New Books Roundup: Australia’s first military pilot, contemporary war reporting and an orphan of the First World War

Just trying to catch up on my book review bookshelf before it gets completely out of hand. Here are three recent titles that were in danger of getting overlooked, but shouldn’t be.


The High Life of Oswald Watt
Australia’s First Military Pilot

by Chris Clark
Published by & available from Big Sky Publishing
ISBN: 9781925275797 • $29.99 in paperback

This book has a well-credentialed author. Chris Clark graduated from the Royal Military College 1972 and served in the Australian Army Intelligence Corps until 1979. He then worked in various Commonwealth departments before completing a PhD at the Australian Defence Force Academy. From 2004, until he retired nine years later, he was RAAF Historian and Head of the Office of Air Force History.

Variously described as the ‘Father of the Flying Corps’ and ‘Father of Australian Aviation’, Oswald (“Toby”) Watt died in tragic circumstances shortly after the end of the First World War. He had become the Australian Army’s first qualified pilot in 1911, but spent the first 18 months of the war with the French Air Service, the Aéronautique Militaire, before arranging a rare transfer to the Australian Imperial Force. Already an experienced combat pilot, he rose quickly through the ranks of the Australian Flying Corps, becoming a squadron leader and leading his unit at the battle of Cambrai, then commander of No 1 Training Wing with the senior AFC rank of lieutenant colonel.

This extensively researched book attempts to establish the true story of Watt’s life and achievements, and provide a proper basis for evaluating his place in Australian history.

Note: It was fascinating to learn that one of the most recent recipients of the Oswald Watt Gold Medal awarded for “A most brilliant performance in the air or the most notable contribution to aviation by an Australian or in Australia” was Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston (ret’d) for his leadership in directing the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 as well as his work to recover Australian passenger remains from MH17 shot down over Ukraine.


Young Digger

By  Anthony Hill
Published by Viking/Penguin Books
$29.99 in paperback • ISBN 9780670079292  BUY HERE

The book was first published in 2002. As Anthony Hill writes in his introduction, he was touched by the heartfelt response to the first edition, which brought forward new sources of information. A Melbourne reader found old photographs in his late father’s album, one of which has been reproduced on the cover of this new edition.

A small boy, an orphan of the First World War, wanders into the Australian airmen’s mess in Germany, on Christmas Day in 1918. A strange boy, with an uncertain past, he became a mascot for the air squadron and was affectionately named ‘Young Digger’. This solitary boy was smuggled back to Australia by air mechanic Tim Tovell, a man who cared for the boy so much that he was determined, however risky, to provide Young Digger with a new family and a new life in a new country, far from home.

There is sadly no happy ending of a long, well lived life for Young Digger but this is nonetheless a heartwarming story of love and commitment.

Hack in a Flak Jacket

Wars, Riots and Revolutions – Dispatches from a Foreign Correspondent

Peter Stefanovic
Published by Hachette  BUY HERE
$29.99 in paperback • ISBN 9780733638787

We tend to take reporting from contemporary war zones for granted as the images appear on our nightly news bulletins, beamed into our safe and peaceful homes in Australia. But it’s worthwhile taking a pause to understand the lengths to which foreign correspondents must go to bring us those stories.

For almost ten years Peter Stefanovic was Channel Nine’s foreign correspondent in Europe, the US, Africa and the Middle East. During that time he witnessed more than his fair share of death and destruction, and carried the burden of those images – all while putting his own personal safety very much in the firing line.

This is a thrilling and revealing account of a life lived on camera, delivering the news wherever it happens, whatever the risk.

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