Fighting the People’s War: The British and Commonwealth armies and the Second World War
Cambridge University Press, $45.95 hb, 964 pp
In its long war in Afghanistan, Australia lost forty-one soldiers. These deaths were felt keenly, and usually the prime minister, other senior politicians, and army chiefs attended the funerals. In addition, more than 260 soldiers were wounded. Service in Afghanistan was trying and demanding. Yet, while Special Forces units were constantly rotated through numerous deployments, at any particular time fewer than 2,000 Australian soldiers were serving in Afghanistan.
How much more difficult, then, was it for a democracy like Australia to maintain tens of thousands of soldiers overseas during the six years of World War II? Casualties were far heavier. For instance, in the battles in Egypt between July and November 1942, the 9th Australian Division lost 1,225 killed, 3,638 wounded, and 946 captured. Many soldiers had been overseas for more than two years. How did they maintain their morale? How did Australia find the trained reinforcements to keep the division up to strength?