Alexander Fax Booksellers - Australian military history specialists

We specialise in quality secondhand military history books, including Military Aviation, Naval History, Unit History, Prisoners of War, World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War and Women in War. 
We also carry a broad range of military history covering a number of categories including British Military, German Military and Colonial conflicts.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Childhood reading influences and old movies

I have often wondered why I am addicted to crime fiction. I am to into the hard boiled stuff, or serial killer genre, but love the mystery genre, the bright spark sleuths, the police teams where intuition play as much a part as skill. My guilty pleasure is to put away the reference books and the edifying history tomes to dip into something slushy and escape for a day or two into a well crafted crime novel. The penny dropped the other day. David had been spending a few days at the lock up, moving boxes, emptying others, sorting through boxes long stored. He opened up a box of kids books and out tumbled Trixie Belden, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and The Three Investigators (not really all of them, just their books). I had of course devoured all as a child, including The Secret Seven, Famous Five and Five findouters and dog. How could I not be enamoured of crime books as an adult!

And if my childhood reading had such a significant impact on my adult life, so too did my childhood love of book lists. When I was at school, a company called Ashton Scholastic sent around booklists to many subscribing schools and the students would select what they wanted from the catalogues, parents would send in a little cheque and voila! a stack of books would turn up every month or so. I loved receiving those catalogues, reading the book blurbs and then choosing which ones I wanted to read. They were mainly American books and at this great distance in time, I cannot remember what any were, but I devoured them. I was very lucky. My mother loved reading and she never stinted on my catalogue selections. Perhaps too, my siblings were not overly interested in reading so she only had to cover cheques for one voracious reader. To my dying day I will always be grateful to my mother for providing me with lots of books, constantly! Even as a littley, she weekly bought me a Little Golden Book when doing the groceries. They were only 20c in those days and the supermarket stocked them on spinners I think, near the checkout so kind (or harried, with screaming children) mums could select a title at the last moment and pop it into the trolley. As I grew older, Mum donated to me all her own childhood books (now, alas gone) and kept me well supplied at birthday and Christmas times. I remember one Christmas receiving a big suitcase full of books! All read by the end of the long holidays, just in time for my birthday and a new supply. And whenever a new Enid Blyton came out, it would appear on the bookshelves, either from my pocket money or hers. Heavens, on our holiday of a lifeline to Surfers Paradise when I was 9, Dad took my brother and sister to the beach while Mum and I trailed through all the bookshops looking for more Enid Blytons for my collection. All, alas, sadly gone now. I had left them at my grandparents in storage when I grew out of them and they went all mouldy so Dad had to turf them. I have never replaced them.

Mum was a great reader and passed that passion onto me. She always had her nose in a book and that was one of her ‘things’. I often gave her books as gifts and, as we had similar taste, I would read it first, leaving a little vegemite stain (I was and am a vegemite kid) and my personal guarantee that all the words were there. Even now, I still think that this would be something she would like, but I can’t pass it on to her. But I have a friend who, like me is a voracious reader, and in many things our tastes coincide so, if I think she will like something, I put it in ‘her pile’. Sometimes, I even find myself choosing books deliberately because I know she will like them! It is wonderful to share something with someone you know will appreciate it.

Like me, my mother would always make time each day to read, even if only 10 minutes. If she could not, it was as if someone had cut off her last breath. I have the same feeling if deprived of time to read. Of course, there came a time when her last breath was cut off, and, naturally, almost to the last she was reading. On that terrible night, that first terrible night that heralded a new life without my mother, I picked up the last book she was reading. She had left her bookmark in it and I continued to read. I finished the book for her and turned down the corner (don’t tell the collectors or book purists) of the last page she had read. It was Bryce Courtenay’s April Fool’s Day (coincidentally, it was April, tho; not the first) and perhaps not my first choice for the last days of my life, or for the first days of grieving but strangely, it did help as I focussed another family’s struggle with love, life and loss. It still sits on my shelf. I won’t read it again but it triggers memories so I will not part with it.

Dad too, had an important place in my childhood reading. He read, and reread constantly to me when I was a littley. He was in charge of the bedtime story. My favourite was The Taxi That Hurried, and he had to read it over and over again. When I had my tonsils out, he even came to the hospital each night to read it. One night, I slept through his visit and missed my story. I awoke and howled! ‘I want my Dad, and he has to read my story!’ Poor Nurses. 9.30pm an all should have been quiet on the children’s ward, with visiting hours long over. But still I howled so they rang Dad and told him to get there on the double to shut that kid up. He did. He read my story, I shut up and went to sleep, happy. I was a very lucky child. When he died a few years ago I desperately wanted a copy of The Taxi because of the memories it kindled up. Luckily, David found a copy soon enough at a market stall. I was in seventh heaven but, as I read it, I recalled not one single word, nor one single image of the five year old’s favourite book. But that did not matter, I had it.

Had a great time recently hitting the tables at a local bookfair. Lots of goodies, but what really stoked me most was adding to my stash of old movies. Long have I wanted to pick up Mrs Miniver, smaltzy emotionalism at its best. Every time, I searched in vain. This time I forgot to look for it specifically and when I passed by the video shelves on route to the ladies (or at least that was the excuse I gave David for disappearing) there it was. First title I saw. I later picked up Brief Encounter. Another long term must have (that music!) and Some Like it Hot. Delicious Marilyn, Jack Lemmon as a delightful Daphne and Tony Curtis and his delightful sendup of Cary Grant’s accent! David swears that he has the latter but neither of us have found it in his Marilyn collection, despite many searches, and when we viewed it the other night, neither recalled watching it for some time. Lots of great Fred Astaire and Cary Grant films, too (including His Girl Friday which was a bit of a coincidence as I was reading a WWII diary last night and the author went to see it on board the ship taking him to Canada!) and another Doris Day which I did not have. I will just mention here that I was not born when many of my old favourites were first screened, and my parents were only youngsters and then young adults themselves but I did see all in my formative years thanks to Bill Collins’ Golden Years of Hollywood. Thank you Bill for sharing your love and passion of great films which to me, still stand up and are classics all.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Spring Time and Tea Time

Happy first day of Spring! Seems to have been a long time in coming.

I have always known it but here is the evidence. Lifted from an AAP article in The Canberra Times 15 August 2009 (read while sipping the beverage referred to in the text):

Feeling stressed out or anxious? Go put the kettle on and make a cup of tea. A study by an Australian university professor has finally confirmed what many tea drinkers have long believed a steaming cuppa can help sooth in a crisis.

Malcolm Cross, a psychologist working at City University London found drinking tea reduced stress levels and could make people calmer. For his study, 42 volunteers were subjected to a timed mathematics quiz with half the group given a glass of water and the other half a cup of tea afterwards.

While the stress of the test caused water drinkers’ anxiety levels to soar by 25 per cent, the tea drinkers recorded a 4 per cent fall. Having a cuppa helped the tea drinkers feel they had been ‘cared for’ while the actual process of tea making created ‘solidarity’ among the group.

And the perfect recipe for a soothing cuppa? Exactly 1.6 cups of English breakfast tea missed with milk and one and a half sugars did the trick.

Professor Cross said many people turned to tea in times of stress because they had strong memories of its comforting qualities. Bit he did not believe taking time out for a coffee had the same calming effects as tea.

Well, there you have it. I certainly have strong memories of the calming effects of tea and the phrase ‘a cup of tea, a Bex and a nice lie down’ has long resounded in my memory. When things get too much I will retreat with fine china and perfect brew to either sun lounge or bed. I give the Bex a miss but the lie down and tea make for a calming return to a stress free day. Of course, I partake more often than just the stressful moments. What would life be without the morning green tea at breakfast (after the jolting cafe au lait), morning tea, afternoon tea (preferably with Shelley and cake) and a light night cap of white tea.

Yesterday was one of those days where things had to be done but they were all as exciting as drying paint. First the visit to the doctor who advised that no, my back ache was not the result of a particularly nasty tumour, necessitating an urgent rewriting of will and settling of affairs but the result of old age, arthritis and too much accumulated laziness; then the excitement of photocopying at Office Works and replenishment of the ink cartridge supply; and then an afternoon of important paperwork by David and essential reading by me (thus adding to the accumulation of laziness-induced back ache!). But there was one highlight: lunch at one of our favourite spots which had, among other things, my favourite chocolate biscuits for a little pre-lunch treat. And then we took some home for an afternoon treat! Thankfully, a pedestrian day, the sort we all have to endure sometime or other, was able to present a flavoursome ray of sunshine (and mega calories).

