This had two major consequences for the use of propaganda, the first being that persuasion not compulsion was the sole means for the government to gain recruits — thus recruitment propaganda of an increasingly desperate nature was produced until the very close of the war.
For a decade beforeBritish government ministers had been attempting to persuade Australian governments or rather those members who visited London to participate in various imperial conferences to agree to contributing forces to serve the empire in the event of a major war.
The precedents of Australian colonial forces serving the British in the Sudan inin China and especially in South Africa from demonstrated the feasibility of using Australian troops in this way. However, the Australian Defence Act of precluded the recruitment of permanent infantry and prohibited the employment of the Militia outside Commonwealth territory.
Accordingly, Australian ministers and military officers prepared plans for the formation of an expeditionary force in the event of war a development that has proved contentious in the historiography but which appears to be well founded. This explains why the Australians who served overseas in the Australian Imperial Force did so as civilian volunteers, as neither regular soldiers nor conscripts.
Attempts to introduce conscription for overseas service were twice defeated in referenda: Despite the survival of diaries, letters and memoirs written by thousands of individuals, aspects of their use as historical evidence remains complicated by two major factors.
First, because no systematic or consistent contemporary survey was ever conducted, no one can say with any certainty why men volunteered for the AIF.
While it is clear that the AIF adopted a more casual or pragmatic attitude to military discipline than comparable British imperial armies, what that meant for the character of the entire force remains unclear.
In the absence of statistically based studies of the incidence of, say, indiscipline, inevitably scholars employ qualitative or anecdotal evidence.
The validity or reliability of this can only be determined by comparing any individual evidence against a body of similar evidence. After several decades of respectful neglect, from about the s, a boom began in the publication of secondary works, many based on research using the abundant sources.
This literature encompasses both academic studies and popular histories of varying quality, but also a large body of memoirs, published sources such as letters and biographies. There is, therefore, relative to the size of the force, an almost intimidating lode of primary and secondary evidence.
One caution which this mass of evidence imposes is an awareness of the dangers of generalising. For example, the AIF is often represented as having been indifferent or hostile to organised religion, perhaps reflecting the apathy or antagonism of a large but unquantifiable minority of men in Australia before Whether this attitude changed or was confirmed during or as a result of the war, by exposure to military chaplains all civilian clergymen, who also volunteered remains to be established; if it ever can be.
There are a number of notable works. The first extensive expression of the Anzac legend can be found in The Anzac Book, edited on Gallipoli by Charles Bean using verse and art created by Australian and New Zealand soldiers on Gallipoli late in But it is important not to accept that Bean was merely a propagandist or a romantic.
He was often shy in speaking directly to its members or rather its non-commissioned members but he recorded vast quantities of observations over the entire war, filling over notebooks. Australian Soldiers in the Great War, first published in and rarely out of print since.
As a pioneering work it has rightly inspired and informed other scholars and further studies have confirmed, refined or challenged its arguments.
It remains a starting point and a work of enduring value. Both are based on the scrutiny of the massive lode of evidence available on the AIF, including official sources and contemporary sources such as unit journals and magazines, but crucially including the rich resource of letters, diaries and memoirs preserved in Australian archives and memoirs.
They accepted military discipline when they considered it necessary but negotiated compromises and exceptions in ways characteristic of the AIF and in distinction to other British and dominion forces.
They regarded military service as a job with remuneration and limits, and adopted methods of negotiation and protest, including strikes. It is, however, a question overshadowed by important epistemological and methodological issues.
The Anzac legend remains such a powerful factor in the interpretation of the Australian experience of war that it may be difficult to distinguish between what it was and what contemporaries and Australians today would have preferred it to have been.
For example, homosexual sex is accepted now but was illegal a century ago. Its presence among AIF volunteers is accordingly hard to discern. Many were enthusiastic and idealistic; others volunteered in hopes of adventure, or simply to find a job was a year of severe drought, and many men had been thrown out of work.
But no one knows exactly why any of them volunteered for the AIF. In fact, only about two fifths of eligible men donned uniform. The majority of Australian men of military age did not attempt to enlist, and did not serve.
This is more than the total number of volunteers for the AIF. About 50, men volunteered inbut in , the peak year of enlistments, with 36, the largest single monthly total joining in July In, enlisted; in42,; and injust 28, In AprilAustralian troops saw their first substantial action when the 1st Division and the 4th Brigade were committed to the invasion of Gallipoli.
Exposure to combat on Gallipoli, and especially close combat at the landing, the defence of the Anzac line and in the August offensive, shocked many — especially the horrific conditions in which they lived in insanitary trenches surrounded by rotting corpses, with all that followed.
Charles Bean famously observed in the summer that many men fatalistically accepted that the war had become their life, and that many accepted that release could only come through wounds or death.
They participated in the defence of Egypt in the Sinai in and then in the arduous offensives eastward into Palestine in At first shocked by the intensity of war on the Western Front despite the experience of Gallipoli veterans the AIF was plunged into costly fighting in, and as part of, the battle of the Somme.
It is arguable that exposure to the trauma of combat made some men turn more easily to brutality post-war — statistics of marital assault and crimes of sexual violence imply that the war brutalised former soldiers — though crime statistics refer to all men, regardless of whether they served.Despite efforts to bar their enlistment, over 1, Indigenous Australians fought for Australia in the First World War.
 saw the first appeal to the High Court by an Aboriginal Australian, and it succeeded. You can continue exploring the world of war poetry with our pick of Edward Thomas’s best poems, some of which were written while he was fighting in the First World War.
Alternatively, switch war for love with this pick of the . Notes ↑ See Kent, David: From Trench and Troopship. The Experience of the Australian Imperial Force, , Sydney ; and Seal, Graham: The Soldiers' Press. Trench Journals in the First World War, New York The First World War caused great upheavals within the Australian labour movement.
The period saw the highest national union membership being recorded alongside the greatest number of working days ever lost on an annual basis to industrial action. And yet, this is an aspect of Australia’s history that is scarcely documented in detail.
I explore these wider questions by focusing on the cataclysmic events of war, in the first instance in the context of a total war in the early twentieth century, the First World War, and in the.
Dr Santanu Das is the author of Touch and Intimacy in First World War Literature (Cambridge, ) and the editor of Race, Empire and First World War Writing (Cambridge, ) and the Cambridge Companion to the Poetry of the First World War .