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'Carmichael's 1000' - A History of the 36th Battalion, AIF


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Margaret A. Clark, Australian Military History Publications 2014

It is a fitting tribute to every WW1 Australian soldier that their battalion's story is told. Every author who attempts this task deserves our support and praise.

Margaret Clark's tribute to the 36th Battalion AIF, records the story with enthusiasm and dedication. It is well researched - I counted over 35 families that had supplied photographs, anecdotes or other memorabilia. The battalion nominal roll is very well laid out and there is a photo album included as part of the book. The author has accessed private accounts, personal diaries, unit war diaries and official histories, but written her own account of the story, fleshing out the many characters that made up the battalion. Complex operations, such as the battalion's role in Passchendaele, are clearly described. The action in which the battalion counter-attacked and saved Villers-Bretonneux from being taken on 4th April 1918 is a gripping read. Two of the battalion's commanders were killed in the field, so there are no WW1 myths trotted out such as lions led by donkeys, or men used as cannon-fodder.

So, why do I have so many reservations with this book?

Having read the majority of the Third Division WW1 unit histories, from those put out in 1919 by the battalion staff to more modern accounts, I gained the impression that this book was rushed to meet some arbitrarily-imposed deadline. Numerous spelling, grammatical and typesetting errors occur as well as misunderstandings with military terminology or place names. While some of these are trivial, to find 150 errors in 300 pages of text suggests a lack of editorial assistance. For example, early in the book, I was a bit surprised to read this: "Most of the officers were killed or wounded through Durban on their way to the front." A tad disconcerting, until I checked the page numbers and realised that 16 pages were missing from the publication, inappropriately splitting the sentence and re-joining it in a bizarre way.

Names, ranks and locations are often simply wrong. German Army Commander Ludendorff, who famously characterised the victories of Monash and Currie in August 1918 as the 'Black Day of the German Army', appears in the book as 'Lundendorff'. Even the Microsoft Office spell checker highlights this as an error! Army Commander General Plumer is 'Plummer' throughout the text. Field Marshall Haig is referred to as General Haig, the same rank as given to the commander of the 53rd AIF Battalion, who is recorded as General Wood. A company commander within the battalion is both Bushell and Bushelle on the same page and the brigade commander, Brigadier-General Rosenthal, becomes Rosenthall.

Readers of a book like this often want to find or even visit the places mentioned in modern France or Belgium. A series of miss-spellings, despite them being correctly spelt on the included maps, may frustrate the search for towns such as Veux [Vaux], Marcelgave [Marcelcave], Corby [Corbie] and Zeenebeke [Zonnebeeke]. The classic Monash victory and location of the impressive Australian Memorial at Le Hamel, is erroneously recorded as occurring at Beaumont-Hamel, a locality some 20 kilometres north!

Typesetting and proof-reading errors abound. Unmatched quotation marks, phrases in differing font sizes, words such as battlefield also called battle field, inconsistent capitalisation ('no Man's Land) or sentences with embedded carriage returns occur, such as:

The sky was lit up by the flash o

f thousands of guns.

Major proof-reading mistakes that should have been picked up occur too often, such as the "wound was so severe that it was to give him a birth on a ship".

It might be possible to appreciate the book by ignoring these errors, were it not for the uneven grasp of military operations and terminology. Brigades do not have commandants. Battalions do not have police, or send in specialist forces to occupy new positions. During a battle, weapons include high explosive, not heavy explosive. After a battle, soldiers are listed as killed, wounded or missing, not 'announced' as 'imprisoned'. Some readers feel strongly that soldiers are awarded medals, they do not 'win' them. When the names of 4 of these medals are wrong, spelled incorrectly or capitalised inconsistently, then this is not a good sign.

Even quotations from original members of the Battalion are sometimes mishandled. One describes the slaughter of thousands of enemy soldiers during an attack on Villers-Bretonneux. However, it is placed immediately after a paragraph that has the battalion resting in support in the relatively benign location under the trees of Bois l'Abbé.