After his important paperwork, David decided to escape by heading off to do the shopping. A bit urgent as we like to eat occasionally and I am having a friend to morning tea tomorrow so needed essential chocolate cake making ingredients. I don’t know how anyone else copes with shopping lists but ours are idiosyncratic to say the least. They usually consist of half a dozen bits of paper with unreadable scrawl indicating what is running low in the cupboard, not necessarily what we need. For instance, if I have been cooking, the list may read the good organic SR flour, the good organic butter, Bourneville cocoa and 'girl’s milk'. And that is all I will put on it all week, tho' the fridge may be empty. If a non-householder saw this, what on earth would he or she think! They would be ok with the cocoa but ‘girl's milk’? what would that particular beast be? And why would you buy the bad butter? And what constitutes good butter anyway? To get actual food items requires a bit of luck. David usually heads out the door with a scrubby bit of paper and picks up things he thinks he can read and thinks we might need. Like cat food and 'boy’s milk'. Five minutes after he leaves, I think it might be nice to have some of those good dried apricots again. So I ring David and he asks what brand. I say I don’t know but the label is orange. I am not too good on brand names but I remember labels. Unfortunately, when the manufacturers change a label, I am in a quandary. Brand loyalty goes by the wayside as I can’t find the right label!And as for fruit and veg: David thinks he can get me to wax lyrical about our veggie needs first thing of a Saturday morning before the markets open, before I have had my cup of coffee! Needless to say, I always forget to mention the good potatoes, the good juice and more oranges for the freshly squeezed morning juice! It is a wonder we ever get fed and watered in our household the way we go.

Food (or lack thereof) aside, it is a wonderful time! There is nothing quite as softly lovely as Spring. Finally, bright blue skies, mild days and milder nights (tho not for a few days yet as we are predicted -2 tonight) and the softly scented air of spring blossoms (which could be responsible for my first ever bout of sinus). David has spoilt me with a bunch of jonquils and a friend presented me with a pre-spring treat of a bunch of Daphne. Heavenly scent.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Biscuits, gates, Siamese cat and Happy Half Birthday to me

I am in the mud. I was luxuriating in bed with hot water bottle, book, cup of tea and cat (as you do) when, reaching over to my bedside table to grab the cup for a sip, the tea managed to jump out of the cup right onto Misty, our little Siamese cat. Well, she was not impressed one bit. Fancy, wet fur! Luckily I had been distracted by the book so the tea was well cooling by now but even so. I rubbed her vigorously which, thankfully, she thought a bit of a game but I was really still on the outer. Eventually she forgave me. Round about tea time!@ With a special warm smooch in the middle of the night when she wriggled into my arms under the doona.

Regular readers of this drivel may recall that as the last missive went out I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the men to put in our colourbond gate. They came, they erected and left. Now, whenever the gate is closed, we refer to the old stomping ground as Fortress Alexander Fax. The only reason we decided to get the gate in the first place was so that Misty could range free in the bank yard, safe from marauding toms and feral cars. Sadly, despite the men’s best efforts, the gate could not go low enough so now, a determined cat could squash herself through the gap if so inclined. Fortunately, she has not had that idea yet but just in case, when the gates are closed, I stop the gap with assorted bits of plank and bricks. Don’t bother making helpful suggestions re rubber or such as we will never get around to it. It has taken us 15 years to organise a gate! Despite the gate’s shortcomings, it serves the purpose and Misty loves her new found freedom. After a bit of a wander she settles on one of the sun chairs and nods off in the quietly warm sunshine that August sometimes surprises us with here in Canberra. Naturally, being an overly cautious ‘mother’ I am forever popping out to check on her, but it is a great relief to know that if I am caught on the phone or in an imaginative fugue (read day dream) she will be safe.

Imaginative fugue or mental fug. Whatever you will, I am not quite on the planet at the moment. Apart from the exciting paths down which my latest research is taking me, I am embarking on the sort of project I hate: getting the tax papers together. I have enough difficulty concentrating on the here and now, and with RAL deadlines and research (and latterly publishing deadlines) I am usually cruising around in the future. Think how difficult it is trying to head back to a financial year that is not the current one? I thought I was doing well and started demanding papers from David about something or other and he declared he did not have them. Arguments abounded as I was sure I did not have them, and then I looked closely at the dates. I recall putting in a bit of effort over the Christmas break when David was in Laos and thought I was well ahead of myself. The great effort was limited to copying the papers from the previous year with a little note (not seen by me as it was on the last page) that I had to overwrite the template with current figures. So, humblest apologies to David, a quick look at the calendar to reorientate myself and I am now on track. Well, sort of, until I vague-off again!

You may recall that in the last blurt I mentioned that a plateful of Anzac bikkies was one of our fave afternoon snacks. One of our Canadian friends asked us what an Anzac biscuit was. Well, for those of you who have missed out on this ever popular Aussie treat, here is the good oil.....

According to the Australian War Memorial the army biscuit, also known as an ANZAC wafer or ANZAC tile, is essentially a long shelf-life, hard tack biscuit, eaten as a substitute for bread. Unlike bread, though, the biscuits are very, very hard. Some soldiers preferred to grind them up and eat as porridge. The popular ANZAC biscuit is a traditional, eggless sweet biscuit. Ingredients include rolled oats, sugar, plain flour, coconut, butter, golden syrup or treacle, bi-carbonate of soda and boiling water.

According to during World War 1, the wives, mothers and girlfriends of the Australian soldiers were concerned for the nutritional value of the food being supplied to their men. Here was a problem. Any food they sent to the fighting men had to be carried in the ships of the Merchant Navy. Most of these were lucky to maintain a speed of ten knots (18.5 kilometers per hour). Most had no refrigerated facilities, so any food sent had to be able to remain edible after periods in excess of two months. A body of women came up with the answer - a biscuit with all the nutritional value possible. The basis was a Scottish recipe using rolled oats. These oats were used extensively in Scotland, especially for a heavy porridge that helped counteract the extremely cold climate.

The ingredients they used were: rolled oats, sugar, plain flour, coconut, butter, golden syrup or treacle, bi-carbonate of soda and boiling water. All these items did not readily spoil. At first the biscuits were called Soldiers Biscuits, but after the landing on Gallipoli, they were renamed ANZAC Biscuits.

A point of interest is the lack of eggs to bind the ANZAC biscuit mixture together. Because of the war, many of the poultry farmers had joined the services, thus, eggs were scarce. The binding agent for the biscuits was golden syrup or treacle. Eggs that were sent long distances were coated with a product called ke peg (like Vaseline) then packed in air tight containers filled with sand to cushion the eggs and keep out the air. (My mum still used Ke peg, tho’ we called it Keep Egg, when I was a child in the 70s when she raised chooks and sold the eggs to supplement the housekeeping.)

As the war drew on, many groups like the CWA (Country Women’s Association), church groups, schools and other women’s organisations devoted a great deal of time to the making of ANZAC biscuits. To ensure that the biscuits remained crisp, they were packed in used tins, such as Billy Tea tins. You can see some of these tins appearing in your supermarket as exact replicas of the ones of earlier years. Look around. The tins were airtight, thus no moisture in the air was able to soak into the biscuits and make them soft. Most people would agree there is nothing worse than a soft biscuit.

During World War 2, with refrigeration in so many Merchant Navy Ships, the biscuits were not made to any great extent. It was now possible to send a greater variety of food, like fruit cake.
ANZAC biscuits are still made today. They can also be purchased from supermarkets and specialty biscuit shops. Around ANZAC Day, these biscuits are also often used by veteran’s organisations to raise funds for the care and welfare of aged war veterans.
Not a bad history. And the taste is yummy but watch your teeth. Depending on how long you cook them they can be nice and soft or hard as a rock.

Here is a recipe from the AWM site that comes from a Gallipoli veteran:

Popular ANZAC biscuit recipe
The popular ANZAC biscuit is a traditional, eggless sweet biscuit. The following is a original recipe provided by Bob Lawson, an ANZAC present at the Gallipoli landing.
1 cup each of plain flour, sugar, rolled oats, and coconut
4 oz butter
1 tbls treacle (golden syrup)
2 tbls boiling water
1 tsp bicarbonate soda (add a little more water if mixture is too dry)
1. Grease biscuit tray and pre-heat oven to 180C.
2. Combine dry ingredients.
3. Melt together butter and golden syrup. Combine water and bicarbonate soda, and add to butter mixture.
4. Mix butter mixture and dry ingredients.
5. Drop teaspoons of mixture onto tray, allowing room for spreading.
6. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden. Allow to cool on tray for a few minutes before transferring to cooling racks.

