Book Reviews



 (Original DIARY OF World War II north Queensland) (1993) 

Book review

(The late Sir Syd Williams)


BOOK REVIEWS.  (Second Edition) - Twenty Years on.



Diary of World War II North Queensland

Data CD Book by Peter Nielsen

      Many former ADF personnel turn their hand to researching Australia’s rich naval and military history in retirement and this is precisely what former navy Warrant Officer Peter Nielsen has spent his time doing since leaving the RAN in 1979.

      To date, Peter has researched, written and self published a number of reference books that deal specifically with naval and military operations in North Queensland during World War II.  Each of these works has proven to be a valuable contribution to understanding the role that North Queensland played during the second great conflict of the twentieth century.

     Peter’s latest contribution takes the form of a CD Book which is titled Diary of World War II North Queensland. In compiling this book, an update of a previous iteration, Peter has meticulously researched first source material to produce the many entries that tell the story of North Queensland at war. In doing so he has produced an important record of the comings and goings of Australian and Allied naval vessels, merchant ships, military units, air forces and numerous other lesser known formations that were either based in, or passed through, North Queensland throughout the course of the war.

      This unique 1850 page diary will appeal to a broad range of researchers with an interest in naval and military history. It is liberally illustrated with photos, maps and memorabilia of the period and may be obtained by placing an order on Peter’s web site:

John Perryman, CSM

Senior Naval Historical Officer

Sea Power Centre – Australia

May 2013



Title: Peter Nielsen, Diary of World War II North Queensland (2nd Edition), Nielsen Publishing, Gordonvale, QLD, 2013.

ISBN: 978 0 9752127 4 5

Cost: AUD$70.00 + $5.00 (Post & Packaging)

Availability: Nielsen Publishing, PO Box 459, Gordonvale, QLD 4865 or


     For researchers who thrive on the minutiae of historical research, most military history books can be frustratingly bare of the level of detail they desire.  Forensically detailed publications like Robert J Rayner’s 712 page epic Darwin and Northern Territory Force (Rudder Press, 2001) are few and far between as most commercial publishers eschew a ‘more is more’ approach by their authors for a ‘less is more’ attitude.  Peter Nielsen’s epic CD-ROM book, the 2nd Edition of Diary of World War II North Queensland appeals precisely to those researchers who want to know what was happening in a specific town or port on a specific day.

      The ‘book’ is actually a mammoth 1,850 page PDF document that sets out an ambitious task to compile “every aspect of [the] military presence in North Queensland from 1939 to 1946…in an area from Mackay to Horn Island and west to Mount Isa; a collation of events and happenings in chronological order.”  Interestingly, to help manage such a mountain of information, the author has colour coded the information according to military service and theme – from Australian Army and RAAF activities, to shipping movements, US Force elements, basic ship data and more.  The categories and colour coding, once mastered, allow the researcher to scroll through the material relatively quickly to identify specific pieces of information by type – while the ability to search the PDF (Control+F) also ensures that data can be located quickly. 

     The backbone of this compilation is the recording of all merchant shipping in North Queensland waters between 1939 and 1946, with other data added to build up a vast picture of immense wartime movement encompassing land, air and sea activity by Australian and allied forces.  The information has been drawn from Shipping Movement Cards, the AWM’s War Diaries, RAAF Operations Record Books and the RAN’s Monthly Reports of Proceedings.  Further, events of strategic significance outside of North Queensland, like the fighting on the Kokoda Trail, are added to provide a degree of context to the events covered in the book.

      The book itself does not have the polish of a professional publisher in its design or format.  Nonetheless, the material is straight forward and easy to navigate; largely owing to the chronological order it is presented.  The website supports the book by providing information like an alphabetical list of Australian Army units that spent time in or moved through North Queensland – however this sort of information really should have been in the book as an Annex.

      In a future edition, one might hope to see the inclusion of footnotes on selected information, allowing the researcher to follow up particular events.  There would also have been benefit in adding political and GHQ policy directives as they impacted on the conduct of the war in North Queensland as a driver to why these events, units and commercial and military shipping movement was occurring.  Further, hyperlinks embedded in the PDF to allow high resolution copies of the various imagery that appeared in the text (ships, maps and documents) displayed would have been of great use.  Finally, the book would gain from the use of professional typographical software to allow the pages to appear professionally designed, less cluttered and take on the appearance of a commercially produced work.


     This book represents some 27 years of research by the author, and the sheer volume of material is impressive.  The information is a compilation of existing primary sources rather than an original piece of written history, but such a compilation in this level of detail has genuine merit and application for the military historian and researcher who wishes to track events in this region during the war.  The author eventually plans for a seven volume series covering this same period and including the information presented in this book, but until that happens, this production will suffice the avid researcher.  Read in conjunction with the Official Histories, this is a title worth having if you have a particular interest in North Queensland during WWII.


Dr Andrew Richardson

Australian Army History Unit

30 May 2013