In general, the battalion's unit war diary is used judiciously as a primary source and text is carefully integrated into the narrative. The occasional miss-step results in a passage that can only be understood by someone with a copy in front of them. For example, the assigned sector was 'from Locality 8 to the River Lys.' Where in Flanders is Locality 8? Or how cold was it when the temperature was 52 (Fahrenheit)?

Margaret Clarke has a fine writing style but in the end the book does not meet the standard required to serve as a reference text. It compares unfavourably with the thorough, scholarly and comprehensive texts published by recent Australian authors (none of whom to my knowledge works as a military historian in their daytime occupation). Specifically, works such as Michelle Bomford’s ‘Beaten Down by Blood’, Chris Roberts ‘The Landing at Anzac’ and David Wilson’s ‘The Fighting Nineteenth’ combine readability with a high standard of proof-reading and thorough research. I hope she learns from this, continues to write other unit histories and that in future gets the support that she deserves to ensure a polished, quality production.

Here are some of the more obvious errors, some of which are minor. However, collectively they tell a story:

Page
viii A gropu [group] of battalion men
viii Some menu [men] of B Company
3 Almost nowhere in this book are commas used to delimit large numbers. This makes text such as 10000 men or 600000 (page 6) difficult to comprehend.
9 The key town of Villers-Bretonneux is not hyphenated anywhere in text but is on all maps and illustrations.
12 Text reads ‘Most of the officers were killed or wounded through Durban on their way to the front.' Pages 17 to 28 missing.
32 Quotations are typically typeset in a different font size, to differentiate them from the main text. This excellent idea is not consistently applied, such as on this page.
44 'army Headquarters' refers to a proper noun so in this instance should be Army Headquarters.
50 Text reads ‘forms of distraction Most of them’ [missing full stop]
51 Text reads 'The married men especially were short of cash'. No, the AIF probably had the highest paid soldier of WW1 and each earned 5 times as much as a British soldier. Even with a portion of the married man's pay withheld, an Australian soldier was well off.
52 Text reads 'Massed Australian Bands, all 400 of them' [presumably refers to 400 bandsmen, not 400 bands].
54 No comma used to delimit ‘Voting had been close with 1087557 voting in support.’
60 Text reads: ‘dragging Lewis guns through the streets’, but the Lewis gun is a portable weapon.
62 Text reads: ‘and and more restrained’
62 Armentiers sector [Armentieres]
69 75 boots per company is presumed to be 75 pairs of boots per company
69 Peterson [Pedersen]
73 Text reads: '… high. the second system'. The first word of the next sentence should be capitalised.
78 'commanding Officer' [Commanding Officer]
80 52 degrees Fahrenheit is now an unfamiliar temperature, suggesting it is simply re-typed from a unit war diary, rather than been evaluated for modern audiences.
80 'no faltering … " Different quotation marks used.
80 Text reads ‘be able to secure. Unclosed quotation marks.
80 Text reads 'having a 'go' at the enemy. Unbalanced quotation marks.
84 Text reads 'buried by mizzies' [the correct slang term is 'minnies']
84 Text reads 'These were Minnenwerfer trench mortars were extremely … '
86 Text reads 'winning the Military Cross' rather than being awarded.
87 A soldier is reported to have strayed in front of an artillery post where he was a 'recipient of debris from enemy shell fire'. Probably debris kicked up when Australian artillery fired. A relatively common occurrence as guns were often physically located with brigade headquarters and unlucky soldiers walking past could be blasted off their feet or hit by dirt, stones or other discarded material coming from the muzzle.
90 'offenses' [offences]
90 'tobe' [to be]
91 Text reads 'Promotion is rapid in war', but this was not as common as often thought and in this instance, the book cites an officer who was promoted to Major in November 1915 and Lieutenant-Colonel in February 1917 - a non-rapid gap of almost 14 months.
