Australians and the First World War
Local-Global Connections and Contexts
Kate Ariotti, James E Bennett (Eds.)
USA, Springer Nature Publishing: (Palgrave Macmillan) 2017
Hardcover 272pp RRP $169.00
Reviewer: Neville Taylor, September 2020
This book grew out of a conference held at the University of Newcastle in March 2015 called The First World War: Local, Global and Imperial Perspectives. The conference brought together scholars working on aspects of First World War history that crossed national boundaries.
Divided into four thematic sections, the first examines the experiences of foreign-born servicemen in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and their problems centring on the attitude to ‘others’ in Australian society; and then the AIF’s contribution to operational weaponry and tactics development in the British push to victory in 1918.
Part II considers the boundaries of race, culture and gender. Those soldiers who became prisoners of the Turks had no idea of their culture, foods they were served and expected behaviour in captivity. For both sides it was a beneficial learning experience. The second paper examines the circumstances created when Australian nurses in a British Indian hospital in 1918 were accused of behaviour ‘most unbecoming’ by over-zealous and bigoted superiors. Fortunately sound reasoning was to eventually prevail, but the Inquiry did reinforce the growing conflict between AIF expectations and British stubbornness. Australian women who wished to contribute to the war effort could not enlist in a service, so they gravitated to the Red Cross (formed eight days after war was declared in 1914). Many went overseas and provided invaluable service in numerous theatres, while those still in Australia worked tirelessly to provide amenities for servicemen.
The War at Home examines politics and people in Part III. The implications of events overseas on those at home has been examined in far greater detail by recent historians. The attitude to Irish Australians hardened after the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin, leading to a major fracturing in Australian society, and culminating in the arrest in 1918 of seven accused of links to the radical Irish Republican Brotherhood. Many Aboriginals sought to join the AIF seeking to do ‘their bit’ for their country and Empire, enjoy regular employment and to better themselves with new skills. Those who managed to overcome ‘white Australian’ recruitment conditions, had nothing but praise for their treatment as equals by their colleagues in arms. Unfortunately, this all came to an abrupt end upon their discharge, with their banning from RSL clubs, no pension or soldier settlement entitlements. At the outbreak of war, Australia saw their fathers, sons and brothers heading off to a theatre of war in a theatre few were familiar. As the demand for recruits forced modification of how Australian society managed its agriculture and industry whilst supporting the need for a growing need for materiel, there was a transition towards total community involvement.
Part IV considers the war’s cultural legacies in terms of remembrance and cultural representation. The rejection or confirmation of a British Empire approach to the war fluctuated as countries established their own recollection of various campaigns in the period between the two wars. Few could list all the nations (of both sides) with troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915. The involvement of Australian troops on the Western Front, and more particularly in the Sinai, do not loom as large in most peoples’ minds as the ‘ANZAC at Gallipoli’ campaign when the First World War is mentioned. With the flurry of writings and TV documentaries as the centenary of the 1915 Gallipoli landing was observed, the opportunity has arisen for a revision of attitude that war only involves those actually involved in combat, and a move to realize that one’s country pays a considerable price as well.
Being academic papers, there is plethora of notation pertaining to original sources, with a very lengthy Bibliography and comprehensive Index included.
An excellent work embracing the majority of aspects that affected Australian society both during and immediately following the First World War.
The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.