Book Reviews

"Tommy"  by Richard Holmes.  Reviewed by Tony Ratcliffe

Over the last forty odd years I have been reading books on the Great War and this one , is one of the very best . In one chapter the author has taken the revolutionary view that British Generals were not as callous as we have been led to believe , and certainly not rear echelon cowards , pointing out that fifty eight were actually killed at the front. The chapter on the men shot at dawn is comprehensively and sympathetically covered, his only omission was not to investigate the " Field Police ".

It finished with two heart rending items . At the wars end The Australian Light Horse , when learning they could not take their mounts home , held a horse race and then shot them , rather than leave them for probable miss-treatment. Finally, the soldiers in the U.K. so badly let down by their politicians , forced to pawn their medals to feed their families , would turn up at re-union and remembrance services wearing the pawn tickets pinned to their left breasts .

Read it and weep.


The Men Who Persevered
Bruce Davies & Gary McKay 

The first Australians committed to serve in Viet Nam were a group of military instructors known as the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam. Their initial role was to assist in the training of the ground forces of South Viet Nam. But battalion battles and artillery duels, the relief of besieged camps, and mobile strike forces became part of the mosaic that saw this curiously named unit forge a distinct chapter in Australia’s military history. The Men Who Persevered is the story of their war.

The AATTV was in Viet Nam from July 1962 to December 1972. Nearly 1000 Australians and 11 New Zealanders served with ‘The Team’ during that time. They were advisors—sometimes commanders—who operated in small teams across a wide spectrum of military posts throughout the South. The Team’s history is revealed through the words of the men involved as their cables and reports discuss how Australia should be involved militarily. The Men who Persevered also lays bares the frantic pace of battles in I Corps and the Central Highlands and tells a story of compassion as medics and other men made valiant efforts to help the people help themselves. And in the end, it is a tale of bitterness and betrayal as the West abandoned their ally and withdrew with almost obscene haste to the comforts of home.

Many of the memories recounted here have not been told before, but age has not dimmed the memory of the ferocity of the battles or reduced the men’s admiration for their comrades and their unit.


The War of the Running Dogs by Noel Barber
Reviewd by Pam McD

 This book is the first one that I have read (other than the book I have about 28 Brigade) about the emergency and covers the time from 1947 to 1960.  I found it so readable and so full of the type of details  which interest me. I was interested in the personalities and how the situation affected the ordinary Malay in the street. Sam used to tell me things about the Communists and what happened when he served with the S.A.S in Malaya. Some of the things that he told me were not of course mentioned in this book. They were immeasurably cruel to the ordinary people and one could not really blame the poor person in the kampongs for giving in to the Comms and letting them have food.

 These communist fighters  were utterly devoted to the communist cause and some of the leaders were well read men who were grudgingly admired by a few British powers that be. One of them was a big fan of Shakespeare and he took his copy into the jungle with him. Why they were allowed to live when they surrendered is something else and not only that, given large sums of money as a reward. Chin Peng is still alive (as far as I know) But they had to encourage them to surrender I suppose and this was the only way to be able to set them up for life after they had surrendered.

 Another big factor in my enjoyment of this book was that there were no gung ho Americans (well there was an American running a mine) abseiling in and showing us how to win this long war. It might have been a rather difficult feat to abseil in though given the terrain. One American tin miner did remark when he was watching the celebration parades in KL at the end of the emergency in 1960 -  that Winston Churchill’s picture should have been up there along with the Tunku’s and I was quite pleased at reading that coming from an American.


Mud, Blood and Poppycock 
 By Gordon Corrigan...Reviewed by Ernie Hudson

This a  book by an ex Gurkha it says on the cover. ''This will overturn everything you thought you knew about Britain and the First World War''....and agrees with Tony's views on British General's in Tommy.

The British Troops were rotated into the front line on a regular basis and consequently morale and discipline was unbroken even in 1918. This was unlike the French who kept their troops in the front line until they were exhausted, resulting in a lot of mutiny's. 

Overall it is well researched, takes a bit to get into it but it is well worth the time spent getting into it. Certainly changed my views on WW1.... cheers Ern


The Dragon Riders 
by Christie Dickason....Reviewed by Tony Ratcliffe

I don't usually read books written by women, but I'm glad I made the exception for this one . This is a good solid read of seven hundred plus pages. Apart from just a good story covering forty years of Indo China's history I learnt of the intricacies of the opium trade , the French and Operation X, and how opium money funded the Bhin Xuyan and other factions leading to the turmoil of the South's politics. Near the end there's a couple of pages of romantic slush that nearly makes you vomit , but don't be put off , you can skip them.


The Soldier's Story 
by Terry Burstall

Doc has told me about this book but it is not available in the UK. He says it is a book about D. Coy 6 RAR in Vietnam and tells the story of the battles from a soldiers point of view.  I can't find a longer more detailed review on Google but I found this short review on

This detailed account of Australia's major Vietnam battle and its aftermath has been written by one of the participants, and his story reconstructs the action using secret documents as well as the recollections of many diggers. The battle at Long Tan was a textbook nightmare in the history of jungle warfare.


All Guts and No Glory
by Bob Buick with Gary McKay

Taken from a review on the internet
and not, as far as I am aware, readily available in the UK

The climax of this book is an account of the Battle of Long Tan, which is told here by the most senior ranking Australian soldier to survive the battle.

Platoon Sergeant Bob Buick - decorated with the Military Medal for bravery for his actions during the Battle of Long Tan - tells in vivid and enthralling detail the story of his tour of Viet Nam. It culminates in the most famous battle involving Australian Diggers in the Viet Nam War, in which thirteen of Buick's men were killed and the remainder survived against overwhelming odds.

All Guts and No Glory is a no-pulled-punches account, covering all the major actions Buick's platoon encountered. It brings to life the frustrating, gut-wrenching and sorrowful experience of those who served as infantry warriors in Viet Nam, only to come home to an apathetic and sometimes hostile public. This is a poignant reminder of what combat, infantry soldiering and the Viet Nam war was all about. All Guts and No Glory also debunks the myths, lies and legends of the Long Tan Battle.

