Stories of Australian deserters in World

War 1
by

Dianne Kaye De Bellis
Bachelor of Arts (Honours) Professional and Creative Communication

A thesis submitted for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy

School of

Communication, International Studies and Languages

July 2014
Abstract
This study presents stories of soldiers in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) during World
War I who were court-martialled for desertion and sentenced to death. The stories were
uncovered by extracting information about each soldier from their individual service record,
records of courts martial and historical accounts. This thesis is the first analysis of Australian
courts martial for desertion showing how it emerged from the military structure and how it
existed in the military and broader social context. The AIF is positioned as part of the British
Expeditionary Force (BEF) in terms of martial law, military discipline, medical practices and
prevailing social attitudes. These stories show the ways in which deserters were labelled with
meaning, constructed as something other than a good soldier and how they were dealt with by
cultural authorities trying to build a heroic Anzac tradition. The diversity of the stories
reveals that there are no personal characteristics that determine desertion and that it existed in
the situation and environment, not the individual. Where there is military discipline there is
necessarily indiscipline. In creating and interpellating the role of the soldier, the idea of
desertion must also exist in the symbolic order so that soldiers know how to behave and what
not to do. This research argues that the deserter was created at the same time as the ideal
soldier. The acts of writing and reading narratives of desertion contribute to the incremental
but critical shift in understanding the soldier. This is discussed with particular reference to
individuals suffering from shell shock. If desertion and shell shock are seen as being caused
by involvement in the war, then attitudes towards soldiers and deserters are open to be
challenged. What was thought of as a personal moral code is revealed to be a social construct
imposed on the individual.

i
Glossary

AIF Australian Imperial Force

Anzac Australian and New Zealand Army Corps

AN&MEF Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force

AWL Absent without leave

BEF British Expeditionary Force

DJAG Deputy Judge Advocate-general

FGCM Field General Court Martial

NZEF New Zealand Expeditionary Force

MP Military Police

ii
Declaration
This thesis presents work carried out by myself and does not incorporate without
acknowledgment any material previously submitted for a degree or diploma in any university;
to the best of my knowledge it does not contain any materials previously published or written
by another person except where due reference is made in the text; and all substantive
contributions by others to the work presented, including jointly authored publications, are
clearly acknowledged.

A version of Chapter 6, 'The Irritable Heart of the Soldier', was published in Legacies of War,
2012 ed. N Starck, Australian Scholarly Publishing, North Melbourne.

The story of Pte Frith, ‘A hard job to find out who I am’ was published in Sabretache, v.53,
no.2, June 2012: 29-31. http://search.informit.com.au/fullText;dn=201207563;res=APAFT

The story 'Pte Alexander Little and the colonial mutiny at Blargies' was published in Digger
No. 35 2011.

All transcripts are by me from archive material.

This thesis was edited by Lyn Moore according to the guidelines of the Australian Institute of
Professional Editors (IPEd).

Dianne De Bellis
[Signature] [date]

iii
Acknowledgments
I would like to thank my supervisor Dr Brad West for his specific feedback and guidance. I
acknowledge the contribution of my supervisors Dr Paul Skrebels and Professor Claire
Woods, who both provided feedback.
This work has only been possible with the encouragement of my family, especially Kiara
who was unconditionally supportive and Anita who paved the way.
Thank you to Judith Timoney for being my friend and confidante for so many years.
Thanks also to my other friends Carole Wilkinson and Susan Arnold and my PhD colleagues
Roy Neill, David Sweet, Michael Noble, Gretta Koch, Amelia Walker and Pablo Muslera.

iv
Contents

1. Introduction ........................................................................................................................ 1
Secrets and silences............................................................................................................ 2
Organisation of the thesis................................................................................................... 4
2. Literature Review—Anzac and desertion .......................................................................... 9
Shell shock ....................................................................................................................... 14
Anzac ............................................................................................................................... 18
Commemoration .............................................................................................................. 26
The ironic war .................................................................................................................. 28
Constructing the soldier: constructing the deserter .......................................................... 29
3. The research strategy ....................................................................................................... 41
Why tell the stories?......................................................................................................... 44
Based on (un)true stories ................................................................................................. 48
The dialogic textual intersection of analytical and creative narratives ............................ 51
The Australian identity and the Anzac myth ................................................................... 53
Recruitment: creating the soldier, creating the deserter ................................................... 55
Analysis and interpretation .............................................................................................. 58
Four conditions ................................................................................................................ 59
4. Desertion .......................................................................................................................... 61
The origin of desertion ..................................................................................................... 64
The act of desertion .......................................................................................................... 65
The aftermath of desertion ............................................................................................... 66
No 1864 Pte George Harold Silburn 36th Battalion ......................................................... 67
No 2592 Pte Harry Frith 55th Battalion ............................................................................ 69
466 stories ........................................................................................................................ 72
The death penalty ............................................................................................................. 74
AWL, desertion and other charges................................................................................... 76
LCpl Manning 56th Battalion ........................................................................................... 77
Lt Edmund Wells 47th Battalion ...................................................................................... 78
Sentences.......................................................................................................................... 81
No 3544 Pte James Baufoot 50th Battalion ...................................................................... 82
Using the records ............................................................................................................. 85
5. Military law and the death penalty................................................................................... 86
Courts martial................................................................................................................... 88
The death penalty, justice and discipline ......................................................................... 89
Deserters in the AIF ......................................................................................................... 92
v
No 4928 Pte Clarence Merton Woods 55th Battalion ...................................................... 93
Members of the court martial ........................................................................................... 94
Processes of courts martial and sentencing ...................................................................... 95
No 2691 Pte George Lavender 4th Battalion ................................................................... 97
No 3758 Pte Harry Tolchard Sitters 48th Battalion ........................................................ 102
Deterrent? ....................................................................................................................... 104
Blargies Prison ............................................................................................................... 106
No 3254 Pte Alexander Little 10th Battalion ................................................................ 107
Resistance beyond a point of possible reversal.............................................................. 111
6. The irritable heart of the soldier..................................................................................... 113
The ‘true’ man................................................................................................................ 113
No 1493 (1633) Sgt (Pte) Charles Miller, 1st Pioneers ................................................. 114
Attitudes to shell shock .................................................................................................. 118
Shell shock is no excuse ................................................................................................ 120
No 1171 Pte Ed Rogers 26th Battalion .......................................................................... 122
7. Discussion—constructing the soldier: constructing the deserter ................................... 124
No 2032 Pte Joe Bagnell 36th Battalion ......................................................................... 128
The soldier subject ......................................................................................................... 131
No 299 Pte Herbert Bartholomew and No 547 Pte Albert White 25th Battalion ........... 132
In the AIF ....................................................................................................................... 135
No 1985 Pte Will Swinton 35th Battalion ...................................................................... 137
The soldier as a social subject ........................................................................................ 144
The price of resistance ................................................................................................... 146
Shell shock ..................................................................................................................... 147
Alternative Discourse..................................................................................................... 148
No 497 Pte Frank Sheppard and No 1650 Pte John Foster 51st Battalion .................... 149
8. Conclusion ..................................................................................................................... 152
Primary Sources ..................................................................................................................... 157
Sources for specific soldiers .......................................................................................... 157
References .............................................................................................................................. 159
Appendix A ................................................................................................................................ 1
Appendix B ................................................................................................................................ 1

