In response to the question “I was wondering more whether the antipodean Aristotle might have a range of Op Ed commentators in mind whose prose might “make the heart skip a beat?” Whose legacy might be enduring?” posed by Geoff, in this blog Chris mentioned the name Charles Bean “whose guardianship of the War Memorial (Bean selected the site and laid down the principles for its displays) was a theatre of conflict in the 1980s.”
Until I read his name in Chris’s blog, I’d never heard of CEW Bean (probably because I don’t read those interminable boring dialogues in the History Wars blogs) so I thought I’d Google a little in an attempt to get up to speed and not embarrass my fellow Armadillos by a conspicuous lack of erudition. I quickly came across this site and was depressed when I read about how little we honour those writers who labour mightily to create our heroes. Flicking through the site I came across Australian Military History: An overview and thought I’d go for a surf.
WARNING: This does go on a bit and is worthy of being classified as a Strocchi.(n. turgid, overlong and uninteresting)
What I found is a carefully selected history that paints Australian military adventures as carefully planned successes; helping at first, the British Empire and latterly, the evil Empire, suppress attacks on democracy all over the world.
In the beginning there was the Boer War.
After September 1900, when the war had become mainly a guerrilla conflict, Australian troops were deployed in sweeping the countryside and enforcing the British policy of cutting the Boer guerrillas off from the support of their farms and families. This meant the destruction of Boer farms, the confiscation of horses, cattle and wagons and the rounding up of the inhabitants, usually women and children. These civilian captives were taken to concentration camps where, weakened by malnutrition, thousands died of contagious diseases.
By mid-1901 the war for the Australians was characterised by long rides, often at night, followed by an attack on a Boer farmhouse or encampment (laager) at dawn. The skirmishes were often minor, involving small Boer forces quickly overwhelmed by superior numbers. There were occasional fights between the Australians and larger Boer forces, but encounters with Boer commandos were rare.
It is generally believed that 16,175 Australians fought in the Boer War, though this does not allow for double-counting of those who served in two contingents. There was also an unknown number of Australians already working on South Africa’s goldfields who served in local units, and a small number of Australians are known to have fought on the Boer side. The nature of the conditions under which the war was fought can be deduced from the fact that 251 died in action or from wounds sustained in battle, while 267 died from disease. A further 43 men were reported missing. Five Australians received the VC in South Africa and many others received other decorations.
Then there was the invasion of China during the Boxer Rebellion.
The next action in which the Australians (Victorians troops this time) were involved was against the Boxer fortress at Pao-ting Fu, where the Chinese government was believed to have sought refuge when Peking was taken by western forces. The Victorians joined a force of 7,500 on the ten-day march to the fort, only to find that the town had already surrendered; the closest they came to the enemy was to guard prisoners. The international column then marched back to Tientsin, leaving a trail of looted villages behind them.
But the biggest porkies are saved for the First World War and the ‘foundation of the nation’, Gallipoli.
Nigel Steel and Peter Hart’s Defeat at Gallipoli emphasises the experience of ordinary soldiers, using extensive quotes from participants, some of which appear to have been taken from Rhodes James book. ……………….. What emerges most strongly from this book is a reiteration of the widely accepted view that the campaign was both poorly planned and dreadful for those who fought in it.
An objective review of the Australian effort during WW1 would point to a gigantic cock-up, resulting in a waste of young men unequalled in our history. Are there any books that guess at the economic consequences of killing a generation of our best ? Australia was probably , in per capita terms, the richest country on earth up to the beginning of the 20th century, was it the waste of lives in WW1 that commenced the slippery slide to our very ordinary position today ?
Just to bring everybody up to date on why Charles Bean is important;
No essay about sources on Gallipoli could ignore the works of Australia’s official historian of the First World War, Charles Bean. It would be impossible to embark on a study of Australia’s role on Gallipoli without reference to Bean’s first two volumes of the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, entitled The story of ANZAC. Bean’s work is the most comprehensive chronicle of the campaign, but it is generally considered too detailed for the general reader. Bean’s diaries constitute an incredibly rich primary source for students of Gallipoli, but they are generally studied only by serious scholars. Fortunately for the general reader, extracts from this fascinating source were published in Kevin Fewster’s 1983 book, Frontline Gallipoli, C.E.W. Bean’s diaries from the trenches.
For Australia, as for many nations, the First World War remains the most costly conflict ever in terms of deaths and casualties. From a population of fewer than five million, 300,000 men enlisted, of which over 60,000 were killed and 156,000 were wounded, gassed or taken prisoner.