Bob Buick has collaborated with one of Australia's best-known authors of the Viet Nam era, Gary McKay, MC, himself a Viet Nam veteran and infantryman, to write this first-hand description of the Long Tan Battle and other operations against the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army.

'This extraordinary depiction of service in Viet Nam points to the real need for comprehensive writings on the wartime service of Australians, even decades after the event. All Guts and No Glory is a soldier's account of the battle of Long Tan and the Viet Nam War, detailed and captivating right through to the return to Australia on the Vung Tau Ferry. It adds greatly to the records relating to this difficult, but important part of Australia's 20th century military heritage.'

Hon Tim Fischer MP

Tanamera by Noel Barber
Reviewed by Pam McD

This is a mammoth read, abut 736 pages, and an enjoyable one. I particularly liked the references to places and areas of Singapore that I know well. It is about a family called the Dexters and their experiences and changing fortunes before the war, during and after. The patriarchal figure in the family is Grandpa Jack who came out from Hull to make his fortune in rubber, tin and anything else he could turn his hand to. He was also a great one for the ladies.

The story is mainly centred round Johnnie Dexter and his forbidden love for Julie Soong a Chinese/American girl from a neighbouring family. They have an affair and then are forbidden to see each other again. He marries Irene an English girl who he met while in England but can't forget Julie of course. When the war and the Japanese invasion seems imminent Irene and Johnnie's sister are packed off to New York and of course Johnnie resumes his affair with Julie.

It then tells of the struggles of the people against the Japanese and the eventual end of the war and the Japanese. The atrocities that the Japanese committed were horrendous but were of course equalled by the communists shortly after the war ended.

I wouldn't call it a masculine book but it is more for the ladies and I literally could not put it down. I was sad to finish reading it and actually the the last page was so moving that it really made me shed a tear.

by  Richard Holmes
Reviewed by Tony Ratcliffe


I bought this book on the strength of  " Tommy" by the same author. It has a stronger theme running though it which is the History of British India up to 1914. This book will answer all questions on all achievements both military and commercial and it depends on your point of view what your conclusion may be .

The main players , as human beings can not be admired as they were mainly there to  " shake the pagoda tree" , you will be astounded to learn that over two million Britons died there during the time of British India.

Even though the author , as usual , is sympathetic to the rank and file , this book does not leave the reader with the feeling of pride and affection as  " Tommy" .

The Red Sailor by Patrick O'Hara
Reviewed by Tony Ratcliffe

Who remembers reading this book in ' 67 ? It was passed around all the rooms. For those who can't remember it is the story of James Varne, ,just after WW2 straight out of the Catholic Protectory and into the Imperial Navy, which he immediately declared war on.

The author has the knack of capturing the time and the place exactly, the time the early fifties, the place, The Far East. The story, I'll leave for now .

It took me thirty years to acquire this book again and I had to pay thirty two quid on Ebay for a three and sixpenny paper back, but I'm glad I did.

Sinister Twilight by Noel Barbour
Reviewed by Pam Mcd


It has taken me quite a while to read this book because there were so many names, dates and happenings that I had to go back and check my facts a few times. 

The book tells the story of the Fall of Singapore from the beginnings of the Japanese advances up until the aftermath and post internment in Changi. The events up to the actual invasion by the Japanese were a catalogue of mistakes, lack of communication and, as a result,  many people died, (mainly civilians) because of them. 

An example of lack of communications was an order which came through saying that 1000 bicycles had to be commandeered. The bicycles were gathered in and then it was realised that only 100 were actually needed and used. There fore there were many civilians minus bikes and a pile of unwanted ones. I have thoroughly enjoyed it but I am simply astounded at the total blunder that was the Fall of Singapore and mainly the fault of the British. 

There were clashes of authority and personalities and unbelievable mistakes made. General Percival, was the one person most responsible for the cock up and he died a broken man in the sixties. Many of the personalities- military and civilian lived through it all and were still alive in the late sixties when this book was written.


Old Soldier Sahib by Frank Richards
Reviewed by an Anonymous friend

Frank Richards was the author of 'Old Soldiers Never Die', rated to be the finest First World War book written by an Other Rank. In 'Old Soldier Sahib', he recounts his time as a regular soldier before the war. He spend nearly all his service in India with the Royal Welch Fusilers and although the events and sketches he writes about took place half a century before our time in the tropics, it's very easy to identify with them.

His story of trying to sniff out whether the barrack room mess urn had been used to other purposes is a great joy to read as are his tales of the regiment on the march through India from one cantonment to the next. There's also the soldiers' macabre humour that comes out, for example, how if one of them died, not unusual in those days, the regiment would turn out for his funeral- thus if some poor soul was in a bad way and might cause the loss of Wednesday afternoon sports day, the whole unit would be hoping that he would expire on the previous day or linger on until Thursday rather than miss out on their half day holiday.

Re-reading the book after many years, it comes as a bit of a shock to learn how the soldiers looked down on the locals and how they treated them-but that was how it was. The book is still banned in parts of India but that may be due to the story of one soldier upsetting the locals by getting too amorous with their sacred cow as much as the books attitude towards the native population.

The book is also spiced with history, the origin of the Flash, the black ribbons worn on the back collar of the RWFs. the origin of the term 'doolally' and tales of life on the North West Frontier.

No easy to track down but the book is a good read which anyone who has served East of Suez can relate to..


Kokoda by Peter Fitzsimmons
Reviewed by Doc

This is an Australian book and is not widely available in the UK.

This WW2 book set in New Guinea follows in the footsteps of the heroes and villains of the campaign, from the inexperienced but brave men of the 39th Battalion at the frontlines to the imperious general like Macarthur and Blamey (Aust). it brings to the fore the fact that these unlikely soldiers stopped the Japanese advance to Port Moresby, in fact they prevented the Japanese  from invading Australia.    


