Books I’ve Read

The Fogotten Highlander by Alistair Urquhart

The Forgotten Highlander
The Forgotten Highlander

I found the text very provocative, and got me to thinking of man’s inhumanity to man.  Alistair never gave up, even when pitted against unimaginable odds.  His ferocity to hang onto life was inspiring, even as comrades fell around him. He could be considered the “luckiest”, unlucky man alive.  To survive not only the Fall of Singapore, the Burma railway, the Japanese “hell ships” and the then the atomic blast by “Fat Man” at Nagasaki defies all odds.  What I found particularly disheartening and disturbing was the fact that upon his return to the UK, nobody wanted to know him, not the Army, not the people. The Army who was the cause of his internment, was not interested in the horrors that he had endured, and would only discharge him from military service if he signed that he was perfectly physically and mentally fit!  What was the reason for this? British denial that these events ever took place? Denial of Alistair’s right to  appropriate medical and psychological care? Alistair never dwelt on those horrors he endured and got on with his life as best he could.  I will never be able to look at ballroom dancing in the same light ever again. You answered the call, did what your country asked of you, endured unspeakable horror – without ever a complaint or a selfish thought or consideration. I salute you Sir!

The Vitner’s Letters by Peter Mcara

The Vitner's Letters

The Vitner’s Letters

Son of an Irish father and a Parisian mother, Maurice George O’Shea was a famous Australian and Hunter valley winemaker. Educated in France at Mountpellier and Grignot universities, he was also a man of passion, and a romantic. In the cultured and elegant Miss Marcia Fuller, an accomplished pianist, he found his enduring sweetheart.

Theirs would be a many-faceted and often stormy romance, confronted by religious differences and tested by life’s vicissitudes.

But their greatest challenge lay in Maurice’s other consuming passion – making fine wines. He could not tear himself away from his beloved Hunter Valley vineyard, Mount Pleasant. Marcia, every inch a city girl, was appalled by the primitive living conditions of the struggling vigneron.

The Vintner’s Letters is based on their true story as recounted by Simone Bryce, their daughter, and on the letters written by Maurice to Marcia during their courtship.

Publisher: Harlequin ISBN: 9781921796937

The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh

The Sorrow of War

The Sorrow of War

The Sorrow of War, a short novel by Bao Ninh published in 1991 in Vietnamese and then English in 1994. It remains one of the world’s most outstanding stories from the Vietnam war, as told from a Vietnamese perspective.

Americans lost about 60,000 men in this war. However, the Vietnamese lost three million. This book tells of the war from the Vietnamese perspective, which is vastly different from the fictional description of American authors The novel is loosely based around Kien. He is a lone survivor of his brigade and a 10-year veteran of the war. He enlisted in the army on the first day of the war.  When the book begins the war is over and Kien is part of an MIA (missing in action) body-collecting team in the Jungle of the Screaming Souls, so-called because of the large numbers of Vietnamese soldiers killed therein.

It is a difficult style of book as it moves backwards and forwards through the duration of the war. The story is quite graphic in its description of the war generally and specific occurences and battles. 

There is also a parallel love story, Kien has known the beautiful, gifted and loving Phuong since his primary school days. The love is slowly destroyed with pathos of war, loss and suffering. There is the loss of youth, innocence, family life, tradition and love — all present in the human story of war.

The story is structured as a series of reminiscences and flashbacks. Some stories are retold from a different and deeper perspective. For example, with the retelling of the rape scenes we understand more and more the utmost emptiness and depravity that subsumes the perpetrators, and the cruelty that they inflicted on their victims.

Kien looks back not just at his 10 years as a soldier during the war, but at his final days at secondary school, his potential as a university student, his love for Phuong, his work with the MIA team after the war, the rapid deterioration of his life as he fought in the jungles and cities of Vietnam.

This is a story of lost love (Phuong and Kien) and a story of war — both are intertwined and fierce and personal way — love lost and the futility of war.

Publisher: Minerva, ISBN:074939711X

Dancing With the Devil by Christopher Geraghty
Readers of this blog will remember my introduction to this book. If not, the story can be found here.

Dancing With the Devil

Dancing With the Devil

Chris Geraghty is a first generation Australian, with Irish-Catholic parents from Galway in Western Ireland. He inadvertently ticked a form whilst in a Catholic primary school which indicated he would consider becoming a Marist Brother or a monk. Immediately, he states the Church swooped down upon him, telling the young Geraghty that he was going to be a priest. Soimewhat flattered by this Geraghty found himself, at the age of twelve, ushered into the Junior Seminary at St. Columbas in Springwood.

As a priest, and after a suitable tenure as a curate in suburban Sydney, Geraghty returned to the seminary as a doctoral student, eaning the degree Doctor of Divinity. Thus the 26 year old Reverend Doctor Geraghty DD, ultimately re-entered the seminary as a professor to teach seminarians. At no time was given any direction or assistance of how to teach, what subjects should be covered, what should not be covered and so on. Immediately, he was drawn into conflict with the Head of School, who was really quite mad, and who rarely sopke to him, except to bully or harass him. Ultimately, Geraghty threatened to “punch him in the nose.”

