In a venomous and error-filled attack on my book Australia’s Secret War: how unionists sabotaged out troops in World War II and also on Quadrant and certain of its contributors, one Peter Stanley claims that, among other things, I did not consult union records regarding industrial stoppages. This is plain stupid, apart from being a misrepresentation.
Had Stanley read the chapter “The Other Side” instead of being carried away by ideological fury, he would have seen I did, in fact, quote several union sources. His objection on this point is on the intellectual level of Dr Evatt’s triumphant claim in Parliament that Molotov had assured him that there were no Soviet agents in Australia.
Did Stanley expect unions to minute: “pilfered 10,000 cigarettes today” or “wrecked four aircraft today” or “hammered nails into HMAS Perth’s wiring today”? That last incident of deliberate sabotage is taken from Brendan Whiting’s account, “Ship of Courage”, based on Perth’s war diaries:
In September/October of 1941, Perth was required to return to sea duty … The ship’s departure from Sydney was also delayed by the unbelievable – sabotage, within Cockatoo Dock in Sydney Harbour. This was a well-kept secret and news of it was never released. Repair and fitting out work on Perth was supposedly being carried out by dockyard workers 24 hours round the clock to get the ship ready for sea again.
However, instead of working diligently for the war-effort the “dockyard mateys” as they were then known, were seen playing cards in the mess-deck and generally loafing.
There was a fire in the canteen, the after magazine was flooded, and six-inch nails were found in all the wiring up to the bridge. In the end, armed crew members manned the ship all night to guard against sabotage … [following a deliberately-lit fire] all the electric cables leading to the director tower on the bridge melted and had to be replaced, which took about a month, so we only got operational again a few days after Pearl Harbour.
Many of the incidents I recount are of such a nature that the unions would never minute them. Stanley carries the misrepresentation by claiming strikes were reasonable, such as to obtain toilet-breaks. In fact I never mrntion strikes for toilet-breaks and as far as I know they never occurred. With as desperate demand for labour and governments of both left and right attempting top buy industrial peace at any price, unionis would no need to strike to get toilet breaks. However:
By 4 April, 1940, about 35,000 men were reported to be idle as a result of coal-strikes. On 5 April, 1940, Sydney watersiders at Woolloomooloo loading food for the AIF troops in the Middle East went on strike for about a week, demanding extra “smoko” breaks. They remained on strike despite, or because of, the Nazi invasion of Denmark and Norway, marking the end of the so-called “phoney war.” Another fight between Communists and servicemen in the Domain in Sydney was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on 9 April, 1940.
There was a strike at the Australian Iron and Steel Works at Port Kembla, the heart of Australia’s war-production, over the fact that all employees were not allowed to take a meal-break at the same time, but rather had to take meal-breaks in shifts. This began in February, 1940, and lasted about 10 weeks, taking in the Nazi conquest of Norway and Denmark and the launching of the Blitzkrieg against France. There was another strike involving ironworkers at Port Kembla later in the year over minor alterations to working conditions. The Federated Ironworkers’ Association at that time had Communist leadership.
An employee was dismissed at the Lithgow munitions works in November, 1940, and 2,450 employees struck for a week. The dismissed employee was finally re-instated. This was after the British Army had lost huge quantities of munitions in the retreat to Dunkirk and the Australian Government was trying to re-supply Britain to help it resist Nazi invasion. Statistics relating these and almost innumerable other strikes are recorded officially in the Commonwealth Year-Books, though they do not record the indirect consequences in other industries.
Toilet breaks had nothing to do with it.
Stanley also betrays elementary ignorance when claiming I am wrong to say the Dutch defended East Timor, which was a Portugese Province. This is outright nonsense. Dutch (and Australian) troops had moved into East Timor because the Portugese were unable to defend it.
Stanley’s greatest howler, however, is the claim that after the German invasion of Russia, Australian communists, on Moscow’s orders, supported the war effort. There are important points to be made here:
Apart from Moscow-aligned Communists, many of the strikers were simple thugs, criminals or Trotskyites (see, for example the memoirs of Judge Kenneth Gee, QC, who as a young Trotskyites was a member of a waterfront gang under the name of “Comrade Roberts.”
Among many others, two important recent book by well-credentialled authors, Operation Snow, by John Koster (Regnery History, 2012), and Stalin’s Secret Agents: Subversion of Roosevelt’s Government (Simon & Schuster, 2013) made the point that Stalin did not want a quick Allied victory in the Pacific. He wanted Japan to remain in the war, and not be conquered by America, until he had had time to shift troops from Europe to the Pacific theatre and be in a position to claim a share of the spoils there.
The problem with Stanley is that he has a euro-centric view of communism. In the Pacific Basin, Stanley has failed to realize what is revealed in Stalin’s Secret Agents, who were operating in China and Washington DC, including in the White House. Operation Snow goes into detail on how these agents were operating in the Pacific Theatre.
And they were trying to hold up the advance on Tokyo because that would assist Moscow. Also Stanley doesn’t seem to realize that Stalin had two Molotov-Ribbentrop Pacts — on for eastern Europe and the other for Northern Pacific Asia, with Tokyo. The latter pact lasted until a week before the end of the Pacific War.
Hal Colebatch’s Australia’s Secret War: How unionists sabotaged our troops in World War II, co-winner of the PM’s Literary Award for History, is published by Quadrant books and can be ordered here.