The first time Veeresh saw her, he learned what a true heartbeat was. It was more than two years before he would find himself in a prison. The son of the city’s wealthiest man was getting married to a girl from a highly respected family and nearly every townsperson was in attendance. Dressed in their finest garments, men wore bright-colored sherwanis. The heavy fabrics had the presence of a lining and were a cross between the British frock coat and Indian kameez. Alongside their male companions, women were covered in vibrant shalwar kameezes or saris. Their garments came in many colors and sizes. Some were heavy while others were light.
The groom’s family owned a large three-story complex where the entire family from the great-grandfather to the great-grandchildren lived. It was the largest home within a hundred mile radius of Bhagwanpur. The red-bricked building could be seen for miles around and its architecture was something to be marveled at. It reminded many of the palaces of old.
The festivities were being held in an open field next to the complex. Red, green, and gold tents and canopies had been set up throughout the grounds, protecting the wedding’s guests from the evening sun. The largest canopy, a red and gold patterned one, was set up in the center of the fields. The last marriage ceremony, the Saptapadi, had been performed under it only hours ago. The fire that the groom and bride had circled seven times still burned and its thin line of smoke continued to rise into the air.
A professional band played joyous music in the field, using a variety of instruments ranging from stringed instruments to aerophones to drums. But the two most prominent were the drum-like dholka and tabla. The musicians expertly beat upon them and their sounds could be heard in every corner of the field.
Children could be seen running around the tents and dodging the adults as they chased one another. To them, this was the highlight of the wedding. Their laughter filled the air as they played their games. Their jubilant voices were so loud that they rivaled the music.
Women wore the decorative henna on their hands and the younger ladies took every opportunity to compare their temporary body art with one another. After all, whomever had the better design would have bragging rights until the next occasion. Older woman all spoke of the new couple and surmised what their thoughts were. They guessed whether the first child would be a son or a daughter. And as they did at every wedding, they tried to predict which eligible singles would be next in line for marriage.
Men spoke with one another of politics. Tensions had been escalating between the Company and the people of India. Some spoke of revolution, but most did not believe it would come to that. At least not in their lifetimes.
Over the last century, blissful occasions like this had become rarer and rarer. People could not afford lavish ceremonies such as this and the ones that could were not willing to do so. After all, it had not been long ago that countless Biharis were forced to migrate to the West Indian islands as indentured servants. And at the root of all the chaos was the misrule of the Company and Crown.
But today, that was on nobody’s mind.
Veeresh was well-groomed for the function. His cheeks and chin was cleanly shaven. The only facial hair he wore was the traditional Brahmin mustache. He wore a light brown outfit with loose, white trousers that covered him to his ankles. After witnessing the ceremony, he chose to go to the complex like many of the men. He was not one who enjoyed being in the middle of a celebration. Instead, he preferred to be outside-looking-in. With his hands behind his back, the handsome and well-spoken man walked along the balcony of the third floor as he looked down at the function below. He could see the entire thing in one glance from his high vantage point. Although he was a man of eloquence, he was not one to start a conversation. He was an observer. Many described him as a man of quiet strength.
As he passed by numerous people, they all spoke their greetings to him and he returned them with respect. Every person in the town recognized Veeresh, but it was not just because he was one of the strongest and tallest men in the city. Instead, it was because he was a man who many youth aspired to be and a person who many elders even looked at with reverence.
His eyes came back onto the scene on the ground floor. It seemed that there was more excitement as the day went on. Men mingled with men and women mingled with women. Outside of the children, there was not traditionally much interaction between the people of opposite genders.
And it was here, at this point, that he saw her beautiful face.
When he first laid eyes on her, she was smiling and laughing. Dressed in a vibrant, yellow outfit that covered her slender figure, each lock of her long black hair seemed to fall perfectly into place. Her face was fairer and lighter than any other person’s just as his was. She appeared to be a few years younger than he. She was surrounded by other girls her age and younger. Their laughter filled the air and drowned out the music at times. However, he could make out her pretty laughter above the rest. Its sweet sound filled every inch of his heart and he felt his heart rate start to accelerate.
But the thing he saw most was her eyes.
They were the eyes of beauty and innocence. Almond shaped, the brown eyes had a hint of yellow in them. It was seeing them that Veeresh knew what perfection really was.
His gaze remained on her as she moved her hands through the air in excitement and spoke to her peers. As she turned her head to look from one companion to the next, her hair moved flawlessly. Her eyes held so much excitement and happiness. Veeresh was not sure how long he spent looking down and marveling at her beauty and perfection. It may have been minutes. A slight smile formed at the corners of his lips without his knowing. He became lost in her. Lost in her movements. Lost in her voice. Lost in the sight of her.
Another girl began to speak and they all looked at her, including the girl. But her eyes did not stay there for long. Feeling his gaze, she slowly looked up and saw him high above her.
And for the first time, their eyes met.
"The chapter on 1857 reflects so accurately the depth of despair of Indian masses and the nerves the revolutionaries held through the extreme torture. The description looked so real and so painful that I had to take breaks. The language has an amazing simplicity in making deep emotions come alive. Its natural flow keeps you bound. In utter darkness, the way it portrays the protagonist's thought process, how he bears all that torture with the sparks of memory of his wife, and at times his countrymen, is absorbing. I have read very few novels and those too in my mother tongue Hindustani (mix of Urdu and Hindi). This is the first one in English. Ammar made me feel as if I am reading something in my mother tongue. He is so young yet he reveals a genius of portraying the mind of people in the middle of a tough struggle." -Dr. Vipin Tripathi
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The Lazarus Succession is a modern-day thriller with a medieval mystery attached to it. The discovery of which could change mankind forever.
According to legend, Annas Zevi, an artist who witnessed the raising of Lazarus, was told by Christ to paint what he saw. Over the centuries, his completed works has vanished, along with every other painting depicting Lazarus' resurrection. They were rumoured to be sacred icons with miraculous powers.
Broderick Ladro and Ulla Stuart are hired by a disgraced High Court judge, Sir Maxwell Throgmorton, to locate a long lost medieval painting by Spanish artist Francisco Cortez. Like Zevi, his work is said to be divinely inspired.
