Category: australian army

A holt tractor, belonging to the Australian …

A holt tractor, belonging to the Australian Imperial Force, popping a sick wheeling out front of the kebab joint hauling up an incline somewhere in Palestine, 1917.

Australian Light Horsemen from the Australia…

Australian Light Horsemen from the Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division, watering their horses at Ain es Sultan, 1917.

Two blurred figures of the 1st Australian Divi…

Two blurred figures of the 1st Australian Division running from a shell burst in Glencorse Wood, 20 July 1917.

Regular

A little while ago I sat down to write
a reply to an ask I got about the Anzac legend. It turned out to be a bit of a
rant about some of the things I think are wrong with it. I stand by everything
I said there. But it was a bit negative.
The Anzac mythology upholds a very particular character as representative of
the AIF, and true or not, that character has a very strong grip on the popular
imagination. Little about this legend is uniquely Australian. The language
used

to express the values, that of the larrikin and above all else mateship, may be
particularly Australian but the values are not. Irreverence and camaraderie are
close to universal.

These aren’t values to be denigrated
in any way. But they’re representative of most militaries in the war. But the
AIF did have a character unique to the Australian experience. Much is made of
the fact that the AIF was an entirely volunteer organisation. From a population
of fewer than five million more than 330,000 men and women served in its ranks
between 1914 and 1918. Conscription was put to the people in referenda twice
and twice it was defeated. People joined the AIF for the duration of the war.
Few pursued careers in the military and although many had prior service it was
in the militia, the part time army.
The ranks were filled from the cities, the suburbs and the bush by civilians.
Even the officer corps was fleshed out by the professional and middle classes
of lawyers, bankers, teachers and the like. These men saw themselves not as
regular soldier, but as civilians in uniform.
They saw their role as merely a job, not a calling. They were there to
fight the war, to defeat Germany, or the Ottomans, and to go home and back to
the farm or the factory.

Australia had one of the strongest
trade union and labour movement in the world in the early 20th
century. It was the first country to vote a labour government into office and
ideas of unionism, collective bargaining and fair work practices were strong in
the minds of many working Australians. The language they used and the tactics
they employed to deal with the discipline and hierarchy of the military demonstrates
just how powerful these beliefs were. Soldiers routinely referred to their
officers as their boss, refused orders they thought were unfair and protested
their ill treatment by military authorities. They released soldiers imprisoned
under field punishment, refused to salute officers and rejected the distinction
between officers and other ranks imposed by the British army. They went into
clubs, restaurants and hotels set aside of officers, believing strongly that
they had the right to drink or eat where they chose.
They took strike action when they felt too much was asked of them, when they
were refused rest or when they felt hard done by. When battalions were to be
broken up due to lack of replacements in 1918 they mutinied. Refusing orders to
disband, they ‘counted out’ senior officers sent to negotiate with them.[1]

In autumn 1918, after months of near constant use, Australian battalions took
to strike action when they were ordered back into battle after weeks with no
respite. After being promised a fortnight’s rest they were ordered back to the
front for an offensive after just a few days. Unhappy troops, veterans mostly,
refused to move. The battalions were well understrength after months of
fighting and the men felt they had been lied to, that they had sacrificed
enough and that they were being overused. The soldiers took action in the way
they knew how. They shot no officers and destroyed no property. For men used to
fighting for their rights in the workplace it was natural that they would turn
to collective action in trade union style.

And their rights as men and respect
made them difficult soldiers to discipline. The standard punishment of the
army, called ‘field punishment’ was particularly odious to Australians. Field
punishment consisted of being bound to an object, a post or a wagon or gun
carriage in the open for a number of hours. Due to the danger of artillery this
punishment was not just humiliating but also potentially fatal. Diaries and
letters from soldiers are full of stories about field punishment. They usually
tell of Australian troops coming across British soldiers undergoing field
punishment and freeing them, fighting with guards and military police.

This may seem a bit long winded and I
don’t blame you if you can’t see the relevance of much of this. What I’m trying
to get at here is that there’s this powerful resistance to the dehumanising and
anti-individualising aspect of military discipline and authority. The AIF by
and large saw themselves as civilians first and soldiers second. They
understood the need for discipline and obedience and as more than one
Australian noted “we have discipline where it matters”, on the battlefield. But
the trappings of military culture and authority were repellent to the
Australian working man. Strict obedience to hierarchy and the seemingly
pointless requirements of military discipline were not only alien to
Australians but went against their own values. Mutual respect was the key to
the AIF as most of its officers discovered.

This side of the AIF, the strength of
its civilian values is one that ought be remembered and celebrated in Anzac.
The ideas from the labour and union movements, the fair go and mutual respect
deserve a place alongside mateship and the larrikin as part of Anzac. The men
who fought for the eight hour work day and living wages were the same men who
filled the ranks of the AIF and who fill Australian cemeteries in Europe and
Turkey. This is a part of the Anzac story that deserves a better place in our
telling of it.

