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Anzacs in the Middle East : Australian Soldiers, Their Allies and the Local People in World War II : The Australian Army History Series - Mark Johnston

Anzacs in the Middle East : Australian Soldiers, Their Allies and the Local People in World War II

The Australian Army History Series


Published: 22nd November 2012
Ships: 5 to 9 business days
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RRP $63.95

Anzacs in the Middle East is a compelling exploration of the experiences of soldiers who fought in the Middle East during World War II. Spurred by a sense of adventure and duty, they set sail to countries of which they knew very little.

The book examines the relationships between Australians and their allies and also how they related to the local people: Greeks, Egyptians, Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians. Mark Johnston draws on extensive research to provide a new perspective on the famous campaigns at Tobruk and Alamein, as well as significant but less familiar battles at Bardia, Retimo and Damascus. Featuring first-hand accounts and stories from the front line, the book discovers the true nature of the 'larrikin Australian' and is a must-read for anyone interested in Australia's military history. This book is a companion volume to Mark Johnston's previous books, At the Front Line and Fighting the Enemy.

About the Author

Mark Johnston (PhD) (born 1960) is an Australian historian, teacher and author. Johnston is currently the Head of History at the Scotch College in Melbourne and has also taught at the University of Melbourne, where he obtained his doctorate. He has written several publications about Australian history.

'Johnston makes a novel, interesting and impeccably well-written contribution to the corpus of literature on the Australian soldier's Second World War. He does an excellent job of answering his principal question: rebutting the 'Anzac myth' through detailed examination of contemporaneous attitudes ... Cambridge University Press should be commended for producing an attractive volume including a good number of photographs and some decent maps. It would be too much to ask for Orders of Battle to provide an overview as to formations' and individual units' course through the Middle East, but they can easily be accessed online.' Alexander Wilson, The Second World War Military Operations Research Group