Throgmorton's client, a wealthy Spanish Condesa, is terminally ill and the icon is her last hope. She will pay and do whatever it takes to find the missing work of Cortez. Unbeknown to the Condesa, Throgmorton seeks to make a vast personal fortune from the discovery of the paintings, and plans to use it to reclaim his place in society.
When Ladro and Stuart learns of Throgmorton's deceit, they begin a battle to stop his plans. In the process, they discover a secret that changes their lives forever. Just as it changed the lives of everyone it touched across the centuries.
AFRICA. Where corruption often rules and human life can be the most worthless commodity. Read the story of Sierra Leone and its people in this bloody, harrowing, and heart breaking suspense thriller.
This is a work of fiction, except for the parts that really happened.
Vast deposits of diamonds and oil are found in land overlapping both Sierra Leone and Liberia. A scramble ensues to secure the mining and drilling rights of both commodities. Leading the race is the Mining Earth & Ocean Corp. (MEO).
To amass and control this wealth, the creation of an illegal state called Salonga is proposed. The nominated ruler, backed and supported by the MEO, is a former RUF commander - General Icechi Walker, known as 'Body Chop' - a suspected mass murderer involved in countless atrocities.
As the battle for control of the land unravels, stories spread of horrific bloody massacres and mutilations in towns and villages, many of them by child soldiers. The capital, Freetown, is threatened by a full-blown mindless rebellion led by the RUF.
To secure power, Body Chop, with the help of the MEO, engages the protection of a private mercenary army. But control will not be handed to him so easily.
Disgraced, virtually bankrupt, ex-Sgt. Alex Dalloway, is a major part of the mercenary brigade. He has a personal quest to locate the Army officer who tortured him and killed his men years ago in the jungles of Sierra Leone. He begins to suspect the former RUF commander's involvement.
His personal life in shambles, Dalloway and his troop goes against Body Chop and his supporters, to avenge the death of his men and all the innocent lives lost at the hands of the RUF.
When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in South Africa’s brutal Robben Prison, he tirelessly turned to the poem Invicitus. The inspirational verse was by the Victorian William Ernest Henley, penned on the occasion of the amputation of his leg. Still I Rise takes its title from a work by Maya Angelou and it resonates with the same spirit of an unconquerable soul, a woman who is captain of her fate. Just as Invicitus brought solace to generations so does the contemporary classic. It embodies the strength of character of the women profiled. Each chapter will outline the fall and rise of great ladies who smashed all obstacles, rather than let all obstacles smash them. The book offers hope to those undergoing their own Sisyphean struggles. The intrepid women are the antithesis of the traditional damsels in distress; rather than waiting for the prince they took salvation into their own hands.
Women celebrated in the book include Madame C. J. Walker-first female American millionaire, Aung San Suu Kyi-Burma’s first lady of freedom, Betty Shabazz-civil rights activist, Nellie Sachs-Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize recipient, Selma Lagerlof-first woman Nobel Laureate, Fannie Lou Hamer-American voting rights activist, Bessie Coleman-first African-American female pilot, Wilma Randolph-first woman to win three gold medals, Sonia Sotomayor-first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, Wangari Maathai-Nobel Prize winner, Winnifred Mandela-freedom fighter, Lois Wilson-founder of Al-Anon, Roxanne Quimby-co-founder of Burt’s Bees.
From the Book:
"Still I Rise
Maya Angelou, 1928 - 2014
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
As the sunset over the headland at Kings Beach, an elderly couple watched as the passenger liner “Sun Beauty” sailed out to sea on its next voyage. The couple were in the twilight of their lives, and they had shared a beautiful life together. They had earlier that day, spent time with their children, grandchildren, and their great granddaughter while they celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary.
They shared a bottle of Muscadean, a white wine produced from white Muscat grapes grown in Ballandean, hence the name. A light, easy drinking aromatic semi-sweet white makes it perfect served chilled for that warm summer day picnic. They discovered the wine on a weekend visiting Queensland’s Granite Belt wine region and, at once it became “their wine.” Later on, the owners of the winery opened an outlet at nearby Mooloolaba, and while he could still drive, he managed to call in about once a month.
When the sun had set, he dozed off in his favourite chair, placed to take in the picturesque outlook over the entrance to Moreton Bay. She was comfortable with him dozing off, and she knew he was at peace. Although now in his eighties, they both liked to look back at the uncertain times, at the peak of World War two when they first met, and how over time, their love grew.
Although the population considered Australia to be safe at the start of the war, as Europe and Germany were on the other side of the world. Attitudes changed with Japan entering the war. Japan shared the same Ocean as Australia. Although Japan and Australia were successful trading parties before the war, with Japan attacking Pearl Harbour and making menacing overtures towards Singapore, Australia was now at war with Japan.
When Darwin was bombed for the first time in February 1942, the government played down the damage to the public. The general population knew nothing of other bombing raids at Broome, Mossman, Derby and even Katherine.
After the midget submarine attack on Sydney Harbour in May, it had become impossible to disguise that an impending threat became real. This became even serious when rumours began the spread about “The Brisbane Line.”
When it became seriously believed by the government and military that Japan would attack Australia, it needed to be quickly decided what areas should be protected. Because Australia was a vast island with the majority of the population confined to the southeast, in February 1942 General Ivan Mackay drew a line on the map of Australia. This line stretched from the coast north of Brisbane to west of Melbourne. Although no record of the “Brisbane Line” was being activated, many believed, (and some still do) that the line was implemented and all of the country north and west of the line was to be abandoned.
The other item kept from the public, concerned that during the twelve months between May 1942 and May 1943, 25 ships were attacked within forty miles of the New South Wales coast.
The government began to realise that unless they could control panic, large numbers of the population may abandon the major cities like Brisbane.
Because of its proximity to the Pacific battlefronts, Brisbane was the crucial point for resupplying the troops in battle. The Americans developed it as a Major Naval base, including a vast submarine base. In 1942, General McArthur set up his headquarters for the Pacific in Brisbane. Brisbane needed a civilian population to make sure the smooth running of so many essential services.
