Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

‘In military parlance I suppose we were mutineers’: Industrial Relations in the Australian Imperial Force during World War I

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (2011), 101, (1), 161–176.

Abstract

During World War I, the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), for all its apparent effectiveness in combat situations, developed a reputation as being an ill-disciplined and generally poorlyled group of ‘colonial’ soldiers. British commanders blamed this on ‘failures of Australian leadership’ and ‘insufficient training’. During the early stages of the war the official Australian historian, Charles Edwin Woodrow Bean, attributed blame to the small group of veterans of the Boer War and their strong influence over young recruits (partially, no doubt, in order to maintain a favourable public image of the ‘average’ Australian soldier). However, in the nine and a half decades since the end of World War I the disciplinary problems of the AIF have been either ignored in favour of more combat-oriented histories, or hidden away in favour of more popularly attractive studies of the Anzac Legend. The result is that we have a scant body of literature addressing the cause, nature and effect of the disciplinary problems within the AIF. This paper seeks to rectify this absence, in part by addressing one aspect of these ‘disciplinary problems’, that being the use of industrial relations techniques by the rank and file within the military. In doing so, this paper will seek to expand further our understanding of the experiences of Australian soldiers in the AIF by highlighting their agency in shaping the working culture and ‘digger identity’ that many valued throughout World War I. Far from being those who merely ‘do and die’, the men of the AIF actively ‘reasoned why’ and, on occasion, successfully challenged their officers through practiceproven industrial activities.

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Endnotes

1.B. Gammage, The Broken Years: Australian Soldiers in the Great War,Penguin Books,, 1987, p.218. Google Scholar

3.N. Wise, ‘The lost labour force: Working-class approaches to military service during the Great War’, Labour History, no.93, 2007, pp.161-76. Google Scholar

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6.For an example of these attitudes, seeN. Wise, Playing Soldiers:Sydney Private School Cadet Corps and the Great War, Hons thesis,University of Wollongong, 2004, pp.41, 67. Google Scholar

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8.For a further discussion on this, seeR. Cahill, ‘The battle of Sydney’, Overland, no.169, 2002, pp.50-54. For examples of this treatment of mutiny in international contexts, seeD. Englander, ‘Mutinies and military morale’, inH. Strachan(ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War,Oxford University Press,, 1998, pp.191-203;J. Grey, The Australian Centenary History of Defence: Volume 1: The Australian Army,Oxford University Press,, 2001, pp.62-66;C. Pugsley, On the Fringe of Hell: New Zealanders and Military Discipline in the First World War,Hodder and Staughton,, 1991, especially p.297;T. Bowman, Irish Regiments in the Great War: Discipline and Morale,Manchester University Press,, 2003. Google Scholar

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10.Scott, Official History, Vol. 11, p.230. Google Scholar

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15.The First and Second Wasser Riots both involved Australians. The First Wasser Riot took place on2April1915before the first contingent of Australians was scheduled to leave Egypt. Bean’s treatment of this event was restricted to a single footnote on a page. The Second Wasser Riot took place on31July1915before the second contingent of Australians was scheduled to leave Egypt and is noted within the same footnote. SeeC.E.W. Bean, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume 1: The Story of Anzac, From the Outbreak of War to the End of the First Phase of the Gallipoli Campaign, May 4, 1915,Angus and Robertson,, 1941, p.130n. Google Scholar

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18.See, for example,Bean, Official History, Vol. 1, p.47. Google Scholar

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21.Kevin Baker for example briefly refers to the grievances held by men of the Liverpool and Casula camps, before focusing upon the riot. He does not refer to this as a strike or as a form of industrial action.K. Baker, Mutiny, Terrorism, Riots and Murder: A History of Sedition in Australia and New Zealand,Rosenburg,, 2006, p.73. Discussion on the event is absent or very brief in much of the popular literature on the AIF during World War I; for exampleJ. Grey, A Military History of Australia,Cambridge University Press,, 1999;Gammage, The Broken Years; andL. Carlyon, The Great War,Macmillan,, 2006. Google Scholar

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40.For this estimate see for exampleBlair, Dinkum Diggers, p.42. Google Scholar

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43.Cited fromCahill, ‘The battle of Sydney’, p.52. Google Scholar