But the mistakes and bungles didn’t stop at the conclusion of the war to end all wars. Our best (only ?) troops were sent to Africa to defend the wogs from the Germans, while all the time the dastardly Japanese planned the invasion of Australia.
Following early successes against Italian forces, the Australians suffered defeat with the Allies at the hands of the Germans in Greece, Crete and North Africa. In June and July 1941 Australians participated in the successful Allied invasion of Syria, a mandate of France and ally of the Vichy government. Up to 14,000 Australians held out against repeated German attacks in the Libyan port of Tobruk, where they were besieged between April and August 1941. After being relieved at Tobruk, the 6th and 7th Divisions departed from the Mediterranean theatre for the war against Japan.
There is some controversy about the actions of Australians during the fall of Singapore, this is never mentioned in the polite company of any Australian military person.
Japan entered the war in December 1941 and swiftly achieved a series of victories which resulted in the occupation of most of south-east Asia and large areas of the Pacific by the end of March 1942. Singapore fell in February, with the loss of an entire Australian division. After the bombing of Darwin that same month, all RAN ships in the Mediterranean theatre, as well as the 6th and 7th Divisions, returned to defend Australia.
When I get about three clear years, I intend to read some more about an interesting chapter in WW2 and particularly about this;
Silver, Lynette Ramsay . The heroes of Rimau: unravelling the mystery of one of World War II’s most daring raids. Kuala Lumpur: S.A. Majeed, 1992. 314 p. “Tells the story of the two allied commando raids on Singapore Harbour in 1943 and 1944. The first, code-named Operation Jaywick, was declared successful because the entire team returned safely after attacking seven Japanese ships. But the Japanese blamed the raid on the local population, resulting in the Double Tenth Massacre on Oct 10, 1943, in which 57 people were arrested and tortured on suspicion of involvement in the raid. Fifteen of them were killed later. The second raid, known as Operation Rimau, was a similar but more ambitious plan to use a new submarine to blow up 60 ships. At the last minute, things went horribly wrong and, forced to split up and flee, everyone of the crew’s 23 men perished. A fictionalised account of the raid was published which explained the deaths of 13 of the men, but the rest was shrouded in a mystery that Silver’s book succeeded finally in throwing light upon. ” Straits Times, 4 May 2001. [D767.55 Sil]
One bit of Australian military history that we CAN be proud of is the effort on the Kokoda trial. If it hadn’t been for the much maligned Citizen Military Force who were instrumental in resisting the cream of the Imperial Japanese forces, I’d probably be writing this in Japanese. After reducing Hiroshima and Nagasaki to ashes, in which Australians had a hand, albeit at a distance through the good works of Sir Mark Oliphant, Australians sat quietly by while Macca organised the repatriation of the ‘good’ Japanese who established the foundation of the US biological warfare units, using the data they collected from experiments on hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians. The Australian government thought it a good idea to give the UN a hand while they were in the area so Australian troops were committed in the first big ‘police’ action.
When 3 RAR arrived in Pusan on 28 September, the North Korean advance had been halted and their army was in full retreat. The Supreme Commander of the UN forces, General Douglas MacArthur, was given permission to pursue them into North Korea, despite warnings from the Chinese government that it would not countenance any UN troops crossing the border. 3 RAR moved north as part of the invasion force and fought their first major action near the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. As the UN forces continued their advance towards the Yalu river on the border between North Korea and Manchuria, a series of successes led many to believe that the UN forces would soon bring the war to an end.
After two years and 17 days of negotiations, even as heavy fighting continued at the front, the UN and North Korean leaderships signed an agreement on 27 July 1953. This agreement technically brought the war to an end, but a state of suspended hostilities continued to exist between North and South Korea for many years, and even today the situation remains unresolved. In the three years of fighting 1,263 men of the Commonwealth forces were killed and a further 4,817 were wounded, while the US lost 33,000 men. Australian casualties numbered more than 1,500, of whom 339 were killed.
The next ‘police’ action, this time at the bequest of the rapidly declining British empire, resulted in the longest military action in Australia’s history, the Malayan Emergency.
Australia’s involvement in the Emergency began in 1950 with the arrival of RAAF aircraft and personnel in Singapore……….. As the threat continued to dissipate, the Malayan government offic[i]ally declared the Emergency over on 31 July 1960, though 1 RAR remained in Malaya until October the following year, when 2 RAR returned for a second tour. In August 1962 the battalion was committed to anti-communist operations in Perlis and Kedah, completing its tour in August 1963.