vi
List of Figures

Figure 1 Recruitment poster Australia Boys Come Over Here ............................................... 34
Figure 2 Recruitment poster Britain Boys Come Over Here ................................................... 36
Figure 3 Recruitment poster Australia the trumpet calls ........................................................ 38
Figure 4 Letter from Pte Silburn .............................................................................................. 67
Figure 5 Number of courts martial in this research group ....................................................... 75
Figure 6 Number of courts martial - Total in the AIF ............................................................. 76
Figure 7 Number of Death sentences each year in the research group .................................... 76
Figure 8 Letter from Gen Birdwood about LCpl Manning...................................................... 78
Figure 9 Original sentence after court martial ......................................................................... 82
Figure 10 Letter from Ivy Baufoot........................................................................................... 84
Figure 11 Photo of Pte Sitters on enlistment ......................................................................... 102
Figure 12 Letter from Pte Little to the court .......................................................................... 110
Figure 13 Letter from Pte Swinton to his mother .................................................................. 140
Figure 14 Letter from Pte Swinton’s mother ......................................................................... 141

vii
1. Introduction
In 1917, from the trenches of the Western Front, Pte Will Swinton, aged seventeen, of the
35th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force, was sentenced by court martial to be shot by
a firing squad for walking away from the fighting. He had just endured the long, muddy and
bloody battle at Messines and had been gassed and twice knocked out by a shell and buried.
He was that worst sort of a soldier—a deserter.

This research examines some of the experiences, through stories, of deserters in the
Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in World War 1 who were sentenced to death by court
martial. It discusses how and why the idea of desertion fits into the military structure and
ethos of that time in that war, as well as where and how it exists in the broader social
framework. This involves an intensive analysis of the events and management of Australian
and New Zealander desertion and deserters in World War 1, using stories of individual
soldiers in the context of the war and of the time. The Australians and New Zealanders were
part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), and subject to the martial law, military
discipline and medical practices of the BEF as well as British and colonial prevailing social
attitudes. These stories use individual accounts to advance knowledge of the ways in which
deserters were labelled with meaning, constructed as something other than a good soldier and
how they were dealt with by cultural authorities trying to build a heroic Anzac tradition. It is
an exploration of the forces that caused a soldier to desert, the attitudes towards desertion and
the cultural ghosts that echo through the histories and mythologies of World War 1 and
Anzac. The study focuses on how institutions responded to deserters. My discussion also
touches on how stories of desertion might challenge accepted notions of the Anzac myth.

I describe what happened to young Australians such as Will Swinton, Harry Sitters and Joe
Bagnell. The individual accounts, including their different circumstances of deserting and
reasons they give for why they deserted, do not fit with the dominant Anzac narrative and
silence about desertion. I look at which factors led to events that meant they, and not others,
became deserters and explore the potential for desertion in all soldiers. My research is the
first detailed examination of Australians who deserted in World War 1. The objective of my
thesis is to recover the lost voices of deserters and tell their stories.

1
How does a young citizen know how to be a soldier? This research shows how the prevailing
discourses of patriotism and masculinity were created and transmitted to contribute to each
man or boy’s own and others’ expectations of himself as a ‘good’ soldier. Pte Bagnell’s story
shows that he thought the equipment was not adequate for the task and environment. Was the
recruitment discourse misleading or the training inadequate? Did Pte Swinton or Pte Sitters
fully understand their ability to cope with trench warfare? The stories describe the events that
led to their perceived sense of their own identity changing from soldier to deserter.

The question of agency within a discursively constructed framework is explored through the
stories of Pte Little, Pte Frith and Pte Silburn, who apparently enlisted with the full intention
of deserting to pursue criminal activities once they were overseas. How did they subvert army
discipline?

Secrets and silences
In reconstructing the stories of desertion, I am retrieving them from the anonymity and
silence of bureaucratic records. The stories of desertion in the AIF introduce a world of
secrets and repression. They are not the stories derived from the abundance of diaries and
journals from World War 1. Australians seem to want to hear stories of struggles, triumph,
mateship and humour. We want these stories, or those of tragedy and endurance, rather than
stories of cowardice, giving up or running away. Nobody wants to be associated with
cowardice or fear or the inability to do what is necessary and dutiful, as these are not valued
characteristics. The influence of deserters in World War 1 is diffuse and the thread from there
to now is stretched thin. Nevertheless, there remains a thread of continuity.

In the military culture, to some extent in war history culture, and in broader social circles,
ambivalence exists in relation to the soldiers who are perceived to not have contributed
positively to Australia’s participation in the war. There is often public outrage at any
iconoclastic approach to the Anzac myth. Even so, some stories have been unjustly ignored.
It is this neglect and silence that actually undermines the Anzac legend. The destabilising
effect of telling stories that do not conform to the stereotypical Anzac soldier provides a
broader and more inclusive context to the contemporary construction of the Australian
identity. I have named the soldiers, as hiding them in further anonymity is not only futile but
implies that there is something still secret and shameful about them. The restoration of their
individual stories is a contribution to telling the stories of the less powerful.

2
Adding these stories to the discourse of Australia’s involvement in World War 1 provides a
more complete contextual understanding of how that involvement impacted on the formation
of the Australian identity. As White (1978, p. 36) argues:

The First World War did much to destroy what remained of history’s
prestige among both artists and social scientists, for the war seemed
to confirm what Nietzsche had maintained two generations earlier.
History… had done little to prepare men for the coming of the war; it
had not taught them what would be expected of them during the war;
and when the war was over historians seemed incapable of rising
above narrow partisan loyalties and making sense of the war in any
significant way.

In undertaking a discourse analysis, I use selected texts of the time, such as recruitment
posters, as well as hermeneutic and historical accounts. Certain texts typify and/or represent
the discourse from which subjects are constituted. Some of these posters are clearly obvious
in their attempts to recruit, but there are gaps and absences in the text, which create
unintended and oblique consequences. This is not a collection to show the ‘actual’ discourse,
it is the discourse that is available to me and that I see, name and interpret.

The heroic narrative of the Anzac legend and its textual origins are important context to the
stories and this research briefly touches on the recursive nature of the myth and its
contribution to a sense of Australian nation hood. The stories of desertion and shell shock are
placed in this context to provide a field from which the heroic myth can be interrogated. The
review of histories of Australians in World War 1 indicates that desertion is not addressed to
any great extent. It is this research gap that I am addressing.