The situation became quite untenable as Geraghty learnt that hat there was a persistent clerical culture, enshrined in Canon Law since 1922, requiring strict confidentiality about clergy sex crimes on children. Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for 25 years. It was his Congregation that was in charge of administering the “secret of the Holy Office”, that forbade Church investigators and others, from revealing any information they had received to anyone, including the police, on pain of excommunication. Ratzinger wrote to the Catholic bishops to change some of the procedures, but again imposing “pontifical secrecy”, where excommunication was still possible rather than automatic. It was only in 2010, after cover up scandals were breaking out all over the world, then as Pope, he adopted as general Church law a policy recommended to him in 1996 by Australian bishops, which dictated the notification of police about what the Pope himself called “heinous crimes”. Secrecy was designed to protect the good name of the Church, whilst a professor at Springwood, Geraghty found he was floundering in this cover up culture.

Geraghty was then sent to France to engage in further degree in Liturgical Studies. Whilst in Paris, he became aware of a new and radical form of liturgy which was far from the regimented format (in Latin) that he had been accustommed to in Sydney. Whilst in Paris, he had met a rather pretty French girl of Spanish heritage. He continued his studies and returned with a Masters degree in Liturgical Studies, to the Springwood seminary to find that nothing had changed. He found that he still had no support, no direction, and the culture of cover up remained.

Finally, in desparation, Geraghty turned his back on the priesthood. He spent a few years in PR with the Health Commission NSW and Channel 10. He commenced a night course in law, sponsored by the NSW Supreme Court. He finished his career as a solictor and barrister and finally as judge in the Workers Compensation Court of NSW.

Geraghty met his French wife of over 30 years, Adele, when they were both learning German at the Goethe Institute in Germany, where she immediately corrected his poor French. This is the story of his love affair that lasted over a long period of time, while he wrestled with celibacy, his loyalties and his past, is both charming and gripping.

Keiran Tapsell ( also a former seminarian) describes Geraghty’s book this way:
At the age of nearly forty, Christopher Geraghty stopped dancing with the devil and invited another partner out onto the dance floor. A Catholic Priest for nearly fifteen years, Geraghty endured bullying and persecution. This, coupled with a desire for intimacy and belonging, eventually caused Geraghty to turn his back on the priesthood for a chance at love and a family.

During the ensuing thirty-five years, while learning to dance to a different beat, Geraghty studied law and, for the last sixteen years of his professional life, worked as a judge in Sydney.

This is a story that it is at times painful, sometimes funny, at times embarrassing and surprisingly honest. By luck and the grace of God, his story has a happy ending.

Geraghty’s book is full of evidence to support his conclusions about the Church as a “big corporation” prepared to “do what it takes” to get what it wants. The hierarchy does not come out well.

Publisher: Spectrum Publications; ISBN: 9780867861723

The Men Who Killed QANTAS

The Men Who Killed QANTAS

The Men Who Killed QANTAS

QANTAS is in the news again with its decision to lay-off more Australian staff and send those jobs off-shore, in a blatant cost-cutting measure. In my on-line search to find information to confirm this decision, I found this (edited) article and book which looks at “The Men Who Killed QANTAS” by Matthew Benns

The foundation for the grounding of the entire QANTAS fleet for the first time in the airline’s history was laid years ago. QANTAS CEO Alan Joyce, an Irish/Australian science graduate from the University of Dublin, worked for Aer Lingus for 8 years. He left to join Ansett Australia until he was appointed as CEO of Jetstar Australia. He was groomed as Geoff Dixon’s natural successor and the ideal candidate to see the work Dixon began through to fruition. Let us not forget that Dixon was the main cheerleader for an $11 billion debt-fuelled buyout in 2006 that would have put Qantas to the wall when the GFC hit. The shareholders vetoed the deal.

When the board backed Alan Joyce for the top job over 36 year QANTAS veteran John Borghetti it was effectively backing Dixon’s vision that had already begun with the use of cut price flight attendants from Thailand and New Zealand. Today there is a strong question mark over whether the airline picked the right man. Borghetti has gone on to take the helm of Virgin Australia, which is quickly filling the gap QANTAS has left for a quality airline the nation can be proud of.

QANTAS is currently locked in a battle to the death with its own workforce. Joyce clearly believes the only way forward is to base the workforce offshore to lower costs – Australian jobs will be lost but QANTAS will be able to compete on the same playing field as rivals such as Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific. Such a strategy comes with a massive cost. When a Rolls-Royce engine on flight QF 32 exploded over Singapore on the eve of the airline’s 90th anniversary it was the quick thinking of the pilot that saved the lives of the 440 passengers on board. Seasoned former RAAF and experienced pilot Richard Champion De Crespigny overrode the new Airbus A380s computers to safely land the plane. Alan Joyce hailed him a hero. But all that is quickly and unfortunately forgotten in his race to cut costs and put cheaper crews in the cockpit of Australian aircraft. Ask any passenger and there is no question that they want a well paid, seasoned QANTAS veteran in the cockpit when things go wrong.