THE WAR LORD by Malcolm Bosse
Reviewed by Doc

This is an Australian book and is not widely available in the UK except on Ebay where I saw a copy for £1.35 with postage at £2.40. 

This is an outstanding story in the tradition of Shogun, it is set in China between the end of WW1 and the start of WW2.  The facts blend with the fiction, missionaries, gun runners, whores, Mongols and the Chinese peasants

The Flame & The Fury by John Brinnand
Reviewed by Doc

The scene is Chinese occupied Tibet, and it is set in the 1960s. This is a country whose plight has been largely overlooked by the rest of the world. Onto the scene comes an Anglo Indian bush pilot called Kaboom.

The Four Sergeants by Zeno
Reviewed by Doc


This is a story about the Paras, dropping into Italy during ww2. It is very factual book and a super read. A must for all ex Para's to read.


A Star Called Henry by Roddy Doyle
Reviewed by Tony Ratcliffe


Roddy Doyle I thought was a comedy writer, The Commitments , The Van, The Snapper etc  and I got this book on the strength of those .

     The book starts with a description of the ghastly poverty of Dublin in 1902. The first chapter is written in such a depressing Dickensian way that I stopped reading it. Only a bollacking from my wife (" spending money on books and not reading them etc ")  got me going again.

    The main character, Henry is the son of a one legged whorehouse bouncer . We follow his life as he progresses from Street Arab to member of the I.R.A.  The Easter Rebellion when they take over the G.P.O. and then find out they have to pay some fierce women their pensions . The defeat , then the Irish war of Independence and finally The Civil War. Not the best time in Irish history for a comedy writer to deal with, but the comedy does come out in the dialog of the rich supporting cast.

     An excellent book , after the first chapter I couldn't, put it down , not since Catch 22 have I read such a different and enjoyable book . I look forward to his next offering .



In a Sunburned Country by Bill Byrson
Reviewed by Dave Larkman


Good fodder for both Pommes and Aussies.  Good for Pommes in providing a great introduction into what to expect when visiting Oz, with regards the land, its topography and geography, plus its flora and fauna (much of which the author asserts could kill you—crikey!).  Good for Aussies in that Bryson has a great way of informing you about everything you should know about the place you live in, but never knew and probably never will if you don’t read this book (assuming you don’t forget it straight away).  In “A Sunburned Country” is not strictly a travel book in the true sense of the word, but it does describe Bryson’s travels around Australia and he peppers it with interesting and frequently funny observations that keeps the reader turning the pages.  Byrson is an American, but, lived in the UK for most of his adult life (ended up in Yorkshire) and recently returned to the US.  I never had a desire to go to Australia before reading this book; my view too coloured by my 208 years that made me believe that all Pommes would be set upon on arrival at Sydney airport and soundly thrashed. But, have decided that I could and would like to do it, now that I have an American accent (at least a passable one) and could get around without being branded a Pomme!


The Magic Army by Leslie Thomas
reviewed by Doc (and Amazon)

It is set during ww2,the trials and tribulations of the Yanks and the locals getting along. Lot's of humour and pathos. A great book

New Years Eve, 1943. The tiny village of Slapton is told that it has to be evacuated - American troops are occupying the wide district of South Devon. Over three thousand inhabitants must uproot themselves from their homes in less than a fortnight. The Americans are performing advanced manoeuvres with real bullets - a good reason for civilians to be evacuated. They're prepared for animosity, but they're not prepared for the harsh conditions the war in Europe has imposed upon the civilian population of England; the short supply of almost everything is a far cry from the luxuries of home. Reissued in the time for the fiftieth anniversary of the D-Day landings, The Magic Army is vintage Leslie Thomas. Charming, funny and imbued with warmth, he writes about the events leading up to that fateful day with his trademark compassion.


The Eagle and the Snake by Douglas Boyd
Suggested by Doc Judd

 This is the story of an unbreakable code to the legion and to others. But then Raoul Duvalier betrayed that code. Already crippled, tortured and starved by the Viet Minh, he is court martialled byt the Legion, disgraced and repatriated to France with no job and no prospects, except the prospect of revenge.

 For 20 years he has known of, and not betrayed, the where abouts of the Foreign Legion's gold. Now recruiting a private army from the legion itself, he sets out to claim it for himself. But this time one of his men has betrayed him.

 Imprisoned in his own dungeon, Raoul reviews the lives of recruits, relatives and lovers - then 2 decades of action and adventure from Algeria to Idaho, Belfast to Vientienne, the Dordogne to Dien Bien Phu - as he tries to identify the traitor. A traitor whose unmasking depends not just his gold but his life, and the lives barely yet begun.

SAS Behind Enemy Lines
by Will Fowler
Suggested by Doc

This regiment engage in the never ending pursuit of excellence. They maintain the highest standards of self discipline in all aspects of daily life. All ranks to possess humility and humour.

These guiding principles laid down by SAS founder David Stirling embody the ethos of this famous yet elusive regiment. Compiled from official reports, interview and the regiments traditional communication with outsider's. conversations in the pub, SAS Behind Enemy Lines debunks the myth surrounding the SAS. From it's founding in North Africa in 1942 to the infamous events of bravo Twin Zero and the Iranian Embassy siege that brought them into the glaring public spotlight, Will Fowler has constructed a unique history for anyone with an interest in this enigmatic unit.

This is a chronological account of SAS operations in conventional warfare from the early days in the Western Desert during WW2 to the great "Scud Hunt" in Iraq during Gulf War 1, the War against Terror in Afghanistan and the hunt for Saddam during Gulf War 2. It includes of SAS operational procedures, weapons and equipment, as well as details of the Australian, New Zealand and Rhodesian SAS

Goodbye Mickey Mouse by Len Deighton
Read & Suggested by Doc


This novel takes place in England in 1944 and it is a multi dimensional picture of what it is like to be at war and in love at that time. Len Deighton researched this novel for 6 years and it is a truly astonishing recreation of the time and place in minute detail. The only way you could know more about flying a P-51 mustang, after reading this book, is to have flown one.

