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The gripping true story of the woman who became the Gestapo's most wanted spyIn the early 1930s, Nancy Wake was a young woman enjoying a bohemian life in Paris. By the end of the Second World War, she was the Gestapo's most wanted person.
As a naïve, young journalist, Nancy Wake witnessed a horrific scene of Nazi violence in a Viennese street. From that moment, she declared that she would do everything in her power to rid Europe of the Nazis. What began as a courier job here and there became a highly successful escape network for Allied soldiers, perfectly camouflaged by Nancy's high-society life in Marseille.
Her network was soon so successful - and so notorious - that she was forced to flee France to escape the Gestapo, who had dubbed her "the white mouse" for her knack of slipping through its traps. But Nancy was a passionate enemy of the Nazis and refused to stay away. Supplying weapons and training members of a powerful underground fighting force, organising Allied parachute drops, cycling four hundred kilometres across a mountain range to find a new transmitting radio - nothing seemed too difficult in her fight against the Nazis. Peter FitzSimons reveals Nancy Wake's compelling story, a tale of an ordinary woman doing extraordinary things.
For fans of A Woman of No Importance and Code Name: Lise comes the true story behind the historical fiction novels Code Name Helène and Liberation.
The epic story of the Boer War and Harry 'Breaker' Morant: drover, horseman, bush poet - murderer or hero?
Most Australians have heard of the Boer War and of Harry 'Breaker' Morant, a figure who rivals Ned Kelly as an archetypal Australian folk hero. But Morant was a complicated man. Born in England and immigrating to Queensland in 1883, he established a reputation as a rider, polo player and poet who submitted ballads to The Bulletin and counted Banjo Paterson as a friend. Travelling on his wits and the goodwill of others, Morant was quick to act when appeals were made for horsemen to serve in the war in South Africa. He joined up, first with the South Australian Mounted Rifles and then with a South African irregular unit, the Bushveldt Carbineers.
The adventure would not go as Breaker planned. In October 1901 Lieutenant Harry Morant and two other Australians, Lieutenants Peter Handcock and George Witton, were arrested for the murder of Boer prisoners. Morant and Handcock were court-martialled and executed in February 1902 as the Boer War was in its closing stages, but the debate over their convictions continues to this day.
With his masterful command of story, Peter FitzSimons takes us to the harsh landscape of southern Africa and into the bloody action of war against an unpredictable force using modern commando tactics. The truths FitzSimons uncovers about 'the Breaker' and the part he played in the Boer War are astonishing - and finally we will know if the Breaker was a hero, a cad, a scapegoat or a criminal.
The iconic Australian exploration story - brought to life by Peter FitzSimons, Australia's storyteller.
'They have left here today!' he calls to the others. When King puts his hand down above the ashes of the fire, it is to find it still hot. There is even a tiny flame flickering from the end of one log. They must have left just hours ago.
MELBOURNE, 20 AUGUST 1860. In an ambitious quest to be the first Europeans to cross the harsh Australian continent, the Victorian Exploring Expedition sets off, farewelled by 15,000 cheering well-wishers. Led by Robert O'Hara Burke, a brave man totally lacking in the bush skills necessary for his task; surveyor and meteorologist William Wills; and 17 others, the expedition took 20 tons of equipment carried on six wagons, 23 horses and 26 camels.
Almost immediately plagued by disputes and sackings, the expeditioners battled the extremes of the Australian landscape and weather: its deserts, the boggy mangrove swamps of the Gulf, the searing heat and flooding rains. Food ran short and, unable to live off the land, the men nevertheless mostly spurned the offers of help from the local Indigenous people.
In desperation, leaving the rest of the party at the expedition's depot on Coopers Creek, Burke, Wills, Charley Gray and John King made a dash for the Gulf in December 1860. Bad luck and bad management would see them miss by just hours a rendezvous back at Coopers Creek, leaving them stranded in the wilderness with practically no supplies. Only King survived to tell the tale.
Yet, despite their tragic fates, the names of Burke and Wills have become synonymous with perseverance and bravery in the face of overwhelming odds. They live on in our nation's history - and their story remains immediate and compelling.
The Shipwreck of the Batavia combines in just the one tale the birth of the world's first corporation, the brutality of colonisation, the battle of good vs evil, the derring-do of sea-faring adventure, mutiny, ship-wreck, love, lust, blood-lust, petty fascist dictatorship, criminality, a reign of terror, murders most foul, sexual slavery, natural nobility, survival, retribution, rescue, first contact with native peoples and so much more.