The government and the military were in a “catch 22” situation. Secrecy needed to be maintained for security, and yet, the population needed to be reassured of their safety. This, compounded by the military distrust of elected politicians, as well as the parliamentarian’s need to placate their constituents. A unique approach obviously was needed.
The member for Port Macquarie and now the defence minister, David Millar called an urgent meeting of his department heads to see if a solution could be found. Because of some of the difficulties, the meeting was held in Sydney. As it happened, in the same hotel that the defence department rented rooms, the senior media lecturer at Queensland University was with colleagues in a get together of their own. Tom Walker was the former editor of a major newspaper who also had extensive experience producing newsreel films. Tom and David were friends from the University of New South Wales, where they both studied. When the defence Minister ran into the media lecturer in the hallway, they made time to have a few drinks and reminisce about their university days.
It was during this time that the Minister started to conceive the basis of how Tom may be able to offer a solution to his problem.
Although they realised, the invasion of these cities by the Japanese would be remote; a specialist public relations unit still should be instigated. It could give reassurance through movies (newsreels) and newspaper articles that would show to the civilian population the defences were in place.
With Brisbane is becoming the headquarters for the allies command for the war in the Pacific, it would become necessary to play down the military importance of Brisbane as a target.
A by-product of these films would be to discourage a Japanese invasion, as they would show the Japanese Brisbane was too difficult a city to invade.
They finished their talk with Tom agreeing to put a concrete proposal together. He needed to show how it would also work including the resources needed. This plan was required to be able to be presented to the War Cabinet by the end of the week.
Being the driven person that he was, Tom was able to put the basis of his proposal together in just two days.
He approached the task as if preparing a lecture for his students. He defined exactly the end achievement needed. What would be the best way of achieving the result? What resources are needed? He was able to present a written proposal two days later.
To reassure the residents of Australia that there was no need to evacuate their homes and thus maintain a steady civilian population to enhance the war effort, I propose to set up the following civilian unit.
1. Reporting directly to, the Defence Minister, this unit will work, in conjunction with the military authorities, but the military shall have no control over the activities of the unit.
2. The unit would make newsreel motion pictures depicting the defence efforts of an area without divulging crucial information that the enemy may not know of.
3. The movies are to be processed and scripted before handing over to the distributors, who will then add the scripted soundtrack using their staff.
4. Regular newspaper and magazine articles are also to be produced.
5. Staff required would be
a. A General Manager to oversee operations and report to the Minister
b. A Cinematographer, who would produce the movies and supervising a cameraman. He would also act as the second cameraman.
c. A Journalist to write articles and the scripts for the movies.
d. A personal assistant to the General Manager who would also act as a secretary and other duties when needed.
e. A driver who must be competent in small boats and all types of motor vehicles. Would also be an aid in labouring and any other tasks as required?
6. The budget would be set by the Minister and vehicles, camera and other equipment to be supplied by the military where available. But the unit would buy directly when needed.
7. The Military are to supply accommodation including living, office and workshop space independently from the military accommodation. The Military is required to provide security for this area.
To his surprise, Tom received a call from the minister that afternoon is telling him it had been approved without alteration. A meeting was set up the next day with the minister and his senior staff. The chief of the defence forces would also be attending.
David told him the cabinet wanted this unit to be operating within a fortnight.
David arranged for Tom to use a parliamentary office in Canberra to enable him to get the ball rolling. Some of the minister’s staff members were allocated to generate all the legal and performance documents needed so that Tom could start with the recruitment. His first need would be for a personal assistant.
David suggested Jill Robertson, 32-year-old, a career public servant with the defence department. She had previously worked for David Millar before he entered politics.
She was married to Colonel Bob Robertson, an Australian military liaison officer attached to the British Air Ministry in London.
Her knowledge of the public service, politics and military protocols would make her invaluable in dealings with government and defence personnel. Not having any ties would enable her to travel as required.
David assured Tom that, as he would be operating a division of the Ministry of Defence and all members of his unit would be paid by the department, so would all expenses. In fact, even though there were shortages of materials and other supplies, Jill would order everything under the auspices of the department. Therefore, all suppliers would, under the wartime regulations, have no alternative than to supply the unit in preference to all others. This would also mean that the unit had priority over the three military branches.
All accounts would be forwarded to the department for payment. This also meant that all the unit’s civilian staff would be treated as Commonwealth Public Servants.
Tom was relieved that he would have no supply problems to hinder the operation.
Ministry Communications Unit
David arranged for an interview and within two minutes, Tom decided that she was ideal, and she wanted the job. Jill transferred to Tom’s unit that afternoon. Jill was an extremely good-looking woman. She stood about six feet tall with a body would make most Australian women envious.
Tom, hearing that the famed Australian filmmaker, Charles Chauvel, was in Canberra that afternoon, had one of his staff arrange for them to meet at the Canberra Hotel.
Although Tom couldn’t reveal much about the unit, he told Charles enough, so it was possible to ask if Charles knew of any suitable candidates for the Cinematographer's role. Charles had no hesitation in recommending Bill Munro, who had worked as an undergraduate cinematography assistant to Charles.
Bill, raised up, on his parent’s farm in central Queensland near Roma, went to boarding school at Toowoomba Grammar and a cinematography graduate from Queensland University. Being 22 years old and single would also be helpful.
As Bill was in Sydney, Tom met with him on Monday morning at an office that Jill acquired near Victoria Barracks.
In two short days, Jill arranged for working offices in Sydney and Brisbane, while the Army provided living and working accommodation near the Eagle Farm racecourse. The army also supplied a car in Brisbane and when required in Sydney and Canberra.
Over the weekend, Jill moved into the Brisbane accommodation while Tom, taking advantage of being in Sydney, met up with his two daughters. Both were staff car drivers at Victoria Barracks, which made it easy to catch up when he was in Sydney.
The meeting with Bill concluded remarkably successful, although he advised Tom that he needed a week to tidy up his current projects. He did, however, know of a young cameraman who would be ideal for them. Tom agreed to give Bill the week to tidy up and then, he was to join him at Eagle Farm the following Monday.
