Victory in the Pacific Day : 15th of August

With the 75th Anniversary of the end of the War in the Pacific only a fortnight away, the Department of Veterans Affairs has upgraded the ANZAC360 app to include the Fall of Singapore.

This will allow the next generation of Australians to learn about the beginning of a precarious time in our history during the Second World War by using virtual reality technology, through drone footage and a blending  of modern day imagery with pictures and footage of the action.

The Fall of Singapore and capture of so many Australians was a devastating event and made a Japanese invasion of the Australian mainland a real possibility.

This is the third stage of the ANZAC360 app which brings to life the battlefields of the Western Front during the First World War, and important stories of the Burma-Thailand Railway and the Sandakan death marches in the Second World War.

This is a wonderful resource and learning tool for future generations. Well done and well worth a look.

The app is available for free download from the App Store – search ‘ANZAC 360’. 

The Queensland RSL (Returned Services League) will be commemorating VP Day with installations up in lights on Brisbane City Hall from the 10th of August to the 15th of August. The installation will run every 15 minutes from 6pm until 10pm each evening

I’ll be adding Rosemary saplings to the Little Community Library for the occasion.

Yes, I will tart them up. I’m just not sure how as yet.

Two Over Achievers

Never heard of Florence Violet McKenzie, affectionately known as Mrs Mac or Violet? Well neither had I until reading Radio Girl by David Duffy.

You know how there is this current movement to encourage girls into S.T.E.M subjects at school – read: Science, Maths, Engineering and Technology-then this is one fascinating read about a woman born in 1890 well before her time.

The list of some of her achievements include :
⁃ First female Electrical Engineer in Australia
⁃ With the money made as an entrepreneur selling radios she established her own Signalling School for women in Sydney
⁃ Wrote a bestselling cookbook explaining how to cook with an electric stove – because it had been all wood stoves ( get your head around that!)
⁃ A Presenter for the ABC in its first year of existence
⁃ Persuaded the Australian Navy to set up the WRANS
⁃ First woman in NSW branch of Wireless of Institute of Australia
⁃ Started an amateur Radio Club
⁃ Organised the second ever World Wireless Exhibition held in Australia
⁃ Started the Wireless Weekly magazine which has since become Electronics Australia
⁃ Opened her own Radio College to educate women in radio related technical skills to assist with tasks during WW2
⁃ Trained women to serve in the Women’s Emergency Signalling Corps who then went on to train as Morse Code Instructors, who themselves trained men in the Navy.

OMG! I look back at all of the screaming matches over the dinner table because the entire concept of long division and fractions escaped me. And don’t talk to me about Trigonometry. What a wasted year of my life and so many tears. My youngest daughter, on the other hand, has an agenda of quietly pushing her friend’s daughters down the STEM route and routinely gifts tractors, hi vis jackets and lab kits.

#mathssux#sciencesux#stemmakesmecry.

PAYNE VC by Mike Coleman

Every Australian over a certain age would have heard the name Keith Payne, the most decorated Aussie that served in the Vietnam War. Well into his eighties now ( he served in Korea also) this is an interesting read that tells the story of a country kid that grew up in Far North Queensland shooting bunnies to help put food on the table and went on to become a leader of men.

I enjoyed learning about the support Payne received from his wife and five sons, and the impact that war – and the Victoria Cross – had on this soldiers family.

He came home troubled in the days before the term PTDS was even coined, but fought his demons and won, later to become an advocate for veterans requiring support.

Keith Payne is still visible on special occasions such as ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day and is a regular speaker at school and RSL functions. He was awarded the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star.

Without being disrespectful I truly think the wives of these men could do with an award of some sort in recognition of the work they do in the background……….

Victory In The Pacific : 75 Stories in 75 Days.

Just like the 6th of June, (D Day), the 15th of August is another date that was ingrained into our brains as Primary School students way back in the days when Sydney was full of quarter acre blocks and nearly everyone drove a Holden.

This year is the 75th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War, also known as Victory in the Pacific Day.

Commencing as from the 2nd of June the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (DVA) has been sharing the stories of Australians from the period of World War 2 by way of a social media and a radio series called 75 Stories In 75 Days.

The radio segments are available for listening at http://www.dva.gov.au/75stories or you can choose to read the snippet instead. A new segment is made available each day. 

Not all the snippets are from soldiers. Some stories are from those who experienced life in Australia at the time, such as Nancy Eddy, who along with her two children was given only two hours notice before being evacuated from Darwin. Upon returning to Darwin at wars end her house was gone……

This is a fascinating look back at a different time and a reminder of the sacrifices of a previous generation. I found hearing the voices of those long since gone a little unnerving, though it certainly made the history all the more real.

What a great little initiative which unfortunately seems to have been lost under a plethora of Government Directives and depressing media reports.

