Book Reviews: December 2009
Close to my Heart – Memories of Papua New Guinea by Jenny Charlesworth The Incredible Klemm by Pat Studdy-Clift
Feathered Soldiers – An illustrated history of Australia’s wartime messenger pigeons by Vashti Farrer and Mary Small
Wau to Bulldog: Across the roof of Papua New Guinea by Colin Freeman
When nuns wore soldiers’ trousers by Pat Studdy-Clift
Wau to Bulldog: Across the Roof of Papua New Guinea by Colin Freeman
ISBN 978-1-4251-7419-4, published 2009 by Trafford Publishing, quality trade paperback, includes maps, list of illustrations, many photos (both colour and b&w), select bibliography, 110 pages. Order this book online at: http://www.trafford.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?Book=187139. Cost: $33 (either Canadian or US dollars) plus shipping.
This book, including maps, traces and adds to the written history of the Bulldog Track. Particular emphasis is made of the WW2 engineering feat during 1942-43 of constructing a road from Bulldog (an old mining camp) to Edie Creek, a mining township. The name ‘Bulldog’ being derived from a small supply vessel sailing the Lakekamu River. To set the scene, the author describes the experiences of early explorers, prospectors and Patrol Officers, in particular their encounters with the Kukukuku people.
The impetus to turn a ‘track’ into a ‘road’ arose from the imperative to supply WW2 Allied forces. Initially the track was used as an escape route for over 250 civilians via Kudgeru. Feasibility studies considered the Edie Creek route the better option. After nine months of construction, a road 114 kilometres long was completed in August 1943. From lowland tropics through rain and moss forests above 3000 metres it was described by the author and others as ‘one of the greatest projects ever undertaken by the Royal Australian Engineers’.
In 1972, after examining army and administration records, an army team including the author walked the track again. The descriptions of the terrain, the plant life, remnants of the Edie Creek township and the majestic scenery are vivid in detail. Briefly, the changes along the track since 1972 are noted. The old Kudgeru section is back in use however the question is posed ‘will natural resources be exploited or will the possibility of eco-tourism be developed’?
As a reviewer, the picture of the old house at Edie Creek evoked childhood memories of living there. Much of the terrain was also walked in the 1950s as a teenager and as a Patrol Officer. A close family member escaped from Lae and walked the ‘Bulldog Track’ via Kudgeru in early 1942.
Apart from being of special interest for PNG people, general interest in this book derives from placing on public record a little known and remarkable chapter of Papua New Guinea history.
When Nuns Wore Soldiers’ Trousers by Pat Studdy-Clift
ISBN 9780859054690, 2009, soft cover, saddle stitiched, 59 pages, illustrated. Cost: $12 plus postage within Australia $4. Available from the Publisher, Hesperian Press, PO Box 317, Victoria Park, WA 6979 Phone: 08-9362 5955. www.hesperianpress.com
This is the story of the harrowing over-land journey of many weeks undertaken during WWII by five German nuns and a couple of priests fleeing the Japanese soldiers from the Sepik to Mt Hagen and then Bena Bena led by a then-young Danny Leahy and Lt Joe Searson. It is a very interesting tale, a true one, and gently told, drawn largely from the diary of one of the nuns, Sister Vinciana.
In desperate straights the well-fed middle-aged nuns who, travelling with the bare necessities of one cooking pot and one chamber pot, dealt with one difficult ordeal after another without complaint, all the while being severely hampered by their long habits until reason prevailed and Danny persuaded them that trousers of sorts would make for easier going—tough call for many women of that time let alone for deeply religious women.
The paperback book, only 49 pages long, has the added interest of having stories told in the evenings to the nuns by Danny of his own first encounter adventures in PNG with his brothers Mick, Paddy and Jim Taylor; of pilot Grabowsky’s spectacular first flight into the Wahgi Valley; and Father Ross’s unconventional approach to the giving of religion in the Highlands. Interesting statistics show how lucky these people were to have been guided so well and to have survived where so many others did not.
It is a tale of huge endeavour and good management in trying circumstances, fear and respect, strong faith, good humour, and of survival. It’s a gem of a tale.
