Military History

The serious academic study of war has grown considerably in Australia in the last ten to fifteen years, bringing with it an often welcome diversification in focus and a willingness to subject old issues to fresh scrutiny. One sign of the increasing acceptance of war as a subject of serious study in the universities is the increasing number of university historians and other who, with little knowledge of or interest in the mechanics of war, nonetheless extend their work to include consideration of war and the military as these affect their particular areas of interest.

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These five books are about war and are all written by veteran infantrymen (except Making the Legend), a fact which is quite relevant. The fiction is every bit as gritty as the non-fiction. There’s none of the glamour that popular thrillers attach to war, and there’s none of the abject horror that literature generally attributes to war. Instead, there is what can only be described as honesty. These books are truly about the work of winning wars; not the glory or triumph, but the face-in-the-mud labour of it.

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German Raiders of the South Seas by Robin Bromby & Royal Australian Navy 1942–1945 by G. Hermon Gill

by
June 1986, no. 81

The history of Australia at war has tended to focus on the exploits of the Australian army to the neglect of the other two services. It is usually forgotten, for example, that the most famous of Australia’s military actions, that at Gallipoli, was part of a combined operation, in which the failure to land the troops at the designated spot virtually condemned the attack from the outset. In both world wars, command of the sea was the prerequisite for Australia’s military participation and for her own security. Far removed from the main theatres in World War I, Australian forces had to be transported thousands of miles by sea to the Middle East, Gallipoli and the western front. Allied sea power made that possible.

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Poor John Monash has waited a long time. Before he died in 1931, he clearly hoped for a friendly posthumous biography. He destroyed his collection of erotica and some extramarital love letters. This was characteristically called ‘Emergency Action’. Less characteristically, he instructed his son-in-law and executor, Gershon Bennett, not to ‘preserve indefinitely’ the enormous collection of letters, diaries, cuttings, etc.

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This book is concerned essentially with the impact of the environment upon Europeans in Australia. It sets out to test C.E.W. Bean’s thesis that during the Great War the most effective Australian soldiers came from the bush. It does this in relation to men from Western Australia, arguing that the West was one of the most predominantly bush areas of Australia, and therefore that there, if anywhere, the influence of the bush should show up in the achievements of soldiers.

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