June 6th and Nancy Wake

In a little bush school in Sydney many years ago Primary School children greeted each new day with a rendition of “God Save The Queen” and a “salute to the flag”. Back then June 6th was always commemorated as the Anniversary of D Day.

Thirty years later in a school across the border Primary School children sing a different anthem about land “girt by sea”. On June 6th these kiddies celebrate Queensland  Day, which is the official birthday of the Australian state of Queensland. Part of these celebrations include presenting “Queensland Great Awards” to outstanding Queenslanders for their lifetime of dedication and contribution to the development of the state and their role in strengthening and shaping the community in Queensland.

Award Winners at Roma Street Parklands, Brisbane City.

When my eldest, Pocahontas, was in Primary School her class was called to assembly for each of them to declare an Australian, dead or alive, who should be recognised as an outstanding citizen. Sports stars figured highly: tennis players, crickets, footy players as well as a handful of rock stars, actors and models.

Pocahontas, proving that eccentricity is hereditary, suggested The White Mouse as a worthy candidate. Her class mates giggled and teachers looked at each other boggled. The White Mouse was one of the codenames of Nancy Wake, the expat Australian and underground operative during World War 2.

I was reminded of this reading Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon.


From Goodreads:

In 1936 intrepid young Australian journalist Nancy Wake is living in Paris after witnessing firsthand the terror of Hitler’s rise in Europe, firing her resolve to fight against the Nazis. When Nancy falls in love with handsome French industrialist Henri Fiocca, no sooner has she become Mrs Fiocca than the Germans invade France and Nancy takes yet another name, a codename – the first of many.

As the elusive Lucienne Carlier she smuggles people across borders and earns a new name ‘The White Mouse’ along with a five million franc bounty on her head, courtesy of the Gestapo. Forced to flee France, Nancy is trained by an elite espionage group under the codename Hélène. Finally, with mission in hand, she is airdropped back into France as the deadly Madame Andrée. But the closer to liberation France gets, the more exposed Nancy – and the people she loves – will become.

Based on a true story this is a fascinating look at a gutsy woman who liked her G &T’s and *lipstick. A little long and convoluted perhaps, with flashbacks and parallel timelines, though the information comes from Wake’s autobiography (of 1985) and numerous biographies. Well worth the read 🙂

Born: 30 August 1912.   Died:  7 August 2011

Awards : George Medal, 1939-45 Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal, British War Medal 1939-45, French Officer of the Legion of Honour, French Croix de Guerre with Star and two Palms, US Medal for Freedom with Palm, French Medaille de la Resistance, Companion of the Order Of Australia and New Zealand’s Badge in Gold. 

Wake’s medals are on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

*Said to be Victory Red from the Elizabeth Arden range.

A Week Of War Movies

With ANZAC Day on April 25th and all in isolation I lost a week watching war movies, specifically Errol Flynn war movies.

Errol did battle and lost to the Red Baron in The Dawn Patrol, won the war over Germany in Desperate Journey, had the Japanese on the run in Objective, Burma! and solved all of Norway’s issues working with the Underground movement in Edge Of Darkness. Oh, and Dive Bomber with Fred McMurray. That was 2 hours of my life I’ll never get back. So it was a busy week for Errol, I tell you.

Change of direction last night with Flynn in a delightful little romantic comedy called Never Say Goodbye. Never heard of it? No, you wouldn’t have : critics panned it as “unoriginal”. To quote : It took five writers to concoct this rehash of tired plot machinations, time-worn gags, and padded situations. Bugger the reviews- this movie was never meant to be * high art, just good fun.

Never Say Goodbye (1946) tells the story of a divorced man (Errol Flynn), whose profession is drawing beautiful women for magazines who is trying to win back the love of his ex-wife (Eleanor Parker) with the help of his daughter, a restaurant owner (S V Sakall) and an unsuspecting GI (Forrest Tucker) home on leave. Errol Flynn’s mother in law and Eleanor Parker’s current boy friend, who just happens to be the couples divorce attorney, try to sabotage all efforts in reuniting the couple. The couple’s 8 year old daughter lives 6 months with Dad and six months with Mum, has two imaginary friends and writes to a marine for morale boosting purposes though includes a swimsuit photo of Mum.

Errol is at his most Flynnesque and doesn’t have to extend himself in this movie : he flirts beautifully, the banter is quick and fun, and he looks damn fine. Parker is absolutely beautiful as the society girl and there is no doubting “still waters run deep”.

Yes, the critics are right, we’ve seen the dining with two different women at a restaurant at the same time before, and we’ve seen the mimicking of someone else in a pretend mirror. Does it matter if it’s done well and we are entertained?

When Forrest Tucker makes moves on Parker, Errol pretends he’s a tough guy, which makes the daughter laugh.

Flynn : Well, you believed me as Robin Hood, didn’t you?
Daughter: Yes, but that was just make believe.