I use a process of creating narrative from historical ‘facts’ and extant archive documents, as
well as discussing subjectivity and identity construction. The circumstances and social
contexts in which some Australian soldiers deserted are examined. I am interested in what
social practices and discourses ensure the appropriation of specific statements of legend and
myth. I present a breakdown of part of the recruitment discourse as a context for the
construction of the soldier subject to demonstrate the available discourse. My analysis reveals
the process involved in order for the self as soldier to come into being and how this is
ruptured or appropriated in unexpected ways to constitute the ‘not-soldier’, the deserter. The
stories of Pte Swinton, Pte Sheppard and Pte Foster show the process of subjectification and
interpellation of the citizen and individual into a soldier and then into a deserter. The stories
of Pte Bartholomew, Pte White and Pte Bagnell are used to illustrate the differing
expectations between the individual and the social institution of the army. Within a cultural

3
studies framework, I use examples of soldier stories to exemplify the concept of subjectivity
as well as understand, through the concept of subjectivity, their situation and the broader
social context.

Organisation of the thesis
A number of themes are addressed in this research to offer broad context to the stories. The
stories themselves illustrate the discussion and context and are embedded in the thematic
chapters. As there is limited research specifically on Australian deserters, the relevant
literature from the BEF on desertion and related issues, such as shell shock in the British
forces, is reviewed in Chapter 2 as well as literature on Australian involvement in World War
1. Of the mass of studies and commentaries of World War 1, many are histories or accounts
of battles. There are also numerous personal versions of the war experience and countless
scrutinies of strategy, command and tactics. Cultural analytical studies of World War 1 and
its impact (Fussell 1975; Winter 1992) have emerged alongside the continuing
reinterpretations of what happened, when it happened and who was responsible. This research
is a cultural analysis of desertion and addresses the questions of who were the deserters and
why did they desert. It draws on relevant research about the British forces in the war and its
legacy, as well as specific relevant research on Australian involvement in the war. Through
an analysis of Australian deserters who received a commuted death sentence, the research gap
on desertion in the AIF is filled.

In Chapter 3 the research strategy and method are described with a discussion on the creation
of narrative from archive documents. My research is based on the retrieval of information
from the digitised archival records of Australians in World War 1 from the National Archives
of Australia (NAA). These are individual service records and records of courts martial. The
data group is limited to the records of those soldiers who received a death sentence. However,
in searching for these, I identified others who were court-martialled for desertion and mutiny
and received initial sentences of penal servitude or imprisonment with hard labour. I
transcribed the information from these records and created narratives to illustrate and
elucidate the discussion of identity construction and the Anzac legend. These stories are told
to illustrate the concepts and theories of my arguments. There are limitations in using the
court-martial records. Because they were mainly held in the field and by officers with little or
no experience, they are not uniform and in some cases not complete.

I use the stories of soldiers who were sentenced to death through court martial or court of
enquiry for a conviction of desertion. These stories are created by extracting information

4
about each soldier from their individual service record and records of courts martial. This
research is not a history of the war nor does it consist of biographies. The narratives from
archive material show that desertion was discursively constructed with some personal agency.
Furthermore, there is no typicality in either the person or the situation.

Within the discussion of narrative reconstruction, I explore the dialogic intersection of
authors, readers and texts to investigate the constitution of systems of knowledge and belief
that inform and shape social practice. This includes discussion of how the researcher is part
of the spiral of meaning making and understanding. Yet, while reflexivity is of value, the
effect of the text is of paramount interest, not the internal motivations of the researcher. The
analysis reveals the framework of how desertion, courts martial and the death sentence can be
talked about.

My central argument is that deserters were socially and discursively created at the same time
as ‘good’ soldiers were created by the dominant discourses of war, patriotism and masculinity
of the time. In Chapter 4 on desertion, I extricate the conditions, processes and outcomes of
desertion and provide a more detailed analysis of desertion and its components. I place this
analysis in an ideological context. The stories of Pte Silburn and Pte Frith used in that chapter
show the use of alternative discourse to create the soldier and deserter. Included in the data is
a statistical analysis of 466 records of soldiers who were court-martialled. This provides a
perspective on desertion in the AIF in World War 1 based on a group of records (see
Appendix A) as well as some example stories from individual service and court-martial
records. The group consists of the records of 466 soldiers who were court-martialled mainly
for being absent without leave (AWL) or desertion or both. The diverse stories of Pte Miller,
LCpl Manning, Lt Wells and Pte Baufoot show different aspects of desertion and shell shock.
From this group, thirty-two men who were convicted of desertion, one for disobeying orders
and one for AWL and using insubordinate language received the death sentence. The
narratives I use to reconstruct more detailed stories in other chapters are drawn from this
group.

In Chapter 5, military law and the death penalty are discussed as context to desertion. The
courts martial were conducted under martial law and the discussion of martial law includes
some description of the prison system. The concepts and contexts of martial law and
discipline are ideologically driven. This is explored through an understanding of the systems
of military discipline, specifically the court martial as an instrument of control. Australian
soldiers were part of the BEF and subject to all the rules and regulations of the British

5
system—except for one significant legal anomaly that meant that no member of the AIF
could be executed as a result of a death sentence through court martial; they could still be
sentenced to death but that sentence could not be carried out. However, the system of
charges, courts martial and sentencing was still thought to be effective for disciplinary
purposes. The stories of Pte Lavender and Pte Sitters are used to illustrate different aspects of
the attitudes to discipline. Various lengths of imprisonment were, by 1917, the only sentences
available for severe breaches of discipline by Australians. The story of Pte Little and Pte
Braithwaite in the mutiny at Blargies prison explores not only the bare life conditions of
military prisons, but also the frustration of commanders in their inability to carry out the
death sentence for the Australian instigators of the mutiny. The widespread acceptance of the
deterrent value of the death penalty meant that some executions for the sake of example could
be justified. Executions for desertion in the BEF were intentionally and widely publicised to
provide the desired deterrent effect. I discuss the death penalty as an instrument of discipline
and power. Pte Woods’s story is told to illustrate the attempt to control a soldier by using a
death sentence, apparently to no avail. However, Australian soldiers were protected from the
worst excesses of the disciplinary system and the executions resulting from the Blargies
mutiny reveal this. There is no compelling evidence to show that the use of the death penalty
was an effective disciplinary tool, and the death penalty was not reintroduced for desertion in
the British forces during the Second World War.

The history and discursive nature of shell shock, which is often conflated with the idea of
desertion in a cause-and-effect relationship, is described and analysed in Chapter 6, using the
stories of Pte Miller and Pte Rogers. Shell shock was a crisis of modernist and classical
masculine identity (Barham 2004; Bourke 2000; Showalter 1985). If shell shock is seen as an
individual weakness, then it can be attributed to lack of manliness and notions of masculinity
can remain intact and unchallenged. If shell shock is seen as being caused by involvement in
the war, then ideas about masculinity can be questioned. The stories of Pte Miller, Pte Rogers
and Pte Baufoot show how shell shock confounded the wartime medical and military
community and was not manageable by any medical or military procedures of the period.

