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Death by Mustard Gas

How Military Secrecy and Lost Weapons can Kill

(9 customer reviews)
Authors: Geoff Plunkett
Australian Military History, Chemical Weapons, Military Secrecy
230 x 155mm (C5)

“Concise… chilling” – Troy Lennon, Daily Telegraph

In 1943 a top secret consignment of chemical weapons, including deadly mustard gas, arrived in Australia by ship. But there was a problem — it was leaking. Military authorities quickly realised this but, in the interests of secrecy, sent unprotected and unsuspecting wharf labourers into a lethal environment. The result was catastrophic: permanent disability and death. This shocking narrative includes accounts of official deceit, intimidation of gassed labourers and denial of natural justice. The truth, buried in classified documents and the testimony of the few survivors, is that human life was sacrificed for the sake of secrecy.

Almost 70 years after war stocks of chemical weapons were apparently totally destroyed, mustard gas is still present on the Australian mainland, in her oceans and along her coastal fringes. The total destruction of chemical stocks is simply another military assumption. The truth is that these deadly weapons were incompletely destroyed, buried or simply lost. Many retain their effectiveness despite the passing of time, a fact that cost one man his life and saw staff and children at a school badly burned. Mustard gas weapons have been retrieved as recently as 2012 and more may lie in shallow graves waiting to be uncovered. This is a very real lesson for the military of today.

Geoff Plunkett

Geoff Plunkett

Geoff Plunkett’s recent books include Let the Bums Burn, which recounts Australia’s deadliest building fire, and The Whiskey Au Go Go Massacre, an examination of the cold case 1973 nightclub fire, which was based on exclusive access to the original murder investigative files. His work has featured in all the major newspapers, on radio and […]

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9 reviews for Death by Mustard Gas

  1. A well researched book, with many interesting points. A thoroughly enjoyable read for anyone with an interest in military history.

  2. Plunkett’s concise, chilling book is a tale of the bungling that led to that tragedy and attempts to keep our chemical weapons stores a secret” – Daily Telegraph

  3. “Of all the weapons of war, mustard gas must be one of the most horrific in its effects on the human body. When people are exposed to it, but its presence is denied because of secrecy, the results can be even more tragic. This happened in Australia in 1943 when waterside workers and RAAF trainees and ground staff were exposed to the gas over a period of time because of the handling procedures in place” – Australian Defence Force Journal Review

  4. “It has been revealed that trials of toxic mustard gas were carried out at various sites around the country in World War II. The program remained a secret for 70 years and it has emerged the Department of Defence is still looking for old gas canisters and signs of contamination” – ABC TV 7 pm News

  5. A BOOK exposing the deadly effect of poisonous mustard gas on unsuspecting Australians in wartime Sydney.

  6. Excerpt from speech at the launch of Dust Donkeys and Delusions – Many will disagree with Graham Wilson’s conclusion that Simpson should not be awarded a Victoria Cross. But they will not be able to disagree with his exhaustive research and meticulous use of the historical records to debunk what he calls the Simpson Myth.” “It may be acceptable to reinterpret history but as Wilson shows in this book we should not try and remake history. We were not there and we should leave the decisions to those who were there at the time. Graham Wilson’s book highlights the folly of contemporary populist campaigns to reinvent history and grant honours and awards to individuals from past wars. Lieutenant General Peter Leahy AC (Rtd)

  7. I read and enjoyed Dust Donkeys and Delusions. I discussed the book on our program “And Your Library Number Is. This is a program where we look at books borrowed from our local library. Thank you for a well researched, interesting and informative work Huon FM

  8. I have just read Dust Donkeys and Delusions and would like you to pass on my congratulations to the author, Graham Wilson. I found it so refreshing to find an author who seeks to deal with the facts rather than accept whatever has been written before. In recent years I have become increasingly concerned with the way in which the history of the 1st AIF, and ANZAC, in particular , has been trivialised, mytholigised and hijacked. My view is that there is much to be proud of in the 1st AIF, but that we should honour the diggers for what they did, NOT what they did not do. There are countless episodes of heroism and hardship in what actually happened; we do not need to make them up. Congratulations to Graham Wilson for having the courage to challenge the myths.

  9. By the Book – Sydney Daily Telegraph – Thursday 31 May 2012 JOHN Simpson Kirkpatrick a knockabout English seafarer who jumped ship in Australia in 1913 and enlisted as a Digger for the Great War under an assumed name was one of the icons of Australia’s participation in the ultimately disastrous British-led invasion of Turkey at Gallipoli. “The man with the donkey” became bywords for heroism, bravery, mateship and larrikinism trouble was, almost none of the tales were true. Former soldier turned historian Graham Wilson forensically debunks each and every one of the myths about Simpson the man in his groundbreaking Death by Mustard Gas. The resulting book makes for riveting reading, and while it may be condemned as outright heresy by apologists for the Anzac myth, the research paints Simpson as a solid bloke who did his job and lost his life in doing so as did thousands of other Australians who served at Gallipoli. The book’s release is timely considering the panel review of the application for Simpson to receive a posthumous Victoria Cross will hand down its finding next month. MICK TOAL

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