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Remembered Today:

Dinkum Diggers


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This is truely an exceptional work of scholarship by a recently published Australian author.

This penetrating analysis critically examines a wide range of primary source material to provide a fresh look at the way in which Australia built the Anzac Legend, and then takes it apart step by step.

Dale Blair traces the war experience, from enlistment to the end of hostiities, of the 1st Australian Battalion.

He pulls few punches:

'The fact that at the close of the 20th Century preposterous descritions can still find expression in major daily newspapers of Australian soldiers being 'mostly country bred...grown up on sunshine and steaks' , running fast, bounding over barbed wire and capable of shooting jam jars off fence posts at 100 yards, suggests that the beginning of a new century is both an appropriate and necessay time to review our understanding of the character of Australian soldiers of the First World War.

The sycophantic back-slapping triumphalism that politicians and media have displayed in relation to the the Australian military intervention in East Timor is a timely reminder that , as a nation, we have still not outgrown our penchant to uncritically equate nationalism with military endeavour. It was with a similar public exaltation that the Australian experience in the First World War was appropriated and shaped.'

This is a very refreshing change from some of the more recent academic studies published in this country in the last few years which seem to have rehashed many of the same ideas of the 'learning curve' of the British Army over again in slightly different guises.

This book should not only be read by not only those with an interest in the Australian Army of the Great War, but by anyone who is interested in tracing the war history of a battalion, regiment or battery, indeed any unit, for the way in which Dale Blair uses a wide range of sources to put together a very comprehensive study of the experiences of a group of men before during and after the war. Nearly 25% of the battalion at the beginning of the war were British born, the average height was no more than 5 foot 6, and the vast majority of the men were from urban backgrounds. Hardly the Mel Gibson/ Paul Hogan crocodile wrestling larrikin that we have come to expect from the movies, 'Galliopli'. or 'Anzacs'.

Furthermore it is also very refreshing to hear an Australian almost complement British Generalship. One of the ultimate ironies, of course, was that the myth of resourceful digger was the creation of British media spin, and was to be thrown back in time in our faces:

'....the superiority of the Australian soldier over his British counterpart. At an early date then, the alleged aualities of independence and resourcefulness that the Australians were considered to possess were equally seen to be deficient in British troops. This is an aspect of the Anzac legend that would forment over time into a strong anti-British sentiment.'

Anyhow, i would urge you to read this book. This review could of course still have something to do with having spent my summer in Australia and am now coming to terms with the crowded roads, David Beckham, and trains being derailed.

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I second this review. I bought this book when I was in Australia last summer and read most of it by the time I had got on the plane home.

Like David I was particularly struck by the data about the stature of the men of the 1st Battalion AIF. Many came from socially deprived areas of Sydney.

It is an outstanding analysis of a battalion, and the benchmark for future unit studies. The nearest equivalent in style that I have read on a British unit is Keith Mitchinson's "Officers and Gentlemen" about the London Rifle Brigade.

Who is David Beckham? Is he a member of the forum :lol:

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Now that you have "found" Mr Blair, why not try his "those miserable tommies" too.

Should keep the pot boiling awhile.

Why get your knickers in a knot with Mel Gibson & Paul Hogan?

Off the top of my head, I don't remember either killing a single Turk or German.

Should you care to dispute any incident portrayed in either Gallipoli or Anzacs, trot it out, and I'm willing to lay odds that even I could find documentary "evidence" within a week.

As for the 1st Battalion being predominately Sydney "western suburbs" types, thats the result of the "regionalisation" of the recruiting & Army structure procedures. Anzacs was "based" on 8 Bn, predominately Victorian country. Gallipoli on 10th Aust Light Horse, Western Australian country,although a victorian ALH regiment was virtually obliterated in the first 2 waves at The Nek. Australian equivalent of Brit "Pals"

Just love reading the works of Academics in cushy jobs "analysing" the motives etc of the Diggers. Ever heard the versions of a two car accident? Doesn't stop someone making a living 90 years later. Try reading the letters home yourself. If someone says "I got a soft job as a runner, if things get too hot here, they send me back to base with a message!" Do you class him a shirker? Why attach all these labels anyway? Weren't they each INDIVIDUAL identities?

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G'day Agen!

Have cooled down a little, so this effort may be more constructive.