92 Text reads ‘App 39 (Principles of Defence) enforced’. There is no context and it appears to be a lift of a phrase from a summary in a unit war diary.
92 Text reads 'taking over the Houplines sector from Locality 8 to the River Lys.' Where is Locality 8?
93 Spurious comma
97 Henescure [Renescure], Erquingheim [Erquinghem]
98 'A SOS' [An SOS]
99 General Plummer [Plumer] first appears, without introduction. The name of this important Army Commander is misspelt on every occurrence.
100 1st (and possibly only) instance of metric conversion of pounds to equivalent kilograms. The remainder of the book uses imperial measurements without conversion.
100 Hyphens are not used for combinations such as counter-shaft, winter-weight, never-ending and many other combinations.
100 'When the mines located within these mines exploded' is probably better written as 'mines located within these tunnels'.
101 Text reads ‘Appendix No 39 spelt out their responsibilities’, but there is no reference to whatever document this is an appendix to.
104 Typesetting error results in 'Haig had long had it in mind to divert the war
effort from the
Somme where …'
105 'at 1 to 50' [presumably inferring a scale]. Ditto for 'at 1 to 100'
107 ‘Between February and April 1945240 tons’ [1,945,240 tons]
111 Map should show IX Corps on the left of II Anzac Corps. It shows X Corps twice.
115 received its orders" [orders:]
118 One sentence in different font size.
121 Font size error within paragraph
121 Typesetting error results in 'The sky was lit up by the flash o
f thousands of guns
125 , [comma stands alone]
126 Uses term ‘dog tag' and 'Dog tag' on same page
130 Text reads 'Their specialist forces had moved into position throughout the day', but battalions do not have specialist forces.
132 vermin impregnated [vermin-impregnated]
135 no Man's Land [No Man's Land]
137 Distinguished Service Medal [actually Distinguished Conduct Medal]
137 Terminology: 'work of the ambulance corps' [medical corps]
138 RMO (Regimental Medical Officer). RMO is in small font and Regimental Medical Officer in large.
143 Tautology: 'constant unceasing noise'
153 Text reads: 'a back-up a Lewis gun team'
153 Terminology: 'Birdwood, commanding the 1st Anzac forces' [Anzac Corps]
153 Text reads 'gain expertise in new deep formations'. What does this mean?
153 'Their commanding officers constantly reinforced the message' [each battalion had one commanding officer and each company within the battalion had an officer commanding, so this probably refers to formation commanders or should read 'The general staff ...']
154 'Far from home and with little money in their pockets' - see previous notes on AIF pay levels.
154 'Married men were especially disadvantaged'. - see previous notes.
156 Text refers to 'the General Staff Officer attending a conference'. There was more than 1 in a division so I suspect it refers to the GSO Grade 1, Lieutenant-Colonel Jess.
157 Text describes the small box respirator but the illustration appears to show the old PH helmet, used by the battalion earlier in the war.
157 The next sentence links the mortar shell and the 'flank smoke barrage' with men sheltering in muddy shell holes and claims the system was impervious to water damage. I cannot discern a link between these two sentences.
157 Text reads 'flank smoke barrage', instead of smoke barrage. Smoke barrages were used for many forms of attacks, defence and raids and would have been laid for front, rear or flank.
159 CMC [award is actually CMG]
159 unbalanced quotations - no starting block
160 Haig is both General and a Field Marshall on the same page
161 urtacaria [urticaria]
164 The supplied map is so small as to be unusable and scarcely any place names can be read.
165 Brigadier General [brigadier-General]
167 300000 [300,000] tons of shipping.
175 Eight machine guns of the 9th AMC [MGC?]
176 Zeenebeke [Zonnebeeke]
179 'they could hear heavy machine gun [fire] from that sector'
184 Tautology: 'long interminable hours’
184 Tautology: 'withdraw back’
185 Map is too small-scale to be usable.
193 unbalanced quotation marks