Feathered Soldiers – An illustrated history of Australia’s wartime messenger pigeons by Vashti Farrer and Mary Small, illustrated by Elizabeth Alger
ISBN 0 975712322, 2006, 32pp incl Glossary and map. Cost $ 10.95. Published and available from: Anzac Day Commemorative Committee Qld Inc, PO Box 391, Aspley, QLD 4034 Ph/Fax: 07-3263 7118. www.anzacday.org.au. Available also from Australian War Memorial, Canberra and Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne. Condensed from longer review, titled The Doves of War, by Peter Ryan in Quadrant, May 2009
My best “read” last month was a children’s book about Australia’s Army Carrier Pigeons in WW II. I had no notion of the extent of their role against the Japanese aggressors Gavin Long’s Official History of Australia in the War of 1939-45 gives no general account, beyond (Volume VI): ‘Later in the war, pigeons were used to good effect’. They were used in Bougainville, the Sepik, Ramu River, Huon Gulf and Kokoda. ‘Homing’ pigeons can fly at almost 150 kilometres per hour, without rest, in fog, thunderstorm and high winds.They navigate over hundreds of kilometres thanks to magnetic particles in their upper beaks. From 1942 onwards, over 13,000 birds were recruited and taught to fly with lightweight message ‘capsules’ on their legs.
The book, by Vashti Farrer and Mary Small, brilliantly illustrated by Elizabeth Alger, uses simple (never condescending) language. It is packed with facts, has an attractively set-out glossary and full colour illustrations.
Pigeons were used when radio failed, troops were cut off, or had heavy casualties. Birds faced electrical storms and were attacked by hawks or Japanese marksmen. One bird travelled thirty kilometres to deliver his message with a bullet in his body. Another covered sixty-four kilometres to Madang in fifty minutes, through driving rain to save a ship and her men. That bird had flown twenty-three missions, totalling 1600 kilometres.
Maps and diagrams could not be sent by radio and every signal could be monitored by the enemy and the radio betrayed. Deciphering codes created delays. Pigeon post was the answer and two birds meant insurance.
One old soldier reminisced: ‘I rather used to envy those little feathered buggers. If they fell into Japanese hands the worst that could happen was that they’d be eaten. But they wouldn’t be tortured to loosen their tongues.’
Extremely acute eyesight enabled birds to recognise orange life-jackets faster than humans so in rescue aircraft they pecked a key to trigger an alarm light allowing the plane to fly lower to search. Many servicemen were therefore ‘rescued’ by pigeons.
At least two Australian carrier pigeons were awarded the Dickin Medal—Britain’s ‘animal VC’. Until recently, veterans marched on Anzac Day, their banner proudly proclaiming their involvement in the South West Pacific. Boy Scouts now carry it on their behalf. Sadly, because of quarantine, no birds returned home.
Feathered Soldiers is a splendid book for children – aged four to eighty-four.
Close to my Heart – Memories of Papua New Guinea by Jenny Charlesworth
ISBN: 9781740085458 (pbk). Published 2009 by Seaview Press, 230 pp incl colour photographs and maps. Cost: $28 plus $4 postage within Australia. Available from the author: Jenny Charlesworth: 309/59 George St, Paradise 5075 SA. Phone: 08 8165 2936. Email: email@example.com
Publisher’s Note: In her years as a missionary and teacher in Papua New Guinea, before and after its Independence, Jenny Charlesworth regularly wrote home to a good friend sending pamphlets, cuttings and photos of her expatriate life. They gave an Australian Christian woman’s perspective on the culture and society of this emerging nation.
Years later, after her return home, these papers found their way back to Jenny after her friend’s death. Looking through them after so many years brought back to mind a wealth of lost memories: funny anecdotes, warm friendships, frustrations and new discoveries. This treasure-chest of memory inspired Jenny to record her extraordinary life in Papua New Guinea.
The Incredible Klemm by Pat Studdy-Clift
ISBN 978-0-85905-148-4; 2009, Soft Cover, 125 pages, illustrated incl b&w photographs. Cost: $22.00 plus postage within Australia $5.50. Available from the Publisher: Hesperian Press, PO Box 317, Victoria Park, WA 6979 Ph: 08-9362 5955. www.hesperianpress.com
Publisher’s note: Constructed in 1934 from wood and cloth; flown by aeronautical pioneers into the most dangerous flying conditions on our planet; coming face to face with hostile tribes of a lost world; survivor of numerous crashes; boldly parading bullet scars from a Japanese Zero; dodging friendly fire; surviving attacks by wild pigs; gripped by the ferocious teeth of a cyclone; on many risky search missions – how can it be that this flimsy little plane is still with us today?