To base any argument on data drawn from one of the 60 battalions of infantry, let alone all other areas, ALH, AFA,Tunnellers etc etc would be a bit suss at the best of times.

For anyone interested in structure of AIF, please visit AWM website, check "Encyclopedia" under "Unit Histories AIF"

With reference to Paul Hogans "character" in the Anzacs, go to AWM "search our databases" under Hines or Trophies for E00822.

Those of you recently visiting Le Tommies at Poziers may recognise the photo. Apparently Kaiser Bill had distributed a copy to his troops urging them to stamp out such barbarity.


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I tried looking for this book but haven't seen it yet so I can not comant on it.

But one small thing I agree with Paddy is that this Bn was drawn from the Sydney City area like a large number of our units. Few if any country men would have been in it.

The country area tag given to our soldiers is more in line with the LH and later Infantry Bn's formed after the first rush to arms which also include many of the so called outer states Bn's raised from the country areas of Australia.

So his idea in relation to this Bn is false.

But like I said I'll wait till I read the book before going into it in any detail. And yes the Aussie thing is used to often by our histories but one should remember our country was so called forged in this War and yes we make a fuss about it and if we had fought at Waterloo we would like wise make a big thing out of that.

Cut us a break, I know well that the war wasn't won by five Australian Divisions and 51 Highlanders.


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I tried looking for this book but haven't seen it yet so I can not comant on it.

You can easily find this through Amazon UK or you can order it from Aus. through the Australian War Memorial Boolshop AWM

It's £12.95 from Amzon (plus P&P where appropriate)

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Would suggest you save the money. I don't think Mr Blair could define "Dinkum".

Seems a bit strange to apply it to a Battalion RAISED during the first DAYS of the War, when the "FAIR DINKUMS" didn't enlist until the Gallipoli casualty lists had been published. OK all battalions were reinforced, but "identity" of 1st Bn was maintained.


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I think Blair had the idea in his head beofre he wrote the book, to try and pull apart the so called 'myths' of the AIF and he used his study of one battalion to try and assist his cause.

There have been quite a few like minded academic works lately. John Williams whose last book 'German Anzacs' I found very interesting had a previous work about the Anzacs and the Media in the Great War which followed a similar line.

I read Blair's book last year, but will have another read of it to refresh my memory of the finer details of it.

But hey, people like Blair want to sell books and if they are controversial it just gets them more media coverage, just ask FIFO Germaine Greer.

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Sorry folks, just can't let this one pass!

Mr Blanchard, Really! A scholarly work? As in schoolboy perhaps.

The punches he didn't pull weren't even his own, he has at least done his English Lit chores & acknowledged the quotes.

But who is "sycophantic" [your quote] ?

I have not & will not read the book. Wading through the "Acknowledgements" and "Introduction" would test anyones's dedication. How come Mr Deery rates the handle of "Associate Professor Phillip Deery at Victoria University" , Brendan Kelson is named [or name-dropped] as Director of the War Memorial, whilst

DOCTOR Bean, founder of The War Memorial, is ignorantly referred to as C.E.W. Bean. Without Dr Bean he wouldn't have his cushy job, but the Doc cant help now.

Of course his wife receives eloquent thanks for such stirling service. Seems that vetting what hubby says may not be listed in Mrs Blair's job description.

As an Auditor, I'm amazed that anyone could select a block, as distinct from a random sample, of one thousand Attestation papers, from the 400,000 that were submitted in WW1, and profess to reach a conclusion relevant to that population .

He selected the only Battalion that had a "mutiny", and tries to say the AIF didn't give a stuff about their mates. Does he know why each, or even any single,man

mutinied? The motive MIGHT have been directly opposite to that he attributes.

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Still tearing into Mr Blair. apparently there is a limit on the size of each posting

Just loved your happy family holiday snaps from Gallipoli, Dale.

As last Brigade "in", your boys were able to wade ashore like old duck season days. Third & Second Brigades had kept the Turks occupied for a few hours by then. Tell some-one about the poor old 6th & 7th battalions on the Galeka, getting sent down to Krithia to "help out", then another stunt at Lone Pine.

You bottomed out when you tried to denigrate Simpson. Dispute the fact that for 3 weeks he went out daily into the most exposed locations to bring back the wounded. Even my 8 year old grandson did a school project [all his own work] and concluded that it was unfair for Simpson not to get a VC, when someone got one for shooting down a Zeppelin.