The Deadly Element by Lennard Bickel
Suggested and read by Doc


This book is described as a stupendous piece of work by one reviewer about the men and women behind the story of uranium.

The Loves & Journeys of Revolving Jones
by Leslie Thomas
Reviewed by Doc

David Jones, conceived on a church pew on Armistice Night 1918, is brought up by his Auntie Blod and Uncle Griff in South Wales, his mother being too busy with her own affairs. His life as a merchant seaman becomes a search for adventure, and also for love.






Arrivals and Departures 
by Leslie Thomas
Read by Doc


The village of Bedmansworth, close to Heathrow, has been there for six centuries. This is a tale of people who inhabit interconnecting worlds: the bustling, stress-filled, ultra-modern world of the airport and the still romantic, conventional world of the country village on its doorstep.



A Season in Hell by Jack Higgins 
read by Doc

This is the only Jack Higgins novel to have a woman as the central character. When her step-son is murdered Sarah Talbot wants revenge and hires former SAS man Sean Egan to help her. Together they uncover a web of drugs and murder but their every move is being watched by a mysterious assasin known as Jago. Also features Brigadier Ferguson pulling a few strings in the background! A really good book with plenty of action and a great plot.

The Complete McAuslan by George MacDonald Fraser 
Reviewed by Tony

 The Complete MacAuslan comprises of   The General Danced at Dawn, MacAuslan in the Rough, The Sheikh and the Dust Bin.

This is a collection of short stories about a Highland regiment in the Middle east just after WW2.   I was first attracted by the sub heading " The Dirtiest Soldier in the World "  . We'll see about that, I thought, but Private MacAuslan has even me beaten.     This is military humour at it's best by the author of the Flashman books, who served in WW2  in 17 Div. So is one of the lads. 


Rules of Engagement by Brian Freemantle
Reviewed by Doc




Four men became heroes in 1975. Their mission was to rescue Vietnamese  orphaned children born to GI's and local women. They had to do this before the Vietcong  could reach them. Of the four children  one is now millionaire businessman, one is an American highly decorated veteran. One is running for the presidency of the USA and one  is dead, leaving his son to write his biography. Enter our hero, Ray Hawkins. The clues he uncovers lead to the fact that some yank prisoners are still alive in Vietnam. This is a very good read.

Other Times by Leslie Thomas
Read by Doc
The review taken from Amazon

At the start of the war in 1939 James Bevan is a junior officer approaching middle-age, attached to a small anti-aircraft unit amid the retirement bungalows of the south coast. For Bevan, and the soldiers he commands, it's a rude awakening when they are called upon for the real war.


The Dearest & The Best by Leslie Thomas
Read  by Doc 
Tthe Review taken from Amazon



In the spring of 1940, the spectre of war turned into grim reality. And on the English home front, men, women and children found themselves swept into a maelstrom of fear and uncertainty while events abroad led inexorably from the debacles of Norway and Dunkirk to the horror and glory of the Battle of Britain. For the Lovatt family - James, seconded on a hush-hush assignment to work with Churchill, and his brother Harry, a naval officer - for Bess Spofford, Joanne Schorner, Graham Smit and all the inhabitants of the history villages of the New Forest, it was the beginning of the most bizarre, funny and tragic episode of their lives.

The Shibumi by Trevanaian
Read by Doc

Hannah Stern is a girl who got away from a fake "Black September" raid staged by the CIA. Nicholai Hel is the man she ran to. Half German, half Russian, brought up by a Japanese general; mystic, philosopher, master of the senses,, man of Shibumi. The most deadly assassin in the world. 

Diamond is the man who has to find them, with the help of Fat Boy, the super computer controlled, like everyone else - the politicians, the military, the CIA - by the sinister organisation known as the mother company.

Spanning three continents and half a century, Shibumi is a bestseller of violent, erotic, mind-bending power.

The Arms of Krupp 1587-1968 
by William Manchester
Reviewed by Tony

An informative rather than enjoyable book and at nearly 1000 pages long - it's too long . Apart from the history of the Krupp dynasty,  European history is analysed too . 

The main parts , for the likes of us is of course The Franco -Prussian War, the First and Second World Wars and the Nuremberg Trials. Unfortunately after that it's economic politics, so unless you've got a spare six weeks ( that's how long it took me ), I'd give it a miss.

Why this review ?  To let everyone know I've read a big thick book !! 

The Shipkiller by Justin Scott
Read by Doc and 
reviewed by Amazon

When Leviathan - the largest moving object on the face of the earth, 1800 feet of arrogance and power - bears down on Peter & Carolyn Hardin's ketch Siren, the smaller boat is brushed aside, crushed out of existence. Carolyn, ripped from Peter's frantic grasp, is lost; Peter is left battered and half dead but vowing vengeance.

Obsessed by the awful might of the technological giant,  Hardin becomes a ship killer, stalking his murderous prey across the raging seas and oceans to a final apocalyptic confrontation in the snake filled waters of the Persian Gulf.

Not since Moby Dick has there been a seafaring novel of such fierce and sustained intensity as The Shipkiller.

A Life in Secrets by Sarah Helm
Reviewed by Anon


The main subject of the book, a woman who was in charge of women agents sent into France during the war, is not that special. The real stuff in the book is the story of the agents themselves. It's sometimes hard to believe how amateurish the whole thing was but there's no doubting the courage of those who went into enemy territory, often woefully unprepared, and who, in most cases,  paid the ultimate price.

After the war, Miss Atkins went to Europe to try to find out what happened to 'her girls'. The fate of those captured, often by betrayal is tragic.