Tom also gave Bill the approval to employ the Cameraman, who lived in Clayfield, the next suburb to Eagle Farm.
On Tuesday when Tom arrived at the Eagle Farm property, he was impressed with what Jill had been able to organise, on such short notice.
She heard of an experienced journalist, Joe Grady. Joe, a feature journalist for the last ten years with the Brisbane Sun, had resigned from the paper with the intention to join the army.
Joe was thirty- years old and married to Joan, a nurse working in the burns unit at Royal Brisbane Hospital. Ninety percent of her patients were R.A.N. and RAAF personnel, injured while on duty in the Pacific. Both were career orientated although, Joe wanted to join the army. Jill met Joan several years ago at a conference, so on Saturday when she arrived in Brisbane, Jill gave her a call. She heard about Joe resigning, and she asked if he would see Tom before he enlisted. They made an appointment to meet with Tom on a Tuesday afternoon. Tom, being familiar with Joe’s work, looked forward to meeting him.
Joe and Tom hit it off at once. Joe could see the importance of the role and, even if he wasn’t to add a by-line to each article he wrote, he was allowed to keep copies for his resume after the war.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Minister arrived in Brisbane and called on Tom. He was impressed with the speed the unit set up. Tom explained that they could not arrange for film equipment until Bill came on board, the following Monday. He explained to David that the only position not filled was the driver.
David suggested that Alf Watson may be suitable.
Alf, a 23-year-old single man, grew up in Port Macquarie and worked on fishing boats. He had driven semi-trailers to market and is a good 'bush mechanic.'
When Alf was rejected by the army on medical grounds, because of his flat feet, he appealed to his local Member of Parliament and family friend (David Millar.)
As David had known Alf as the son of a friend, he never hesitated in recommending him to Tom. “Alf will be an ideal member of his team because of his driving ability, knowledge of the sea and his mechanical ability as well.”
When Tom called Alf, he jumped at the opportunity as he realised, it would be far more interesting than in the army, and he would still be contributing to the war effort.
Alf was on the next train north.
During the first week, Jill set up important meetings with the local Military commanders, where the Minister explained what was about to happen. He instructed them to brief Tom on the entire military (army, naval and air force) tasks surrounding Brisbane. They all agreed the first movies would centre on the sea approaches to Brisbane.
They felt most of the strategy for the defence of Brisbane seaways would be known to the Japanese anyway. There is only one shipping channel into Brisbane, and they were sure that the Japanese would have extensive charts. These would’ve been gathered before the war while Japanese cargo ships regularly carried cargo in and out of Brisbane.
Knowing the shipping routes, it would be a simple exercise for the Japanese intelligence to estimate where shore defences would most likely be located. Tom arranged for the Navy to take him on board for a journey between where they met incoming convoys and the Brisbane River.
This survey journey took place on Tuesday after Bill arrived. The first task he needed Bill for was to make a list of the photographic equipment he needed.
Jill would use her talents to make sure it was all available within days. Tom become amazed at what Jill could organise. He often wondered if Jill knew there was a war on and led to equipment being in short supply. If Jill asked for material, Jill got equipment. The acquisition of a truck and small boat created no problems for Jill.
The rest of that week the unit worked together and settled into their new roles. It was decided that they should wear army style work wear, and they were given “All Area” passes. This allowed them to enter restricted areas at any time. The unit was given the imposing name of “Ministry Communications Unit.”
They all now signed the Official Secrets Act and to make their job easier when moving around they were given talks on a broad range of military subjects covering all three services. They needed to be able to recognise all badges of rank for both Australian forces as well as American forces. They also needed to know operational requirements of the Navy as well as the army.
Their quarters at Eagle Farm consisted of a separate room for each person with shared toilets and showers except for Jill, who had her own. Joe had a room, although he usually stayed at home when not required. In the office block, they all had their workspace.
Alf was allocated an area allotted for his truck. This would be where he parked it, and could do any services that the army didn’t do. He also used a general store room that he stored any timber or other supplies that may be needed.
Bill had a comprehensive workshop where he could store all his equipment and prepare the film stock. All the processing of the film would be carried out at the Milton Kodak Laboratories.
The film, by its inflammable nature, was required to be stored in a special fireproof vault that somehow Jill found.
An American Air Force unit, being next to the Eagle Farm compound was ideal for meals. Jill arranged for breakfast and dinner to be taken at their Officers Mess while, lunch was sandwiches that Alf would collect after breakfast. They often joked about Alf being probably the only driver who ate in an Officer’s mess anywhere in the world. Jill had also arranged for tea making facilities to be available at their compound.
They started the day that they were to have their first journey with the Navy, by having the whole unit being assembled on the Hamilton wharf.
This was the same day that their cameraman, Fred Williams, joined them from the south coast. He signed the “Official Secrets Act” paperwork on the dock. Their vessel, a harbour tug, usually travelled through the channel with every convoy in the case of an incident.
As they departed the port, they looked at Fort Lytton on the southern side of the river. The fort had been erected to protect Brisbane from the Russians in the 1870s. The tugs captain pointed that the North West shipping channel ran from the Brisbane River to Caloundra. After leaving the river, the channel runs northeast to around Cowan Cowan on Moreton Island, and then it turns North West to Bribie Island where it then rounds Wickham Point at Caloundra and heads out to sea.
They saw defences at Cowan Cowan and again at Skirmish point on the Southern end of Bribie Island, and again towards the northern end of Bribie.
At the high points of Caloundra, they could see lots of activity and undoubtedly, a lookout or two. The tug captain told them of the trenches, barbed wire and other measures that extent to well past Currimundi.
On the return journey, they observed the tight formation of the ships in the convoy, and how the escorts weaved in front of the convoy. This was to make sure that no submarines were amongst them. The same procedure took place at the rear of the convoy.
Tom thought that the journey well worthwhile, but he knew a lot more knowledge of the defences would be needed. Before the planning of the projects could start he needed to be more familiar with all the activities around the Caloundra and Bribie Island regions.
A two-day fact-finding mission was arranged to take place on the Wednesday and Thursday of that week.
Tom wanted to have the cameras rolling by the following Tuesday. Meanwhile, there were meetings to be had with the printed press, as well as with the two newsreel companies.