And you question the bravery of participating in a turkey shoot? Ever shot a rabbit Dale?. How about facing thousands of "dedicated" enemy, knowing full well if they broke your line, all your mates, and even the detested officers, would be pushed into the sea.

I'm sure all the veterans would be comforted to know, whilst starving on their Soldier Settler Blocks, or digging the Great Ocean Road by hand, as a reward for their efforts, that some people would get cushy jobs trying to heap it on them ad infiitum.

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I haven't read the book, and I'm not especially interested in the AIF, so I can't comment on the specifics. But from what I understand, this kind of book seems similar to the 'revisionist' accounts of British generalship which have appeared in the last five years or so. Both challenge a view which has been held almost universally for a long time, and both provoke very strong reactions from those who subscribe to the mainstream point of view. History is an academic subject, and like all academic subjects it has its fashions. It is inevitable that when one particular point of view is held universally for ten, twenty, or more years, that sooner or later someone's going to come along and produce work which goes against that orthodoxy. This process is normal, healthy, and essential for a better understanding of the events. To criticise books which you don't like is one thing, especially if your criticism is based on the (inaccurate) sources the book uses or the faulty logic of its conclusions, but to imply that a researcher shouldn't publish something because you think it denigrates the memory of the soldiers who fought is starting to go down a very slippery slope where certain points of view are effectively banned.

I hope Dale Blair enjoys his job, and is well paid for doing it. I don't see how being an academic in a 'cushy' job somehow makes his contribution to the debate any less worthy. The job of historians is not to comfort veterans but to help the rest of us understand what happened and the effects of it on modern society.

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Well said.

Its good that from time to time that books like this do come up and so we can also look at them and judge.

Having known a large number of ex 1Bn verterns in my younger day I would never admit that anything mentioned in that book was worth the time or effort.

But that would be wrong as I would like to read it and draw my own conclussions.

We, I mean Australians have had in the last few years a number of books that have shaken the preconcevied ideas of not only our Military History but the History of the Foundation and formation of the country.

We are calling this "the History Wars", and a number of well known authors and Historians are fighting it out to see who can shock or get the better of whom.

Where this will lead to I dont know but it is forcing many to choose up and be counted in their seach for the right anwser or the right question.

Its still a work in progress.


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Unfortunate but true. It seems that it was no-body's job to comfort the veterams. Or their widows kids or whatever.

I was recently given the papers "treasured" throughout the life of a WW1 orphan.

It included a circular from the [graterful & benevolent my words] government advising a widow that her husband would be commemorated on the Menin Gate, and for the meagre sum of two shillings and sixpence she could purchase a copy of the register for the very panel on which his name would appear. Within a couple of years of his death she had been advised, in writing, that the Government sympathised with her plight, but price fixing was not in its charter, and basically "too bad your landlord is evicting you". You must pay your rent.

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Hmm Paddy,

I have not read this book, so I am unable to comment on the specifics. But, then I believe you have not read it either??

I think it is important that the author is not denigrated for his analysis. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. But may I suggest to you The Great War was not won by 5 Australian divisions. It was not won by the 51st (Highland) Div, or by the Guards. It was a combined effort.

I believe that many Australians are under the popular misconception that any criticism of the Anzac legend is a direct attack on their memory (could this be you Paddy mate?). Criticism is NOT an unhealthy thing. The record of the AIF cannot, and should not be based on single battalion. This would be unfair. People are entitled to read an account and formulate their own opinion.

Fair go for all mate by jingo!!!


Geoff S :rolleyes:

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I cannot agree more with your statment.

It like taking the 1/5 Norfolks and saying its the imagine of all British Bn's.

Now you as I know that the Welsh and Scots would take exception to this as well as the Irish and those from other areas in the UK.

That is why we take the idea that this one Bn should represent the AIF and be used as an example to all the AIF ideas.

The AIF was never about one unit but taken as the whole force, that did travel a long way from home to fight for an idea that was not all that popular at the time. Of cause post war when a lot of works were written the war had become less popular. Again the AIF idea was used by Bean and others as only a generalization of the whole.

That our small force like the Canadians greatly effected that war was a source of pride to our small country. And why shouldn't we. Even if we were but only a small part of that force that did the job.