My recipe comes from the Australian Women's Weekly, my cooking guru:


1 cup (90g) traditional rolled oats
1 cup (150g) plain flour
1 cup (220g) caster sugar
1/2 cup (40g) desiccated coconut
125g butter, chopped
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 tablespoon boiling water

(Re golden syrup: For those who can’t get a hold of golden syrup, according to the Women’s Weekly, AWM, pure maple syrup or honey can be substituted. Given golden syrup is a much heavier flavour than honey I reckon molasses or treacle might be good substitutes.)

Preheat the oven to slow (150C/130C fan-forced). 300 F

Combine the oats, sifted flour, sugar and coconut in a large bowl. Combine the butter and golden syrup in a pan, stir over a low heat until the butter is melted.

Combine the soda and water, add to the butter mixture; stir into the dry ingredients while the mixture is warm.

Roll 1 heaped teaspoon of mixture into a ball; repeat with remaining mixture, placing the balls about 4cm apart on greased oven trays. Flatten balls slightly and bake in a slow oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Loosen the biscuits on the tray while warm; cool on trays.

Suitable to freeze. IF they last that long. Which they won’t.

The things you can get away with without even trying! The other day just happened to be 6 months from one birthday, 6 months from another. Without really thinking, I announced it was my Half Birthday. Most people would have let that one go but Dear David, kind soul that he issue, counter-announced that we would have to buy a Half Birthday Present. I was not going to refuse! So out we toddled to the DVD shop which was having a buy 2 get one free con and stocked up! Then we headed out to the cupcake palace for a Half Birthday Cake. And then we went home and warmed up the DVD player for an evening of Half Birthday DVDs (early series of Spooks for those who are interested). Perhaps the government should have cottoned on to Half Birthday’s when they were trying to convince us all to spend money and get the economy moving again!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Biscuits, fences and Desmond Sheen

Regular readers of my drivel will know that I am more than a little partial to the sweet things in life: cake, muffins and scones. I don’t tend to eat many biscuits as I am the sort of person who, when offered one, will scoff the packet or plate. But I do have moments when I can’t resist. I went through serious withdrawal a few years back when the National Gallery Members’ Lounge ceased serving my favourite chocolate afghan cookie and when we had coffee at the Hyatt one Sunday recently I went feral swiping from my friends’ plates when they served Christmas star shortbread as part of their Christmas in July. As far as I am concerned, if you have to have a biscuit, home made is definitely best and when I fail to resist temptation totally, I will make either Anzac biscuits or rock cakes. No matter how tempted, I generally avoid shop bought because of the nasties contained within. But recently, I was able to eat shop bought to my heart’s or stomach’s content.

I managed to pick up a nasty tummy bug (AKA full blown food poisoning) and after a night which I hope will not be repeated in a hurry, I was feeling mighty delicate. David rushed out for the glucozade, whitest bread possible and a pack of plain biscuits. After a night where I got to know the porcelain a little more intimately than I would have liked, there was nothing better than toast and vegemite with butter (without gives me indigestion and butter IS better as long as you don’t eat too much) on white bread, weak tea and a nice plain biscuit. Or four, or five. Packet two disappeared almost as quickly as packet one. Three days later I was still feeling delicate (well, that is what I told David and he believed me) and still the bikkies disappeared into my tummy! I finally admitted that perhaps I was better (as we fronted up to curry for lunch) and no more malts have been seen since. Shame. I thoroughly enjoyed my re-acquaintance with shop bought bikkies but am left musing.... when you were a kid, did your biscuit dissolve so quickly when you dunked it? Time and again I delicately dunked and time and again I either wore the mush as it splotched on my jumper or tried to spoon it out of the bottom of the cup. There is nothing elegant about a dodgy tummy and the aftermath!

With the final talk regarding Jack Davenport at the Australian War Memorial now over and done with, I now feel as if there is a real ending to that phase of my life. (The talk, by the way, went really well – not that I am biased – and I was thrilled to see some of you there, as well as the son of one of Jack Davenport’s pilots who had travelled from Orange to attend.) Jack consumed me for the last four years and it was a joy discovering his life and then writing about it. But now, it is time to turn to my new project, which I have mentioned in these missives before. Writing about Jack was a challenge but writing about the Australian fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain will be even more of a challenge as some of them just seem to have faded from the collective consciousness. The information is all out there, I just have to find it. This morning I had a fine old time scrolling through the resources of the National Library of Australia’s Australian Newspapers On-line project It is still far from complete but is well worth a look if you are searching for something or someone that might have hit the newspapers. One of the fighter pilots was Canberran and either he or his family was mentioned at least 34 times during the 1920s-40s. (Don’t get me wrong, this chap has not faded from the collective consciousness: I just not found those yet who still remember him.) I have a bit of info re his RAF career but little on his personal life but it is amazing the personal information you can glean from what was then a small town paper: he had a talent for music (as had his parents) and was doing well in his private music lessons as indicated by the published results, enjoyed aussie rules and rugby league, was an average sort of student, and was a messenger in the public service before he went to Point Cook. His family had a wide circle of friends, his mother was involved with the Methodist church and charitable affairs and his father, a plasterer, worked on the construction of Parliament House (perhaps that is the reason the family moved from Sydney, but who knows). It was a fun morning, discovering just a little of the background of the boys. Now all I need to do is find someone who knew of him in his boyhood and young adulthood. A bit of an ask I know but you never know! So, if any of you knew Flight Lieutenant (later Group Captain in the post-war RAF) Desmond Frederick Burt Sheen DFC of the Causeway/Kingston and attendee of Telopea Park School, older brother of Gordon and son of W E Sheen, please let me know!

Today is a very exciting day. We have been up since 5 am in preparation for the fencing blokes who will be finishing off our green colour bond with a gate. It may not sound exciting but, believe me, it is. Having a gate, which can be closed, which ranges from but a bare millimetre from the ground to the metric equivalent of 6 feet high, means that our little cat Misty can range free in the ‘garden’ unsupervised and protected from marauding feline visitors. Up until now, she has only been allowed outside supervised as she is still a bit unsure of what to do in the great outdoors (prior to coming to us she had spent 10 years indoors, never setting delicate brown paw onto grass or sniffing the fresh breeze). A very exciting day. Guess I had better get on with it, then!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Launch of 'Jack Davenport, Beaufighter Leader' 6 July 2009

Launch of Jack Davenport, Beaufighter Leader
Australian War Memorial 6 July 2009 2.00-4.00
Courtyard Gallery Australian War Memorial

(The pre launch haircut, the pre launch facial and manicure. The pre launch panic about availability of books from the distributor’s warehouse. The pre launch sleepless night, brought about by too many nerves and midnight panic. The pre launch jitters soothed by too many cups of prelaunch tea, which resulted in more than a few pre launch wee walks.)

It had finally arrived. The day I had been planning for at least twelve months—from almost the first moment since submitting the manuscript of Jack Davenport, Beaufighter Leader to Allen & Unwin. Of course, at that point, the manuscript did not have a name, just Jack’s Story. But we soon nutted one out. Though, to be truthful, I still think of it as Jack’s Story.

And as Jack Davenport, Beaufighter Leader is Jack’s Story, so too was 6 July 2009 Jack’s Day. I may be the author of his biography, but the day was all about Jack Davenport.

I had asked my special guests to arrive early for photos and general chat but, as so often happens, there was little general chat for me. David and I arrived at the same time as Blue Bernau, followed closely behind by Johnny Ayliffe and his family. As a walked through the doors of the Courtyard Gallery I was welcomed warmly by Jack's son Bruce Davenport and Dagmar Krumm, huge hugs and the most magnificent bunch of pink roses. How did Bruce know that pink roses were my favourite? We found a prominent place for them on the signing table and I was quickly grabbed to sign a couple of books purchased by other early arrivals.

Bruce and Dagmar’s hugs were the first of many. Phil Davenport and his daughters Pip and Stevie then arrived and after kisses and hugs all round we were accosted by Dan O’Day, our wonderful photographer from Boardroom Photography, organised by Jack and Sheila Davenport’s UK nephew, Alastair McDavid. Despite travelling a great deal on business, Alastair was not able to spring a quick trip to Australia but he made sure that he would not miss out on a visual record of the proceedings.

Dan grabbed Phil, me, John Ayliffe, Ivor Gordon, Blue Bernau and started clicking. He had much to work with the ‘boys’ but sadly, as I discovered much to my consternation and Dan’s frustration (beautifully and professionally hidden) that I could blink for England, Australia and France. A blinker of Olympian standard. The blinking was to a large extent due of nervousness, but there were a lot of tears to blink away. I had not seen Phil for a year, and had not seen Ivor, John or Blue for three years. Time had taken its toll but the warmth I felt on our first meeting was still there. Four wonderful men and it is a great honour for me to have known them. Their presence on this day was a great tribute to Jack. Ivor is the frailest and lives in Perth. He and his wife Glenice did not even think of staying away. John, who has had two recent hip operations, came with his family from Adelaide. Phil, the grand man of the day at age 91, and his daughters came from Tasmania. Nothing could say more of their love for Jack than the tribute of their presence on Jack’s Day.

