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! 

4000 Bowls of Rice: A Prisoner Comes Home

About The Author

Linda Goetz Holmes is a Historian appointed to the U.S. Government Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group, tasked with locating and declassifying material about World War II war crimes.

Summary

The author’s central figure, Australian Staff Sergeant Cecil Dickson, had been a reporter for a Melbourne paper. Already a veteran of fighting in the Middle East, he was returning home with his battalion in January 1942 when it was diverted to Java. Eventually, the battalion joined masses of American, British, Australian and Dutch prisoners working under brutal conditions on the Singapore-Burma railway.

Between stories of suffering and sadistic cruelty the author focusses on the months after Japan’s surrender and Dickson’s return to Australia utilising the letters he had written to his wife.

Personal Take

I enjoyed the different perspective with the protagonist focussing on wars end and getting home to his wife , Binks. It wasn’t until October 1945 that Dickson finally left Asia for Australia and between the lines we get that he could have departed earlier except that as a journalist he was interested in writing the POW experience for the Australian public.

Dickson was pipped at the post by Rohan Rivett, a fellow POW, who wrote the POW Bible, Behind Bamboo, released in 1946, which was the Go To book when I was a student.

One particularly tragic tale refers to the POW who survived years of incarceration only to ring his wife in Perth, Western Australia, on his journey home to learn that she had formed a liaison with another man. He quietly slipped over the side of the ship never to be seen again.

Dickson also relates that as he disembarked off the ship in Melbourne a “ charming woman came up and chatted to him”. It didn’t click that it was his wife of 19 years, Binks.

We have absolutely no idea, do we ?