I am still looking for this book and hope to get a copy of it soon but Paddy's statements also are true that we should part all points of view then decide for our selves.


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Geoff S?

Have been wondering if the next 3 letters are cha? or is that Academic?

Seems steve n you have been keeping the secret of the 51st Highlanders to yourselves. Will have to hit the books again!

My criticism of Mr Blair, and anyone believing his work to be scholarly, is very specific. The initial 1000 attestation papers of a single Infantry Battalion, all filled in within the opening days of Rolls being opened, and [ predominately ] at a single Recruiting depot in Sydney, cannot represent a logical base upon which to justify some individual's hobby horse. I have personally "researched" a different Battalion, but not for the purpose of 'one up manship'. What about Light Horse, Artillery, Pioneers, Tunnellers, Medics, Service Corps etc? How could 1st Battalion 'represent' them?

Denigrate the Anzacs? Yes I have made the accusation. But am not too upset by the perpetrators. Actions speak louder than words. Dr Bean actually went into action with the troops whose story he recorded. He was a Journalist, whose peers elected him Historian. Think you can see my prejudices are pretty open.


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I have not read the book so can not comment from a position of authority but i would say just this.

It strikes me that an author who takes one individual battalion from any country and tries to make that the bases for information about a complete army is asking for inaccuracy or is after an axe to grind.

To take the 1st batt Grenadier Gds and then make assumptions as to how the British army performed and what the make up of the men were is alittle nieve to say the least. but the best test would be to take another battalion and see if he can get the same results.

If i was to take Gen Hunter Weston and study him and then base my results on his performance as a complete guide to British generalship during the war i would get a very bad report. If i did the same for say Maxse then i would get a different picture altogether.

As a Brit i believe that the Anzac troops earnt there reputation on the feilds of battle and that fortunately for them their descendants protect that honour. On the other hand we in the UK like nothing better than to pull down our heroes. What you do not do is improve one reputation by trying to drag down another.


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As a Brit i believe that the Anzac troops earnt there reputation on the feilds of battle and that fortunately for them their descendants protect that honour. On the other hand we in the UK like nothing better than to pull down our heroes. What you do not do is improve one reputation by trying to drag down another.

Arm - I have been watching this thread develop with interest have have been wondering how to express my feelings on the matter generally. I think you are spot on with the above statement.


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One thing the study of the First World War has taught me is to be opened minded and non-judgemental. To make up my own view on the Great War and how it was fought, I was prepared to look at all perspectives of the argument both from the 'Donkeys' school to many of the revisionist works of the last 20 years. To consider both the Haig of Terraine and Winter. Likewise I think we should try to judge the men from the perspective of the time they fought in, which relies on considering as much original source material as possible.

There are many preconcieved myths of the war that no longer stand up to rigourous scrutiny, when we consider evidence from the time. Whether you think Dale Blair has done this with his book is up to the reader to decide, but one indisputable fact is that Blair has made considerable use of contemporary evidence.

I am afraid no myth is a sacred cow that cannot be re-evaluated. The legend of the Anzac soldier is just that. A focus on one battalion may not prove that the mirocosom is more revealing than the macrocosm. But I think it is a worthy avenue to explore.

In a way Martin Middlebrook did just that for the first day of the Somme, which has dogged Great War studies ever since. But how many people have become interested in the First World War because of Middlebrook's book? Without doubt this is a great book, basically because it shows us what can be achieved by judging the men from the times in which they served- (even though you could argue to what extent can oral testimonies from the 1960' 1970's be seen as primary sources, but that is another story)

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The coment I made about the war being won by five Australian Divisions and 51 Highlanders came from an British Historian in a documentry I saw years ago about the 1st Bn and the Mutiny in late 1918.

I beleive he was quoting some other source which I don't know recall.

The term 51 Highlanders related to the performance of the 51st British Division (Highlanders). I think shows that Div to be as good as ours.

Not that I sould agree or disagree with that statement but I think the historian was being a bit retorical when using it.

That these divisions didn't win the war is self evident, but that they greatly effected the outcome of the war is plan to see from their record.

Maybe in another place and time we may discusse this point.


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You're right, there's a time & place for everything!

That beer is starting to look good. A 4X [your place] or VB [mine].

Collingwood isn't my team, but hope they give Brisbane a towelling today.

Someone up there must be on the locals' side, cause the weather down here today is ARCTIC!



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