Chapter 6 is a discussion on how the soldier and the deserter are socially constructed within
systems of power and discipline. The stories of deserters illustrate the social, organisational
and ideological context of desertion and provide examples to show how identity and
subjectivity are constructed. They are examples of subversion and resistance to the dominant
ideology. Althusser (1972) identified ideology as the system of ideas and representations that

6
dominate the mind of a man or a social group. Ideology is a representation of the imaginary
relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence. The individual outlooks do
not correspond to reality but they do make an allusion to reality and need to be interpreted.
What is represented in ideology is not the system of real relations that govern the existence of
individuals, but the imaginary relation of those individuals to the real relations in which they
live. He argued that ideology has no material existence. Practice is contained within an
ideology therefore there is no ideology except by the subject and for subjects. In the stories
about deserters, the ideology becomes apparent when a soldier transgresses acceptable
behaviours. I explore desertion as a social construct in World War 1 within the context of that
war.

Using cultural theories from Foucault (1972, 1977, 1980, 1989) I demonstrate how soldiers
and deserters are constructed by individual and organisational expectations. The binaries of
hero/coward, good soldier/bad soldier are exposed. I examine the hierarchies and exercise of
power and discuss the construction of the subject as a soldier, moving towards the ontological
and epistemological questions of who did they think they were as Australian soldiers, and
who we think they were according to the Anzac legend. I uncover some of the ways in which
individuals and groups participate, then and now, in the creation of the perceived social
reality of soldier and deserter. This involves looking at the ways the social phenomena of
soldier and deserter are created, institutionalised, and made into one way of thinking. A
socially constructed reality is one that is seen as an ongoing, dynamic process that is
reproduced by people acting on their interpretations and their knowledge of it. This
postmodern theoretical analysis of desertion derives primarily from the work of Foucault, and
assumes the centrality of power in contemporary attitudes toward Anzac, the military and
Australia’s involvement in World War 1. Contemporary cultural attitudes support the
dominant ideology, reinforcing any hegemonic approach, particularly by historians, cultural
analysts and the media, which are further reinforced by popular activities such as
commemorative practices. Cultural assumptions and discourse about desertion, therefore, are
potentially weakened in their ability to challenge the dominant heroic Anzac myth.

The stories in this research are about those ordinary Australians who became soldiers then
deserters. The causes and circumstances of their desertion are widely divergent. The stories
are limited to those soldiers who were court-martialled and sentenced to death. My argument
that desertion was socially and discursively constructed is supported by theories of identity
construction and subjectivity and illustrated by individual stories. The diversity of the stories

7
reveal that there is no evidence to show any typicality in the circumstances in which some
soldiers desert nor are there are characteristics of a deserter. Almost all sentences were
commuted, suspended or remitted, and most deserters returned to Australia with their unit.
No soldier from the AIF was executed. The path to understanding Australian soldiers who
became deserters in World War 1 is through stories of specific soldiers based on documents
from the period. The stories lack the drama and focus of actual executions and this could be
why the stories are not told.

8
2. Literature Review—Anzac and
desertion
There are so many ways in which the vast army of the dead could be
drilled, classified, inspected, and made to present their ghostly arms.
No end to the institutions, civilian and military, busy drawing up their
sombre balance sheet (Farrell 1970).

In this chapter the literature on courts martial and executions in World War 1 in the BEF is
reviewed. While there is limited literature on desertion, it is inextricably tied to discussions of
shell shock, military law and discipline. There were no soldiers from the AIF executed for
desertion and this lack of a sense of dramatic tragedy is likely to be the reason that desertion
is discussed as a side issue in histories and commentaries on the first AIF.

After the bombardments of Pozières in 1916, absence without leave (AWL) and desertions in
the AIF in France increased, alarming the British and Australian Command. Growing
concerns over this issue saw some senior Australian officers urge that Australian soldiers
should face the same sanctions that applied in the British Army, the death penalty for
desertion. However the general feeling, both in Australia and in the services, was steadily
against the infliction of a death penalty on men who had volunteered to fight (see Appendix
B). In World War 1, 121 Australian soldiers were given a death sentence through a court
martial. Most of these were for desertion. None were executed, but they all spent some time
in prison, either in the field or in Britain. Over 30,000 Australian soldiers were court-
martialled for AWL or desertion, some more than once. Of these, 121 were sentenced to
death by firing squad. Some were punished with Field Punishment No 1 or Field Punishment
No 2.

The issue of desertion in the AIF has not been written about or analysed in detail. While C E
W Bean mentions episodes of desertion in Anzac to Amiens (1968), it is in the context of the
problems of discipline in a political context and he does not offer much in the way of
statistics or analysis, although he is willing to offer judgements in the lack of fighting spirit of
such soldiers. Desertion without execution, by Richard Glenister (1984) addresses the context
of the process of political decision making with some case studies. He describes the pressure
the British placed on the Australian Government to change its law and why the government
consistently refused to do so. Glenister provides the first quantification of desertion in the
AIF and my research is the first analysis of Australian courts martial for desertion.

9
The difficulties of managing desertion as well as other crimes in the AIF are documented
from the point of view of the military police in several historical accounts. These include
discussion of the formation and function of the Royal Australian Corps of Military Police and
its predecessors the Mounted Military Police; the ANZAC Provost Corps; the Australian
Provost Corps and the Royal Australian Army Provost Corps in Beyond the myth (2005) by
Geoff Barr, and The other enemy? (1999) by Glenn Wahlert. They have unsubstantiated
stories of how the deserters survived behind the lines, evading capture and stealing supplies.

Some of these soldiers managed to get back to Australia, while others
escaped to a variety of locations from the remotest parts of Ireland
and Scotland to the cities of the UK and France. A number stayed
close to the front and formed gangs that pilfered army stores and ran
gambling schools among the troops of resting formations (Wahlert
1999, p. 59).
In these histories of Australian MP in World War 1, deserters are discussed within the context
of the problems they caused the MP. There are stories of deserters who had been absent from
their units for lengthy periods, becoming organised into gangs and supporting themselves
through criminal activities. These gangs allegedly ‘preyed on their so called mates, robbing
and assaulting them for their money, pay-books or leave passes’ (Barr 2005, p. 180).

Wahlert and Barr both claim that these gangs of well-organised deserters existed, exploiting
the black market, evading capture and ‘eking out an existence in the rear areas’ (Wahlert
1999, p. 60) and that some ‘had been absent for so long that they had married, fathered
children, and gained acceptance in the community as discharged veterans’ (p. 71). The
rumour of these gangs may have been inflated, but absences of up to sixteen months indicates
that there must have been some means by which soldiers detached from their unit could
survive. In my research group of 466 court martial records, there were approximately 200
who were absent for more than one month (see Appendix A). The provost marshals faced
logistical and resource difficulties in dealing with deserters among their other duties (Barr
2005) . Wahlert (1999, p. 71) agrees, claiming that the ‘Anzac provost Corps dealt with more
than 26,000 Australian soldiers in England for either absence or desertion between January
1917 and December 1918’.

Wahlert (1999) questions the reason for the number of deserters, asking ‘was indiscipline
inherent in the Australian character or ethos, or was it simply the result of inadequate
policing?’ (p. 28). He suggests that hasty recruitment of unsuitable men was partly the
reason:

10
The authorities were so anxious to recruit large numbers of fit young
men that they appear not to have bothered with even a cursory glance
at the motivation and character of the men seeking enlistment.
He also asserts that the Australian soldiers ‘remained incorrigibly civilian’ (p. 29). Wahlert
also speculates as to why the deserters were protected by soldiers. He offers the idea that any
sympathy for deserters stems from consideration of the ‘consequence of the volunteer ethic:
men had opted in, and they held their right to opt out’ (p. 61). The histories of the provost
marshals do not examine the role of the military institution in constructing deserters. These
accounts talk about desertion as a problem for the military police but do not discuss the issue
of desertion in depth in any other contexts.