The book traces QANTAS’ history from it’s foundation in Queensland in the 1920s its merger with Imperial Airways (when it became QEA), its service through tthe war years and the bombing of Darwin (and Broome). It also lokks at the evolution from the early (and grossly unsafe DH86) to Avros, to converted Avro Lancaster bombers, Catalinas and other flying boats.  The airline then moved to Lockheed Constellations, Boeing 707s and then became an all Boeing 747 airline.  It touches on its nationalisation, and its privatisation and on to today.

More importantly, the book dispels the myth that QANTAS never crashes.  While QANTAS does have an enviable safety record, crashes in the early days and upto 1950 have claimed 67 lives.  The movie “Rainman” is partly responsible this myth, as Dustin Hoffman tells Tom Cruise (who are brothers Raymond and Charlie Babbitt) that “QANTAS never crashes”.  This priceless piece of free advertising was never repudiated by QANTAS, as they were happy with this erroneous snippet of “publikc relations”.

The book goes to look at continuous cost cutting, the movement of staffing and maintenance off-shore to cut costs, reduced training of flight crews which has led to a number of in-flight accidents.  The QF32 incident is not included in the book, as it was written before that event.

QANTAS is more than a business. It is The Australian airline, with a long and proud history. It is perhaps unfortunate that Joyce does not seen to understand that principle, but then again he is Irish! QANTAS founder Hudson Fysh was a committed champion of pilots in the mould of Richard De Crespigny. What would Fysh have thought of the grounding of the fleet and the moves to send the workforce offshore simply to cut costs? There is no substitute for quality, and quality costs!  Costs and safety are inversly proportional! The less you spend on training, maintenance, inspections and quality control, the greater the negative impact on safety.

Publisher: Random House Books, ISBN: 9781742750378

On the 4th November 2010, QF32 from Changi Intl in Singapore to Sydney had an uncontained engine explosion on its number 2 engine, 4 minutes into the flight, causing significant damage to the wing and fuselage.



The aircraft involved was an Airbus A380-842, registration number VH-OQA, serial number 014. It was delivered in September 2008, the aircraft had four Trent 972 engines manufactured by Rolls-Royce. The aircraft, named Nancy Bird Walton in honour of the Australian aviation pioneer, was the first A380 delivered to Qantas.

The accident, at 10:01 am Singapore Standard Time (02:01 UTC), was caused by an uncontained failure of the port inboard (Number 2) engine, while en route over Batam Island, Indonesia.
Shrapnel from the exploding engine punctured part of the wing and damaged the fuel system causing leaks, disabling one hydraulic system and the anti-lock brakes and caused No.1 and No.4 engines to operate in a ‘degraded’ mode, damaged landing flaps and the controls for the outer left No.1 engine.

The crew, after finding the plane controllable, decided to fly a racetrack holding pattern close to Changi airport while assessing the status of the aircraft. It took 50 minutes to complete this initial assessment. The First Officer (FO) and Supervising Check Captain (SCC) then input the plane’s status to the landing distance performance application (LDPA) for a landing 50 tonnes over maximum landing weight at Changi. After removing factors for a wet runway, the crew decided they could land with 100m to spare. The flight then returned to Singapore Changi Airport, landing safely after the crew extended the landing gear by a gravity drop emergency extension system, at 11:45 am Singapore time. As a result of the aircraft landing 35 knots faster than normal, four tyres were blown. The aircraft stopped 100m from the end of the runway. Upon landing, the crew found that they were unable to shut down the No.1 engine, which had to be doused by fire crews for 3 hours after landing until flameout occurred by dousing the engine with foam. The pilots considered whether to evacuate the plane immediately after landing as fuel was leaking from the left wing onto the brakes, which were extremely hot from maximum braking. The SCC pilot, David Evans, noted in an interview, “We’ve got a situation where there is fuel, hot brakes and an engine that we can’t shut down. And really the safest place was on board the aircraft until such time as things changed. So we had the cabin crew with an alert phase the whole time through ready to evacuate, open doors, inflate slides at any moment. As time went by, that danger abated and, thankfully, we were lucky enough to get everybody off very calmly and very methodically through one set of stairs.” The plane was on battery power and had to contend with only one VHF radio to coordinate emergency procedure with the local fire crew.

There were no injuries reported among the 440 passengers and 29 crew on board the plane. Debris also fell on a school and houses on Batam Island, causing structural damage, and on a car. There was concern worldwide that the aircraft had crashed as a result of this fallen debris.

This story written by the Captain of the ill-fated flight Richard de Crespigny. It traces Richard’s life and career up from entry into the RAAF, his service as ADC to two Governors-General, until that fateful flight, QF32 shows how much training and experience is needed to make a top-level commercial airline pilot, and the extraordinary skills and training needed to keep us safe in the air.

Totally compelling reading, although somewhat boring in detail given at times, the book shows just what is required of an experienced pilot when things go drastically wrong.

Publisher: McMillan Australia, ISBN:9781742611174


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