Described by author Peter FitzSimons as "a true Adults Only version of Lord of the Flies, meeting Nightmare on Elm Street," the story is set in 1629, when the pride of the Dutch East India Company, the Batavia, is on its maiden voyage en route from Amsterdam to the Dutch East Indies, laden down with the greatest treasure to leave Holland. The magnificent ship is already boiling over with a mutinous plot that is just about to break into the open when, just off the coast of Western Australia, it strikes an unseen reef in the middle of the night. While Commandeur Francisco Pelsaert decides to take the long-boat across 2000 miles of open sea for help, his second-in-command Jeronimus Cornelisz takes over, quickly deciding that 250 people on a small island is unwieldy for the small number of supplies they have. Quietly, he puts forward a plan to 40 odd mutineers how they could save themselves, kill most of the rest and spare only a half-dozen or so women, including his personal fancy, Lucretia Jansz - one of the noted beauties of Holland - to service their sexual needs. A reign of terror begins, countered only by a previously anonymous soldier Wiebbe Hayes, who begins to gather to him those are prepared to do what it takes to survive . . . hoping against hope that the Commandeur will soon be coming back to them with the rescue yacht.
It all happened, long ago, and it is for a very good reason that Peter FitzSimons has long maintained that this is "far and away the greatest story in Australia's history, if not the world's." FitzSimons unique writing style has made him the country's best-selling non-fiction writer over the last ten years, and he is perfect man to make this bloody, chilling, stunning tale come alive.
The incredible true story of one of the most extraordinary and inspirational prison breaks in Australian history.
New York, 1874. Members of the Clan-na-Gael - agitators for Irish freedom from the English yoke - hatch a daring plan to free six Irish political prisoners from the most remote prison in the British Empire, Fremantle Prison in Western Australia. Under the guise of a whale hunt, Captain Anthony sets sail on the Catalpa to rescue the men from the stone walls of this hell on Earth known to the inmates as a 'living tomb'. What follows is one of history's most stirring sagas that splices Irish, American, British and Australian history together in its climactic moment.
For Ireland, who had suffered English occupation for 700 years, a successful escape was an inspirational call to arms. For America, it was a chance to slap back at Britain for their support of the South in the Civil War; for England, a humiliation. And for a young Australia, still not sure if it was Great Britain in the South Seas or worthy of being an independent country in its own right, it was proof that Great Britain was not unbeatable.
Told with FitzSimons' trademark combination of arresting history and storytelling verve, The Catalpa Rescue is a tale of courage and cunning, the fight for independence and the triumph of good men, against all odds.
Historians still disagree over virtually every aspect of the eldest Kelly boy’s brushes with the law. Did he or did he not shoot Constable Fitzpatrick at their family home? Was he a lawless thug or a noble Robin Hood, a remorseless killer or a crusader against oppression and discrimination? Was he even a political revolutionary, an Australian republican channelling the spirit of Eureka?
Peter FitzSimons, bestselling chronicler of many of the great defining moments and people of this nation’s history, is the perfect person to tell this most iconic of all Australian stories. From Kelly’s early days in Beveridge, Victoria, in the mid-1800s, to the Felons’ Apprehension Act, which made it possible for anyone to shoot the Kelly gang, to Ned’s appearance in his now-famous armour, prompting the shocked and bewildered police to exclaim ‘He is the devil!’ and ‘He is the bunyip!’, FitzSimons brings the history of Ned Kelly and his gang exuberantly to life, weighing in on all of the myths, legends and controversies generated by this compelling and divisive Irish-Australian rebel.
The bestselling, acclaimed, authoritative account of one of the most famous battles in Australian military history – now established as a classic.
For Australians, Kokoda is the iconic battle of World War II, yet few people know just what happened – and just what our troops achieved. In his bestselling book, Peter FitzSimons tells the Kokoda story in his distinctive gripping style. Conditions on the track were hellish – rain was constant, the terrain close to inhospitable, food and ammunition supplies were practically non-existent and the men constantly battled malaria and dysentery, as well as the Japanese. Kokoda was a defining battle for Australia – a small force of young, ill-equipped Australians engaged a highly experienced and hitherto unstoppable Japanese force on a narrow, precarious jungle track – and defeated them.
The name Captain James Cook is one of the most recognisable in Australian history - an almost mythic figure who is often discussed, celebrated, reviled and debated.
But who was the real James Cook?
This Yorkshire farm boy would go on to become the foremost mariner, scientist, navigator and cartographer of his era, and to personally map a third of the globe. His great voyages of discovery were incredible feats of seamanship and navigation. Leading a crew of men into uncharted territories, Cook would face the best and worst of humanity as he took himself and his crew to the edge of the known world - and beyond.
With his masterful storytelling talent, Peter FitzSimons brings the real James Cook to life. Focusing on his most iconic expedition, the voyage of the Endeavour, where Cook first set foot on Australian and New Zealand soil, FitzSimons contrasts Cook against another figure who looms large in Australasian history: Joseph Banks, the aristocratic botanist. As they left England, Banks, a rich, famous playboy, was everything that Cook was not. The voyage tested Cook's character and would help define his legacy.
