Books on the Officer Cadet School, Portsea

Loyalty and Service

Loyalty and Service by Neville Lindsay.

The need for adequate training for the Australian permanent officer corps was the subject of wide consensus from the mid-1880s, but practicalities precluded consummation of this goal until the expansion under Universal Service brought establishment of the Royal Military College Duntroon in 1911.

This satisfied the need until the establishment of a substantial Regular Army after World War 2, followed by reintroduction of National Service in 1951 with a consequential expansion of the Citizen Military Forces. These all demanded an officer structure which could not be met through the four-year Duntroon pipeline.

The Officer Cadet School Portsea, with an initial six month course, was the solution to bridge a critical deficiency in regimental officers. But the ongoing expansion of the Regular Army, and its widening commitments in South East Asia, created a longer term demand which outlived the National Service requirement: an expansion of the horizons of Portsea’s graduates as an integral part of the career officer mainstream led to extension of the course to a full year to match that of Duntroon without the latter’s tertiary academic content.

The overall result saw the Portsea graduates take their full place in the command, training and administration of the Army, graduates serving with distinction at home, abroad and at war in all arms of the service. But after nearly thirty years of operation, the opening of the Australian Defence Force Academy to provide a tri-service college for academic studies reduced the role of Duntroon to that of Portsea, and both obviously could not survive. As the oldest institution, Duntroon remained, with the Officer Cadet School tradition absorbed into it, just as both their graduates had merged in the Army. The spirit of Loyalty and Service lives on.

A Collective Memory

A Collective Memory: Life as an Officer Cadet at OCS Portsea: July 1983-June 1984 Revised and Expanded by Phil Watson

A collective memory of life as an Army Officer Cadet at OCS Portsea from July 1983-June 1984.

This book is available in PDF format and can be downloaded here.

Ore read it online here.



The Last Knight

The Last Knight: A Biography of General Sir Phillip Bennett AC, KBE, DSO by Robert Lowry (OCS Class of Dec 66).

While this book is mainly about General Bennett broader career, his association with OCS goes to his time as Senior Instructor and then the first Chief Instructor from 1962 to 1965.

General Sir Phillip Bennett is a good example of what makes a great leader. With a good combination of innate personal qualities, education, broad experience and the hardening that comes with survival on the battlefield he
prospered. As a young officer he survived the first and most perilous year of the Korean War, including the Battle of Kapyong. He also withstood the rigours of battalion command in South Vietnam in 1968-69, including the Battle of Coral, one of the most intense operations of the war in South Vietnam for the Australian forces. Bennett’s story is not only one of great battles and heroic exploits, but also a story of the contest for
`policy dominance’between the civil servants and the military leadership illustrating what was involved in forging the foundations of the Australian Defence Force we have today. He was also a marker of changing times as the first post-Second World War officer and the last Korean War veteran to reach the most senior ranks as well as the last Chief of the General Staff to be knighted. He was the last knight to command the Australian Defence Force. Phillip Bennett’s story is characterised by dedication, tragedy, luck, and great achievement. His career spanned the evolution of the post-Second World War Army and the bureaucratic tensions that followed the demise of the separate departments of Navy, Army and Air Force, the centralisation of defence policymaking within the Department of Defence, and the formation of the Australian Defence Force. This is his life; the story of The Last Knight.

Books on life after Portsea

Pilgrim Days

Pilgrim Days: From Vietnam to the SAS by Dr Alastair MacKenzie, a NZ graduate of the OCS Class of Dec 67.

‘We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go, Always a little further; it may be, Beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow.’

 If there was ever anyone who went a little further, a little beyond, it was Alastair MacKenzie. In a career spanning 30 years, MacKenzie served uniquely with the New Zealand Army in Vietnam, the British Parachute Regiment, the British Special Air Service (SAS), the South African Defence Force’s famed ParaBats, the Sultan of Oman’s Special Forces and a host of private security agencies and defence contractors.