Tuesday morning Tom met with the editors of the two local newspapers and explained his mission to them. They both agreed they would take and publish the articles Joe would write and give them by-lines of a staff journalist. They also knew that being a War Cabinet mission, secrecy of the source along with the need not to alter the transcripts were vital.
After lunch, Tom arranged for the team to meet at the Breakfast Creek Hotel. This was a “getting to know you” exercise. Tom stressed the importance of their job and he could take the luxury of relaxing for the first time since he had run into David. In only eighteen days the unit developed from a concept into a fully functional branch of the defence ministry. Jill commented that, in all her years in public service, she had seen nothing happen so fast.
At the beginning of a semester at the University, Tom had used the following exercise many times. It involved getting everyone to tell their life story to the group. They adjourned to a private room that Jill had organised and with jugs of beer on the table and a supply of nibbles Tom started the ball rolling.
“After I gained my degree at the University of New South Wales, I started out my working career as a cadet journalist with the Cumberland group in Parramatta. As a young man I met my wife, and we had two lovely daughters within two years. I became a feature editor for the whole group in less than ten years. When I was preparing an article to focus on the benefits of the new Harbour Bridge, I happened to stand right in front of the official party. I was amazed at the audacity of Captain de-Grout in cutting the ribbon. This led me to think words could never adequately describe the mood and reactions of the Premier and all the official party. The looks of amazement mixed with anger could not be captured in words alone. This led me to think about exploring the possibilities of working with film.”
“The following year I became editor of the Daily Telegraph and even though I enjoyed the work, I still had this nagging feeling about the inadequacy of the printed word.”
“I stayed there for three years before I joined the Cinesound Company as a journalist working on the scripts for newsreels. This led me to become a producer supervising the story choice and managing the film crews for them.”
“It was about this time that my marriage collapsed, probably because of the long and odd hours I worked, and it left me with the task of raising two teenage daughters by myself.”
“I realised that to bring up the girls, my life needed to be more organised, and I needed to be home far more than in the past. It was around this time that the media studies faculty at the University of New South Wales was put into place. I applied to join this faculty and became the first media lecturer.”
“War came along, and the girls were now young women. They both joined the WRAAC on the same day and now drive staff cars around Sydney.”
“About a month ago I was in Sydney for a meeting when I ran into David Millar, whom I had known from my student days. David suggested we have a few drinks, and it was during this time that the formation of this unit developed. David went back to Canberra and asked me to put a proposal together. Within two days David had presented my proposal to the Cabinet and Cabinet approved it unanimously.”
Jill was next to telling her story. She was apprehensive at first being acutely aware of her husband’s position and careful not to infer that her position in the public service had anything to do with her husband’s station in life.
“I was born in Sydney and spent most of my teenage years at the beach. I love the surf, and I am extremely motivated to be the best of whatever endeavour I undertake.”
“I went straight from high school into the public service as a clerk. I noticed those around me who sought a career in the public service had university degrees. This led me to enrol in a business studies program with a major in government studies.”
“An opportunity arose to transfer to Canberra that I jumped at. After all, Canberra was the place for an ambitious public servant to be.
Canberra was good for me as I started to get promotions even though still studying for my degree.”
“Canberra was also good for me as this is where I met my husband, Bob, a cadet at the Duntroon Military College. We married later that year and made a firm commitment not to start a family until later on.”
“Bob was more of an administrative officer and as it turned out the army is short of young administrators. They had plenty of leaders and field officers but, short of those with highly developed administrative skills. This was good for us as it meant Lieutenant, and then Captain and finally Major Robertson worked at Army Headquarters in Canberra.”
PROJECT ORION: WE COME IN PEACE (WITH NUCLEAR BOMBS!)
[DECLASSIFIED IN 1979]
It could have been just like the movies. Specifically, the soppy sci-fi melodramas of the 1950s, those humorless, grim-faced sagas of men (always white Americans), square-jawed and broad of shoulder, who faced that Great Unknown, outer space (cue the reverb) with stoicism and Yankee guts. The troupe of six to twelve individuals were usually clad in faded blue jumpsuits (probably because they were all of military bent, possibly US Air Force)—no space suits or helmets for these guys; worrying about decompression is for sissies. These were steely-eyed, anvil-chinned rocket men. The heroes would walk up a ramp or climb a ladder into the great, gleaming, cigar-shaped silver rocketship (a long-lost term widely used in the early 1950s) without assistance or fanfare—in that sunny postwar era, it took only a handful of servicemen and a few elderly scientists to launch a manned rocket. Once inside, the crewmen would close a submarine-style hatch, strap themselves into great steel chairs, take one last look around their girder-festooned, capacious cabin (1950s rocketship flight decks were the size of your average New York bachelor pad and built like battleships), nod silently to the eldest of the bunch (usually wearing colonel's eagles), who would then push the button. This was inevitably a large red push button, marked in true military parlance with something like "IGNITE ROCKETS" or more simply "FIRE!" and off they would go into the Wild Blue Yonder, while on the ground (in a similarly military posture, perhaps within a Quonset hut in New Mexico), a few worried guys in white lab coats watched a twelve-inch radar screen with a huge white dot ascending. A handful of servicemen usually stood nearby, looking vacuously at meaningless blinking lights dancing on their consoles. A single computer, the size of a small RV, would click and whir nearby. This was Space Command (or some other imagined, militarized NASA precursor) after all.
Upon reaching space, the colonel would grasp an ice cream cone–sized microphone cabled to the control panel, and as he looked in awe at a receding Earth on the giant "televisor" screen, he'd announce in dour tones, "This is spaceship X-1. We are in outer space." It was all very dramatic and thematically colorless. If you don't believe me, check out the classic 1950s cinematic space extravaganzas The Conquest of Space or Destination Moon, staples of the genre. Be sure to watch closely during the launch scenes, as the actors' faces are distorted by the horrifying, and as yet little understood, g-forces of launch. Within moments the 737-sized, single-stage craft was in space—no dawdling in orbit—heading in a straight line for the moon or Mars. It's all very humbling and fun, in a deadly serious fashion.