Well, that was the first photo of many. The ‘boys’ were marvellous, accommodating Dan and later Ray Strange from News Limited, as were all the other guests on Alastair’s snap shot list.

Somewhere amongst the many photo shots, I was able to speak with Ian Gordon (aka Major General Ian Gordon AO (Retd)), who launched the book. What a thrill it was to have such a special man launch Jack’s biography. After he offered me his own ‘research trunk’ for as long as I needed, and for what I will, we had only emailed briefly and I had only met him about a month ago for afternoon tea. It was as if I had known him forever. There is something about the sons and daughters of 455 Squadron, and all of Jack’s friends and associates for that matter, they all have such warmth and generosity that you cannot help but feel that you have known them forever, and will continue to do so. (One of the most moving photos of the day was given to me after the event. It was of the ‘sons of 455’, and Ian Gordon sent it to me the next day. It is incredible to think, that if the war had taken a terrible twist for the worst for even one of their fathers, this photo would never have been taken. The photo is elsewhere on this page: From left to right: Ian Gordon, Bruce Davenport, Dick McColl, Scott Milson, Geoff Raebel.)

Come 2.00, the official start time, the room was more than crowded and if I had 2 seconds to say ‘hallo’ I was lucky. Many arrived without my greeting them and I feel terrible, but the crush and continual movement of people dashing to say hallo to old friends, and Dan’s patient pleas for another photo precluded the usual hostess politeness. I did manage to speak to Annie Ross and David Ross, Jack Davenport’s grandchildren. Poor David must have been exhausted; he had arrived from OS but a few days before and had made the effort to share the day with us, before being whisked off to the airport again at the end of the proceedings. It was great to meet two of Jack’s grandchildren, as well as Misty, the youngest of his great grand children. I did not know it until afterwards, but Annie knew my friend Cath, a social worker, from her days as a counsellor at Lou’s Place at Kings Cross. It is indeed a small world.

I had to have a laugh. Dan lined me up with Barry Gration, Errol McCormack and Lance Halvorson (aka Air Marshal Barry Gration, AO AFC (Retd), Patron, Military Historical Society of Australia, Former Chief of the Air Staff, RAAF and currently member of the Williams Foundation; Air Marshal Errol McCormack AO (Retd), Former Chief of Air Force, RAAF and now Chair, Williams Foundation; and Wing Commander Lance Halvorson MBE (Retd), Chairman & Editor Wings Editorial & Management Group; RAAF Association National Council Inc; and member of the Williams Foundation. Barry quipped about me having my photo taken with the best looking men in the room. He wasn’t actually far wrong (girlie comment alert: they are all very handsome!) and I quipped back: ‘I only write about good looking men, and have my photo taken with good looking men!’

2.30 was fast approaching and I was getting a little nervous. Not about the formalities; they would take care of themselves. No, I still could not see my publisher, Ian Bowring. Deb Stevens, A&U account manager extraordinaire and cool cucumber in stressful situations, assured me that Ian was on his way. Andrea Rejante, his assistant, had told me weeks ago that he has started working on his speech, and Ian and I had joked constantly the week before about what anecdotes he would be dredging up and my right of reply. So, I knew he was coming, but the nervous niggle would not go away. Another of our jokes, originating from when he had to miss out on the Clive Caldwell Air Ace launch because of excruciating back pain, was that his back would seize up again (probably in anticipation of a cold Canberra day) and he would have to miss out on this day. But no, there he was rushing in, Andrea in tow, speech notes clasped in his hand. It was great to meet Andrea who had helped me in lots of the piddling little administrative ways that often get forgotten, but not by me, over the years. And of course, it was wonderful to see Ian finally arrive, back pain free and smiling. I will always be grateful that he showed faith in me and his presence meant more to me than just a publisher turning up at a function for one of the many on his publishing list. It was a sign that he knew that his faith had paid off.

2.30 came all too quickly and Major Robert Morrison rounded up the ‘officials’ so we could get the formalities started. Major Morrison is the President of the Military Historical Society of Australia. He emcees the ADFA and Duntroon parades and also emceed the launch of Clive Caldwell Air Ace back in 2006. He has a background in broadcasting, a rich and rolling speaking voice, is fondly nicknamed ‘The Voice’ and is a masterful emcee. I wish this report had a sound track so you could hear Robert as we did:

We are very honoured to welcome members of 455 Squadron—Jack Davenport’s Squadron—here today. On behalf of Kristen, I would like to warmly welcome Group Captain Peter Ilbery OAM RFD MD, Flying Officer John Ayliffe DFC, Flying Officer Ivor Gordon DFC, Group Captain Ernest ‘Blue’ Bernau and Lieutenant Commander William G ‘Bill’ Herbert.

Also present are family members representing others of Jack’s friends from 455 Squadron: Wing Commander Colin Milson, Squadron Leader Les Oliver, Flight Lieutenant Jack ‘Bluey’ Collins, Flight Lieutenant Bob McColl and Warrant Officer Bob Raebel; as well as Jack’s friend from his training days, Squadron Leader Bruce Daymond. Jack and Sheila Davenport’s honorary nephews and nieces too are very warmly welcomed.

On behalf of Kristen I would also like to welcome four generations of Jack Davenport’s family: his brother Squadron Leader Phil Davenport who also flew in Coastal Command; his son Bruce Davenport; his grandson David Ross; his granddaughter Annie Ross and her young daughter Misty Clark; and his nieces Stevie Davenport and Pip Davenport.

We are privileged today to have on display from the Australian War Memorial’s Military Heraldry collection a very special memento: the 455 Squadron Association marching banner which was carried at the head of the squadron at Anzac Day marches from about 1952-2001. I am sure all 455 Squadron members and their families present here today will agree that this is a very moving tribute to Jack Davenport and his wartime comrades and Kristen would like me to extend, on her behalf, her heartfelt thanks to the Australian War Memorial for their courtesy in allowing us to display the banner on this very special occasion. On Kristen’s behalf I would also thank Dennis Stockman for assistance with setting up and to the Memorial’s bookshop staff for managing sales of Jack Davenport Beaufighter Leader.

Before I introduce our speakers, Kristen has asked me to make mention of the presence of very important two people. I have already welcomed Peter Ilbery, and I would also like to welcome Lex McAulay. Kristen is quite adamant that if it had not been for the inspired suggestions and constant support and encouragement of these dear friends, we would not now be here to celebrate the launch of Jack Davenport, Beaufighter Leader. We, and Kristen, owe them a great debt.

I was sitting on the side, at the signing table, which was a good thing as no one was able to see the tears in my eyes as I thought of all the wonderful people in the room, of my friendships with them, and of how much they had given me of themselves, their memories and their records, as I researched and wrote Jack’s Story. I wiped my eyes and cast them about the room. Dick and Mary Mason, great friends of Jack and Sheila Davenport, for many years, were there. Ron and Rosemary Duncan, from the Monier days were there, and later, Rosemary and I talked about the photo taken of Jack and Sheila at their last meeting. That photo was a great inspiration and you will read of the scene it depicts towards the end of Jack’s Story. I saw my friends from the Military Historical Society, many of whom had to play hookey from work, and I saw my dear Godparents Zanna and John Cahill who had travelled from Orange to share the day, and to represent my parents. My friends Jill and Peter Sheppard who had been there at the Clive Caldwell, Air Ace launch, and of course, my dear husband David. Squadron Leader Gordon Johnstone (Retd), President of NSW Division, RAAF Association was there with his wife Joan. Gordon had given me access to some very telling records from the Association’s archives and I was pleased to see him and Joan (who I had first met at a Spitfire Association meeting in 2006) again. Also there was someone I would term my mentor, Lex McAulay OAM, Publisher, author, Australian Army Vietnam veteran and great lover of military history who unstintingly helps out novice authors. My other mentor, Peter Ilbery and his wife Marianne were there in the front row, sitting near Bill Herbert. There were representatives from many aspects of Jack’s life, including the Qantas board, the earliest days of Concrete Industries, and his business life. All had come to honour Jack Davenport. No wonder I had tears in my eyes. Tears wiped, and a murmured thanks that I was not wearing mascara. But back to Robert.

