Quite incredibly, writing at New Matilda, one Adam Brereton, reviewing my book Australia’s Secret War: How unionists sabotaged our troops in World War II, giving details of strikes and sabotage on the Australian wharves and coal-fields, with first-hand recollections by Australian servicemen, described the watersiders’ actions in stealing supplies from dim-witted Australian and American troops on their way to battle and sabotaging equipment as hilariously funny. For example, watersiders offered to post last letters for servicemen embarking for overseas service. This was – Ho! Ho! Ho! Giggle! Chortle! Guffaw! — the last that was seen of the letters.
Herewith a sample of the New Matilda review:
“In the lead-up to the Anzac Centenary, Colebatch, a regular Quadrant contributor, has set out to write the ultimate culture war tome: a chronicle of how treasonous wharfies cruelled our war effort, by refusing to load munitions and sabotaging weapons.
Unfortunately for Colebatch, he has inadvertently written an hilarious and one-eyed compilation of sabotage gags and hi-jinks, bookended with some really vicious culture war content. But even the massive helpings of Quadrant-style patriotic moralising can’t spoil the tales of dim soldiers being ripped off by canny wharfies … The meat of the book is comprised of big block quotes from letters and interviews with soldiers. Here’s a great one, from US Army Brigadier-General Elliott R. Thorpe, “a member of MacArthur’s Pacific Headquarters”:
“…looting got to such a stage that the American Provost-Marshal in Brisbane set up an inspection system when the wharfies left the docks to go home. On one evening as the labour gang left Breakfast Creek docks, an examination of the ‘dinner bags’ resulted in the seizure of over 800 cartons of cigarettes intended for American troops.”
If that doesn’t bring a smile to your face, what will? But obviously that’s the Yanks, and we’re meant to take a much dimmer view of those who betrayed their own. Nevertheless, here’s a great Aussie one from 1941:
“The convoy was not to sail immediately. Oh, no! Nothing was too speedy for the wharfies of Darwin… where in merry Hell these stevedores were culled from will never be known… Valuable stores such as wireless sets were turfed into the hold as if they were lead ingots.”
So, according to Brereton, not only did the cunning wharfies pull fast ones over the dim-witted Australian troops, but it never happened at all (rather as 9/11 was simultaneously a great victory over Israel, an Israeli plot, and never happened). It is strongly suggested the soldiers making the recollections quoted in this book were lying or had become senile.
In fact, as well as large numbers of rankers, they included people whose recollections in these circumstance were of unimpeachable authority, such as long-time Melbourne University Press publisher, decorated soldier and Quadrant contributor Peter Ryan, Vice-Admiral Sir John Collins, Sir Bernard Callinan and Sir Charles Court.
Here’s Brereton again:
…Sapper PJ McInnes recalled some trouble on the docks with wharfies who went on strike in 1942, and wrote:
“We had to load barbed wire which we put on steel posts. Two men carried these, two on each post between us, four at a time. We finished loading the ship about 5 o’clock and the seamen said they had never had their boat loaded so quickly. We loaded bags of cement — men were carrying two bags at a time, timber, sand-bags, etc. etc.”
Problem is, Sapper PJ McInnes wrote this when he was Mr McInnes, in 1996, in a letter. It rolls on and on like this; the history of the Secret War is told from the soldiers’ side, often at a great historical remove. These accounts aren’t treated sceptically, but are quoted verbatim; old buggers’ “war-y stories” as spotless historical accounts. What was once the fodder for pub conversations on Anzac Day has now become the basis of (what is presented as) a serious study.
I have never had a high opinion of the left’s generalsense of decency, but sheer nastiness and moral imbecility could hardly go much further.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Brereton often shares his half-measure of wit via Twitter, where profundities like the thought below are standard fare:
How proud the left must be to have in its vanguard a man who aspires to such competence in multi-tasking! Nor is that the limit of his vaulting ambition. When not tweeting, Boy Brereton enjoys writing unsolicted notes to Gerard Henderson. Unless he has a masochist’s taste for public humiliation there is little chance he enjoyed Henderson’s response.