To be fair to the pioneering producers of these epic motion picture dramas, little was known of spaceflight before the 1960s, and sci-fi movie budgets were puny. Few movie studios took the genre seriously, and it's amazing that these innovative moviemakers pulled off what they did, given the general lack of respect these drive-in, Saturday matinee potboilers gained for them.2 But as we now know, the dramatic scenario outlined above is not exactly how human spaceflight turned out.
But it could have been.
The Apollo lunar landing program, initiated shortly after these types of films were made, mandated a different approach. NASA's moon rocket, Wernher von Braun's masterpiece, would be a multistage affair, operating right at the edge of its weight-lifting capability. NASA's first plan was to ascend directly to the moon, land, then, after a suitable period of exploration, return to Earth, shedding stages at appropriate junctures. But this brute-force methodology would have required a truly massive rocket (it was to be called Nova, and was much larger than its successor, the Saturn V), well beyond the means at hand. A bit more planning and a lot of innovative thinking resulted in the moon program we all remember, with the still-massive 363-foot Saturn V rocket propelling a tiny capsule and lander to the moon, of which only the thirteen-foot-wide capsule returned. It took hundreds of thousands of people to build it, thousands to launch and operate it, and somewhere north of twenty billion 1960s dollars to finance it. Apollo was a far cry from the rocketships of the movies.
But there were alternative plans for a massive, battleship-sized single-stage spacecraft that could have flown to the moon and beyond. In its ultimate form, this behemoth would have dwarfed the motion picture versions. A hundred or more crewmen, leaning back in space-age versions of Barcaloungers, would have departed Earth with enough fuel, life support, and supplies to reach the moon, Mars, or even Jupiter and Saturn within months. Once in space the crew would have unbelted themselves and had far more room to drift, eat, work, and sleep than the International Space Station and even most modern submarines offer. It would have been like a well-appointed office complex in space, a true space liner—this majestic craft could have unlocked the entire solar system to exploration within the decade. And best of all? It was atomic.
The massive spaceship was called Project Orion (no relation to the modern shuttle-replacing spacecraft beyond the cool name), and it would have been a nuclear-powered behemoth. Orion was first formally conceptualized in a 1955 study by Stanislaw Ulam, a Polish American mathematician who was part of the Manhattan Project in WWII, and Cornelius Everett, working from notions that Ulam had first pondered soon after WWII. Besides working on the bombs dropped on Japan, Ulam was, along with Edward Teller, a prime mover on America's first hydrogen bomb project. Soon after completing his work on H-bombs, Ulam formalized his thoughts about nuclear rocket propulsion. Other work was being done on atomic rockets, but was less dramatic—these projects involved superheating a fuel mass, such as liquid hydrogen, inside a fission reactor to eject it at high speeds out of the rocket nozzle. While much more efficient than the chemical rockets being designed by von Braun and others, it was not the massive leap in propulsion that would take humanity to the stars. Ulam had a different idea—nuclear pulse propulsion, which was not fully declassified until 1979.3 From the abstract:
Repeated nuclear explosions outside the body of a projectile are considered as providing means to accelerate such objects to velocities of the order of 106 cm/sec.4
Yes, that's right. Rather than fiddling around with rapidly expanding heated gasses with a nuclear reactor, Ulam took the most direct path to high energy release: nuclear explosions. Ulam had been mulling this over for more than a decade, reasoning that chemical rockets were terribly constrained by both the mass of the fuels and the temperatures at which they could realistically operate. Other proposals to detonate tiny nukes inside combustion chambers (one proposal suggested a chamber diameter of 130 feet, or almost four times the diameter of the Saturn V), while an improvement over chemical rockets, were deemed impractical, and did not offer a large enough increase in performance to impress Ulam. But what if the combustion chamber could be eliminated altogether and a small nuke simply detonated in open space? A percentage of the energy released by a reasonably sized nuclear explosion—not specified in the paper, but probably on the order of a half to one kiloton (about 10 percent that of the Hiroshima bomb)—would nudge a nearby spacecraft with propulsive force that, while brief, would be enormous.
Ulam characterized the spacecraft as an unmanned thirty-three-foot diameter, disk-shaped ship, with a mass of twelve to twenty tons. It would experience an acceleration of up to 10,000 g (the Apollo astronauts, riding atop the Saturn V, maxed out at just under 5 g, though the rocket was capable of more)—hence the unmanned nature of the design. Human occupants would have been turned into puddles of red jelly within moments. This robotic probe would carry dozens to hundreds of bombs, to be released at roughly one-second intervals (accompanied by a disk of plastic or container of water that would vaporize when the nuke ignited, to enhance the effect), and the resulting force of these continual explosions would propel the craft forward—right now.
Ulam was concerned about the heat impinging on the base of the craft, and suggested that a magnetic field might help to shield the spacecraft from the high-energy, one-millisecond flashes.
This was about as far as he got—it was a short study, but an intriguing one, and did not go unnoticed. In 1955 a new company called General Atomics was founded. It was a subdivision of General Dynamics, a huge defense contractor and builder of military submarines. General Atomics would specialize in efforts to harness the recently liberated power of the atom—in effect, their mission would be to find profit in nondestructive uses of atomic fission. The company became involved in a number of ventures, including a commercial nuclear reactor power generator, which was widely deployed. They also became interested in Ulam's classified paper (to which the chiefs of the company were apparently privy), and decided to pursue a serious study of the completely theoretical ideas within. Thus was born Project Orion, the nuclear pulse spaceship.
Not long after we were comfortably housed in Flanders, Judith and I attended church with Matilda, Baldwin's only surviving daughter, and her ladies. Matilda was a tiny thing, but a spirited little bundle of energy nonetheless, and very pretty. She would have fit under Judith's chin. But she was the pride and joy of her parents, well-educated and very conscious of her lineage; her mother was the king of France's sister, and Baldwin's ancestors have ruled Flanders since the ninth century.