Lasting 13 year[s], the Malayan Emergency was the longest continuous military commitment in Australia’s history. Fifty-one Australian servicemen were killed in Malaya, although only 15 of these deaths occurred as a result of operations, and 27 were wounded, most of whom were in the army.
And if you think that the Malayan stoush was the end, the Indons stuck up their kepis and troops were sent of to what was then Borneo
to protect the oil interests there.
The first Australian battalion, 3 RAR, arrived in Borneo in March 1965 and served in Sarawak until the end of July. During this time the battalion conducted extensive operations on both sides of the border, were engaged in four major contacts with Indonesian units, and twice suffered casualties from land mines. Its replacement, the 28th Brigade, 4 RAR, also served in Sarawak – from April until August 1966. Although it had a less active tour, the 28th Brigade also operated on the Indonesian side of the border and was involved in clashes with Indonesian regulars.
Altogether, two squadrons of the Special Air Service, a troop of the Royal Australian Signals , several artillery batteries and parties of the Royal Australian Engineers were involved in Borneo, in addition to the two infantry battalions. Ships of the Royal Australian Navy served in the surrounding waters and several RAAF squadrons were also involved in Confrontation…………….. Continuing negotiations between Indonesia and Malaysia ended the conflict, and the two sides signed a peace treaty in Bangkok in August 1966. Twenty-three Australians were killed during Confrontation, seven of them on operations, and eight were wounded.
Which bring me to a time where my mother was always worried that my brother, who was in the South Australian Police force, would end up belting me while marching in an University sponsored anti-Vietnam march. It remains one of the most gutless memories of my life that I registered for the draft. I was dead against the war (during those moments, and they were few, when I wasn’t too drunk to think about such weighty matters) and should have stood up and been counted for what I believed. But I didn’t and the war continued as though what I thought mattered not at all to Harry, Big Ears and his cronies. But at least I didn’t spit on the blokes when they came home.
By bringing combat into Cambodia, the invasion drove many people to join the underground opposition, the Khmer Rouge, irreparably weakening the Cambodian government. When the Khmer Rouge came to power in April 1975, it imposed a cruel and repressive regime that killed several million Cambodians and left the country riven by internal conflict that continue today.
The extension of the war into a sovereign state, formally neutral, further inflamed anti-war sentiment in the US and provided the impetus for further anti-war demonstrations in Australia. In the well-known Moratoriums of 1970, more than 200,000 people gathered to protest against the war in cities and towns throughout the country.
From the time of the arrival of the first members of the Team in 1962 some 50,000 Australians, including ground troops and Air Force and Navy personnel, served in Vietnam; 520 died as a result of the war, and almost 2,400 were wounded. The war was the cause of the greatest social and political dissent in Australia since the conscription referendums of the First World War. Many draft resisters, conscientious objectors and protesters had been fined or gaoled, while soldiers sometimes met a hostile reception on their return home.
I was against Gulf War I too, another example of fighting other people’s wars.
In addition to naval units, Australian personnel took part on attachment to various British and American ground formations. A small group of RAAF photo-interpreters was based in Saudi Arabia, together with a detachment from the Defence Intelligence Organisation. Four medical teams were also dispatched at the request of the US. Although the ships and their crews were in danger from mines and possible air attack, Australia’s war was relatively uneventful, and there were no casualties. At the war’s end 75 Australian personnel were sent to northern Iraq to assist the delivery of humanitarian aid to Kurds living in the UN-declared exclusion zone, while ships of the RAN remained on station, at US request, to maintain trade sanctions.
Then their was East Timor. With the possible exception of the action in PNG, the only time the ADF could be said to be doing it’s job.
In September 1999, Australian peacekeepers moved into East Timor, as part of a multinational force sponsored by the United Nations, to assist East Timor’s transition to independence from Indonesia. It has been the largest Australian commitment to a peacekeeping operation to date.
It also represented a full turning of the circle, for it was in this same month, but 52 years earlier, that the very first Australian peacekeepers were deployed, and the state whose independence they helped bring about was Indonesia itself.
I wont bother to say anything about Iraq; it’s all been said and most people won’t allow anything I say to sway their prejudices.
Now I regard Australian soldiers as probably the best trained, most courageous of their species, but I can’t accept all the guff that goes with the ANZAC legend, the adoration of the Rats of Tobruk, the veneration of the soldiers that fought at Long Tan and the attitude that the personnel involved in Afganistan and Gulf Wars I and II were doing a dirty job that had to be done. The name of our military is the Australian Defence Force, why then, for an almost unbroken period since federation, with one or two exceptions, prosecuted other nations wars for reasons that were dubious at best and at times downright invasions of soveriegn territory ?