- Book reviewer
- History - WW2, Book reviews, WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 2022 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Australia’s Secret Army. A story of the Coastwatchers, the unsung heroes of Australia’s Armed Forces during World War II is told by Michael Veitch, published by Hachette, Sydney, 2022. Soft cover of 340 pages, also available as an audiobook, from $22.00.
While this is yet another volume on Coastwatchers it is perhaps the most comprehensive since Eric Feldt’s seminal 1946 memoir The Coast Watchers. The author has conducted extensive research taking us back to the beginnings when two naval officers from the pioneer (1913 entry) of the Australian Naval College, then at Geelong, formed a friendship. These were Eric Feldt and Rupert Long, and this friendship later included Walter Brooksbank, a Navy Office clerk who had served in the AIF at Gallipoli where he had been awarded the Military Medal and a field commission.
Long and Brooksbank formed a close association and were instrumental in establishing the Naval Intelligence Division (NID). Feldt, on the other hand, had resigned from the Navy in 1923 and accepted a position with the Department of Home Affairs & Territories in New Guinea where he fitted readily into the untamed environment and gained rapid promotion.
In September 1939 Long was able to recruit his old classmate Feldt into the NID where he would undertake various missions establishing a Coastwatching organisation throughout Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. With great skill the author tells many of the fascinating stories of the unique group of individuals, many unsung heroes, who made a great difference to the outcome of the war in the Pacific with their reports of enemy planes and ships allowing the Allies to prepare adequate defensive measures.
Above all these men knew this rugged land, its debilitating climate and its people, but they needed careful control which was not always available. The writer does not hide from criticism and lets the reader know his opinions, which is refreshing in today’s politically correct environment.
About 800 men became Coastwatchers; Third Officer Ruby Boye was the only female recruit, but other remarkable women like Gladys Baker and New Zealand nurse Merle Farland played most important supporting roles. Of these 56 Coastwatchers (36 Europeans and 20 local islanders) died in action.
Overall a well-researched history of those who played a crucial role in helping defeat a determined and well-resourced enemy. They used initiative in working in the most difficult of circumstances and many lost their lives fearlessly operating behind enemy lines. Readers adding this book to their Christmas shopping list will not be disappointed.
Reviewed by Arcturus