Peter Stanley (2010) in Bad characters claims there were some deserters among the thieves
and murderers. In this study of indiscipline in the AIF, as ‘a means to better understand the
force’s distinctive character’ Stanley poses the questions,

Who were these men? Why did they act as they did? Were they
merely bludgers, deserters and criminals, or do their stories help to
explain how this terrible war affected Australians? (p. 10).
The initial and extant stories of Australian heroism have ‘nourished the Anzac legend’ but the
effect is ‘a seriously skewed understanding of Australia’s military history’ (p. 10). Stanley
identifies the deserters but does not tell their stories in any depth.

Bean (1968) approaches the topic of desertion only briefly as one of the many problems to be
addressed in the relationship between the AIF and BEF commands. Bean had an unshakeable
faith in the quality of the Australian character. He could not countenance shell shock. Dale
Blair in Dinkum diggers (2001, p.113) critiques Bean and asserts that:

Australian soldiers suffering permanent neuroses did not fit [Bean’s]
belief in the ability of the Australian character to overcome all
difficulties, challenges and conditions. He accepted that temporary
insanity visited men in battle but did not contemplate the possibility
of long-term effects. In this he was exhibiting the ignorance of war
neuroses that existed at the time, as well as the belief that insanity
could be neutralised by the commitment of oneself to the higher
ideals of national life.

In The Sydney Morning Herald of April 25 1977 a World War I veteran, George Long, did
not think that ‘there is anything sweet and fitting about dying for one’s country’ (p. 3) and
claimed that he enlisted because he was ‘influenced by the propaganda’ and ‘wouldn’t do it
again’. This is a rare example of published resistant discourse to the Anzac mythology
expressed by a veteran. Long had not forgotten the horror of his war experience and the bitter

11
cost of the mythical construction of Anzac. By examining the untold narratives about
desertion, some conclusions can be made about the constitutive and recursive effect of
resistant discourse on the myth and legend.

Christopher Pugsley’s On the fringe of hell (1991) provides description, context and
commentary on the five executed New Zealand soldiers and is an important contribution to
the discussion of discipline and punishment in the British and dominion forces in World War
1. Twenty-eight soldiers of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) were sentenced to
death in the BEF, including five New Zealand soldiers who were executed for desertion and
mutiny. Two of these were Australians in the NZEF. These narratives are positioned in the
context of New Zealand’s participation in the war. Pugsley charts the attitude to discipline of
the New Zealand command through the diaries of Maj-Gen Sir A Russell, with particular
attention on Russell’s role as commander of the New Zealand Division. It was Russell who
was responsible for the harsh code of discipline imposed on the New Zealanders, and Pugsley
argues that the excessive zeal shown by the courts martial, staffed by New Zealand officers,
was actually moderated by the British Command. This harsh code also applied to the AIF.

The five Australian divisions also faced an escalating desertion rate
and countered this with 85 sentences of death in 1917; a rate of
sentencing that was far higher than Britain, Canada and New
Zealand. It demonstrated the determination of Australian
commanders to reduce the absentee rates in their divisions, and it
destroys the myth that Australians were less demanding in discipline
than Dominion and British counterparts. This ceased abruptly in
November 1917 when it became obvious that no death sentence on an
Australian would be put into execution (Pugsley 1991, p. 204).
New Zealand passed the Pardon for Soldiers of the Great War Act of 2000 which pardoned
the five soldiers from the NZEF who were executed (Pugsley 2004, p. 163).

Desertion is discussed in the overall British and dominion armies within the context of the
British military executions. The first work to examine World War 1 executions is Thurtle’s
political pamphlet, Shootings at Dawn published between 1918 and 1924, which argued for
the abolition of the death penalty. Thurtle collected and published stories of executions with
the polemical intention of changing policy. The stories are supposedly first-hand accounts
and as such are highly emotive and likely to be factually incorrect. There is minimal analysis
of the executions or the context.

William Moore with The thin yellow line (1975) appears to be the first historian to identify
many of the core issues of courts martial in the BEF, but he did not have access to official
records and was only able to generalise about cases. In 1981 Judge Anthony Babington was

12
granted access to the closed files and published For the sake of example (1983). His
discoveries summarise the information relevant to the cases of executed BEF soldiers while
maintaining their anonymity. Desertion in World War 1 and specifically in the British forces
was highlighted by the ‘Shot at Dawn’ campaign in the UK in the late 20th Century. After a
long campaign by the relatives of British soldiers who were court-martialled, convicted and
executed for desertion, the British Government agreed in November 2006 to grant a
posthumous conditional pardon to the 361 British soldiers who were executed during World
War 1.

Julian Putkowski and Julian Sykes identified and named the 361 men executed between 1914
and 1920 under the authority of the British Army Act in Shot at dawn (1989). They focus on
the perceived injustice of the executions, as did Moore (1975) and Babington (1983). While
these could be seen as polemical and one-sided, relying on emotional language and limited
argument, they did bring the British military executions of World War 1 into the forefront of
popular consciousness. Putkowski and Sykes achieved their aim of contributing to the
posthumous conditional pardon to the British soldiers who were executed during World War
1.

Cathryn Corns and John Hughes-Wilson examine the British court-martial records in the
context of their own time and place in Blindfold and alone (2001). They look past the moral
outrage fuelled by the popular mythologising of World War 1 and the ‘Shot at Dawn’
campaign to provide a balanced and compassionate account of one the most controversial
aspects of World War 1. While this can also be viewed as polemical, Corns and Hughes-
Wilson approach the military executions in the context of their time and place, not with the
judgement and mores of today. Putkowski (2008) however argues that this view is an
‘annoyed response’ of ‘a relatively small group of self-styled “revisionist” military
historians’ (p. 17) to the British government’s 2006 posthumous conditional pardons. He
maintains that the Shot at Dawn campaign was ‘informed by liberal perspectives and
humanitarian values’ (p. 25).The circumstances and contexts of the 361 men in the BEF who
were charged and executed for desertion in the face of the enemy are described by Corns and
Hughes-Wilson. A case study approach is used which includes Drummer Rose of the 2nd
Yorkshires who had survived for two years ‘living in the deserters’ favourite rat holes among
the damaged houses and cellars of Hazebrouck just behind the lines’ (p. 218). They claim that
‘by far the most serious disciplinary problem confronting the BEF was desertion’ (p. 215).

