Barney Greatrex: From Bomber Command to the French Resistance – The Stirring Story of an Australian Hero by Michael Veitch

barney greatrexTitle: Barney Greatrex: From Bomber Command to the French Resistance – The Stirring Story of an Australian Hero

Author: Michael Veitch

Genre: History/Biography

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th September 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 320

Price: $35.00

Synopsis: The incredible untold World War II story of Australian hero BARNEY GREATREX – from Bomber Command to French Resistance fighter.

A school and university cadet in Sydney, Barney Greatrex signed up for RAF Bomber Command in 1941, eager to get straight into the very centre of the Allied counterattack. Bombing Germany night after night, Barney’s 61 Squadron faced continual enemy fighter attacks and anti-aircraft fire – death or capture by the Nazis loomed large. Very few survived more than 20 missions, and it was on his 20th mission, in 1944, that Barney’s luck finally ran out: he was shot down over occupied France.

But his war was far from over. Rescued by the French Resistance, Barney seized the opportunity to carry on fighting and joined the Maquis in the liberation of France from the occupying German forces, who rarely took prisoners.

Later, Barney was awarded the French Legion of Honour, but for seventy years he said almost nothing of his incredible war service – surviving two of the most dangerous battlefronts. Now, aged 97, Barney Greatrex has revealed his truly great Australian war story to acclaimed bestselling author Michael Veitch.

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The legends, stories and tales that make up Australian history cover nearly everything about our country, and every Australian student is taught about the ANZAC legend, and the formation of this legend on the battlefields of Gallipoli and Word War One at various fronts throughout Europe, creating an image that has been carried through the decades since for each war, each battle and every serving member over the past century. In school, we learn in general terms about major battles, and about some important figures. It is the individual stories, – the heroic and the flawed aspects of the people they are about, that give our national story about our role in the wars an interesting colour and human face to them.

There are probably many stories that need to be told of the men and women that fought, but recently I read the story of Barney Greatrex, a RAAF/RAF bomber who, after being shot down over France, spent several months fighting the Gestapo in France with the French Resistance, striving to free France from German occupation and destruction – acts which would in the end, see him rescued and ultimately, France freed from German occupation at the end of the war.

Barney’s story begins in the leafy suburbs in Sydney Pymble, where he attended Knox Grammar in the decade before the war. During his time here and at The University of Sydney, Barney had been part of the cadets, something that prepared him somewhat for the rigours of military life. His training took him to 61 Squadron, and the task of bombing Germany during the Allied counterattacks. Facing enemy fighter attacks, and anti-aircraft fire night after night, each return to base, Barney was grateful to be alive. Until the aircraft he was in with six other men was shot down.

Barney was rescued by the French resistance, and joined the fight with the Maquis to liberate France from occupying German forces. It was to be many months before Barney’s family knew he had survived and was safe, and before he was able to return home, but not before endlessly recounting his experiences to the military.

Awarded the French Legion of Honour, Barney remained silent about his story for seventy years. In Michael Veitch’s latest book, he has done so. It is a story that should be read and taught alongside the stories of other heroes and battles, as it as much a part of the ANZAC story as they are, and gives a human face to a part of history that I have only ever known through statistics and facts, and that many more people may have only been exposed to through Fawlty Towers. Being able to read stories such as Barney’s when I studied Australian history in high school and at university would have made the far-reaching impacts of the war more interesting. We know the facts of much of the war, and the numbers of those who served, who died, through the Australian War Memorial and other books. These facts are, in general, not difficult to find, and are important to give background to the stories of individuals. As someone who has studied history, sometimes statistics and well known legends aren’t enough – sometimes it is the unknown stories, the stories that give the war a human face – whether on the home front, in battle or through people like Anne Frank, where war can really hit home for many people. These human stories allow people who may not have studied history, as I have to understand the war, and what people affected by it might have gone through during those years. This is why we need individual stories to be told alongside the facts. So that the ordinary people, not just the well-known generals and politicians, have their voices heard, their experiences understood.

It is a powerful story of the Australian spirit to dig in and never give up. Barney put his life at risk twenty times in the air, and then for months on end on the ground, before returning home to try and live a normal life – or as normal as he could for himself and his family. Those interested in history, military history, and Australian history can now know Barney’s story, and hopefully it is one that will be looked at in history class alongside other important battles and figures from Australia’s experience in the Second World War.

I found that the story was told sympathetically and without judgement, where Barney’s words told the story, and Michael Veitch was the vehicle that drove them out into the world. Eloquently told, and written so that it’s not jargon heavy, but terminology used can be worked out in context or looked up if the reader needs to, it is a gripping story of one man’s willingness to fight for what he believed in and keep himself alive.