And now for the formalities. I would now like to welcome Kristen’s publisher Ian Bowring to the podium.

Kristen is thrilled that her publisher, Ian Bowring, is with us today. Ian worked as an educational publisher with Longman Australia for over twenty years. He went on to become a Director of Longman Australia. He held this position for ten years and was Publishing Director for five of those ten.

For the last twelve years, Ian has worked as a non-fiction publisher with Allen & Unwin and is currently the company’s Science, Defence Studies, and Business Publisher. One of his key responsibilities is to oversee Allen & Unwin’s military publishing program, where he nurtures his existing authors and searches out new ones.

Kristen does not let on to many people but she is very fond of Ian. Their relationship began over four years ago when she sent him a submission for her first book. It was the only submission she sent out and Ian accepted it on behalf of Allen & Unwin, publishing Clive Caldwell Air Ace in 2006. He won her heart when he showed this initial confidence in her and ensured that he would keep it eternally when, after she handed in the Caldwell manuscript, asked her ‘what’s next?’. Kristen had assumed she would be a one book wonder. Thanks to Ian, this was not so. And he has been on her Christmas card list ever since.

However, like any great relationship, they have had their tensions. Some of you may know that when Kristen graduated from high school too many years ago to mention, she, along with others of her year, were attributed with little bon mots which were supposed to sum up either their personality or contributions to school life. Kristen was not tagged ‘most popular’, nor ‘most likely to succeed’. No, the wits and wags of her class decided that Kristen was a ‘girl who wraps up a two minute idea in a two hour vocabulary’. Now, there may be plenty of evidence of that assessment in Kristen’s minutes for the Military Historical Society meetings, but there will be no evidence of that this afternoon, and, thanks to battles with Ian, constantly lost by Kristen, there is no evidence of it in Jack Davenport, Beaufighter Leader. Ladies and Gentlemen, Ian Bowring

Ian waxed lyrical for several minutes, regaling the guests with the story of how we met, and some of the trials and tribulations of our relationship. He reminded me (and I had totally forgotten this, much as I had forgotten the pain of having braces as a child, but fully remember the joy of beautiful, straight teeth when they are finally removed) that we had had a number of battles of word length with my first book, with threats of scissors, shears, and mighty great meat axes to get me down to length. He eventually let me get away with murder, heaven only knows why, perhaps now to make me feel guilty that I had got away with it! And then told of how I was much better behaved with Jack’s Story, word-wise, although I was over limited slightly: by 400 words! The was a bit worried he had hurt my feelings. Silly Ian, how could he hurt my feelings when word-limit has been a long standing joke, and running battle between us for four years, with me a gracious loser! Anyway, he told me the next day that he was kicking himself that he didn't say that my writing too much was due to my enthusiasm and desire to say everything but he’ll know next time...... ) Guess that means he will be at the next launch as well!) Ian also highlighted my dogged determinedness to submit each manuscript on time (I had almost a second by second timetable of what would be written when, to ensure I did not blow the all important deadline) and shared with us (and this was the first I had heard of it, but perhaps not the last Ian will if I feel blackmail-minded in the future) that he had blown his submission deadlines on all three of his books!) He also told of our wonderful relationship, and that of Joanne Holliman, my editor for two books now. Many do not appreciate what goes into publishing a book and he shared some insights into that process. It was a great speech and there were more fond tears in my eyes when he stepped down from the podium. (Just occurred to me that the increasing length of this ‘report’ is proof of the pudding when it comes to my wordiness!) Again, back to Robert.

Thank you Ian. And now I would like to welcome Major General Ian Gordon AO, who will launch Jack Davenport, Beaufighter Leader.

Major General Ian Gordon has enjoyed a distinguished military career that has spanned over thirty years. He graduated from the Royal Military College, Duntroon with a Bachelor of Science Degree in 1973 and was allocated to the Royal Australian Corps of Signals. He worked in Army operational and technical staff appointments and carried out high level training at the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham, United Kingdom and the Australian Army’s Command and Staff College. In 1990 he was posted to command the 1st Signals Regiment in Brisbane and the following year commanded the first Australian Contingent with the UN Mission for a Referendum in Western Sahara. For his service at the 1st Signals Regiment and with the United Nations he was made a Member of the Order of Australia. Ian was Director of the Royal Australian Corps of Signals from 1993 until 1995 and in 1996 he attended the Australian College of Defence and Strategic Studies. In 1998 he was appointed as Commandant of the Army Command and Staff College. In January 2000, he assumed the appointment of Director General Personnel - Army.

In September 2001, Ian was promoted to his current rank and posted to East Timor as the Deputy Force Commander in the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor. On return to Australia he took up the appointment as Commander, Training Command - Army. He assumed the appointment of Deputy Chief of the Army in May 2004.

He was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2006 for his distinguished service to the Australian Defence Force in senior command and staff appointments. In December 2006, Ian was seconded to the United Nations to serve for two years as the Head of Mission of the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation in Jerusalem. He transferred from the Australian Regular Army to the Army Standby Reserve in May 2009.

Like Ian Bowring, Ian Gordon, too, is a publisher. In 1999 he established Barrallier Books which produces and sells deluxe books with a focus on fine writing, especially literature, poetry and essays, featuring Australian authors.

Ian is the son of Ivor Gordon who I have already welcomed. He recently visited Norway and had the privilege of visiting many areas over which 455 squadron flew during the war. His lifelong connection with 455 Squadron moved him to record the experiences of his father and his wartime friends. In 1995 Strike and Strike Again, a history of 455 Squadron RAAF was published by Banner Books. Ian took his role as 455 Squadron’s second historian very seriously and kept his research material so that others might be able to draw on it. He made good use of his old army trunk, using it to store that great quantity of material, including interviews with and letters from Jack Davenport. When Kristen contacted him in 2005 he immediately offered it to her, with his blessing. That material was an important resource for Kristen and she will be forever grateful to Ian for this generous gift. Ladies and Gentlemen, Ian Gordon.
Ian talked about his own connection with Jack Davenport, and of Jack’s support of his history of 455 Squadron, Strike and Strike Again. 455 Squadron RAAF 1944-45. Jack did not hesitate in offering assistance to Ian because he was of the ‘455 family’ and, as a serviceman, well understood something of what the boys experienced during their service. Ian also talked about the book (as the official launcher should!) but did it in a way that was not a sales pitch, but rather an introduction to what the reader could expect. He told his listeners about my style, how I had approached my subject matter, how I had wandered down many research paths to gain a complete picture of Jack’s life and times. He also read out some passages. There had been no cause for tears when Ian was telling of his experiences with Jack but they welled up again when he read out two of the passages. There are three, perhaps four sections that always make me cry when I read them. The emotion there is just too raw for me, even as the writer, to ignore. So when Ian read of the aftermath of the 10 August 1944 operation, and of the day Jack and Sheila told their friends of their illness, the tears flowed. Again, a word of thanks that I was not wearing mascara. Forgive me if I sound big-headed here but Ian pointed out something that is rare in military biographies: I highlight the emotions of events, without intruding on my subjects; I turn what could be a dry account into a moving story. One recent reviewer of Clive Caldwell Air Ace, I think, has pinpointed it. I write like a girl. Understandable, I guess! Enough of my own self-aggrandisement. At least I am just paraphrasing Ian, rather than saying this off my own bat. But I will say just this. Jack Davenport was a warm person and there was much about his life that would not sustain dry writing. When he saved peoples’ lives, when he honoured his friends and comrades who had died in battle, when he met the young woman who would be his wife, when he led his men into strikes that had little chance of success, when he wrote to the next-of-kin of his men who had been lost. How could I not write with emotion. How could I not show the reader something of what Jack Davenport felt during those times. Tears wiped, back to Robert.

Thank you Ian. And now I would like to welcome the author, Kristen Alexander to the podium.

Kristen was born and grew up in Orange, NSW. After living and working Sydney for ten years she moved to Canberra in 1993. She loves Canberra and has no intention of moving elsewhere. She is a former public servant and she and her husband David have been running a second-hand book business specialising in Australian military history since 1997.