13
However they concentrate on the executions using existing research and do not research
desertion in any detail.

The cases of the twenty-five executed Canadians are first discussed by Desmond Morton in
the article ‘The supreme penalty’ (1974) where he contextualizes the Canadian relationship
within the BEF. Andrew Godefroy in For freedom and honour? (1998) compiles the stories
of the twenty-five Canadians executed. Godefroy also considers issues such as shell shock
and the disciplinary role of the executions. The stories are told in the context of their own
time and avoid emotive generalisations about the executed men. Morton returns briefly to the
theme in When Your Number's Up (1993) a general study of Canadian involvement in World
War 1. These studies focus on the executions in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF).
Teresa Iacobelli in No example is needed (2009) compared the cases of Canadian soldiers
who were executed to those who received commuted death sentences to examine the
application of military law and discipline in the CEF.

Gerald Oram in Military executions during World War I (1998) produced a detailed list that
he had extracted from BEF court martial records. He widened his research to include all the
death sentences passed by courts martial whether or not they resulted in an execution. In 2003
Oram provides a critical analysis of military law in the British Army and other major armies
during World War 1, with particular reference to the use of the death penalty. His thorough
research and convincing argument moves the debate to the use of executions for disciplinary
purposes. There was a clear cultural and legal framework for military discipline, and British
military law is comparable with French and German military law. Oram includes case studies
of British troops on the front-line and identifies that Pugsley (1991) and Morton (1994) both
‘assess the use of the death penalty within the wider context of an increasing sense, on the
part of the respective Dominion armies, of independence from British control’ (p. 11).
Oram’s purpose was also ‘to explore the manner in which the threat of execution was
deployed as a disciplinary tool’ (p. 101).

Shell shock
According to Michael Tyquin (2006) in Madness and the military, unit and official histories,
as well as personal diaries, ‘are almost totally silent’ (p. 1) on psychological breakdown and
the then-new ‘shell shock’ syndrome. Medical histories focus on the field treatment of shell
shock and its postwar effects. The science of psychology grew to meet the new need to
provide ‘both definite treatment and even satisfactory explanations for these bizarre

14
behaviours’ (p. 63). The aim of treatment was to return the soldier to active duty as soon as
possible. Desertion by some may have been a reaction to this system.

Much of the literature on shell shock includes discussion of desertion, but not all shell-
shocked soldiers deserted and not all deserters were shell-shocked. Medical articles about
shell shock started to appear in the Lancet and the British Journal of Medicine as early as
1914 when British soldiers with severe and mysterious symptoms began to congest the
military medical system, well before Australian troops joined the BEF in Turkey, Egypt and
France. Charles S Myers, consultant psychologist to the British armies in France, published
two articles specifically on shell shock (Myers 1915, p. 316). The Lancet also published an
article by Dr S Mott in 1916 on ‘The effects of high explosives on the central nervous
system’, placing the cause of shell shock firmly in the physical realm. The shell-shocked
soldier had become a cliché in stories in the English press as early as 1916:

[There were] a startling variety of newspaper stories about shell-
shock. A series of articles appeared in The Times, for example,
referring to hysterical blindness (8 April), ‘The Wounded Mind’ (24
April), and deafness and paralysis resulting from ‘Wounds of
consciousness’ (25 May) among soldiers in the trenches (Bogacz
1989, p. 234).
In 1920 Lord Southborough raised the issue in the House of Lords and from this debate came
the commissioning of the War Office Committee of Enquiry into ‘Shell-Shock’, under the
chairmanship of Lord Southborough, which met officially from 7 September 1920 to 22 June
1922, and published the Report of the War Office committee of enquiry into “shell-shock” in
1922. In the House of Lords debate, in which Lord Home, Viscount Peel and Lord Haldane
took part, a good deal of attention was devoted to court martial procedure, especially in
relation to shell shock and to death sentences in connection with cowardice and desertion.
Their lofty claim for the committee’s report was that thorough investigation and credible
witnesses ‘should remove from the public mind any doubt of the true nature of “shell-shock”’
(Southborough 1922, p. 13). The ‘public mind’ however resisted any definition about the true
nature of shell shock, and Lord Southborough’s committee did not resolve the debate about
causes or treatment of shell shock. Myers (1940) also published a book on shell shock.

In Australia, public reaction was not as immediate. Australian soldiers were treated in
England and only started to return home after the war. Even today, war neurosis from World
War 1 is still considered one of the ‘few uncharted areas of Australia’s military history’
according to Tyquin in Madness and the military (2006, p. ix). Histories of Australian
involvement in the war allude to shell shock but show ‘scant recognition of mental illnesses

15
seen during 1914-1918’ (p. 3). Tyquin (2006) charts the number of scholarly works in
Australia that omit shell shock in attempting to deal with and understand the war and the
postwar period. Tyquin (2006, p. 2) addresses the issue of shell shock in the Australian
context and looks at the omission and repression of shell shock in the Anzac myth: ‘These
mentally scarred men could not therefore enjoy a sanctioned place in the young nation’s
idealised archetype of bronzed, hypo-masculine warrior’.

The official history of the Australian Army Medical Service in the war of 1914-1918 was
published with the section on shell shock called ‘Moral and mental disorders in the war of
1914-18’ (Butler A G, 1938). It claims to chart the discovery and treatment of shell shock
among other mental disorders and diseases. Butler’s chapter places shell shock clearly as the
responsibility of the individual and a failure of moral or mental strength. However, it was
‘very difficult for the Australian army to claim that so many soldiers were malingerers,
particularly since they had volunteered in the first place, and many were experienced
soldiers’ (Bourke 1995, p. 8).

Shell shock was addressed in more depth in British histories as well as those from Canada
and New Zealand. This was because of the lingering consternation over the possibility that
shell-shocked soldiers had been unjustly convicted of desertion, sentenced to death and
executed. This was identified as an issue in the 1922 report but the confused and confusing
evidence and conclusions did not dispel the idea that some deserters were shell-shocked and
unfairly executed.

Babington (1997) gives examples of courts martial and executions after diagnoses of shell
shock. He claims the British House of Commons was deliberately misled, claiming that in
answer to a question by the Labour Member of Parliament, Philip Snowden, whether ‘at
courts martial for cowardice and desertion medical evidence that the accused soldiers were
not suffering from shell-shock was always given on oath and was always subject to cross-
examination’, the Under-Secretary of State for War assured him that ‘the answer was “yes” to
both questions’. Babington states that in ‘none of the trials for cowardice or desertion… was
such evidence given’ (p. 114). He argues that:

[S]enior officers in the BEF continued to regard war neurosis with a
mixture of suspicion and contempt, and at a court martial for
cowardice or desertion the fact that the accused man had recently
undergone treatment for shell shock was rarely considered to be
mitigating circumstance (p. 83).

16
Most accounts, including Tyquin’s, focus on the field treatment of shell-shock and the post
war effects. He identifies the growth of the science of psychology to meet the new need to
provide ‘both definite treatment and even satisfactory explanations for these bizarre
behaviours’ (p. 63). As a medical and treatment analysis, Tyquin’s work does not directly
address the issue of desertion as a result of shell shock, although the descriptions of the cause,
symptoms and treatment throw light on possible motivations for some desertion. Bill
Gammage (1974) provides ‘glimpses into the dark underside of the waggish Aussie soldier’
(Tyquin 2006, p. 4) but does not pursue the problem of the effect of this dark underside in
terms of desertion, AWL, self-inflicted wounds or suicide.