It the book was just about Vera Atkins, it would be hardly worth reading but because of the insight into the story and eventual execution of so many brave women, it's well worth reading


Bare Nell by Leslie Thomas
Reviewed by Doc

I knew that one day that I could become a famous writer or a famous whore. It was my spelling that let me down. Little Nell Luscombe, paddling naked and brown in her native Devon streams was the delight of the local GI's. She grew up into Bare Nell, learning that there was a good living to be made from her substantial charms. From servicing the Weymouth fishermen, she progressed to the pinnacle of her profession - running a high class establishment, all tastes catered for-within earshot of the division bells of Westminister. She is a modern Moll Flanders, a girl no better than she ought to be and doing very nicely out of it. Thank you.

The Adventures of Goodnight and Loving by Leslie Thomas
Recommended by Doc

At 43, George Goodnight, lawyer for a London newspaper, is sick of his boring, structured life, so when his wife files for divorce he jettisons orderly routine for aimless travel. In Thomas's hands, Goodnight's round-the-world romp is delightful, touching, unpredictable, utterly engaging, at times hilarious. Selling his stamp collection piecemeal to fund his exploits, and calling himself Oliver Loving (after a famed New Mexico frontiersman), Goodnight has dozens of adventures, in settings ranging from the Australian outback to a Fort Worth mansion (where he becomes an English butler and cuckolds the owner); he escapes an Arab sheikdom, inadvertently smuggles drugs, runs a Filipino leper colony, tracks down a missing girl, befriends a blind youth. Through it all he is the perfect, unflappable Englishman, bemused, skeptical, calm, somewhat cynical, resisting his newspaperman boss who tracks him down in an effort to turn his trip into good copy. A real page-turner from a popular British author ( The Virgin Soldiers ), this episodic globe-hopping picaresque saga is also a serious, first-class novel.

Peking by Anthony Grey
Recommended by Doc

Although titled Peking, this historical epic about China from the 1930s to the 1970s might more aptly have been called "The Long March": it recounts the legendary Long March of the Chinese Communists in flight from their foes in the '30s, and the "continuation" of the march during the more turbulent moments of Mao Tse-tung's rule. In 1934, Jakob Kellner, a British missionary, his American wife and their child are captured by Chinese Communists who set upon their rural mission. Kellner's wife is ruthlessly executed, his infant sent into hiding with a servant, and Kellner himself, his faith severely tested, forced to march for weeks in ragged clothes through awful weather with his captives. On the march, he is briefly united with Lu Mei-ling, a Chinese woman he met on his voyage to Shanghai. Mei-ling secretly takes care of his daughter and has a brief affair with him on the harsh journey. In the years following the Communist triumph, Kellner returns to China at times of crisis as a China watcher. Eventually, he introduces his grown daughter to the land and to the Chinese woman he loved and left behind. Grey (Saigon) has done a thorough job of conveying the cruelty of wholesale torture, privation and slaughter that accompanied the struggle between the Communists and the Kuomintang during the '30s. His depiction of the troubles during the "Hundred Flowers" purge of the '50s and the Cultural Revolution of the '60s, while instructive, stretches the novel farther than it will comfortably go.

Australia by Ward McNally
Recommended by Doc

Australia and the Challenging Land is an informative and highly entertaining book about the country and the people who give it its soul, seen against the background of its history , back to the pioneering days.

Author Ward McNally, whose magazine articles have been published widely in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA, takes the reader with him in a personel fact finding mission which ranges from 
the modern crowded cities to the vast desolate Northern Territories where "neighbours" are hundreds of miles apart and the summer temperature soars into the hundreds, and to the giant irrigation and hydroscheme in the Upper Northern Western Australia. and down to 
the green and fertile Tasmania.

The story of Australian tremendous industrial growth to the end of the last World war to now, is told to the author by the men responsible for shaping the pattern of its destiny.

Saint Jack by Paul Theroux.
Reviewed by Tony

The life of an American pimp in Singapore in the 50's and 60's. Written with knowledge , humour and great style.

This will take you back to " those  times" again and there's a couple of bonuses , a film of the book , made " under cover " by Peter Bogdanovitch and a book of the making of the film ( both already on order ). 

The only lack of realism in the whole book is.......he drinks Anchor beer .

In Retrospect, by former US Defense Secretary Robert S McNamara with Brian Vandemark
Reviewed by Martin Ratia

Introducing the book, McNamara says: "We of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations who participated in the decisions on Vietnam acted according to what we thought were the principles and traditions of this nation. We made our decisions in light of those values. Yet we were wrong, terribly wrong. We owe it to future generations to explain why."

The often deceitful power plays between the US politicians and generals are scary; yet they could have been so easily minimised with more effective communication and coordination of the various conflicting agendas by those at the top. That the most powerful nation in the free world could allow itself to be led by the nose with a lethal combination of misinformation and blatant deception is frightening.

I've always hoped the lessons of Vietnam would make future US administrations think twice before ever again intervening in another country's affairs, but it's impossible to read this book without comparing much of it with Iraq.

A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, by Neil Sheehan
Reviewed by Martin Ratia

In a story that is entirely complementary to McNamara's, former UPI war correspondent Sheehan gives readers a deep insight into the moral bankruptcy and venality of those in positions of power. He effectively explains that the entire war effort was betrayed by greed and corruption at the highest levels in South Vietnam and by the political and military power plays which underlined the sometimes mind-numbing incompetency of US generals and others in positions of influence.

He does it all by telling the story of John Paul Vann, a gung ho patriot and strong supporter of the US administration's firm but subsequently discredited belief that success by Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Cong guerillas over South Vietnam would open the floodgates for communism to threaten the free world. Had they researched the country and culture in which they chose to intervene, they would have realised that nationalism was the prime mover for Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Cong. The fact that "Uncle Ho" had converted to communism while studying in France was peripheral.