Despite Kristen’s love and enthusiasm for military history, she actually came to it quite late in life. It was in 1995, during the commemorations for the 50th year after the end of the Second World War. She was watching a British commemoration concert, where Dame Vera Lyn sang the old wartime melodies, and the Queen Mother received a warm and loving acknowledgement of the important role she and the King played during the London blitz. As Dame Vera sang, Kristen wondered how the British coped with the constant bombardment from the enemy. The next day, she went out and bought her first book of home front accounts. From British home front accounts, she moved to the Australian home front, through women’s experiences in the Second World War and then onto air crew experiences. In 2002 she turned from reading to researching, and in 2006 her biography of Clive Caldwell was published. She continued to research the experiences of Australian pilots in the Second World War and today we are celebrating the launch of her second aviation biography. Her business activities and research take up a fair bit of Kristen’s time but I am happy to say she still manages to find time to carry out her duties as Federal Secretary of the Military Historical Society of Australia. Ladies and Gentlemen, Kristen Alexander
This was it. My turn on the podium. My turn to thank those who had made the effort to come to the launch of Jack’s biography. The guests represented all aspects of Jack’s life. Some knew of his military experiences, some knew only of Jack the businessman. I did not want to just retell the book, or tell of my trials and tribulations as an author, I wanted to tell them about Jack, and the many things he was to many people.

Thank you Ian, Ian and Robert for your kind words. I’m glad the Courtyard Gallery has wide exits: I’d never get out of here with this swollen head otherwise! Seriously, though, I am very fortunate to know these three men. If Ian Bowring had tossed away my cold-call letter those many years ago, Jack Davenport’s story would not have been written by me. If Ian Gordon had relegated his research trunk to the depths of a storage unit, or had been less generous, Jack’s story would not have been so rich in anecdote and personal recollections. And if Robert and my friends from the Military Historical Society of Australia had not kept me on the historical straight and narrow, Jack’s story would be the poorer. Thank you, Ian, Ian and Robert.

I am thrilled to see you all here today to honour Jack Davenport’s memory and to celebrate the publication of Jack Davenport, Beaufighter Leader. Many of you have travelled a long way and this is a true indication of the great esteem in which Jack Davenport is still held. I am especially pleased that Jack’s brother Phil is here today with his daughters, as well as Jack’s son Bruce. Jack’s daughter June was unable to attend because of overseas commitments but she is represented by her son David and daughter Annie, as well as Misty, the youngest of Jack’s great grandchildren. We are indeed privileged to welcome four generations of the extended Davenport family.

I am sure the 455 Squadron banner, a visual reminder of the many Anzac Day marches led by Jack Davenport, will spark poignant memories of squadron members who fell during the war and afterwards. But it is also a sign of the squadron’s great unity, fostered by Jack and enjoyed by all. Jack was the 455 Squadron Association’s inaugural president. He accepted that post with honour in 1946 and held it for almost 50 years. Just outside this Courtyard Gallery is the 455 Squadron commemorative plaque which honours the work of the squadron that meant so much to Jack.

Memory and memorial were fundamental to Jack so it is fitting that the launch of his biography is being held in Australia’s most significant place of public memorial. But it is even more apt when we recall that in the early 1980s Jack was invited to join the Australian War Memorial’s council. He shared the Memorial’s commitment to remembrance and honouring Australia’s war dead and accepted its invitation. By working towards a well funded organisation, Jack ensured the Memorial’s important commemorative work would continue. But Jack did not just work within organisations to ensure that those who had made the ultimate sacrifice were not forgotten. From very early in his career, he generated personal tributes to the fallen and I will now tell you about one of those.

455 Squadron was stationed at Leuchars in Scotland and Jack was acting as squadron commander. Dundee, the closest city to Leuchars, had planned a ‘Wings for Victory Week’ which was set to open on Easter Saturday, the 24th of April 1943, with a forces’ march past. The coincidence of Easter, a time of death and renewal, with Anzac Day, a time of remembrance, could not be ignored and Jack decided that after the parade the squadron would march to the Dundee War Memorial for a commemoration ceremony.

Led by the RAF Pipe Band the squadron gathered around the Cenotaph. The boys joined their voices to the pipes and the padre conducted a moving service. Jack read a lesson and stepped forward to place a wreath on the Cenotaph, speaking a few words of remembrance. A lone piper concluded the ceremony with a Scottish lament and the mournful bagpipe skirl filled the air. The grey Dundee skies were a fitting backdrop to the sombre occasion, as Jack and his squadron, heads bowed in prayer and memory, recalled the sacrifices of their fallen comrades.

Jack was especially sensitive to the fact that he had returned from the war whereas many had not. His daughter June remembers him showing her photos of those who had died so young. Many of those friends are forever remembered in the Australian War Memorial’s Roll of Honour, including one young man who died 65 years ago today. Flying Officer William Barbour crashed into the sea on 6 July 1944. Jack told Ian Gordon that he always considered the death of young Barbour as one of the saddest episodes of the war. He never forgot Barbour and he never forgot his friends and squadron members, so it is fitting that today we stand but a few steps from that Roll of Honour.

In almost our first conversation, Phil Davenport summed up his brother’s life as one ‘remarkable for achievement, integrity and compassion’ and almost every person I spoke with reiterated aspects of Phil’s astute summation. But they also spoke of something which Jack discounted: his great heroism. Jack was reluctant to go into detail about his wartime experiences and protested that he only did what any member of the service would do in the circumstances. He emphatically rejected the title ‘hero’ but I am going to tell you the story of how he came to be awarded the George Medal, and you can be the judge.

It was September 1944 and the squadron had moved to Langham Station in England. Now Commanding Officer, Jack was waiting in the control tower for his crews to return from a reconnaissance operation.

Flying Officer Bill Stanley and his navigator Flying Officer Ken Dempsey radioed to advise that their port engine had failed. Langham immediately went on standby as Stanley nursed his Beaufighter back. He tried to make a single-engine approach, correcting with his rudder. This failed and the Beaufighter ground-looped. The undercarriage collapsed and the aircraft burst into flames. Dempsey was able to escape but the pilot’s cockpit was completely surrounded by a raging fire.

To make matters worse, the force of the impact had pushed the instrument panel back and it completely pinned Stanley down, his long flying boots catching so he could not wriggle out. The fuel tanks burst. Dempsey ran to the front of the aircraft but was held back by the petrol-fed inferno. Jack dashed from the control tower to the furiously burning aircraft. Ammunition started exploding and Jack yelled to everyone to keep away, even as he rushed forward. He climbed onto the wing and, astride the canopy, struggled with the pilot’s hatch. Then, hanging down head first, he grabbed hold of Stanley. The burning main plane collapsed, but still Jack wrestled with the rigidly trapped Stanley. With a great heave Jack pulled him out of his boots and dragged him to the waiting ambulance. Jack had saved Bill Stanley’s life.

Jack flew and led many operations and on 15 July 1944 Jack led forty-four Beaufighters to attack an enemy convoy. In a radio recording made the next day Jack told his listeners that he:

Gave the order to attack and the flak-busters climbed up to about 1500 feet and drew ahead of the torpedo aircraft which remained close to the water. Just before we dived to attack, the trawlers opened fire. The flak was quite heavy to begin with but that was soon silenced. We dived down to deck-level, firing as we went, and even before we pulled away the largest merchant vessel had already been set on fire by our cannons. During our attack the German gunners were in many cases literally blown off the ships. As a last resort they fired off some rockets at us, but without effect. In a matter of seconds the torpedo carrying aircraft struck. What a sight it was! The whole convoy, which a moment before had been sailing peacefully down the coast, was now covered by a pall of smoke. Ships were on fire and sinking. Everywhere, dozens of aircraft were diving, firing and turning in all directions. As I broke away, I saw the largest vessel in the convoy with a mass of flames from stem to stern.
Just in front of it there came a terrific explosion and steam and water spouted up to 300 or 400 feet. When it subsided, the ship that had been there was there no longer. She blew up without leaving a single trace.

That was one of the largest and most successful operations undertaken by Coastal Command to date, and not one aircraft was lost.

Jack grew up in the Depression and his childhood provided him with an acute awareness that many had suffered from what life hurled at them. For all of his adult life, Jack displayed a quiet, personal philanthropy which saw him help out many an old air force friend or Monier employee and his work with the Royal Australian Air Force Association resulted in improved services and benefits to many war widows and their families. Jack’s personal experience of poverty was certainly an influence, but there was more than that behind Jack’s commitment to helping others. He simply, but deeply, cared about other people. His selfless humanity led to many years of dedicated fundraising and the awards of his AO and AC recognised his contribution to business and community.

In March 1993, Jack retired from the board of Alcoa of Australia. Alcoa’s chairman, Sir Arvi Parbo, recognised Jack as a man of extraordinary personal character who had touched many lives. As he handed Jack his retirement gift of an elegant pen and pencil set, he urged him to use them to write his life story. He told Jack that:

We all need heroes to look up to and to emulate, to stretch our horizons and to set targets which will make us reach out. The young people in Australia today particularly need this. Your story, Jack, is a wonderful example for them and for us all. Please make sure it is recorded.