Errol also mans up against a six foot five Tucker by morphing into Humphrey Bogart , with Bogie doing the voice over. Not high art but good fun! Interestingly, Errol was not a little fella. With his shirt off in Gentleman Jim he looked simply delicious, hang on, I have to sit quietly for a few minutes to catch my breathe…………Next to Tucker Flynn looks a right weed, especially when he is picked up off the floor like a rag doll.

Of course there is a happy ending. After a week in the trenches it was well deserved.

* Also watched a movie made after 1962. I know, some of you just wont believe it. Most boring film I’ve ever sat through. Hated it, and laughed at the actors who thought they were doing Shakespeare. 1917 : don’t bother. Life is too short.

Australian Code Breakers by James Phelps

This true story takes us back to the days when WW1 had only just been declared.

Interestingly, the first shots of World War I were fired in Melbourne, Australia, on August 5, 1914. They were fired by a coastal artillery battery at Port Phillip Heads when the German merchant vessel SS Pfalz attempted to slip out of port before the declaration of war was made known.

On the outbreak of War Frederick Wheatley was seconded to Navy Office, Melbourne, to work with Captain WHC Thring and was placed in charge of intercepted enemy radio messages.

With the aid of a captured code book from the German liner Hobart, captured by a naval party disguised as quarantine officials in Australian waters, Wheatley worked out the cypher key used to encrypt messages sent by Vice Admiral Graf von Spee’s Pacific Squadron.

Wheatley’s brilliant work, aided by a dozen female co-workers, earned him the thanks of the Admiralty.

It wasn’t until Wheatley’s retirement in the 1930’s that his role as a Code Breaker was really acknowledged, and only at his instigation, and this is because the British were embarrassed that they had ignored certain communications from the Australians which resulted in a loss of life and ships.

This is a fascinating tale though not particularly well written. With all the naval battles there were too many Bang Bangs! and Boom Booms! which made me feel like I was watching Batman and Robin from the 1960’s.

The photographic materials in the Appendix more than make up for this with copies of the code books, Wheatley’s explanation of the process, and secret naval documents.

Worth a read…..

My Weekend In Brisbane : Fort Lytton.

I’ve lived in Brisbane for nearly thirty years and never visited despite it being less than thirty minutes from home.

Built in 1880-1882 in response to a fear that a foreign colonial power such as Russia or France might launch a naval attack on Brisbane or its port, Fort Lytton is located at the mouth of the Brisbane River.

It was designed to deny enemy vessels access to the river and achieved this by a remote-controlled minefield across the mouth of the river, and four muzzle-loading heavy guns, later changed to breech feeding. The minefield was closed in 1908, but the guns continued in operation until 1938.

I’m told the fort is a typical nineteenth century garrison – a pentagonal fortress concealed behind grassy embankments – surrounded for greater protection by a water-filled moat.

Fort Lytton was a major training base for soldiers across the Boer War, WW1 and WW2.

My introduction to this fascinating slice of Brisbane’s military history was a recent evening performance at the Fort, “ A Lost Story From The Great War”.

This follows the true story of Brisbane born Raymond Stanley, a decorated war hero, who spent time at Fort Lytton before being shipped to Gallipoli, and later, to the Western Front.

Armed with lanterns for light and sound the audience participates in a guided tour throughout the historic fortifications, littered with theatrical re-enactments. Light and sound effects, with photos projected onto the walls of the fort, take you back to the Great War.

Courtesy Event Flyer

Interestingly Stanley dabbled in photography and many of his photographs are used during the theatre promenade experience adding to its authenticity.

I’m looking forward to returning in daylight and walking through the rest of the site and the Museum. I’m told kids love the Open Days when the cannons are fired.

One minor issue. Brissie is subtropical and after weeks which have been a mix of heat, humidity and rain the mosquitoes are rampant. So is my garden.

Up Next : My Saturday Night At Dutton Park Cemetery, Brisbane’s Oldest Boneyard. Yep, it’s been a bizarre weekend……..

New At The Australian War Memorial, The Dambusters and A Dog Named Judy.

The 24th of February was in recent years declared National Day for War Animals.

This is because animals have played vital roles in the support and protection of Australian soldiers during war and warlike operations.  Horses and camels provided transport, birds aided communication across enemy lines, dogs tracked enemies and protected soldiers from improvised explosive devices, and a range of animals served as companions or unit mascots across all conflicts. 

The Australian War Memorial in Canberra unveiled a new memorial dedicated to military working dogs and their handlers on the day.

Circling Into Sleep was created with help from an Explosive Detection Dog called Billie and her handler. Billie was trained to walk in a tight circle on a bed of soft clay to create the paw-print track which spirals into the memorial, representing the steps of a dog as it circles into sleep.