On the day that Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany, Australia dutifully followed. In October and November 1939 Australia raised a ‘special force’ of 20 000 volunteers. There was debate about whether this force, based on the 6th Australian Infantry Division, should remain in Australia until Japan's intentions became clearer or should be sent overseas. On 28 November the government decided to send it abroad early in 1940. We need to remember that all the Australian soldiers who are discussed in this book volunteered to serve in the Australian Imperial Force of World War II (which became known as the Second AIF). The contrast between their status and that of the typical British conscript is well illustrated by an anecdote from an Australian book that tells of veteran Australian soldiers in the Middle East meeting new arrivals from Britain. According to an Australian gunner, ‘a nostalgic little new-arrival’ among the Tommies asked: ‘Is it true all you Aussies are volunteers?’ When told that it was, ‘…he hesitated a moment. Then he blurted out: “Blime, choom, y’ must ‘ve ‘ad a fair – – – of a ‘ome-life!”’1The uncertainty about the new Second AIF's role in the war ahead ensured that only the most eager came forward to enlist. One powerful motive was a desire to be part of the tradition established by the first Australian Imperial Force, in 1914–18. The desire to escape domestic unhappiness and the urge to obtain employment were also factors, but two reasons dominate in the soldiers’ own accounts. One was the desire for adventure: to test themselves as men, and to explore the world abroad. The second was a sense of duty, to Australia and to the British Empire.The Australian official historian, Gavin Long, defines the desire for adventure largely in terms of an urge to break away from boring or unhappy civilian lives.2 This is not the whole story, as the ‘adventure’ opened by enlistment could be less an escape from an old world than an entry into an unknown and exciting one. For the young, inexperienced, largely uneducated men that most soldiers were, overseas travel and war were not just one adventure but ‘the great adventure’.3The lure of a quest was never greater than to the war's first volunteers, but it continued to be important to those who joined the remaining three AIF infantry divisions. Thus Tim Fearnside, who joined the 9th Division, argues that ‘Perhaps the call to adventure was the greatest motivation’ for volunteers.4 However, by the time he joined, in mid-1940, attitudes towards enlistment seem to have changed. The heaviest recruiting to the AIF occurred in the three months following the German invasion of France in May 1940. The ‘Phoney War’ was now clearly over, and men could be certain of their ‘great adventure’. Enlistments rose on other occasions with reports of fighting.Yet opportunity was not the whole explanation: too many observers noted the seriousness and unusual maturity of the fighting soldiers among these later reinforcements. They found the cause in the recruits’ sense of duty, which had supposedly been activated by wartime crises.5It is hard to pin down the object of that sense of duty. Australian front-line soldiers in World War II were rarely as willing as their Great War predecessors to talk openly of patriotic duty. Hardened Australian soldiers preferred to offer trivial and fabricated reasons, or none at all, than to confess to patriotic motivation. Clearly the main object of ‘patriotic duty’ was Australia. However, the British Empire and Britain itself were very important, too. Australians shared a common culture with Britain. From childhood, the Australian male heard English rhymes, legends and songs. He learnt the dates of the Norman Conquest, Magna Carta, Trafalgar and Waterloo in school, and celebrated the King's birthday and a traditional English Christmas Day. The sports he played were primarily British, as were leading lights in his intellectual and spiritual life. As members of the British Empire and subjects of King George VI, Australians were consciously ‘British’ as well as Australian. As one perceptive analyst put it, ‘even under the testing circumstances of the Second World War, [Australians] could not think of themselves as other than a British people’.6 Australians were officially ‘British subjects’ rather than ‘Australian citizens’. Hence there were many points of contact for the Australian soldier when he met his British counterpart in the years ahead. There were points of difference, too, for Australian troops were conscious that differences had developed between their culture and that of the ‘mother country’, and they were proud of Australia.In a large post-war survey of motivation for readiness to go to war, ‘duty’ emerged as the single most important factor, with the related concepts of ‘Australian nationalism’ and ‘Empire loyalty’ second and third.7 Soldiers rarely talked in their letters and diaries about patriotism, but an Australian who wrote in Palestine of ‘that patriotic urge that made us all depart’ clearly felt that he was expressing a common thought. Yet later in the poem in which he said this, he imagined the unit's eventual return to Australia and the pub where they would ‘tell of thier [sic] adventures to a very eager crowd’.8 This combination of duty and adventure meant that the British and their Commonwealth were bound to be topics of interest to the men who went to help Britain in its war in Europe. One Digger asserted in a letter home: ‘Britain is the backbone of the world today and if she goes under the whole lot goes under.’9 Ironically, he said this just after Japan entered the war, an event that changed the focus of most Australians in the Middle East from the war with Germany to that conflict closer to home.The Second AIF's ties to Britain were not merely emotional. The force was modelled on the British Army, with its weapons, equipment and uniforms all either identical to or very closely based on British examples. The structure of the Australian formations and units was also derived from the British Army. Hence for example, although initially the 6th Division's brigades included four battalions each, when the division went overseas it adapted to the British establishment of three battalions per brigade. Installations for provisioning Australian troops in the Middle East with rations, ammunition, petrol, oil and lubricants were British rather than Australian.Nevertheless, by 1939 Australians also had an influential military tradition of their own. Fearnside argues persuasively that the Australians who set out for the Middle East were inspired by the stories they had heard from veterans of the First Australian Imperial Force, who had made Australia's fledgling military tradition. Those veterans reminisced as fondly of the ‘battle’ of the Wazzir (in Cairo's brothel area) as of battles on Gallipoli or the Western Front. They were as keen to talk of fights with military police as with Germans or Turks, ‘of harlots as affectionately as they did of their regimental heroes’. The Digger of World War II, he argued, was not steeped in long tradition like the British Tommy, but took with him an image of being as good as any enemy, better than most, and ‘that if he had a duty to history at all it was to preserve the Digger image – a devil-may-care soldier friendly to all excepting his country's enemies’.10Just as the Second AIF would soon make its own new traditions on the battlefield, so it would develop a distinctive character off it. However, an expectation that they would continue a tradition of misbehaviour would persist among Australians, their allies and other people.
Travelling to the Great Adventure
A Different World - The Middle East
'They're troublesome you know': The First Libyan Campaign
'Fighting shoulder to shoulder': Greece
'Australia, Australia, you are good': Crete
'Unity of feeling and purpose': The Siege of Tobruk
'They treat us as a dependent nation': Syria and Lebanon
'Gyppo Land': Alexandria to Alamein'
Table of Contents provided by Publisher. All Rights Reserved.

ISBN: 9781107030961
ISBN-10: 110703096X
Series: Australian Army History
Audience: Professional
Format: Hardcover
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 267
Published: 22nd November 2012
Country of Publication: GB
Dimensions (cm): 23.5 x 16.2  x 2.2
Weight (kg): 0.56