Commando Assault

Author: R. Charlett
Publisher: Horwitz Publications
Published: 1965
Book No: 1

A few months ago, I reviewed an action adventure novel called Commando Raid, written by R. Charlett, featuring rugged soldier, Captain ‘Pearly’ Gates. It was published by Horwitz Publications which was an Australian Publisher that put out a whole swag of pulp novels by Australian authors. These books are all but forgotten now, and information on them is very hard to find.

Commando Raid was listed as being book No. 3 in a series. I assumed it had simply been number three in a whole series of war stories by different authors. But now I have tracked down another book by R. Charlett, it is Commando Assault – and it is listed as being book No. 1. I draw two conclusions from this. The first is, quite obviously, Commando Assault was published before Commando Raid. The second, which is more of a guess, is that there is a another book by Charlett which is No. 2 in the series, and most likely has ‘Commando’ in the title. If you happen to find it, or know of it, drop me a line.

Commando Assault is another rattling ‘men on a mission’ boys own adventure – and unlike many other war themed novels released by Horwitz at the time, it doesn’t dwell on the dirty, almost torture porn, aspect of the stories. From what little I have read (and therefore I am liable to change my opinion as my knowledge base grows), most of the Horwitz war titles were set in war time prison camps, with the Aussie prisoners copping a terrible beating from their captors (usually Japanese). The books were more tales of survival, rather than outright heroics.

Charlett’s books don’t appear to be like that. They could by slotted next to Alistair MacLean’s Where Eagles Dare or The Guns of Navarone in your book shelf. There’s nothing offensive here – beyond a few bigoted racial stereotypes. But that was the norm, for the time that the book was written, and even then, it’s pretty mild.

The blurb:

“Take no prisoners,” Captain Gates had been ordered before he and his small Commando unit were dropped behind enemy lines. In their kill-or-be-killed situation they found it easy to obey this order – until the day they were forced to shoot up a Japanese ambulance. There was a lone survivor: a pretty young Japanese nurse. If they let her go there was no doubt she would betray their presence to the enemy. The alternative was to kill her in cold blood.

Even tough, ruthless “Pearly” Gates found it one of the hardest decisions of his entire professional soldiering career.

The enjoyment in finding these old books, for me, comes from the fact they are Australian stories. Unlike the aforementioned Alistair MacLean, when the characters in Commando Assault talk about home – it’s about a home that I can relate to.

As a quick example, there is a passage where the soldiers are discussing the practicalities of making love to a woman in a foxhole. One soldier suggests that it should be possible, as he had managed to make love in the tiny confines of a pre-war Fiat automobile. However, he did concede that the woman involved was a contortionist, playing a season at the Tivoli Theatre in Melbourne.

In the context of the story, the passage is not particularly important – simply a bit of banter between the characters. But to me, it is more resonant than a passage about a soldier pining for his dusky blonde sweetheart waiting for him in Cincinnati or Oklahoma.

As I have said before, and will no doubt say again, it is a shame, that this part of Australia’s literary heritage is disappearing so fast. As a medium, the popular fiction of the day, tells us a lot about the people and the times – and in that context, even the most trashy novel is of value.

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