Menzies at War
NewSouth, $34.99 pb, 271 pp
Prime ministers seem to value longevity, whether it is Bob Hawke relishing the fact that he served longer than John Curtin and Ben Chifley combined, or John Howard relishing that he served longer than Hawke. But no prime minister is likely to serve as long as Robert Menzies’ sixteen years as prime minister from 1949 to 1966. His record is even more impressive when his earlier term (1939–1941) is included.
It is Menzies’ first term as prime minister that occupies most of Anne Henderson’s Menzies at War. That was when Menzies took Australia into World War II, only for him to resign shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The outbreak of the Pacific War placed Australia in a desperate position, with the country bereft of tanks, modern fighter aircraft, or four-engine bombers, and with most of its navy and army deployed far from home.