[1]
Counting out consisted of soldiers on parade counting down from ten to one,
before shouting a final obscenity at the officer concerned. This was a
particularly powerful form of insubordination that humiliated officers when it
occurred.

Regular

stan4th19th:

scrapironflotilla:

seattle-duck said: How long have chaplains been commissioned officers vs civilians? Does every country do it?

You know that’s a good question and one I hadn’t really considered so I went digging.

Troops of the 4th Brigade celebrating Mass and Holy Communion, run by the Catholic Chaplain Padre Device, by the side of a deserted farmhouse, very close to the front line.

Turns out that by the War pretty much all nations had a dedicated branch of service for chaplains. Most armies going back to at least classical Greece and Persia took religious practitioners along with them and from the 18th century onward these positions became increasingly formalised.
Using Australia as an example (because what else would I use?) the Australian Army Chaplains Department was formed in 1913 when representatives of the four major Christian denominations in Australia, Anglican, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, and Methodist, met with the Australian Army’s Adjutant General. They decided on appointing a chaplain general from each of the denominations to head the department and a chaplain of each denomination being attached to each infantry and light horse brigade.

Captain Crawford, Chaplain 20th Battalion, conducting a burial service on the battlefield.

Chaplains were commissioned as officers from the beginning. Although the chaplain generals had no equivalent military rank, the four classes of chaplain corresponded to the relative ranks of colonel, lieutenant colonel, major, and captain.

While the original plan incorporated an equal number of chaplains for each denomination, the numbers were revised after the start of the First World War. Allocation of positions was now based on the proportion of each denomination in the population according to the 1911 census. During the course of the war 414 clergymen served in the Australian Imperial Force with the most numerous being the 175 Anglicans followed by 86 Catholics, 76 Presbyterians, 54 Methodists and 29 “other”.

Roman Catholic soldiers attending Mass in a gully on the Gallipoli Peninsula. The chaplain celebrating Mass is Father John Drinan Murphy.

From what I can tell most of the major nations followed a similar path with chaplains in their militaries although their methods for determining numbers for denominations may have differed. What is common to all was that chaplains were all commissioned officers with very wide but also very poorly defined duties and responsibilities. They provided the obvious religious pastoral care and gave funerary services but most also took their roles much further, working to keep up morale of the soldiers under their care. They organised entertainment, sporting tournaments (commonly boxing), music and theatre as well as religious services. They also organised scholarly diversions giving lectures on many and varied subjects and organising tours for soldiers on leave.
Many also worked with the medical services, some even going as far as to serve as stretcher bearers or orderlies at casualty clearing stations. Another commonly accepted role was to write to families of the deceased, giving them what information they could, which was usually more than the official communication. Basically think of Father Mulcahy from MASH and you’ve got the right idea.

My Great-Grandfather(seated last on the right) one of the 76 Presbyterian Chaplains in 1st AIF. He served with the 37th Battalion, 10 Brigade of the 3 Division. Thanks for the original post @scrapironflotilla.

That is really cool. I hope you don’t mind but I did a bit of looking into him and there’s quite a lot of detail about him out there. He was Captain Chaplain Arthur Irving Davidson, from Camberwell in Victoria. His service papers, or at least his attestation papers have been digitised and can be viewed online.

He even wrote something of a memoir in 1922 which is now held in the archives of the Australian War Memorial. Called
“A padre’s reminiscences” he provided a detailed statement of the duties and
responsibilities of chaplains during his service, from September 1915 – February 1918.

He served again in WW2 at age 65, first as a chaplain for the RAAF and then back with the Army within Australia. His old highschool, Geelong College has a nice little bio of him as well. He’s also mentioned in the history of Australian chaplains,
Captains of the Soul: A History of Australian Army Chaplains by Michael Gladwin.

Rev Arthur Irving Davidson in 1942. All in all, an awesome little bit of family history.

Homecoming brought no solace for some. Richard…

Homecoming brought no solace for some. Richard Williams, a 43 year old former ironmonger from South Australia, threw himself overboard from the transport Runic on 11 November as the ship neared Rottnest Island.
He had been repatriated, “broken down” after severe trench foot, but he became melancholy. He had attempted suicide earlier in the voyage but evaded his guards as they looked out toward the West Australian coast. As onlookers called “man overboard”, he pushed lifebuoys away and sank.

Regular

Fun fact for the day
By September 1918  one man in every 1000 of the BEF was in military prison, making about 2000 prisoners.
For the Australians it was one man in every 100, also about 2000 prisoners.

Exhausted stretcher bearers from the 3rd Aus…

Exhausted stretcher bearers from the 3rd Australian Division rest in the mud and drizzle of Broodseinde Ridge, during the Third Battle of Ypres, 11 October 1917.

Australian soldiers having their feet inspec…

Australian soldiers having their feet inspected for trench foot at Zonnebeke, September 1917.

Australian tunnelers pumping water from dugo…

Australian tunnelers pumping water from dugouts, Hooge, Belgium. 18 September 1917.