The detail in this book is amazing, and it was no surprise to learn that Sheehan conducted 385 interviews to supplement what he already knew from his own tours in Vietnam and associated news despatches, as well as his access to the all-important, top secret, Pentagon Papers.

No Money, No Honey
A candid look at sex-for-sale in Singapore
by journalist David Brazil

This book confirms the fact that Singapore is not as squeaky clean as people believe it to be. It could be described as a hand-book for male tourists but I found it a fascinating read. I read it while in Singapore and as I wandered down Orchard Road I imagined all the smart local girls that I saw were in fact Singapore Party Girls (SPG's). It is the 4th edition but this is the only one I have read. I was quite shocked to see it on the shelf in a book shop because the government is still really paternalistic and seem to decide what is good for the peasants. 

Below is the blurb from the back of the book, much more interesting than I could make it and I tend to ramble a bit. I am not sure whether it can be bought of in the UK but I bet it is available in Oz.

"The Women: Mistresses, models and actresses, high class escorts and sophisticated lounge hostesses, the temptresses of Geylang's lorongs, the housewife part-timers and even school girls.

Where they do it: The author takes you down dark lanes, behind darkened windows, through locked doors, into hotel bedrooms, inside bars, lounges, discos and massage salons.

Why they do it: For the money. Their maxim is 'No money, No Honey'. But some women also go for the thrills.

True stories! Twelve women involved in most forms of sex-for-sale talk frankly and openly about their work, their clients, how much they earn and how they feel about men."

Notes from an even Smaller Island
Scribbles from the Same Island
Final Notes from a Great Island
by Neil Humphreys

These 3 books are about the people and life in Singapore over a period of 10 years. They are not travel books though. The author Neil Humphrey's is from Dagenham in Essex and gained a First Class Honours degree in history. He decided to travel and was invited to stay with a Singaporean friend in Singapore. He found a job teaching English but then moved on to journalism with the Today newspaper and lived in a high rise flat in Toa Payoh for all the time he was in Singapore.

He recounts his experiences with humour seems to get right inside the personalities of the people. He fits in with his neighbours even if they do seem to be a mad lot. I thought he would never leave but he has decided to go and live and work in Australia so maybe he will carry on writing books from there. I hope so because his humour suits me very well. He looks a bit gormless but then he admits that he does and he is about 6ft 4in so he will be a strange site wandering about the HDB grounds (Housing Development Board).

He compliments and admires the Singaporeans but also laughs at their idiosyncrasies. He seems to approve of the way the country is run but then he went there from a 
He also went to Manchester Uni where I think crime would also be rife. But it is a nice experience living in a place where one knows that there is safety even if there is stress as well.

He actually seems to prefer living and socialising with the Singaporeans rather than the Ex pat community who he seems to ridicule quite a bit. I am disappointed that he is going to Australia but I hope that he will continue to write and that I will be able to get hold of his books.

by James Clavell

Read by Doc

Dirk Struan is Tai-Pan of the Noble House, undisputed leader of the most potent, most feared trading company of the Orient. Hong Kong back in the 50's was a barren rock, crouched close to the impenetrable Mainland of China.

Dicl Struan sets himself to turn this arid out-crop into the finest jewel of the British Empire.



The Ultimate Aphrodisiac
by Robert G. Barrett
Recommended by Doc

Aussie Vietnam veteran Ron Milne was on a good thing growing Indian hemp on the tiny Micronesian island of Lon Laroi. Besides being President, the natives treated him as a god. To the American  DEA he was a dangerous criminal. President of the United States Clifford J. Clooney decides to invade.

On to this island of sun, surf, beautiful women and mysterious ruins arrives Bondi surf journalist Brian Bradshow. Brian comes to find a story, then returns home to write it. He didn't expect to get involved in something almost impossible to comprehend, fall in love and get taken literally for the ride of his life.

All Lon Laroi wanted to do was sit peacefully in the sun away from everybody. The little island had absolutely no intention of starting a third world war. But if Lon laroi had to fight a World war, the little island had absolutely no intention of losing.

A Time of War by Michael Peterson
Read by Doc

Written by a former Marine lieutenant, this sprawling drama of the Vietnam war has all the elements of a TV miniseries--lush settings, sexy characters, high-level cloak-and-dagger espionage and acts of personal bravery. Bradley Marshall is Lyndon Johnson's personal ambassador to Vietnam, whose attempts to end the war through secret negotiations with the North Vietnamese are opposed by high-level CIA operatives within the U.S. Embassy. Marshall's bodyguard, true-blue Lt. Ron Mead, is forced to terminate his romance with a 17-year-old prostitute when a CIA agent instructs him to establish a homosexual liaison with a decadent French spy. Meanwhile, Mead's company in Khe Sanh struggles to survive the North Vietnamese onslaught and the almost nonsensical orders of its own commanding officers. Peterson adroitly evokes embassy intrigue and his battle scenes are immediate and compelling. Some readers may be taken aback by the powerful, troubled current of sexuality, however: erotic hero-worship alternates with cartoonish views of homosexuality; rape, whoring and pornography are presented as GI staples; sex and violence are always linked. Though the story at times reads like potboiler melodrama, Peterson constructs an elaborate, absorbing and viscerally affecting narrative.

SS - GB by Len Deighton
Read by Doc

SS-GB deals with life in Nazi-occupied Great Britain, about one year after the German Army successfully overruns the British Isles. I found it to be utterly believable, completely convincing. Churchill has been secretly executed by a German firing squad, and the King is imprisoned in the Tower of London under special SS guard. America considers the war to be over. And therein lies the tale. The end will rock you and sock you.

The book deals with one Detective Archer, a detective with Scotland Yard, which is itself under the command of a German police General. There is a murder to be solved, and as one might guess, there is more to the murder than meets the eye. Archer must solve the murder and deal with the political rivalries that affect his German masters.

Deighton's novel captures the sense of defeat--the dark, moody time (which in real life was only just barely averted) after the all hope is lost and the British have suffered utter defeat. But life goes on, and this is what SS-GB is really about. There is a story here, about seemingly real people, and Deighton tells it.

