Review

Review: The Rag Tag Fleet

The Rag Tag FleetThe Rag Tag Fleet by Ian W. Shaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The artillery in the theatre didn’t fly; it floated on barges brought to the front by small Australian fishing boats and schooners, captained and crewed in the main by Australian sailors.

This is a landmark book containing a wealth of facts and figures.

Australia’s small ships, akin to the little ships at Dunkirk, served a little-known but vital role in the WWII battle of Buna-Gona. Before MacArthur’s air force could put its ego aside and get itself organised, Australian and NZ small ships crewed not only by Australians and New Zealanders, but by crew as diverse as Chinese, Filipino, and Torres Strait Islanders, shipped supplies and rations to soldiers at the front.

Their role even continued beyond the Japanese surrender to include humanitarian projects for those left homeless and destitute by war.

The book brings so many stories into one place and lists plenty of resources, that it’s now only a matter of time before someone with a historical fiction bent uses it to weave together a heart-rending, warm, human tale.

There is so much emotion to work with here: the loss of good men to friendly fire. Clothing rotting in damp heat, men with nothing to sleep under at night, tired and demoralised, suffering from tropical diseases and vitamin-deficiency. The larrikin way in which one enterprising Aussie makes a deal with the Americans to supply them with cement in return for lumber (after that devastating friendly fire incident, you wouldn’t call it theft but just desserts). The fear-sweat dripping off a lone civilian, camped on the darkened night-time mud flats like a tethered goat, waiting to signal the rise of the tide, every sound amplified into man-eating crocodile attacks. The emotion experienced as the first of the US Navy fleet arrives with sonar and radar, causing the entire small ships fleet to become redundant. The heartache when formal recognition of service was denied for so long.

My favourite part to this book was the denouement. I had tears in my eyes as these civilians either returned home or were interred. Of their post-war lives, or their widows’ pain. And of the ships themselves, whether burned, destroyed, sunk, or rebranded.

This has obviously been a labour of love for Shaw.

I received a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review

View all my reviews

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