 MacKenzie lived the soldier’s life to the full as he journeyed ‘the Golden Road to Samarkand’. This extraordinary new work from the author of Special Force: The Untold Story of 22nd Special Air Service Regiment (SAS) vividly documents, in a detail that stuns, the experience of infantry combat in Vietnam, life with the Paras, the tempo of selection for UK Special Forces, covert SAS operations in South Armagh and SAS Counter Terrorist training on the UK mainland, vehicle-mounted Pathfinder Brigade insertions into Angola and maritime counter-terrorism work in Oman.

Canister! On! Fire!

Canister! on! Fire! Two-Volume Box Set by: Bruce Cameron – a graduate of the OCS Class June 1969.

Exceptional Two-Volume (One and Two) Box Set tells the little known story of the Australian tanks in the Vietnam War.

 “You can take all of the popular stuff that has been produced about our involvement in South Vietnam & none of them compare to your scholarship, passion for your subject or the sheer readability of your narrative.”

 Canister! On! Fire! tells the remarkable, but little known story of Australian tanks in the Vietnam War. Based on twelve years of research, including personal letters and diaries, extensive searches of official records and numerous interviews, this book brings to life a previously unheralded aspect of the conflict. It is the story of a select group of soldiers, both regular and conscript, serving their country against all odds.

 The 53-tonne Centurion tanks were not only involved in intense fighting in conjunction with infantry and artillery to capture enemy defences and defeat attacks, but also fought their own battles against enemy mines, ambushes, and an unforgiving terrain and climate.

 This book takes the reader inside the tanks to share the experiences of their crews in action in the jungle. We see the gunner, trying to survive the heat inside the turret, while identifying designated targets; the operator trying to maintain communications, while keeping the guns loaded; the driver, trying to see his way forward, while keeping his head down; and the commander, trying to locate enemy positions, while directing his driver and giving fire orders to his gunner. The account also reveals how the mechanics overcame extraordinary challenges to maintain the twenty-year-old tanks, while the field engineers risked their lives protecting them against mines.

 In 1968, the deployment of a squadron from 1st Armoured Regiment was controversial; their Centurions were considered totally unsuited to jungle warfare. Not only did the men and machines prove their worth, but they became an indispensable part of Australian combat operations. So much so, their subsequent withdrawal was equally as controversial as their deployment.

 This exciting and enthralling narrative deserves to be read, not only as a military history, but also as a contemporary account of the resolute attitude of Australian soldiers often asked to do the impossible.

Heads Up Gentlemen

Heads Up Gentlemen: A Life of Action and Adventure by Ben Lans (OCS Class Jun 69)

These are the memoirs of Ben Lans, who joined the Army as an officer cadet with little military background and a vague military ambition to work with soldiers and seek adventure. It is a story of action and adventure during postings at home, overseas and on operational deployments…of mateship developed through shared experiences and the bonds of comradeship found in the services. It is a story that shares personal moments and humour in an environment that promotes loyalty, lasting friendships and memorable events.

Ben shares special moments of his career as he develops from a young and inexperienced officer sent to serve on operations in South Vietnam, into a leader and training developer. In addition to his Australian regimental postings, he served with, and as part of, the British Forces in Singapore in the days immediately after its independence. He shares his experiences gained during those post-colonial days of Singapore, in the early 1970s, the dawn of the new Asian age, and during training in the deep jungles of the Malay Peninsula, where elephants and tigers survived to threaten the unwary soldier. Later, as an artillery analyst in the mid-1980s, seconded and fully accredited to work for the UK Ministry of Defence in London as principal adviser on Soviet and Warsaw Pact artillery to the UK Ministry of Defence, he describes his role as part of the intriguing world that was the western intelligence community during the Cold War.

These memoirs reflect the scale, danger, risks and satisfaction associated with the planning and execution of major expeditions, such as a survival exercise on the relatively untravelled Mitchell River from the Atherton Tablelands to the Gulf of Carpentaria and whitewater adventures on major east coast rivers such as a first descent of the Herbert River in North Queensland. Ben ‘s philosophy was to include as many of his soldiers as possible in an attempt to promote group dynamics and introduce an element of danger that was missing in the training methods of the day.

