Most histories of Australia's Great War rush their readers into the trenches. This history is very different. For the first time, it examines events closely, even hour-by-hour, in both Britain and Australia during the last days of peace in July–August 1914.
London's choice for war was a very close-run thing. At the height of the diplomatic crisis leading to war, it looked very much like Britain would choose neutrality. Only very late in the evening of Tuesday 4 August did a small clique in the British cabinet finally engineer a declaration of war against Germany.
Meanwhile, Australia's political leaders, deep in the throes of a federal election campaign, competed with each other in a love-of-empire auction. They leapt ahead of events in London. At the height of the diplomatic crisis, they offered to transfer the brand-new Royal Australian Navy to the British Admiralty. Most importantly, on Monday 3 August, an inner group of the Australian cabinet, egged on by the governor-general, offered an expeditionary force of 20,000 men, to anywhere, for any objective, under British command, and with the whole cost to be borne by Australia — some forty hours before the British cabinet made up its mind.
Australia's leaders thereby lost the chance to set limits, to weigh objectives, or to insist upon consultation. They needlessly exposed Australian soldiers and their families to the full horror of the mechanised slaughter that was to come. They were hell-bent — and they got there.
About the Author
Douglas Newton was the Associate Professor of History at University of Western Sydney. He is the author of British Policy and the Weimar Republic 1918–19; Germany 1918-1945: From Days of Hope to Years of Horror; and British Labour, European Socialism and the Struggle for Peace 1889–1914. He lives in Australia.
"An original and disturbing account of the role of imperial manipulation and the connivance of Australian political leaders in the nation's premature leap into war. In a crowded historical field, Douglas Newton's attention to the political dimensions of Australia's (and Britain's) military commitment stands out. Meticulously researched and engagingly written, Hell-Bent highlights the dire logic of Australia's condition as a self-governing colonial dependency and the profound cost of the burden of empire." --Marilyn Lake, Professor in History and ARC Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne; President of the Australian Historical Association