Now, 240 years after James Cook's death, FitzSimons reveals what kind of man James was at heart. His strengths, his weaknesses, his passions and pursuits, failures and successes.
James Cook reveals the man behind the myth.
The mutiny on HMS Bounty, in the South Pacific on 28 April 1789, is one of history's truly great stories - a tale of human drama, intrigue and adventure of the highest order - and in the hands of Peter FitzSimons it comes to life as never before.
Commissioned by the Royal Navy to collect breadfruit plants from Tahiti and take them to the West Indies, the Bounty's crew found themselves in a tropical paradise. Five months later, they did not want to leave. Under the leadership of Fletcher Christian most of the crew mutinied soon after sailing from Tahiti, setting Captain William Bligh and 18 loyal crewmen adrift in a small open boat. In one of history's great feats of seamanship, Bligh navigated this tiny vessel for 3618 nautical miles to Timor.
Fletcher Christian and the mutineers sailed back to Tahiti, where most remained and were later tried for mutiny. But Christian, along with eight fellow mutineers and some Tahitian men and women, sailed off into the unknown, eventually discovering the isolated Pitcairn Island - at the time not even marked on British maps - and settling there.
This astonishing story is historical adventure at its very best, encompassing the mutiny, Bligh's monumental achievement in navigating to safety, and Fletcher Christian and the mutineers' own epic journey from the sensual paradise of Tahiti to the outpost of Pitcairn Island. The mutineers' descendants live on Pitcairn to this day, amid swirling stories and rumours of past sexual transgressions and present-day repercussions. Mutiny on the Bounty is a sprawling, dramatic tale of intrigue, bravery and sheer boldness, told with the accuracy of historical detail and total command of story that are Peter FitzSimons' trademarks.
The Battle of Le Hamel on 4 July 1918 was an Allied triumph, and strategically very important in the closing stages of WWI. A largely Australian force, commanded by the brilliant Sir John Monash, fought what has been described as the first modern battle - where infantry, tanks, artillery and planes operated together as a coordinated force.
Monash planned every detail meticulously, with nothing left to chance. Integrated use of tanks, planes, infantry, wireless (and even carrier pigeons!) was the basis, and it went on from there, down to the details: everyone used the same maps, with updated versions delivered by motorbike despatch riders to senior commanders, including Monash. Each infantry battalion was allocated to a tank group, and they advanced together. Supplies and ammunition were dropped as needed from planes. The losses were relatively few. In the words of Monash: 'A perfected modern battle plan is like nothing so much as a score for an orchestral composition, where the various arms and units are the instruments, and the tasks they perform are their respective musical phrases.'
Monash planned for the battle to last for 90 minutes - in the end it went for 93. What happened in those minutes changed for the rest of the war the way the British fought battles, and the tactics and strategies used by the Allies.
Peter FitzSimons brings this Allied triumph to life, and tells this magnificent story as it should be told.
On the one hand, the fact that Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks have seized power in Russia – immediately suing for peace with Germany – means that no fewer than one million of the Kaiser’s soldiers can now be transferred from there to the Western Front.
On the other, now that America has entered the war, it means that two million American soldiers are also on their way, to tip the scales of war to the Allies.
The Germans, realising that their only hope is striking at the Allied lines first, do exactly that, and on the morning of 21 March 1918, the Kaiserschlacht, the Kaiser’s battle, is launched – the biggest set-piece battle the world has ever seen.
Across a 45-mile front, no fewer than two million German soldiers hurl themselves at the Allied lines, with the specific intention of splitting the British and French forces, and driving all the way through to the town of Villers-Bretonneux, at which point their artillery will be able to rain down shells on the key train-hub town of Amiens, thus throttling the Allied supply lines.
For nigh on two weeks, the plan works brilliantly, and the Germans are able to advance without check, as the exhausted British troops flee before them, together with tens of thousands of French refugees.
In desperation, the British commander, General Douglas Haig, calls upon the Australian soldiers to stop the German advance, and save Villers-Bretonneux. If the Australians can hold this, the very gate to Amiens, then the Germans will not win the war.
'It's up to us, then,' one of the Diggers writes in his diary.
Arriving at Villers-Bretonneux just in time, the Australians are indeed able to hold off the Germans, launching a vicious counterattack that hurls the Germans back the first time.
And then, on Anzac Day 1918, when the town falls after all to the British defenders, it is again the Australians who are called on to save the day, the town, and the entire battle . . .
Not for nothing does the primary school at Villers-Bretonneux have above every blackboard, to this day, 'N’oublions jamais, l’Australie.' Never forget Australia.
And they never have.