My wife and I were flown to Melbourne for me to receive half of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s $80,000 Prize for History for my book Australia’s Secret War: How Unionists Sabotaged Our Troops in World War II.
The hotel we were put up at, on the south bank of the Yarra River, was a good deal more luxurious than I am accustomed to, with uniformed doormen and all. The “gala meal” at the oxymoronically named Victorian National Arts Centre, was excellent.
My publisher, Keith Windschuttle, editor of the conservative cultural magazine Quadrant, Roger Franklin, editor of Quadrant Online, and former editor Peter Coleman and his daughter shared our table.
It was hard to judge the volume of applause from the 400-plus literary figures present, most of them probably left wing sympathisers, when my name was announced. Our table drowned out much of those nearby. I was wearing an orthoepedic boot, and the Prime Minister had to help me up the steps to receive my certificate.
My speech, briefly outlining a few of the instances of strikes, go-slows, and sabotage that had undermined Australia’s war effort—with the gruesomely appropriate figure of 6 million days directly lost through strikes—was heard in silence. New facts I have been supplied with since the book was published include evidence that a longshoreman’s strike, which prevented the defenses of Darwin being completed by the time the Japanese struck, was organized by a Nazi German operative. U.S. aircraft and airplane engines, rushed to Australian ports for the defense of Australia, were deliberately wrecked as they were being unloaded, for example by being dropped by cranes onto concrete wharves, until U.S. troops intervened. Eddie Ward, the far-left Minister for Labour and National Service in the Labor Government which took over in 1941, dubbed Australian troops fighting Nazism “four shilling a day murderers,” a catchcry taken up by the perpetually striking longshoremen’s and coal-miners’ unions, not to mention the gas-fitting, shipbuilding, and other unions. The endless strikes probably contributed to the premature death of Prime Minister John Curtin from hypertension at 60.
U.S. troops again intervened when longshoremen refused to load heavy guns for the Battle of Milne Bay, an attempted Japanese landing on the eastern tip of New Guinea, which, if successful, would have brought more Australian and U.S. positions in range of Japanese attack. Pilfering was wholesale, including small keepsakes sent to soldiers by their families (the accompanying notes were thoughtfully left for the soldiers to read) and, as a further demonstration by the watersiders of who was boss, jeeps were dropped into harbors.
My book was the result of the testimony of scores of soldiers, sailors, and airmen (mostly lower ranks—the senior officers of World War II were mostly dead), published memoirs of senior officers including both Australia’s most senior admiral and a later State Premier, unit histories, and official Year Books and the bipartisan War Council.
It also made the point that the left-leaning history industry has largely glossed over the whole question of wartime strikes, sabotage, and go-slows. How slow can you go? It took almost as long, but in some cases longer, to build a 750-ton corvette in Australia as it took to build a 35,000-ton aircraft carrier in the United States. Canada built many times more naval and merchant ships. An armed guard had to be posted on the cruiser HMAS Perth after it was found that 6-inch nails had been driven into the electrical wiring.
As we conservative writers hardly ever get such a chance in Australia, I made the most of it.
There was some applause at the end of my speech but it did not take long to discover that, with a conservative author winning a major national literary prize, probably, as blogger and wag Tim Blair said, for the first time ever, the “leftie luvvies” were furious (Tim telephoned Perth to tell my daughter). Twitter was going berserk even before the ceremony finished. Leading the charge was one Mike Carlton, whose own entry, a rehashing of a naval engagement in World War I, had not won a prize. (I had previously written critically of another book by him and received a delightful note from him replete with four-letter words, a practice that is said to have got him sacked from the Sydney Morning Herald.)
He claimed my book was both “badly researched” and “fiction,” though how it could be both I am not sure. It could only be untrue if I or the ex-soldiers, sailors, and airmen who contacted me with first-person accounts, the various memoirs, unit histories, and official documents that I quoted from, were lying. I believe the men who risked their lives to defend our country were telling the truth. Where possible I quoted service numbers to help ensure accuracy.
Carlton also claimed that one of my informants, W.S. Monks—who said a strike at the end of the war prevented him and other men returning from Japanese prison-camps from being disembarked from HMS Speaker—did not exist, despite the fact an hour-long interview with him exists on YouTube.
Along with an abusive, ideologically revealing and false attack on Quadrant, one Peter Stanley, an academic, claims:
[Colebatch] does not seem to confront the awkward fact that while the union was dominated by “Communists,” between 1941 and 1945 the Communist Party of Australia was “the leading war party,” whose officials strove to reduce industrial action and who supported more than most Australians the most vigorous prosecution of the war. While individual members of the union may well have lacked the ideological purity of their officials and may well have pilfered, struck and vandalised cargos, they were doing so in defiance of “the union.” Colebatch never grapples with this fundamental conundrum.
This is simply false. I devote a chapter to dealing with “this awkward conundrum” and come up with several possible explanations, while suggesting none are complete in themselves.
First, the strikes did occur, whether led by communists or members of the left-wing lumpenproletariat, between whom the difference was quite negligible. The official Commonwealth Year Book lists the number of working days lost — and in some industries these actually increased after Stalin changed sides in 1941.
Second, it does not take a very profound knowledge of World War II to know Stalin was not at war with Japan until the very end, and had nothing to lose by Australian Communists damaging the Pacific War effort. An important and scholarly U.S. book, Stalin’s Secret Agents, by M. Stanton Evans and Herbert Romerstein, reminds us that Stalinist Russia was not at war with Japan until the very last few days of the war (after Hiroshima). Japanese ships were still coming and going out of Vladivostok through nearly all the war. Most importantly, the authors point out that Stalin did not want a quick and overwhelming allied victory in the Pacific until he had moved troops from Europe and was positioned to take a share of the spoils.
The award was a triumph for Quadrant’s new conservative publishing house. The Quadrant magazine was founded in 1956, partly in response to the Soviet Union crushing Hungary. The magazine has flown the flag of intellectual conservatism, often against daunting odds, for 58 years. We celebrated, but the leftie luvvies did not join us.
This article was first published in The American Spectator. An extract from Hal Colebatch’s book, Australia’s Secret War: How Unionists Sabotaged Our Troops in World War II, was published in the September 2013 (no. 128) issue of Life News and can be read on Life Ministries’ website here.