Hiroshima Joe by Martin Booth
read by Doc
Review taken from back of book


He was captain Joseph Sandingham of the Royal Signals. Stationed in Hong Kong during the winter of 1041. But on Christmas Eve his platoon was ambushed by the Japanese, and he was sent to the living hell of a POW camp in Kowloon.

Transferred to a slave labour camp in Japan itself, he is present outside Hiroshima on the fateful day when the nuclear bomb is dropped.

Now, seven years later he endures a twilight life in Hong Kong  - as an opium addict and petty criminal, in thrall to a local Chinese gang leader. All but broken by the horrors he has seen, Joe must struggle to work out for himself some form of salvation - or survival.

The appalling cost of war and its consequences have rarely been so powerfully or passionately conveyed as in this brilliant novel

The Berkut by Joseph Heywood
Read by Doc
with a short review taken from Amazon



SS man Colonel Gunthur Brumm, his faithful NCO, Sergeant Rau, and Adolf Hitler are on the run from Stalin's Special Operations Group headed by Petrov--the Berkut--after staging Hitler's supposed suicide.


Big Shots - the chilling inside story of Carl Williams and the gangland wars,
 by journalist Adam Shand.

Reviewed by Martin Rartia

This book covers the story of Melbourne's gangland wars, only recently settled, at least temporarily, with the death of 25 hoodlums and jailing of several major players including Mick Gatto, head of The Carlton Crew, and Carl Williams, boss of the Sunshine boys. Sunshine is a small country town outside Melbourne which spawned many violent criminals who joined and/or took on the Establishment of Melbourne's underworld.

Journalist Adam Shand set out to expose organised crime in Melbourne and ended up being befriended by many of the main players although, as he points out, it's "friends" in the underworld who make the worst enemies!

This book was published mid-2007 and is very topical, with one of the main players on the police wanted list, "Fat Tony" Mokbel, having been arrested in Greece just recently, in September 2007.

Although the book is set in Australia, it could also be interesting to UK readers because there are many similarities between the underworld characters and their modus operandi and lifestyles in both countries.

The Thin Yellow Line 
by William Moore
Reviewed by Tony

I first read his book in 1974 when the "D" notices on the events were lifted. Over 340 of our own men , boys really, were shot at dawn . Their only crime ( apart from the murderers} was not to be able to endure conditions that humans had ever encountered before. The Australian Army , thanks to the Breaker Morant incident in the Boer War were not liable to the death sentence.
The author ends on a positive note saying the men who were shot at dawn did not die in vain, as non of the next generation of soldiers in the Second World War were executed. Not in the British Army anyway , it was the Germans turn to do that.

Empire Made Me by Robert Bickers. 
Reviewed by Tony

Another true story that in the political climate we live in now is hard to believe. 
The main story of of one mans life in post WW1 Shanghai, first as a member of the Shanghai Municipal Police then as an itinerant until killed by the Japanese just before WW2. The sub-story is the history and political, social and economic make-up of the International Settlement . Anybody who visited South Africa during Apatite and thought life there was difficult should read this . The Chinese were not allowed in the Parks, in the front doors of Banks, notices would say " No Dogs or Chinese " . That wasn't all, even the Europeans had their strata's of underclass. 
A very unusual book and well worth the read .

The City of Joy
by Dominique Lapierre

Read by Doc
Reviewed by Amazon


City of Joy, quite simply, is the most evocative book I have ever read. For those readers who have seen the film, it bears no relationship to the book except in the vaguest sense.

The characters have been changed and it does not tingle the senses in the same unforgettable way. Life in Calcutta is portrayed in such fine detail that when the sewers overflow in the monsoon rains, you actually smell the stench. You can see the children picking over the rubbish tips, taking home their findings, the families living in the streets, and the bicycles all but run over your toes.

By the end of the book, it is all one can do not to hop on the first plane to India to help the poor unfortunates who make up such an appreciable part of the city. In the opening chapters, I had to be a little tenacious to give the tale time to unfold, but after that, I did not want to stop until the book was finished - and I was left wanting more, much more.

A People's History of the Vietnam War

by Jonathan Neale


Reviewed by Martin Ratia

Jonathan Neale holds a PhD in social history and was a self-confessed conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. He is still actively involved in protest movements against "capitalism" worldwide. That background clearly influences his opinions and selection of quotes from key players throughout the book.
Neale's perspective on the Vietnam War and related world events is a goldmine for the conspiracy theorists who already believe that the US government is primarily interested in protecting its hold on global economic and military power by setting the "ruling classes" and "working classes" against each other.
Nevertheless, I found this book to be the most comprehensive coverage of relevant US and world events, government policies and social "revolution" leading up to, during and subsequent to the Vietnam War that I've read to date.
To quote Mike Marqusee on the book's cover: "If you're new to the history of the war in Vietnam, this is the place to start. And if you think you've heard it all, then this is the place to start again." Hear, hear!


The Team by Ian McNeill

Read by Doc

Written with complete access to Australian dept of defence records and supported with personal interviews by the author. The team provides a close insight into the Vietnam conflict and recounts a fascinating chapter in Australia's military history.  Available literature on the Vietnam war focuses overwhelmingly on the role of the allies, yet it was the Vietnamese who suffered its full force. This their story and that of the Australian advisors who fought with them. The Australian Army Training team Vietnam consisted mainly of officers and Warrant officers experts in jungle warfare. From an original 30 in July 1962, the team expanded to 100 in 19 65 I was one of them] and reached over 200 before withdrawing in 72. Working individually and in small groups, members operated with the South Vietnamese Army, the territorial forces, the US special forces and in programmes sponsored by the US CIA. Many worked close to the people in the provinces and districts,  The experiences of the Team reveal the deep divisions which existed within South Vietnam, which with the allied withdrawal led to its collapse. Stories of the heroism and sacrifice of the Australian advisers are many, four Victoria Crosses, together with many other awards distinguish The Team as probably the most highly decorated unit, for its size in the history of the Australian Army. The story reflects the bond which developed between American and Australian advisers. It exposes the clashes too, as different approaches to counter insurgency were exacerbated under the stress of battle, cover photo shows WO Locky Snowcroft training montagnards at us special forces camp at Pleiku,1969

Jack Boot
The story of a German Soldier
by  John Laffin
Reviewed by Tony

Those of us who served in Germany probably think we understand the German psyche well but we don't understand his military psyche. Reading this book by Australian historian John Laffin will  help.