Jack had no inclination to write his own story, and even if he wanted to, he was not afforded the time. I am glad that my dear friends Lex McAulay and Peter Ilbery encouraged me to write it and I am grateful that Jack’s family and friends so unstintingly shared their memories and personal records.

Writing Jack Davenport, Beaufighter Leader was a wonderful experience for me. I made many new friends and I was privileged to listen to their stories. At long last, we are launching Jack Davenport, Beaufighter Leader. I hope Jack’s biography will rekindle fond memories for those who knew him and bring about a better understanding of his motivations and passions. For those who didn’t know Jack, I hope they will discover a man whose life was ‘remarkable for achievement, integrity and compassion’.

Many of you attended Jack’s memorial service in 1996 and in this place of memory I think it would be fitting to close with its final prayer of thanks for Jack’s life and achievements:

We give thanks that the man Jack Davenport came among us
We give thanks for the utter integrity of the man in everything he did
His daring leadership
His great family devotion
His helpfulness to needy people
His loyal friendship
His children
His own inner faith and strong compassion.
We give thanks for Jack Napier Davenport.
I am certainly thankful that I was given the opportunity to discover a great and good man. Thank you—Jack’s family and friends, and mine, Jack’s squadron and business colleagues, and all of you who loved and admired Jack—thank you for coming today to celebrate the launch of Jack Davenport, Beaufighter Leader.

Speech over. I had managed to refrain from tears as I spoke. But the emotion was all too apparent in my throat and my voice did waver a little. From from that point I was whisked back to the signing table to risk RSI and create a serious dent in the world’s ink supplies. The best thing about it was that I was able to chat with many of the guests who I had missed initially. I would occasionally glance up and see everyone enjoying themselves. Australian sparkly circulated, the buffet tabled, once overflowing was fast depleting, and guests who had not seen each other for some time talked about their shared experiences and their memories of Jack Davenport. It was a welcome sight, so many gathered to remember and honour Jack Davenport.
As I signed and chatted, my husband David followed the 455 squadron ‘boys’ outside. Ray Strange wanted to take photos of them standing near the 455 Squadron plaque. David stood behind Ray to take his own shot and a group of school children wandered by. Now, Ray looked mighty impressive with his professional camera kit and what looks like a flak jacket full of camera paraphernalia (apparently, he won't wear that jacket in war zones, as with the extras he looks a little too well armed for comfort), but the ‘boys' looked even more impressive. Their ages ranged from 86 to 89, but they wore their years well. They were an impressive sight, standing in front the plaque. Two of those venerable gents were wearing their service medals, and the sun glinted on their Distinguished Flying Crosses. It was school holiday time and a group of boys and girls, visiting the Memorial, stopped and asked who they were. My husband explained that they were veterans of the Second World War. They then asked what they had done. David told them that they were pilots and navigators in 455 Squadron RAAF, an Australian squadron which had carried out many brave operations over dangerous waters during the war. He told them that the ‘boys’ were standing near the plaque which honoured those of their companions who had fallen during that war. They young lads and lasses were suitably moved, and watched in silence as our photographer posed five of the few remaining 455 Squadron members: ‘Jack’s boys’.

Launch over. The crowd all gone on their respective ways. The last remaining sandwiches and cake from the buffet filched for our supper that evening. Bouquet gathered, arm in arm, David and I left the Courtyard Gallery via the Memorial’s main building. We had just missed the Memorial’s Closing Ceremony in the Commemorative Area, which features either a live bugler or piper. Today it was a piper, in kilt and bagpipe. What a coincidence, that as our guests had heard of the pipes playing at Jack’s 1943 pre-Anzac Day commemoration service, they would now hear the bagpipe skirl as they left.

It was a grand day.

(The post launch total collapse in front of TV and fire. The post launch rally to left over chocolate cake. The post launch sleepless night as memories swirled about and I tried to make sense of the day and to remember every precious minute. The post launch glow of knowing that Jack Davenport was, and is still, loved by many people and that writing his story is one of the best things I have ever done.)
[The photos above were mainly taken on the day by David Fax. The 455 Squadron roll was taken a few weeks ago by Rob Geraghty, who also took the photos of members of the ACT Branch of the MHSA at the AWM, elsewhere on this blog. The photo of Jack Davenport is from his collection, courtesy of Bruce Davenport, and appears in Jack Davenport, Beaufighter Leader. It just happens to be my favourite photo of Jack. And the photo of the 'sons of 455' appears courtesy of Ian Gordon.]

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Bookshop ramblings, 6B Broadcaster, Eccles cakes and Jack Davenport Beaufighter Leader

The last week or so has been a good one for me, or at least for Jack Davenport Beaufighter Leader. One excellent review in the Canberra Times, one small but positive review in a Geelong paper, Jack Davenport featuring in the Daily Telegraph history page and a mini interview with me for our local paper’s Sunday Relax magazine. Naturally, the little head was very swollen and David had even phoned the carpenters to come and widen the doors. The quote was a bit steep so David thought he would try and deflate my ego. So he took me along to our local mall which has two bookshops. They are well known chains and both have a reasonably good display of military history on their shelves. Well, the big head was deflated mighty quickly when I saw that neither had any copies on their shelves. I initially gave them the benefit of the doubt, thinking perhaps they had not unpacked their orders, until I found others from the Allen & Unwin new releases on their shelves. Head and ego well and truly deflated. (My publisher has now spread calming oil on my fevered brow and assured me there was an unfortunate problem with the distributor getting stock into Canberra and all should be displayed in the next day or so.)

Before I wander off with my tail tween my legs, let me just mention to Canberrans that if they happen to have a blank spot in their diary on Saturday 25 July, I will be speaking about Jack Davenport at the Australian War Memorial. Details (straight from the AWM website):

Jack Davenport: Courage, Leadership and Memorial
Saturday, July 25 at 2.00 pm

Kristen Alexander will talk about the subject of her latest biography, Jack Davenport, Beaufighter Leader. Wing Commander Jack Napier Davenport AC DSO DFC* GM flew two tours with 455 Squadron RAAF, commanding it during his second. Serving in both Bomber and Coastal commands, he flew operations to France, Germany, Holland, Russia and Norway. Flying both Hampdens and Beaufighters, 455 Squadron became known as a ship busting squadron, and Jack was considered an ace ship buster, who following the war also served as a Councillor of the Australian War Memorial.

No bookings required
Location: BAE Systems Theatre (Near Courtyard Gallery, AWM)

I will be talking for about 45 minutes, with time afterwards for questions.

I must admit, my skiting, lineshooting, blowing of own horn and various reviews that have abounded over the last week or so (more skiting than reviews, I will admit) have got just a tad up David’s nose. He is getting mighty upset about all the attention that one author in the family is currently receiving (self generated and from others) so, in a fit of pique, he has decided to publish the collected editorials from the 6B Broadcaster. Yes, class 6B (aged 10-11) of Artarmon Public School. You too, he cries, can relive the issues of import for the kids of the early sixties. Here is a sample from David’s July 1964 editorial, 45 years ago.

A new competition is beginning in the magazine and it is very exciting. There are good prizes to be won and I advise you to enter. More details of the competition are inside. Some of the things being done by people round the school to raise money for the Hall Fund have been really amazing. The boys of 6L, for example, made cane baskets and then sold them through the canteen, and by also buying the baskets themselves.

Somehow, I am trying not to be cruel when I say this, but if I can’t get my little book onto the shelves of the local chain, the Collected Editorials of the 6B Broadcaster might have even less of a chance.

(David has decided to wreak revenge on the person who wrote the above par. He has decided to run another exciting competition: can anyone think up another phrase for outandout skiting. We already have lineshooting, shoot a line, skiting, of course, blowing her own horn, tooting her own trumpet (or vice a versa for the last two). Not good prizes for this one, just the glory of knowing that another pin has been stuck in the balloon of her head).

Great excitement in the cake stakes. Tried my first Eccles cake at the new Portrait Gallery cafe. Not sure whether I liked the cake or the exhibits more! Just remember, I am more known for my sweet tooth than artistic tendencies! My favourite thing in the whole world is afternoon tea: muffins, scones, cake all served on fine china. I have posted a typical afternoon tea photo at Chez Alexander Fax. So well-known is my teatime fetish that friends are now sourcing afternoon tea nicknackery such as the cute little handmade muffins that feature here alongside the real ones!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Winter warming and reading bliss

Canberra in Winter can be glorious or dismal. This last week we encountered more than we needed of its dismalness (a word? Doesn’t look quite right but spellcheck seems to like it. Regardless, you get the general idea). Bitterly cold days, fog that would not lift, washing on the line two days and still not dry. But things are looking up. The Hyatt has introduced a hot chocolate menu to its tea lounge and a curry fiesta for the next two weeks, and we have had our first few nights of wood fires. Winter warming bliss.