193 Terminology: 'announced missing' [listed as missing]
194 'men's life' [men's lives]
203 Text reads that 'very lights lit the sky' but the light is the Very light, named after its inventor and correctly cited later on this page.
205 The daily routine at Armentieres is tabulated. Then 'an ingenious variation on the above routine' is shown. However, the two do not correlate and the second one is identical to an illustration already included in the book, shown on page 41 as 'Soldier humour Lark Hill'.
206 ‘dawned cold with 6-inch [inches] of snow.’
216 Korteyp [Kortepyp]
220 They were also able [to] bathe regularly.
224 Terminology: 'watched by the divisional commandant' [commander]
230 Text reads 'Lieutenant-Colonel Jess (DSO1 from Division)', later on the same page he is a GSO1. [GSO, General Staff Officer Grade 1 is correct.]
230 Steenabeque [steenebeque]
232 left wing of the XIX [the XIX Corps]
234 Veux [Vaux]
235 Marcelgave [Marcelcave]
236 Slaughter of literally thousands of Germans described by Private Young, when the battalion is in reserve under the trees in the Bois l'Abbé. The quotation may well be in the wrong context and the death toll is almost certainly inaccurate.
237 Corby [Corbie]
240 Terminology: Commanding officer of 55th Battalion given as General [Lieutenant-Colonel] Wood
240 Text shows 'signallers, batmen, police and gas personnel'. Battalions do not have police (apart from 1 or 2 soldiers occasionally loaned to Regimental Police).
241 This page lists Bushell's Company and Bushelle's Company a few paragraphs apart.
242 German Artillery [artillery] had them within range.
242 General Rosenthall [Rosenthal]
244 A soldier is described as 'only 8 stone'. This is now an unfamiliar weight, suggesting it is part of a passage simply typed from a service record, rather than been re-evaluated for modern audiences.
244 'July 19 18' [1918]
244 Terminology: H.E. given as heavy explosive [high explosive]
253 Terminology: 178000 men dead wounded or imprisoned [captured].
254 Text reads 'Casualties had been horrendous … The 36th had lost six officers and 35 other ranks killed on the battlefield while an additional officer and another soldier had died of wounds'. By WW1 standards, these are not horrendous casualties.
260 MSM given as Military [actually Meritorious] Service Medal
261 Crois de Guerre [Croix de Guerre]
262 Crois de guerre and Croix de Guerre on same page
262 military Valour [Military Valour]
263 Medalle Militaire [Medaille Militaire]
269 wound was so severe that it was to give him a birth on a ship
272 Monash's account of the Battle of Amiens gives imperial / metric conversions - why not use this consistently in the entire book?
272 For the Battle of Amiens, flank forces are given as French & Canadian and we are told that they were 'not advancing with panache'. The flanks of the Australia Corps were British and Canadian and the Canadians did advance with panache. However, lack of flank co-ordination between each nation caused problems for Australian units on the right. The British Corps were held up relatively early, causing problems for Australian units on the left.
272 The location of Monash's famous action at Hamel on 4 July is erroneously given as Beaumont-Hamel but was actually at Le Hamel, some 21 kilometres south.
273 Lundendorff [Ludendorff], commanding the German Army
276 'Mont St Quentin fell to the 2nd & 5th Australian Brigades.' The Second Division’s 5th and 6th Brigades took the Mont. The fact that this was actually a complex operation by 3 divisions encompassing the whole of Peronne is not mentioned.
281 Sailly-le-Sec given as 'storm-centre for the Battle of Amiens'. Is this the correct town? Sailly-le-Sec was the site of a Divisional attack on the 11th Brigade in April 1918 and remained on the front line right up until the Battle of Amiens. The Australians launched a surprise attack and the nearby Germans were quickly overrun. The town is not mentioned on any other page of the book.
282 Lieutenant colonel Morshead [Lieutenant-Colonel Morshead]
391 AEW Bean [CEW Bean]
392 AEW Bean and CEW Bean on same page.
392 Peterson [Pedersen]
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