Australian Military Activity away from the Battlefields
Tristan Moss and Tom Richardson (Eds)
NewSouth Publishing 2018
Paperback 256pp RRP: $39.99
Reviewer: Kevan Sanderson, April 2019
The premise of Beyond Combat is that interactions between war and peace are better understood by examining the harder to define, overlooked and niche aspects of defence forces. Categorising these aspects as managing soldiers and their families, education, caring for the soldier, and death and remembrance, the book aims to broaden military history.
Beyond Combat is comprised of thirteen essays loosely assembled as four themes. The first theme is “Managing Soldiers and their Families” and leads off with a rambling summary of ADF personnel on overseas assignments and related experiences. It is followed by two essays that outline the evolution of acceptance of LGBTI personnel in the ADF and the impacts on individual careers. “Education” addresses training by the ADF of foreign forces and the development of pre-First World War military science education. “Caring for the Soldiers” looks at First World War preventative medicine, with a particular focus on lice infestation, the perspective of the Australian Army nurses through a review of their letters home, the impact of military meals and nutrition and the role of military bands. The final theme, “Death and Remembrance” focuses on efforts to identify and retrieve remains of ADF personnel lost in battle, naval vessels as museums and Singapore’s new military history.
Exposing aspects of combat and military history often glossed over is the best part of this book. I found a few of the chapters, when taken alone, to be quite interesting. For example, the chapter describing the largely ineffective measures taken by HQ to control lice infestations and the more effective yet disagreeable remedies of the troops themselves was fascinating. Equally fascinating was the chapter on food and nutrition and I enjoyed reading about the experiences and perspectives of the nursing corps, some of which were very moving. I learned that until recently ADF bandsmen did double duty as stretcher-bearers in combat, and it was particularly interesting in the chapter describing efforts to locate and retrieve lost servicemen’s remains.
The essays are written by well-credentialed contributors, however they are a mixture of styles and quality and provide varying levels of detail that makes the book difficult and frustrating to read. The editors - I use the term loosely as they appear to have contributed little beyond collecting some unrelated and unconnected articles and bound them together - have failed to provide any cogent thread which lessens the impact that some of the articles probably deserve.
Whilst there is undoubtedly “a lot more to military life than war” as the media release states, this book does little to stimulate or promote interest in such “Beyond Combat” activities nor justify its’ initial premise. Chapters Two and Three, about LGBTI, seem out of place. Naval museums based mostly in the USA and the military history of Singapore respectively are described in the last two chapters. One is perhaps more appropriate for a travel magazine and the other seems completely out of place and irrelevant leaving the reader to assume they were included only as filler.
Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” which cannot be said of Beyond Combat. Chapter One, written by the editors and which would be better presented as an Introduction, provides an adequate précis of each chapter. I recommend that readers study Chapter One then selectively read the particular essay or essays that might be of further interest.
The RUSI – Vic library thanks the publisher for providing this work for review.