Circling Into Sleep

The ashes of Aussie, Military Working Dog 426, were interred within the memorial on 4 December 2019. As a military working dog, Aussie served in Australian domestic and international operations including the Solomon Islands in 2004 and four deployments to Afghanistan with the Explosive Detection Dog Team. Described as a tireless worker, Aussie began to slow down after retirement and died in 2017, aged 16.

For more of Aussie’s story go here:

https://www.awm.gov.au/articles/blog/aussie-and-the-military-working-dog-scuplture-circling-into-sleep

I will confess that one of my favourite animated films is Valiant, a 2005 effort, that highlights the work undertaken by pigeons during war. Little Valiant flying across the English Channel to the tune of The Dambusters is a classic.

Coincidentally, I just finished reading Judy by Damien Lewis. O.M.G what a tale !

Amazing stuff. Totally amazing.

The Bombing of Darwin

Today, the 19th of February, is the 78th Anniversary of the Bombing of Darwin

This was the largest single attack ever mounted by a foreign power on Australia. On that day, 242 Japanese aircraft , in two separate raids, attacked the town, the ships in Darwin Harbour, and the town’s two airfields. This was an attempt to prevent the allies using them as bases to contest military developments close to Asia.

Darwin Harbour

The Japanese inflicted heavy losses upon Allied forces at little cost to themselves. The urban areas of Darwin also suffered some damage from the raids and there were a number of civilian casualties. More than half of Darwin’s civilian population left the area permanently, before or immediately after the attack.

Beautiful Mindil Beach was the site of mass graves, as it was following the devastation of Cyclone Tracy in 1974.

A memorial ceremony has been held every year since early on in the 21st Century. At the Cenotaph in Darwin, at 9:58 am, a World War II Air Raid Siren will sound to mark the precise time of the first attack.

Cenotaph, Darwin. NT.

I’ve read three novels by Australian authors this year (Territory by Judy Nunn and The Last Mile Home by Di Morrissey), which have featured the Bombing of Darwin. It appears that the Government censored information about losses at the time so as not to frighten and panic Australian citizens.

Belinda Murrell’s The Forgotten Pearl is Historical YA Fiction which I highly recommend giving insights into this period, and includes the Fall of Singapore and the mini submarines in Sydney Harbour. If you’ve got a teenager battling with history classes at High School this sure as hell beats dates written in chalk on a blackboard.

*In October 2015, the Chinese-owned Landbridge Group won the bid for a leaseof Port Darwin. The Northern Territory Government granted the company a 99-year lease for A$506 million.

No Comment.

A Brisbane City Treasure : The Shrine of Remembrance

The Shrine of Remembrance is a major Brisbane landmark of cultural and historic importance. Each year it hosts ceremonies for ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day ( formally known as Armistice Day).

A service marking The Fall of Singapore is another annual event in remembrance of the losses of the 8th Division during World War 2, and is held on the closest Sunday to February 15th.

When my eldest daughter was in her last year of Primary School she won a Brisbane wide debating competition and was asked to speak at the Shrine at a memorial service honouring the Rats of Tobruk. She must have been only 11 or 12 at the time but had all the confidence in the world, and the old widows, old soldiers, and families of the fallen took my daughter under their wings, named her an honorary Rat for the day, and then bundled her off to a luncheon at a swish golf club for a couple of hours.

The Shrine of Remembrance is located in ANZAC Square, between Ann and Adelaide Streets. 

Funds were raised by public subscription for a memorial to the fallen after WW1 and in 1928 a competition was held for its design. Designed in the Greek Classic Revival style, the columns of the Shrine of Remembrance are built of sandstone and the Eternal Flame is kept in a brass urn within the Shrine. The 18 columns of the Shrine symbolise the year 1918, when hostilities ceased. Written around the top coping are the names of the battles in which Australian units figured prominently – ANZAC, Cocos Islands, Romani, Jerusalem, Damascus, Pozieres, Bullecourt, Messines, Ypres, Amiens, Villers-Bretonneaux, Mont St Quentin, Hindenburg Line.

The Shrine forms the focus of the radially pattern pathways, pools, and lawns of the lower park area which is planted with palms, pines, and mature bottle trees. The bottle trees were donated by Colonel Cameron in memory of the Light Horse Regiments with which he served in the Boer War. There are several statues littered along the parklands as well as benches which I always found allowed for a little respite when I was working nearby.

It wasn’t until a recent weekend that I visited the crypt situated under the Shrine of Remembrance. It contains memorial plaques to numerous Australian regiments, specifically Qld in origin, who fought during these campaigns. It’s only a small exhibition but packs a punch. It includes an interactive area popular with schoolchildren who learn personal stories and gain insights into the times. 

Admission to the Memorial Galleries is FREE and open Sunday to Friday 10am to 4pm. Anzac Square Parklands open 24 hours daily. Make the effort to visit – it’s worth it!