    Apart from that this book is full of interesting information like when the Germans occupied France they charged them £3,000,000 a day for the cost of the occupation, what a bloody
cheek !
 He seems a bit too fond of the Teuton for me , but, still a good read .


Someone Else's  War 
By Howard R Simpson.

Reviewed by Tony


Not many people know more about Viet Nam than this author. He worked for the US Information Agency during the first Indo China War  and was re assigned there for the second.
          This book is a novel about Spooks mainly set in Nha Tran and Saigon so those familiar with the locations will get a little extra out of the book. A good solid story written around true events ,expertly analysed and woven into the book .


     See how many " real " characters you can spot.


Tiger Men

By Barry Petersen

Reviewed by Martin Ratia

Subtitled “An Australian soldier’s secret war in Vietnam”, this book is written in the first person and tells of young Army captain Barry Petersen’s trials and tribulations as a member of the AATTV (Australian Army Training Team Vietnam) working for the CIA to set up the Truong Son Force, or Tiger Men, to resist the Viet Cong in the Central Highlands.

Petersen understandably became very close to the Montagnard (ethnic minority mountain people) as he trained them to become a very effective fighting force. But politics will always prevail in war, and Petersen was eventually removed by the CIA – possibly because he was too successful and unwittingly became a “cult personality” amongst the Montagnard, thereby potentially undermining direct CIA control of the region.

He did a second tour of Vietnam some five years later, as officer in charge of C company, 2 RAR, operating combat patrols around Nui Dat.

Petersen served in Malaya before being posted to Vietnam, and found himself back in Port Dickson years later on loan to the Malaysian Army for training purposes. Even then, he became entwined in more intrigue as the resurgent communists tried to bribe him for military secrets.

I was very taken with this book, not just for the references to service in Malaya which anyone on this site will be familiar with, but mainly because it gives detailed insider’s account of CIA involvement in the Vietnam War. The result is not always comforting reading!

Red Haze
By Leon Davidson
Reviewed by Martin Ratia

This is a book about Australian and New Zealand forces in the Vietnam War.  The title refers to what’s seen through infra red gunsights at night. Sadly, heat spots highlighted like this were not always made by Viet Cong; innocent women, children and animals show up the same way. But that didn’t stop “anonymous” heat spots being blasted by heavy calibre machine guns or napalm if they were breaking the after-dark curfew.

Unlike most books of this genre, the author doesn’t claim any active involvement in the war.   Instead, he presents a well-researched account of Australian and New Zealand forces in Vietnam, and any tendency towards “blandness” is well compensated by many direct quotes from those who served, such as Sergeant Bob Buick, D Coy, 6RAR: “There was usually one tracer to five normal rounds and the tracer was like a swarm of bush flies around us. You could not put your hand up without getting your fingers shot off .”

I found this one of the most interesting books I’ve read about the Vietnam War – it covers many angles, including events that led to the war, and a chapter called “The Other Side” which documents viewpoints and quotes from those who fought against America and its allies.

The author makes no judgments about right or wrong, save only to acknowledge that, like so many other wars, this one was also a tragic waste of life.

Shadows On The Wall
By Stan Krasnoff
Reviewed by Martin Ratia

Captain Stan Krasnoff joined the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) in December 1967 and was immediately attached to Project Rapid Fire, under US “hard man” Major Bo Gritz.

Working in platoon-size teams with a small number of US special forces advisors and their Cambodian troopers (affectionately called “Bodes”), these guys led a life of sleep deprivation and continual stress as they faced life and death in the jungle on a daily basis, often face to face with the enemy, as they conducted their covert, intelligence-gathering missions so vital to the war effort.

This is a real “up close and personal” account of the war from a combat trooper’s perspective, best described on the cover as “The adrenalin-pumping, heart-yammering true story of Project Rapid Fire” – but told from the backdrop of the author’s favourite coffee shop, Sandy’s Deli on Hastings Street, Noosa, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, which makes the whole experience even more realistic and chilling because Sandy’s is a popular spot and I may have sat on the next table to this guy in the past without realising a thing!
Dirty Little Secrets of the Vietnam War
By James F Dunnigan & Albert A Nofi
Reviewed by Martin Ratia

There are certainly some “dirty little secrets” in this book, written by two prolific authors of books and articles on military affairs (Dunnigan was a consultant to the State Dept, CIA and Army War College; Nofi is editor of the series The Great Campaigns of Military History), such as the involvement of various third parties on both sides including Russians, Cubans and Chinese – not to mention the roles played by Cambodia, Laos and Thailand and, by inference, their governments. But this book is much more than a collection of dirty little secrets – it’s a comprehensive breakdown of facts and figures covering everything from strategic thinking behind various campaigns and deployments to the numbers and types of weapons and other equipment used. A chapter near the end also gives a breakdown of every military unit on both sides of the war, including origin, numbers, battles engaged and area of operation. It even provides breakdowns of deserters including their educational, geographic and (so unusual in this day and age) colour! If, like me, you played no part in this war but have an interest in it, you will learn a lot more from this book than all the other more personal “war stories” put together which, by necessity, usually only cover certain aspects of the war. This book is well worth a read for anyone with an “academic” interest in the Vietnam War – particularly the “American phase” 1964–1972!