It had been raining that day and the sun was just peeking from the clouds as we finished the services in the church of St. Donation, which stood only about 400 meters from the castle. As we were leaving, Matilda led her little procession; I was far back in the crowd when the commotion began. Women were screaming, arms were waving, and people were pushing into each other trying to fall back. By the time I elbowed my way through the door, craning my neck to see over all the heads, Matilda was lying face-down in a puddle of mud. She was sobbing for all the world like she had just taken a beating. The poor girl was covered from head to toe with muck, and her beautiful dress was ruined. As she pushed herself up by the arms, I shook the girl next to me.
"It was him," she sobbed, pointing. Looking up, I saw a somewhat disheveled man riding away. There was no time to catch up with him—not with poor Matilda in need of assistance. I ran to her side and rolled her into my arms, picking the unresisting girl up like she was a child. She put her arms around my neck, smearing mud and tears all over my tunic.
"Take...take me home," she coughed between sobs. She didn't need to tell me that!
By now we had drawn a crowd, but they all parted respectfully as I carried Bruges' favorite daughter back to her father's castle. I heard the murmurs as we passed by.
"William the Bastard," said somebody.
"The Duke," said another. "He must be punished."
"Poor girl," said a third. "He just grabbed her by the back of the neck and threw her in the mud."
"He beat her!"
"No, he kicked her!"
"He rolled her in the mud then got on his horse."
I was shocked. That was the Duke of Normandy?
Murmuring words of encouragement, I carried Matilda up the hill to the castle. We passed between rows of soldiers and into the citadel where her ladies ran ahead of me to prepare her chamber. I laid Matilda on a pile of covers and she rolled on her side, hiding her face. Her father rushed in the door and knelt by her bedside.
"Oh my poor child. What happened?"
At that, she sat up and threw her arms around Baldwin's neck, covering him with mud, too. After a few moments of sobbing, she pulled herself together.
"Oh father. It was Duke William. He was waiting for me at the church. When I came out, he accused me of humiliating him! I told him I would not lower myself to marry a mere bastard, when he grabbed me and threw me into the mud. He pushed me back and forth until I was totally covered then got on his horse and rode away."
She took a cloth from one of her ladies and blew her nose in it.
"Outrageous!" spit the Count. "I will have his head for this!"
Turning Matilda over to her women, he rose and tried to look dignified. But he was all bespattered like myself, and decided to leave the room, taking the witnesses with him. He put an arm around my shoulder.
"Thank you, Tostig. Poor girl." He tried to straighten out his tunic then gave up. "Right before you came to Flanders, Duke William sent an embassy asking for Matilda's hand in marriage. You can imagine how quickly she sent them packing. William was beneath her station, and a bastard on top of everything else. She is not shy, my little Matilda!" He laughed briefly. "But we weren't expecting this!"
The more he thought about it, his face became redder and redder.
"How dare he shame my little girl! Come, Tostig. We cannot let this go unavenged!"
There is one thing I can say about Count Baldwin; he is a very decisive man. He wasted no time in calling together his scribes and composing letters to his knights and captains. He summoned his household steward and demanded an accounting of all supplies. He called for his banker so he could determine how many funds he could raise. He worked long into the night.
The following day, as Baldwin was busily giving orders, Matilda walked into the great hall, trailing her women. There were no signs of the previous afternoon's dishevelment; in fact, she had regained her proud bearing. Everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at her.
"Father, I have made a decision," she said evenly. "You may stop preparations for war. I have decided I will marry Duke William of Normandy."
You could have heard a feather drop in the room. We were all stunned into silence.
"You what?" her father finally muttered.
"I will have no one else."
Apparently used to Matilda's strange behavior, her father leaned back and put the quill down.
"And what has brought about this change of mind?" He crossed his arms over his chest.
She appeared to think for a moment. "It must be a brave and powerful man who would dare do such a thing, right in the middle of your territory." A brief smile flicked across her face. "I understand him better, now."
Baldwin looked around at his courtiers. "There you have it. Cancel our preparations." I detected a bit of sarcasm in his voice, but he was quickly obeyed. He held out a hand to Matilda.
"Come, my child. Sit beside me."
Someone brought a chair and Matilda obliged, taking her father's hand.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" he said gently. "He may prove to be a dangerous husband."
"I will manage him. After all, he really didn't hurt me."
Baldwin didn't even try to reason with her. Given time, he told me later, she might change her mind again.
Saying goodbye to the company commanders was difficult. Saying goodbye to First Sergeant Tanneyhill was especially difficult. Conor promised Chaplain Yancey that he would attend as many of his services as possible, as he had been doing, and Conor thanked him for his support and friendship. The brigade commander, Colonel Baker, agreed that Captain Willingham would be the best choice as Conor’s replacement, and the three of them met for two hours to transition the regiment.
In the late evening, Conor was walking the regimental line with Captain Willingham when three soldiers called out from their trench.
“We hear you’re leaving us, sir. Before you get away, we’d like for you to join us down here.”
Willingham and Conor jumped down into the trench with the three young soldiers. One man reached into his coat pocket and brought out a handful of shelled, roasted peanuts. He passed three of the peanuts to Conor, three to the others, and they toasted each other by tapping the shells together. “To the Thirty-eighth Georgia,” they all repeated.
The peanuts were damp and stale, but Conor didn’t care. It was the purest, most unselfish, most cherished gift he could remember.
“We’ll miss you, sir. We walked a lot of miles together, didn’t we?”
“We did. And I appreciate what you men have meant to this regiment, and to me personally. I’ll ask you to give Captain Willingham the same great support you gave me.”
“We will, sir. Good luck to you.”
Conor mentioned to Willingham as they finished the inspection of the line, “Where did we get such men as these? How could I have been so blessed to command them? To have gone into battle with them, and bled with them, and watched so many of them die? These men have carried me from the field after being wounded. I have seen them march for days on dusty roads, wade fast-flowing, rain-swollen rivers, trudge through hard rain and thick mud, and lie down on the grass and be asleep in a matter of seconds. I have looked into their eyes just before we faced an enemy of superior strength and seen their determination, and knew they would be right there with me as we moved forward each time, every time. I have watched them freezing in the cold, half-starved, homesick, lovesick, physically sick, and yet they manned their posts. I have written to their mothers of their astonishing bravery and of how proud they should be of their dead heroic sons. I have listened to their ribald humor, their cursing, their sarcasm, and their prayers. I know that no matter how long I live, no matter what else I do in this life, I will never see their equal again. Just where did we get such men as these?”