One of our local journalists recently asked me a bunch of questions for a future article which may or may not appear. Just one of those brief ‘get to know’ things. One of the questions was what is on your bedside table right now. Well, on the off chance you are interested, I will reveal all. The sort-of antique table with green silk scarf throw is pretty cluttered there at the moment. What with the long sought and finally found Laura Ashley lamp and the ubiquitous clock radio, not to mention the ever present cup of tea, there is hardly room for books, but a pile still manages to teeter on the edge, threatening to fall in a heap on the pile on the floor next to it. I usually have a few on the go at any given time so, depending on my mood, I can have something just right. I am just finishing Julie Summers’ Strangers in the House. Women's stories of men returning from the Second World War and, following the theme back to the end of the First World War, about to start Marina Larsson’s Shattered Anzacs. Living with the Scars of War. I have flipped through and am very looking forward to getting stuck into it. It is on the list today so let me know if you want a copy too. I am well into Catherine Aird’s recently reprinted The Religious Body, the first Inspector Sloan mystery (you will always find a crime novel on my bedside table) and should find out who-dunnit tonight. I am also working my way through Peter Fitzsimon’s Charles Kingsford Smith and those Magnificent Men. A long term commitment at 600+ pages. And for dipping into, Audrey Tennyson’s Vice Regal Days, loaned to me by my friend Jill’s mother who knows I love history, women’s experiences and letters and this has all three. David is less ambitious than I. He just has one on the go at the moment. He is working his way through the recent reprints of the Martin Beck crime books, and is on ‘T’ at the moment. We always have our noses in books in the Alexander Fax household. Except for when we haven’t, that is.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Shoe shopping, lentil soup and new books

Yesterday, we did head out of town again but the main purpose was to find a pair of shoes for David. I know, seems strange that in all of Canberra he could not find a pair of shoes. He is one of those who, when on a good thing tends to stick to it, especially when they are as comfortable as his favourite style of Rivers boots. Our usual outlet had closed down so we went to the new warehouse shop in a huge mall. They had the style but not the size. So we drove to a nearby, undisclosed town and were not disappointed. He came back with two pairs so they should last him a while. Sadly, lunch was not quite as successful. The trendy pizza place was full (I know, we should have booked but we had only been once before and it was half empty and we did not know its name). Everything open in the main street was full (and this only at 5 past noon) so we turned a corner, headed down a lane sort of thing and found a newish little place half empty. No names nor packdrill in case this is your favourite but I made the mistake of assuming in a new place. Thinking the lentil soup was the vegetarian option, I spent the meal fishing out chunks of meat and David has had indigestion ever since from his upmarket stew. His veggies were OK and the bread was lovely. Soft inside, crispy on the outside and perfect for soup. Other than the meat chunks the other thing that got up my nose was that I asked for coffee to start, to have while we were waiting. It was cold and I wanted to warm my little paws and tummy. I had not even finished it before the plates arrived. Oh well. Guess it is not their fault I am so fussy and David’s tum is so delicate but we won’t be visiting again. Shame we didn’t take down the name of the trendy pizza place for next time!

Alexander Fax Booksellers specialise in quality used books but we can link you to a quality new book seller.

We have entered into an arrangement with Seekbooks, a new book supplier, so you can order all sorts of new titles, military as well as fiction, cooking, gardening, history, sporting whatever. It has always bothered us that we are just too small to deal with most of the major military publishers, both here and overseas, so could not supply a great range of new books to you all. So, But now, if we can't get it, Seekbooks can. All your favourite Australian (or at least multi-national with Australian presence) publishers are included such as Harper Collins, Hachette, Penguin, Macmillan, Random House, Allen & Unwin (that is Australian), New Holland, John Wiley and more!!!! And they don't just have Australian publishers. All your favourite military publishers from OS are listed, such as Osprey, Crecy, Grub Street, Sutton and many many more. Seekbooks was established in 1999 and is one of the first fully owned and operated online booksellers in Australia and is based in Sydney. Seekbooks has a database of over 1.2 million in-print books from all over the world to choose from.

If you know the title, author or ISBN, you can just use the search engine. If Seekbooks has a listing, the book will appear, you can click on more info to see if it is in stock with the publisher and if so, you can place an order.

Once you have ordered, Seekbooks processes the order, sources the books from the publishers and when the books arrive in its warehouse, despatches the order. When we first linked with Seekbooks I did a test order of about 15 books, from Australian, US and UK publishers, with different stock delivery schedules. From that lot, one was a forthcoming release, so it has been backordered, my first parcel had 8 books, the second 2 books and the remainder have been notified as out of stock, awaiting reprint. I was impressed and have been using the system ever since.

There is a flat postage fee and no matter how many books you order, there is just one small amount, even if the books turn up in a number of parcels. Your cc is only debited when books are released by the Seekbooks warehouse, and you receive advice every time something happened, eg order accepted, cc approved, publisher in stock, publisher out of stock. And when the parcel arrives, there is a fully itemised tax invoice.

A small warning: Even though the system is updated weekly by the publishers, it is just the nature of the beast that something may end up being out of stock, even though it is listed. Seekbooks let you know pretty quickly if that is the case. A little annoying but the benefits and convenience far outweigh this little inconvenience. I am really pleased with the system and even better, prices are 10% off RRP and we receive a small commission from all sales. Give it a go:

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Military Historical Society of Australia

Both Kristen and David have been members of the Military Historical Society of Australia since 2002. Kristen has been Federal Secretary since 2004. The Military Historical Society of Australia was founded in Melbourne in 1957. Its aims are the encouragement and pursuit of study and research in military history, customs, traditions, dress, arms, equipment and kindred matters; the promotion of public interest and knowledge in these subjects, and the preservation of historical military objects with particular reference to the armed forces of Australia. The Society publishes Sabretache, its journal, quarterly.

The Society appeals to anyone who has an interest in military history - army, navy or airforce, collects militaria, or who wants to meet others with similar military interests. Those interested can join via a branch or as a corresponding member and the Society has branches in Canberra, Victoria, Geelong, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Albury-Wodonga. For more information, go to

The above photo features members of the ACT Branch at the Australian War Memorial, standing in front of the Memorial's Roll of Honour. It is a great photo, taken Rob Geraghty.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Kristen's Books

And what are the books I have written?

My first book was Clive Caldwell, Air Ace, published by Allen & Unwin in 2006. And who was Clive Caldwell? Well, Clive Caldwell was officially attributed with 27½ victories and became Australia's highest scoring fighter pilot in World War II. In addition, he became an Ace in both the Middle East and Pacific theatres - the only Australian pilot to attain this status. He served with 250 Squadron RAF, 112 Squadron RAF and 1 Fighter Wing RAAF and scored with all of these formations. He commanded 80 Fighter Wing but was not able to increase his score. Originally considered an individualist, Caldwell became a fine fighter pilot and a dedicated leader, much loved by those he commanded. He did not wear the restrictions of the RAAF well and, despite his achievements, endured public inquiry over liquor trading and the so-called Morotai Mutiny. Even so, he continued to be well-regarded and respected by the public.

In writing his biography, I had access to Caldwells personal papers as well as official and privately held records. It is a celebration of his military achievements and details his rise from a green fighter pilot to Wing leader and includes details of his air battles. It also includes unprecedented discussion of the Barry Inquiry and Caldwell's court-martial.

It is still in print and if you would like a signed copy ($A35.00 + p&p) just order via the website If you have read it and would like to make comments, please do so.

The second is Jack Davenport, Beaufighter Leader, again published by Allen & Unwin. Jack Davenport AC DSO DFC* GM flew two tours with 455 Squadron RAAF, commanding it during his second. He flew from stations in Scotland and England on operations to France, Germany, Holland and Norway as well as a three month stint in Russia. 455 Squadron became known as a ship busting squadron, and Jack was considered an ace ship buster. From saving the lives of his crew from a near-fatal spin, to rescuing a pilot from a blazing aircraft, pilot Jack Davenport, was an indisputable hero of the Second World War. Post war, Jack went on to become a very successful and well respected businessman. Jack Davenport, Beaufighter Leader charts Jack Davenport's development from his Depression-era childhood, to the green pilot who had difficulties locating the target on his first Bomber Command operations, through to the superb pilot who led successful strikes against German shipping and the cool and resourceful planner of Coastal Command operations in the latter months of the war.

If your appetite has been whetted, preorder your copy now by emailing us at Cost for a signed copy is $A35.00 + p&p.
Enough of the commercial!