‘Desert Masterpiece’ (Introduction to the Text Classics edition of Tobruk 1941 by Chester Wilmot) by Peter Cochrane

Chester Wilmot was on board British Airways Flight 781 on 10 January 1954 when it exploded in midair and crashed into the Mediterranean Sea off the island of Elba. He was forty-two years old, a distinguished wartime broadcaster, a bestselling historian, a BBC regular, the military correspondent for the Observer and a pioneer of documentary television. He was at the peak of his powers, a success at everything to which he’d turned his mind since his days at Melbourne University, when he led the debating team on a triumphant world tour.

His wife, Edith, was at Heathrow Airport waiting for that ill-fated flight. Years later she remembered how they took the listing off the noticeboard. She recalled her daughter, Caroline, in tears, screaming: ‘My father was Chester Wilmot, he was a famous, famous man.’

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Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane

Dr Peter Cochrane FAHA has written extensively about war. His books include the companion volume to the ABC series Australians at War, First World War: The Western Front 1916–1918 and Simpson and the Donkey: The making of a legend. He is also the author of the award-winning Colonial Ambition and the novella Governor Bligh and the Short Man.