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46.G.B. Guy, Court-Martial of Acting Sergeant-Major Sydney E. Tanner, cited inDarby, The Liverpool-Sydney Riot, p.52. Google Scholar

47.Cahill, ‘The battle of Sydney’, p.53. Google Scholar

48.Cahill andIrving, ‘The battle of Central’, p.129. Google Scholar

49.For comments on this, seeCahill, ‘The battle of Sydney’, p.54;Darby, The Liverpool-Sydney Riot; andCahill andIrving, ‘The battle of Central’, p.129. Google Scholar

50.Blair, Dinkum Diggers, p.50. Google Scholar

51.Bean, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume 6: The Australian Imperial Force in France, During the Allied Offensive, 1918,Angus and Robertson,, 1942, p.875. Google Scholar

52.Blair, Dinkum Diggers, p.157-58. Google Scholar

53.Ibid., p.159. Google Scholar

54.Ibid., p.159. Google Scholar

55.Ibid., p.160. Google Scholar

56.Ibid., p.161. Google Scholar

57.Ibid., p.161. Google Scholar

58.Peter Stanley calculates, based on an estimate that 40 per cent of workers had been unionists, that 125,000 trade unionists donned khaki (out of 410,000 enlistments).Stanley, Bad Characters, p.38. Google Scholar

59.L. Farrall, The File on Fred: A Biography of Fred Farrall, cited inBlair, Dinkum Diggers, p.162. Google Scholar

60.For select examples of these techniques in civil society see for exampleS. Cockfield, ‘Mobilising at the workplace: State regulation and collective action in three workplaces, 1900 to the 1920s’, Labour History, no.93, November, 2007, pp.35-55;R. Cooper, ‘“To organise wherever the necessity exists”: The activities of the organising committee of the Labor Council of NSW, 1900-10’, Labour History, no.83, November2002, pp.43-64; for a discussion of the language of selective sentiment, seeN. Dyrenfurth, ‘“A terrible monster”: From “employers to capitalists” in the 1885-86 Melbourne Wharf Labourers’ strike’, Labour History, no.94, May, 2008, pp.89-111. Google Scholar

61.Reynold Clive Potter, No.6080, Carpenter,, ML MSS 2944, transcription of diary, originally written in shorthand, undated entry, c.September1918, pp.38-39.‘O.C.’ refers to the ‘officer commanding’a unit. Google Scholar

63.Ibid. Google Scholar

64.Ibid. Google Scholar

65.Bean, Official History, Vol. 6, p.938. Google Scholar

66.Ibid., p.939. Google Scholar

67.Gammage notes, for example, that in1918the men of the AIF ‘were keener to fight than in1916or1917, and spurred by success’; seeGammage, The Broken Years, p.223.Christopher Pugsley also observed the change in1918, but, as noted earlier, suggested that this was due to‘exhaustion’; seePugsley, The Anzac Experience, p.276. Google Scholar

68.Bean, Official History, Vol. 6, pp.939-40. Google Scholar

69.Darby, The Liverpool-Sydney Riot, p.42. Google Scholar

70.Williams, Discipline On Active Service, pp.20-21. Google Scholar

71.Blair, Dinkum Diggers, p.159. Google Scholar

72.Wahlert, The Other Enemy, p.25. Google Scholar

74.Williams, Discipline On Active Service, p.8. Google Scholar

76.See for exampleS.L.A. Marshall, Men Against Fire,Peter Smith,Gloucester,, 1978. Google Scholar

77.Ibid., p.41. Google Scholar

78.Ibid., p.26. Google Scholar

79.Fuller argues that inMarch1918, nine out of every 1,000 Australian solders were serving time in a military prison. This contrasts with one out of every 1,000 British soldiers, and 1.6 out of every 1,000 Canadian, New Zealander, and South African soldiers. SeeFuller, Troop Morale and Popular Culture, p.169. Google Scholar

80.For a civilian contrast to this, seeFrances, The Politics of Work. Google Scholar

81.For more on the use of protests as a vent, seeN. Wise, ‘Fighting a different enemy’, International Review of Social History, vol.52, suppl. 15 (Humour and Social Protest), December2007, pp.225-41. Google Scholar

82.Wise, ‘The lost labour force’, p.162. Google Scholar

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Author details

Wise, Nathan