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Combat Over the Trenches (Hardback)

Oswald Watt Aviation Pioneer

Aviation Military > Prisoners of War WWI

By Chris Clark
Imprint: Pen & Sword Aviation
Pages: 306
Illustrations: 50
ISBN: 9781526715012
Published: 6th December 2017



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'Father of the Flying Corps' and 'Father of Australian Aviation' were two of the unofficial titles conferred on Oswald ("Toby") Watt when he died in tragic circumstances shortly after the end of the First World War. He had become the Australian Army's first qualified pilot in 1911, but spent the first 18 months of the war with the French Air Service, the Aéronautique Militaire, before arranging a transfer to the Australian Imperial Force. Already an experienced combat pilot, he rose quickly through the ranks of the Australian Flying Corps, becoming a squadron leader and leading his unit at the battle of Cambrai, then commander of No 1 Training Wing with the senior AFC rank of lieutenant colonel.

These were elements in a colourful and at times a romantic career long existing interest and attention - not just during Watt's lifetime but in the interval since his death nearly a century ago. His name had been rarely out of Australian newspapers for more than a decade before the war, reflecting his wealthy lifestyle and extensive and influential social and political connections. But this focus has enveloped Watt's story with an array of false and misleading elements verging on mythology. For the first time, this book attempts to establish the true story of Watt's life and achievements, and provide a proper basis for evaluating his place in Australian history.

Dr Clarke has reconstructed Watt's story in comprehensive detail, not afraid to mention his subject's technical defects and flaws of character, nor to veil the intermittent messiness of his life. The book is handsomely produced with numerous photographs, clear maps, and beautiful line drawings of the craft in which this fine Australian took to the air.

James Montague - Alumni magazine The Cliftonian (OC Edition) for 2021

Clark’s book provides insight into an important aviation figure who, unfortunately, has drifted off the screen outside his native land.

Air Power History

Featured in

Over The Front ,Summer 2018

Walter Oswald Watt is a real giant of Australia’s WW1 aviation story and, by extension, our aviation history in general. Now, noted military and aviation historian Chris Clark has covered the whole sweep of Watt’s life in this scrupulously researched and highly readable biography.

The Australian Vintage Aviation Society

This story of the eventful life of a little known pioneer aviator is recommended.

Stand To! Journal of the Western Front Association

This interesting autobiography recalls the Australian Army's first qualified pilot, Oswald Watt who was awarded his aviator's certificate by the Royal Aero Club on 1st August 1911.

Military Vehicle Trust issue 168

A good biography of Watt is essential for Australia's aeronautical history and, as would be expected, this one is just that.

Flightpath magazine – reviewed by James Kightly

As I closed Combat Over The Trenches my first thought was literally ‘what an amazing book’. And it is. Helped by his towering subject, Chris Clark has given us a well researched, well written history that really leaves no aspect of Oswald Watt’s pivotal life unexplored.

I wouldn’t just recommend it. I’d urge you to read it.

Click here to read the full review.

Airscape, April 2018 – reviewed by David Foxx

Oswald Watts was a true pioneer of aviation and attracted much coverage during his life and after. Not all of this coverage was accurate and a number of myths and misconceptions have appeared. The author has done a very good job of objectively recounting the life and career of Oswald Watts and his text is supported by many well-chosen images through the body of the book – Most Highly Recommended.

Read the complete review here.


Another Great War Aussie tale, this time a biopic of pioneer airman Toby Watts. The war in the air really took off in the latter part of the conflict, and Chris's tale of an extraordinary aviator is told with awe and respect for a man who was, for a short while, larger than life itself.

Books Monthly, Paul Norman

About Chris Clark

Chris Clark graduated from the Royal Military College 1972 and served in the Australian Army Intelligence Corps until 1979.

Following this he worked in the Departments of Defence, Foreign Affairs, and Prime Minister and Cabinet. After writing commissioned histories for six years, during which time he completed a PhD at the Australian Defence Force Academy, he worked at the Australian National University and the Australian War Memorial.

From 2004, until he retired nine years later, he was RAAF Historian and Head of the Office of Air Force History. He has written extensively on aspects of Australian defence over many years in a variety of publications—as sole author, contributor and editor.

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