Australia’s Secret Army
The story of the Coast Watchers, the unsung heroes of Australia’s Armed Forces during World War II
By Michael Veitch
Published by Hachette Australia | RRP $34.99 in paperback
Ambitions for the earliest version of what was later to become Coastwatchers were modest. It began life as an ad hoc collection of European planters, missionaries and patrol officers living in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. All volunteers, they were tasked with keeping an eye on Australia’s porous northern border and providing early warnings via radio. It was meant to be a passive role.
When World War II came to the Pacific, however, overnight the Coastwatchers became more than just observers. They became spies operating behind enemy lines.
Besides evading the enemy’s desperate efforts to hunt them down, the Coastwatchers battled exhaustion, tropical diseases and malnutrition, as well as the ever-present spectre of capture, torture and death.
Yet without the Coastwatchers’ courage and intelligence gathering, key moments of the Pacific War may have turned out very differently.
This is their story, a largely unknown story of unsung heroes who risked their lives in the service of their country, having participated in one of history’s most successful spy rings.
Fifty-six Coastwatchers are known to have died. They are credited with saving an estimated 601 military personnel as well as hundreds of civilians who were extracted from the danger zones.
Michael Veitch strips away the anonymity of these brave volunteers to reveal the personal stories of a handful of Coastwatchers whose legacy should never be forgotten.