The memoirs feature a detailed and riveting story of adventure and survival on Tasmania’s Franklin River, in 1980, before the river became well known to adventurers and world famous for its environmental significance. A major part of the book is dedicated to the adventures and some of the near life and death experiences of the men who served in Ben’s Battery, in their attempt to paddle the river in three separate groups in the days when not a great deal was known of the savagery and remoteness of Tassie’s wild rivers, especially for a bunch of soldiers from Townsville in Far North Queensland. Such was the drawcard of Tasmania’s wild rivers that the Army allocated a troop of helicopters to support the activity, and Australia’s ‘outdoors industry’ provided generous sponsorship and equipment. The trip featured some spectacular rescues and most of the major newspapers on the east coast, including the Weekend Australian, featured detailed articles supported by photographic spreads.

Ben thrived as a field officer and many of the memoirs are first-hand accounts of working with, and learning from, the soldiers under his command during the various regimental and instructional postings. These memoirs reflect the challenges and satisfaction of a life in the military, and adeptly unravel the perceptions that many associate with people in uniform, tackling and sometime making fun of the ‘military-isms’ that abound about the Army and demonstrating to readers that the Army was, and probably remains, an organisation with everyday people who have real and everyday feelings and emotions.

From Vietnam to Timor

From Vietnam to Timor. Misfits, Missionary and Mercenary by Rob Patterson (OCS Class of Jun 69).

Biography of Rob Patterson who served with the Australian Army in Vietnam, retiring as a Major in 1989. Since then he has worked in Humanitarian Aid for Care Australia, the Red Cross and the United Nations. This work has taken him from Kurdistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Solomon Islands, PNG, and two periods in East Timor.

Exit Wounds

Exit Wounds by John Cantwell (OCS Class of Dec 81) and Greg Bearup.

Major General John Cantwell AO, DSC joined the Australian Army as a private in 1974. He served in the first Gulf War with the Coalition forces between 1990 and 1991, and in the second Gulf War in 2006 and 2007, where he was promoted to Deputy Chief of Army. In 2010 he served a twelve-month tour as the commander of Australian forces in Afghanistan. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross in the 2012 Australia Day Honours List. Cantwell retired from the Army in 2012 after 38 years of service. Co-writer Greg Bearup has been a feature writer at the Good Weekend for the past ten years and has twice been awarded a Walkley Award for his writing. In 2004/5 he took leave from his job and lived in Pakistan and filed for various newspapers including the Guardian. He also worked for the UN on various elections and lived in Syria, for the vote of Iraqi refugees, and Bamyan, in the remote mountains of Central Afghanistan.

‘This is my story, but it is also the story of thousands of Australian veterans from Iraq, East Timor, Afghanistan and other conflicts who bare similar emotional scars. This is what becomes of those men and women we send off to war, pay little attention to, then forget once they are home.’

As a country boy from Queensland, John Cantwell signed up to the army as a private and rose to the rank of major general. He was on the front line in 1991 as Coalition forces fitted bulldozer blades to tanks and buried alive Iraqi troops in their trenches. He fought in Baghdad in 2006 and saw what a car bomb does to a marketplace crowded with women and children. In 2010 he commanded the Australian forces in Afghanistan when ten of his soldiers were killed. He returned to Australia in 2011 to be considered for the job of chief of the Australian Army. Instead, he ended up in a psychiatric hospital.

Exit Wounds is the compassionate and deeply human account of one man’s tour of the War on Terror, the moving story of life on a modern battlefield: from the nightmare of cheating death in a minefield, to the poignancy of calling home while under rocket fire in Baghdad, to the utter despair of looking into the face of a dead soldier before sending him home to his mother. He has hidden his post traumatic stress disorder for decades, fearing it will affect his career.

Australia has been at war for the past twenty years and yet there has been no stand-out account from these conflicts—Exit Wounds is it. Raw, candid and eye-opening, no one who reads this book will be unmoved, nor forget its imagery or words.