In 1979 Eric Leed published No man's land, his study of personality and shell shock using
anthropology, psychology and literary analysis to argue that shell-shocked soldiers were
fundamentally changed by their war experience. He links shell shock with the new
technology of war arguing that shell shock and related neuroses were the result of the
alienation of the individual from the mode of destruction.

A special issue of The Journal of Contemporary History in 2000 focused on shell shock,
adding to the critique of the argument that shell shock is only either somatic or
psychosomatic and poses a constructionist cultural analysis through the study of narratives of
meaning. If any mental condition is culturally shaped, then the social construction of shell
shock could be argued to be a response to the stress of modern industrial life.

Peter Leese in Shell shock (2002, p. 4) looks at the origin and concept of shell-shock by
examining case files and medical notes to understand how a mental condition can be
culturally shaped. He claims that:

[S]hell shock defines for the first time, both qualitatively and
quantitatively, a modern condition that becomes all too familiar
through the twentieth century: mass trauma. Shell shock is modern
because surrounding it are scientific and bureaucratic procedures
designed to manage human emotions and behaviour and direct them
towards mass, state-controlled activity, in this instance, making war.
Leese maintains that shell shock was a threat to man power by being an excuse for lack of
discipline or evasion of duty. He discusses desertion as one response to shell shock.

Peter Barham in Forgotten lunatics of the Great War (2004) questions the validity of using a
narrative of military psychiatry to recount the history of shell shock. He argues that shell
shock, in all its forms, was a crisis of identity construction and social expectations. Barham
does not specifically address the issue of deserters, but his discussion of shell shock can

17
equally apply to some of the cases of desertion, claiming that shell shock was a crisis in
identity and that in psychological confusion and desperation ‘a soldier might try to
compensate for his vulnerability and powerlessness by fleeing not only from his unit, but also
from himself’ (p. 69). The implication is that shell shock is a symptom of psychological
desertion which can then manifest into actual physical desertion.

‘“Minds the dead have ravished”: shell shock history, and the ecology of disease-systems’
(Feudtner 1993), using a poignant line from a poem by Wilfred Owen written in 1918, argues
that a view that shell shock is socially constructed is one-dimensional and programmatic.
Feudtner offers a systematic analysis of how biology, psychology and society intersect to
provide a view of shell shock, using the metaphor of disease-system ecology and showing
shell shock as a composite entity (Feudtner 1993, p. 381). Not only was shell shock socially
constructed, but the perceptions of and reactions to shell shock were, and still are, socially
constructed. The labels of shell shock and war neurosis, argues Feudtner, ‘permitted the fine
mediation of social anxiety and ambivalence while preserving a sense of order and justice.
Shell shock theories were an expression and a fulfilment of complex social needs’ (p. 399).
He also claims that through these labels, ‘the inner drama could enter the public realm and
draw on the fear, guilt, and pathos of the European conflict’ (p. 399) and to some extent
vicariously assuage the collective anxieties. ‘Modern society had produced this illness and
then framed it in modern garb, redefining individuality and responsibility in the process’ (p.
410).

Anzac
This section examines the social and textual framework in which the stories of desertion are
told. It looks at how and why the Anzac story came into being and considers how it became
one of the dominant paradigms of what it means to be Australian. It also looks at possible
reasons for the repression of certain stories.

The Australian Government had raised the AIF to support the BEF, but had not handed over
complete control to the British. Promulgation of the death sentence had to be signed off by
the Australian Governor-General under Section 98 of the Australian Defence Act 1903. The
AIF was a volunteer army and while initially there was a rush to join up, there was
subsequent difficulty in providing the numbers requested by the British. A conscription
referendum was planned. The then Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, considered that any news of
the execution of deserters would negatively affect the referendum and so delayed signing off
the death penalties. This was a political decision not a compassionate one (Glenister, 1984).

18
Hughes wanted to fulfil the British requests and maximise the chances of a ‘yes’ vote in the
conscription referenda. So there were no Australians executed for desertion. Their sentences
were suspended, remitted to anything between two and ten years of penal servitude or
imprisonment with hard labour and, in some cases, commuted after a year or so (see
Appendix A).

In the years before World War 1, Australia was in the process of federating from separate
colonial states to a nation. This created an emerging culture of social citizenship. The AIF
was voluntary, its soldiers were citizen-soldiers and there were high expectations of them as
soldiers and as men, by themselves and by others. Australia’s involvement in the war is often
told as a tragedy that has been turned into a heroic myth (Stockings 2010). However, it also
began as a heroic narrative as early as the first reports from C E W Bean, Australia’s official
war correspondent, and Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, the British Daily Telegraph war
correspondent of the landing at Gallipoli.

A systematic and thorough assessment and explanation of the experience of the men of the
AIF at Gallipoli in 1915 and in Egypt and France until 1918 is offered by Gammage (1974).
He relies on Bean’s Official History, the twelve volumes of which comprehensively describe
Australians’ participation in World War 1. Over 1,000 letters and diaries from that period
reveal the reasons Australians enlisted and the assumptions they had that were shaped by the
emerging Australian identity, imperial expectations and a certain naivety.

For years it had required only one great Imperial deed to consummate
the highest hopes and expectations of the Australians; now, in the
fullest and most glorious measure, it had come (p. 12).

Their attitudes were changed by the experience and the legend was born. However, there was
growing disillusionment with war, and by June 1915 there were almost 10,000 dead. ‘Cruel
realities rose up to question the certainties of the earlier months, and Australians never
afterwards shook them away’ (p. 13). Gammage (1974) focuses on the experience of the
digger in the trenches, as did Bean, rather than the overall strategies and tactics of the war.
Consequently, the war experience was described in terms of the individual and emphasised
the volunteer civilian-soldier nature of the digger. This depiction contributed to the
iconoclastic, unconventional and unmilitary representation of the Australian force. It was, and
is, an attractive and distinctive characteristic for Australians to apply to themselves.

Mateship was a particular Australian attribute that was elevated by the Anzacs to ‘a creed,
almost a religion’ (Gammage 1974, p. 101). The legend was that the men lived by mateship,

19
died by it and, above all, they fought for it: ‘the man who risked himself for his mates was the
best sort of Australian’ (pp. 101–102). For Australians, according to most commentators, the
abiding consideration was mateship—standing by one’s mates—as shared experience in war
‘makes soldiers comrades, because comrades sustain hope in battle, mitigate despair in
adversity, and relieve a monotonous existence’ (p. 101). However, this is true for soldiers of
most nationalities and while there is ‘no doubt about the importance of mateship in the AIF.
But the mistake is to present mateship as something inimitably, even uniquely Australian’
(Lake et al. 2010, p. 36).