Afterwards, when he got back to his hut and thought about those young, undernourished, loyal soldiers so eagerly sharing their few remaining peanuts with him, an act of extraordinary generosity matched only by their magnificent valor, Conor sat on the ground and wept.
“Everybody came to the stable not only to celebrate our marriage, but the end of the terrible years of war. In my excitement I wasn’t hungry enough to do the meal justice but my eyes feasted on the spread. I couldn’t remember when I had last seen such an amount of dishes: plates of ham, preserves of walnuts, zucchini, aubergines and mushrooms, wild salad leaves from the meadows, sprinkled with grated truffles, roasted pigeons, pork, chickens and a whole boar. The wine flowed, faces grew redder, jokes became bawdier and then the music started. My father lifted his accordion onto his shoulder and after a rusty start, the music sang into the air. The planks that had served as tables were cleared from their supports, the leftovers tidied away into baskets to be carried home by our guests and the dancing started.
‘You’ll have to show me the steps,’ my husband whispered to me as we moved into the empty circle of smiling faces. ‘The dances are different from the ones I know.’
He clutched onto me as if he was about to fall and our first waltz wasn’t as smooth as it could have been, but it didn’t matter as the floor soon filled up with other dancers and we were swept round the room.
‘Thirsty work, this dancing,’ Norman stopped and a couple bumped into us. ‘And my leg is hurting.’ He led me from the dance floor to the corner of the stable where most of the men were congregated round barrels of wine. Some of them were already unsteady on their feet and they clapped him on the shoulders, congratulating him and pumping his hand up and down again. I watched him knock back a couple of beakers and then I joined Mamma. Just for today she had changed out of her black mourning clothes, worn since Davide’s death, but her best Sunday frock of blue polka dot hung off her and her face was sad. As I went over, she patted the empty chair beside her and I took her hand in mine. The music was too loud for talk but we both understood what lay in our hearts.”
Norman and I were escorted to our bedroom with songs and laughter. The bed was strewn with flowers and my mother had laid out her best nightdress for me on the pillow.
‘Carry her in, Norman, carry her in,’ our guests shouted.
Norman was embarrassed too and whispered that he couldn’t wait for them to leave, to be alone with me. But when we were on our own, I was suddenly afraid, remembering my mother’s words by the river.
‘I’ll leave you for a few minutes, Ines,’ Norman said.
He closed the door and I undressed, shivering a little in the cooler night air. I lowered the flame on the lamp and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. There had been no mirror in the bedroom I had shared with Nonna and I had never seen my naked reflection. My breast were full and the triangle of hair between my legs was obvious in the gloomy light.”
June 15, 1865
Lily sat on her horse looking intently south, up the valley. The mountains blocking their path to the west, endless prairies as far as the eye could see behind them. They had joined a large wagon train at Fort Laramie and were into their second day on the Oregon Trail. The train was turning right, headed to the north, away from the valley and toward the mountain passes discovered by the mountain men decades before.
“What’s this valley called?” Lily asked the scout riding alongside.
“Doesn’t have a name I know of, ma’am. Maybe Chugwater? I’ve heard some call it that after Chugwater Creek way up the valley,” pointing to the south and east of where they sat.
“How far to Denver City from here?”
“Denver City’s about due south of here, ma’am. If you were a bird, you could fly there in a little less than two hundred miles.”
“Thanks. And the name’s Lily, not ma’am. Lily Smoot.”
She trotted over to the wagon. Gus was driving. John swaying up and down in a Cheyenne cradleboard on his back. Lincoln was riding alongside. As in the previous train, he had taken the job of getting children up and down the back of the wagon to ride with Auggy the bear.
“This is it, Gus,” she said.
“Look all around. This is the valley Iliff told us about. The greatest ranchland ever.”
The two men looked around at the gentle hills to the base of the mountains, the trees green in the few creek beds to the south of them. A sea of ravines hidden among the hills all the way to the looming mountains in the western distance.
“Must be quite a sight when it’s covered with buffalo,” Lincoln said.
“It’d be an even better sight covered with our cattle,” Gus said.
“Iliff told us we wouldn’t last a week up here,” Lincoln said. “The Cheyenne and Sioux aren't even crazy about the wagon trains headed west through here, but they’ve agreed to give them free passage as long as nobody stays.”
As if on cue, two of the scouts trotted over.
“Gus,” one of them said. “Craziest thing. There’s a group of Indians approached us from the west when we made the turn to the north. The scouts said they came in peace. They asked if we had a wagon with a big black bear on it.”
Lily looked out to the west. Toward the magnificence of the mountains. And Mount Laramie towering over all. On a hill above the pattern of threaded ravines, about two miles away, she could just make out a small group that looked to be two of the wagon train’s scouts with three Indians.
“What’d you tell them?” Gus asked.
“I said we’d go look and see.”
“You got anybody who’ll drive our wagon for a while?” Gus asked.
“Sure. You going out to see what they want.”
“We know what they want,” Lily said.
WINNER! MILITARY HISTORY BOOK OF THE YEAR. Book 3 of the Historical Documentary Series on the Cold War. Order Now!
The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separates North and South Korea and is the most defended border in the world.
Both sides have dug their heels in and fortified the DMZ with defensive positions, mines and booby traps, missiles, and soldiers as they remain vigilant for the recommencement of a war that never ended.
˃˃˃ READ ABOUT THE DANGEROUS JOB OF OUR SOLDIERS IN KOREA ON THE DMZ!
The soldiers were responsible for enforcing the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War. The North Koreans violated it almost daily sending spies, marauders, hit squads, and ambush patrols into the southern controlled portion of the DMZ in their never-ending effort to destabilize South Korea and cause its collapse. Their blatant violations of the agreement has left a bloody trail of dead bodies that includes many American soldiers. This book takes the reader on a journey through the history of the Cold War and the defense of the DMZ from the perspective of nine American veterans, and eleven tours, who served in different capacities in South Korea from 1962 through 1991.
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