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Under The Same Sky by Mogjan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari with James Knight

under the same sky.jpg

 

 

Title: Under the Same Sky
Author: Mojgan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari with James Knight
Genre: Non-fiction, biography
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 26th April 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 331
Price: $32.99
Synopsis: The powerful and incredibly moving story of Mojgan Shamsalipoor and Milad Jafari – two young Iranian asylum seekers who are showing that the power of love can conquer all obstacles.
After fleeing their homeland, Australian refugee policies threaten to tear this young couple apart. An unforgettable story of love, hope and a quest for freedom.
At seventeen, all Mojgan Shamsalipoor wanted was to be safe from physical and sexual abuse, go to school, and to eventually marry for love. In Iran, she was denied all of this.
Milad Jafari was a shy teenage boy who found his voice as a musician. But the rap music he loved was illegal in his country. All Milad’s father, a key maker, builder and shopkeeper, wanted was for his family to live free from the fear of arrest, imprisonment or execution. To do that they all had to flee Iran.
Mojgan and Milad met in Australia. But in the months between their separate sea voyages, the Australian government changed the way asylum seekers were treated. Though Milad is recognised as a refugee and will soon become a proud Australian citizen, Mojgan has been told she cannot stay here even though the threat of imprisonment and further abuse, or worse, means she can’t return to Iran.
UNDER THE SAME SKY, is a powerful insight into the human face of asylum seekers and the way history has shaped the lives of these two young people. It also shows the compassion alive in our suburbs. For Mojgan and Milad, their love keeps their hopes alive.

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Under the Same Sky is the story of Mojgan and Milad’s lives in Iran, and their escape as asylum seekers to Australia. In Iran, both led very different lives under a regime that restricted what women could do, and promoted one religion over all others, persecuting anyone who didn’t fall into line with what the government dictated to them. Eventually, both their families saw the need to flee: Milad’s together, and Mojgan with one of her older brothers, Hossein. With the government as it was, each had to pretend they were only headed to Indonesia for holidays, and that they would return to Iran. Doing it this way, they were able to leave, yet still had to find a way to Australia, where they hoped to find safety. In each chapter, Mojgan and Milad tell their story as their journeys progress, and in some ways, they had similar journeys, but in other ways, their experiences as asylum seekers and refugees differed.

After traumatic events that led to Mojgan and Hossein fleeing Iran for Australia – with the uncertainty of their fate and the fate of the family members they had had to leave behind, and months spent in detention, the two met at a Baha’i camp, and became good friends, and eventually, started dating. However, the government had decided on Mojgan and Hossein’s fate – they had not been granted visas and after months of living in community detention, and a relationship, and marriage between Mojgan and Milad, the brother and sister were sent back to detention, where they were again in limbo, awaiting decisions.

Throughout these turbulent times, Milad, his family and the friends and teachers Mojgan had met at Yeronga at school began fighting for her to be freed, and returned to a safe home with people who cared about her. This fight is included in the story, in some of the chapters told by James Knight, who gives a lot of background to the instability of Iran and the changing attitudes towards asylum seekers and refugees and their treatment. Mojgan’s experiences in detention affected her deeply –even though she wasn’t always harshly treated, the instances she was, and the guards who were rough with her stood out in her mind. Even the guards who tried to help her , who were nice, couldn’t fully erase these experiences.

At the time of the publication of the book and the writing of this review, a final decision is yet to be made and Mojgan and Hossein, though now living with Milad and his family, are still in limbo.

Mojgan and Milad’s story sheds light on an issue that is fraught with complexities and often simplified in the media – which does not always allow for in depth discussion. Mogjan, Milad and James all acknowledge throughout the complexities, especially in the constantly changing attitudes at the political level and in public opinion about refugees, illustrated by interviews with teachers who knew Mogjan and Milad, and quotes from papers about refugees and asylum seekers and references to speeches by the former Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison. What these do is to establish the political backdrop of Australia, and in a way, contrast it against what Milad and Mojgan ran from – the stark contrast of a dictatorship like Iran, whose government demanded to know the whereabouts of Mogjan long after she left, and the freedom of Australia that they sought but that they were unsure they would ever gain. James Knight’s statements are supportive of those who helped Mogjan and Milad, and less supportive of the government of the time. Some come across as political because issues of asylum seekers and refugees can never be divorced from politics, but I feel like he fell short of outright condemnation and name-calling.

It was an interesting book to read, because it presented a side to the issue not often seen, and one that maybe, should be given more attention. Cases such as Mogjan and Milad’s, where they’ve fled danger and persecution, and simply want a safer life, are the ones we should be hearing about as well as any negative stories that come out. Reading it, I felt moved and shocked by what Mogjan had gone through in Iran and detention. It is only their experiences of fleeing and people smugglers, and becoming asylum seekers. It touches on the issue of how difficult it can be to leave a place like Iran for good. I recommend it for anyone interested in human rights and those wanting to know about the experience from the perspective of someone who has been there.