Books on Military History

The Borneo Graveyard

The Borneo Graveyard – A Book by OCS Graduate John Tulloch (Dec 66). John Tulloch is a December 1966 graduate of OCS who has served in the New Zealand and British artillery.

Borneo, the land of the head hunters, was a World War II graveyard for POWs, internees, locals, Javanese and Japanese.

The narrative follows the raising of five Royal Artillery air defence regiments in 1939, their deployment in late 1942 to South East Asia, their short campaign in the Netherlands East Indies and eventual captivity as POWs in Java and North Borneo.

The account describes the invasion of Borneo and the subsequent four years of Japanese occupation.  It depicts the sadistic treatment of Australian, British, Dutch and Indian POWs in the various POW camps in North Borneo at Jesselton, Sandakan, Ranau, Labuan and Batu Lintang.  There were three Death Marches from Sandakan to Ranau.

The internee account covers the men, women and children from all over Borneo interned in Batu Lintang.  They experienced the unspeakable behaviour of the guards.  Several internees were killed or massacred trying to escape the Japanese regime or gratuitously executed before liberation.

The locals of Borneo suffered terribly.  Torture, executions and massacres occurred throughout. Malnutrition, starvation and death were endemic.  Tribes exacted their revenge and over 8,000 Japanese died during their withdrawals in Sabah.

The secretive Z Force gathered intelligence, trained local guerrilla fighters who harassed and exacted a heavy toll on the Japanese. The Australian military engaged in bitter fighting in the liberation of Borneo.

Finally, convalescence at Labuan followed by repatriation to the UK and the dreadful wall of silence experienced by so many of the returning FEPOWs and internees to the UK.

This disturbing history portrays the horror of the Japanese occupation of Borneo.

Operation Orders. The Experience of a Young Australian Army Officer 1963 to 1970 – by Pat Beale (Dec 58)

The author Pat Beale was the only Australian Major to be awarded the DSO medal during the Vietnam War. Early during the Vietnam War, as a member of AATTV Mike Force,  he commanded a half Battalion of Montagnards. French term Montagnard, meaning “People from the mountains” refers to an indigenous people group generally from the Central Highlands of Vietnam. A tough group of warriors who refused to take prisoners. Beale found it difficult to restain these soldiers from old tribe traditions of souveniring the ears from bodies of foe. He took part in the Battles at Dak Seang in Vietnam. Previous to Vietnam War, he was awarded the MC medal in Borneo during the Indonesian Confrontation in 1965 and saw operational service in Papua New Guinea. These Operations are covered in this book. After Vietnam he soldiered on for another 20 years the main highlight being the command of 1 RAR Townsville between 1978 and 1980. Prior to Peter Gosgrove taking Command in 1983.

This book gives a valuable insight into Australia’s military involvement in South-East Asia and Papua New Guinea as experienced by an infantry officer. He was involved in anti-terrorist activities in Malaysia, action in Borneo during Confrontation and then in Vietnam with a Special Forces unit.

General Peter Cosgrove said of this book:

This is a wonderful evocative account of soldiering in what now seems to be  a bygone era, when one could spend years of peacetime and operational service in Malaysia, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam. It is all brought to life by an author with an eye for detail, beauty and humour. Once again I could almost smell the jungle paths and the tropical vegetation. Pat Beale has given us a valuable glimpse of the human face of soldiering and warfare. The human aspect has not changed substantially over the centuries, even though the context of warfare changes. It is the reality of war and combat that should never be forgotten.

Tiger men: An Australian soldier’s secret war in Vietnam Hardcover – 1988 by Barry Petersen (Dec 54)

In 1963 Barry Peterson left Australia for Vietnam to train local tribes to defend their villages against the Vietcong. This is the story of those Truong Son, or “Tiger Men, ” who became the most respected and feared native forces in South Vietnam. But it is also the sad story of the defeat and destruction of the Montagnard culture and way of life, as Vietnamese and American leadership ultimately turned its back on its loyal supporters.