyone with family connections to former SLIII prisoners. She has been writing about Australia’s aviation history since 2002. Allen & Unwin published Clive Caldwell Air Ace in 2006 and Jack Davenport Beaufighter Leader in 2009. Barrallier Books published Australian Eagles in 2013. NewSouth published Australia’s Few and the Battle of Britain in September 2014. Pen & Sword published the UK edition in April 2015. Jack Davenport Beaufighter Leader was in the RAAF Chief of Air Force’s 2010 Reading List. Australia’s Few was included on the 2015 list. Kristen won the Military Historical Society of Australia’s 2012 and 2013 Sabretache Writer’s Prize. Her articles and book reviews have appeared in Flightpath, Aircrew Book Review, Sabretache, Britain at War, and Aviation Heritage. Taking Flight. Lores Bonney’s Extraordinary Flying Career was published by the National Library of Australia in March 2016.

Photos of the lost 50.

Kristen’s website is and she has a fascinating blog in which she discusses the Great Escape, and particularly how the Australian relatives responded. It’s well worth a read.

Time for more antibiotics…..