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23 April, 2021

Quiet Courage: Forgotten heroes of World War Two

ANZAC Day in Australia is a time for remembering and honouring those who served, and especially those who gave their lives during times of conflict. A new book by Queensland author, Tony Matthews, now highlights the importance of those wonderful men and women whose names have been lost in time

1. Author Tony Matthews with his latest book, Quiet Courage.

In his book, Quiet Courage — Forgotten Heroes of World War Two, Tony Matthews, describes some of the most compelling stories of heroism of the entire war.

They wanted neither fame nor glory. They were men and women, many of them civilians, whose compassion for others manifested itself in many unobtrusive ways.

Not one of them believed that they would one day be thrust into a situation where they would have to choose between saving the lives of others or simply walking away and saving their own. Yet when the challenges came they could not ignore the almost impossible dangers confronting them – even if it meant giving their own lives.

Military conflict is the essence of violence in its most malignant form but it is also the source and inspiration for countless acts of self-sacrifice which all too often fade into obscurity. We remember the horrors of war and the vast numbers of dead and their sacrifices, but rarely do we cherish the acts of individual bravery and selflessness which inspired us to keep faith and to continue the struggle through to the end. Quiet Courage tells the individual stories of astonishing acts of courage and self-sacrifice which have now largely been lost to history.

Lieutenant Commander Arthur Henry Callaway, reading the signal of congratulations sent by Winston Churchill to the ship’s company of the Lady Shirley following the sinking of U-111. (Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial).

Tony’s new book includes the stories of some of the most spontaneously courageous men and women of the Second World War. They came from all walks of life – farmers, businessmen, teachers, nurses or farmhands.

One was a plucky ship’s stewardess who demonstrated such immediate gallantry in the face of imminent death that her actions deserve never to be forgotten. Yet sadly they were. Few people today have ever heard of May Owen. She lived quietly and carried on her life almost as if she were invisible.

Tony also tells the amazing story of the converted trawler, Lady Shirley, commanded by an Australian naval officer, Lieutenant Commander Arthur Callaway. When first launched this little boat was never designed to be a U-boat killer. However, when pushed, the Lady Shirley was not only ready to take on one of Hitler’s deadliest weapons, it was also to provide the Allies with one of the most important lifesaving naval intelligence coups of the war.

A chapter with the unusual title of:  Look Up at Sparrowfart tells the incredible story of another Australian, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Anderson, V.C., and his men.

Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Groves Wright Anderson, V.C., M.C. (Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial).

No one could have foreseen the defeat and the coming massacre or the terrible cost in blood, but the heroic withdrawal to the small Malayan village of Parit Sulong will always be remembered as one of the most poignant and courageous actions of any war.

Gravestones on the Garbage Tip – the Heroes of Cowra, is another extraordinary chapter in Tony’s new book. It wasn’t just sheer guts and determination that kept two old soldiers at their precarious post, even when being overrun by hundreds of knife-wielding, suicidal Japanese prisoners-of-war.

Private Benjamin Gower Hardy, G.C. and Private Ralph Jones, G.C., heroes of the Cowra P.O.W. breakout. (Courtesy of The Australian War Memorial).

There was just one thing on the minds of these two doomed ‘Dad’s Army’ soldiers – to defend their Vickers machine-gun to the end and to prevent it from being turned murderously on their mates.

In another chapter Tony tells the story of James Ward, the New Zealand pilot who diced with death by walking out onto the wing of his burning bomber at 13,000 feet in a desperate attempt to save his aircraft and his crew.

James Ward knew that his chances of success were minimal. No sane person was going to climb out onto the wing of an aircraft, in the pitch dark of night, flying at over a hundred miles an hour, in an attempt to put out an engine fire. Yet he did.

James Allen Ward, V.C. (Courtesy of the Alexander Turnbull Library, New Zealand).

Another chapter describes the story of Margaret Anderson and Vera Torney, two young Australian nurses who found themselves on the deck of the ship Empire Star as waves of Japanese aircraft bombed the vessel and strafed the decks with machine-gun fire.

It was at this very moment that both nurses, displaying unbelievable gallantry, actually used their own bodies to protect the patients under their care. The decks of the ship were being shredded with bullets, but these two nurses completely ignored the danger to themselves so that they could protect those most in need.

Quiet Courage – Forgotten Heroes of World War Two, is a book about thoughtfulness, intelligent actions and an enviable capacity for bravery. The book has been published by Big Sky Publishing and distributed by Simon and Schuster. The book is available through your favourite bookstore or can be order online at:

Staff Nurses, Margaret Anderson, G.M. and Veronica ‘Vera’ Torney, M.B.E. (Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial).


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