Born A Crime: Stories from A South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

born a crime.jpgTitle: Born a Crime: Stories from A South African Childhood

Author: Trevor Noah

Genre: Memoir/Non-Fiction

Publisher: John Murray/Hachette

Published: 29th November 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $35.00

Synopsis: Growing up mixed race in South Africa, this is the fascinating and darkly funny memoir from Trevor Noah.

Trevor Noah is the host of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, where he gleefully provides America with its nightly dose of serrated satire. He is a light-footed but cutting observer of the relentless absurdities of politics, nationalism and race — and in particular the craziness of his own young life, which he’s lived at the intersections of culture and history.

In his first book, Noah tells his coming of age story with his larger-than-life mother during the last gasps of apartheid-era South Africa and the turbulent years that followed. Noah was born illegal — the son of a white, Dutch father and a black Xhosa mother, who had to pretend to be his nanny or his father’s servant in the brief moments when the family came together. His brilliantly eccentric mother loomed over his life — a comically zealous Christian (they went to church six days a week and three times on Sunday), a savvy hustler who kept food on their table during rough times, and an aggressively involved, if often seriously misguided, parent who set Noah on his bumpy path to stardom.

The stories Noah tells are sometimes dark, occasionally bizarre, frequently tender, and always hilarious — whether he’s subsisting on caterpillars during months of extreme poverty or making comically pitiful attempts at teenage romance in a colour-obsessed world; whether he’s being thrown into jail as the hapless fall guy for a crime he didn’t commit or being thrown by his mother from a speeding car driven by murderous gangsters.

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Trevor Noah’s biography, Born A Crime, finds a way to deal with apartheid South Africa and growing up during this time and the turbulent years that followed in a moving, humourous and effective way. Growing up in a world where your very existence is considered a crime because your mother, a Xhosa woman, had relations with a white Swiss man at the height of apartheid can shape you. Using his comedic skills, Noah manages to convey the hatred and segregation, and struggles of the era to an audience who may not be quite familiar with it. We know it happened, we know how bad it is – but how many of us who didn’t live there at the time or who haven’t spoken to people who lived through it know how truly bad it was? Noah’s ability to tell the story through the eyes of a child who did not quite understand at first how his existence was breaking the law, and the innocence of these days illustrated how some people may have tried to deal with it – protect your children, yet they will still become aware of the harsh realities surrounding their lives.

Noah discusses the flaws in apartheid, and how the logic of race classifications was actually illogical: The Chinese were classified as black, but the Japanese were classified as white: Noah’s suggestion is that as South Africa received imports from Japan, they were given the white classification to keep them happy. Yet at the same time, a black person could become classified as coloured, or an Indian person could become classified as white. A coloured person could become classified white and a white person could have their white status downgraded to coloured or black. Even a child born to two white parents, he says, could be classified as coloured and the family separated unless the parents chose to reclassify as coloured. Yet Noah was too white to be black and too black to be white – so where did he fit in?

Trevor Noah has told a side of apartheid that may not have been possible to tell in the early nineties, so soon after it ended. As he is mixed race, Trevor Noah was able to move between the groups at school: speaking various African tribal languages, English and some Afrikaans, his ability to be a chameleon in a world where colour was given a lot of attention was something he soon found he could use to his advantage. In writing this memoir, he has invited fans of his comedy and other readers into a world that had humour, love and some moments of pure terror and fear, and the confusion that some people had, not knowing how to deal with a boy who could speak at least seven languages and who wasn’t quite white, but wasn’t quite black. Like all of us, these experiences growing up in the final years of apartheid and in the years following, where people who were still products of apartheid weren’t always sure of what to do, have shaped Trevor. His words can affect everyone. Though he is a comedian, his words are strong, and could encourage unity and working together, showing the ineffectiveness of dividing people up based on race or skin colour. Further division came in the category of black based on whether you were Xhosa, Tswana, Zulu or a member of another tribe or cultural group, and this could determine how you acted within this group according to your gender. Apartheid not only set race against race, but sometimes set people who had been classed as one race against each other.

Reading this book was eye opening – I knew how bad it was from my parents, and that’s why they left, so I wouldn’t grow up exposed to any of the impacts of apartheid, because it could affect everyone adversely, as Noah pointed out. Though some groups gained more privileges than others, the fact that these could be taken away with what Noah describes as the slash of a pen and the whim of the person wielding it, likely instilled fear in many. Noah’s world as the child of a black woman and a white man, a mixed race child, in a world that didn’t accept him or always know what to do with him, is one that not many of us will really know, yet through his words, we can visit and find out what it was like – mainly for him, but also, the world seen through his eyes as to how anyone and everyone could be affected by apartheid is just as powerful. The limitations of what people could do for work were determined by race.

A great read for anyone who lived through apartheid, or who wishes to know more. Trevor Noah shows that people have the ability to become more than what society tells them they are, that yes you may struggle and fight, you may face adversity but in the end, you can get there.