The effect of the legend on Australian society was that the Anzac campaign provided a focus
for specifically nationalist sentiment and created the perception that Australia was at last a
nation, with international recognition, national heroes, a national day and a worthy tradition.
Australians were told that Gallipoli was the sacred forge of Australia’s national identity, ‘the
fount of her traditions, the shrine of her nationhood, the tomb of her kings’ (Gammage 1974,
p. 115). The Anzac experience was used to promote the idea that Australians need never
‘bow before fear or hardship, and never admit defeat’ (p. 99). Histories and commentaries
contributed significantly to the evolving Anzac legend with the continuation of Bean’s
approach of detailed research on individual soldiers’ stories, well-written analyses and
conclusions that revealed the construction of some aspects of the legend without undermining
or contesting it. Gammage’s work influenced subsequent historians, academics and
journalists. He was also an adviser to Peter Weir when Weir was making the popular and
critically acclaimed movie Gallipoli in 1980. This brought the detail of Gallipoli into the
1970s, revealing the personal motivations and tragedies of individuals, and opening the
subject to a contemporary and renewed discourse. Yet, as Alistair Thomson states in Anzac
memories (1994, p. 195), Gammage arrives at the same conclusion as Bean, ‘that through
endurance of terrible circumstances the Anzacs were truly heroic’. Gammage’s book
emphasises that it was ‘the positive national characteristics of the Anzacs which made them
such stoic and effective soldiers’ (Thomson 1994, p. 196). These are the individual heroic
stories that have grown into the legend.

The Western Front in France, however, was another story. Even the Australian stoicism
began to crumble in the winter of 1916–17. Few who survived Fromelles in July 1916 ever
forgot the experience, and many were for a time ‘absolutely unnerved’ and ‘unfitted for
further resistance’ (Bean, p. 438). However, Australian soldiers were to face even worse
conditions with the terrible bombardment at Pozières:

20
A furious bombardment fell upon the captured positions, pounding
the earth, and tearing the fragile air with noise. For seven weeks the
merciless shells rained almost continuously, the men powerless
beneath them. They dug trenches; the guns obliterated them. They
crouched in holes; the guns found them and blew them to oblivion, or
buried them, and dug them out, and buried them again (Gammage
1974, p. 163).

To justify the blood and pain and suffering, and as war became less and less bearable,
concepts such as duty, honour and manhood became the narratives that men used to justify
their experience. ‘A fearful ordeal had tortured these men and they had to explain it’ (p. 169).
While Gammage describes this period as one of the hardest for the Australians, he claims that
only ‘one or two deserted to the enemy’ (p. 179).

In Big-noting, the heroic theme in Australian war writing (1987), Robin Gerster sees World
War 1 as the first of the modern wars with ‘the marriage of imaginative literature and
politico-military policy’ (p. 21). He claims that before TV and radio, the printed word was the
key factor and medium used to justify the sacrifices demanded of the Australian people. He
argues that the primary task of the The Anzac Book (1916) was to bolster morale within the
combatant forces and in the broader community. Its main function was ‘to stimulate
recruiting and to manufacture an optimistic picture of the fighting which would encourage
widespread national confidence’ (p. 21). This was achieved, as shown by the sustained
enthusiasm for the event, by Australia maintaining a ‘a passion impelled by the manner in
which Australians, in frenetic literary activity in the days and months following the April
1915 invasion at Anzac Cove, transformed a charmless patch of rocky terrain into
consecrated ground’ (p. 23).

Gerster argues that Bean’s methodical selection and editing of the mass of raw material at his
disposal indicates that Bean anticipated that this ‘ostensibly ephemeral work’ could and
would become a ‘potent literary instrument by which the Anzacs would be commemorated,
celebrated and mythologized in the decades to come’ (Gerster 1987, p. 29). Bean did not
progress any contributions to his news dispatches or The Anzac Book (1916) that detailed
negative reactions to the dangers of combat or the extreme discomfort of the situation. There
is an absence of stories that address the themes of desertion, cowardice, malingering or
selfishness. Any stories revealing bitterness at the relative comforts and privileges enjoyed by
the officers or the futility of the Australians’ situation were not included. The nationalistic
fervour in public discourse and the press about the Anzac landing outlasted the humiliation of
the eventual defeat. Gerster attributes this largely to the ‘energy and dedication of the original

21
Anzac legend-makers in fabricating a rudimentary body of heroic myth’ (p. 23). Subsequent
historians, journalists and memorialists conveniently draw on this foundation discourse.

‘Anzac’ stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, and Anzac Day commemorates
the loss of Australians and New Zealanders in war. Anzac Day, held annually on 25 April,
has become a day of national significance and pride for Australians, a celebration of
nationhood and the soldiers who volunteered. In New Zealand, Anzac Day is commemorated
differently, because of conscription, ‘a day where the national consciousness is one of cost’
(Pugsley 2004, p. 309). At the centre of the Anzac myth for Australians is a particular and
specific idea of the Australian soldier which is the foundation of, and, paradoxically built
upon a particular construction of the Australian character. It may seem ‘strange that this
military figure should have become the hero of the national myth in a country where the
armed forces have not been of obvious, continuous importance in a struggle for existence’
(Ross 1985, p. 11). However the idea that the Australian or New Zealand soldier, the digger,
was a natural fighter, healthier and fitter than the British Tommy, reassured the Australians
thousands of kilometres away that their ‘boys’ would somehow prevail and come home
safely. There was also the need to stem the drop in enlistment after the first lists of injured
and dead were published. It was this need that was met by Bean, who was Australia’s official
war correspondent, and Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, the British Daily Telegraph war
correspondent with their war reports and newspaper stories.

This heroic narrative had strong appeal to people of a newly federated nation who wanted to
show an independent coming of age from Britain while maintaining a firm commitment to the
Empire. Australia wanted to prove to be mature equal partners and ‘a worthy defender of the
ideals’ (Blair 2001, p. 1) that sustained the British Empire. However Australia was not an
independent nation state either before or after 1915 and the Australian government ‘had no
say in the decision as to where the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) would go, who it would
fight and for what reasons of state they would kill and be killed’ (Lake et al. 2010, p. 27).

National identity refers to an abstract or general principle that defines the sense of separation
of a group from other groups (Said, 1978; Anderson 1991). It is ‘an imagined political
community’ (Anderson 1991, p. 6). This idea of separation then inevitably involves other
people. We are defined by not being them; they are defined by being the other. This is how
identity operates at the intersection of shared values and behaviours and is always linked to
something external. The nation is ‘conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship’ that enables
people to ‘willingly to die for such limited imaginings’ (Anderson 1991, p. 7).

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Australia’s Federation in 1901 created a need to develop a unique Australian national identity
which was distinct from that of the British, but still part of the British Empire. The battles at
Gallipoli in 1915 and in Egypt and France from 1916 to the end of the war in 1918 provided
such an opportunity. The reports and histories by war correspondents Bean and Ashmead-
Bartlett, constructed the image of the courageous Australian Digger, the Anzac, in World
War 1. An Australian sense of nationalism was then developed from the story of the Anzacs.
Bean and Ashmead-Bartlett laid the foundation of the Australian myth with their dispatches
from Gallipoli and the Western Front as well as Bean’s extensive post-war histories. The
following editorial from the The Town and Country Journal on 12 May 1915 indicates the
prevailing discourse of heroism and patriotism.

Mr. Ashmead Bartlett’s graphic account of the glorious deeds of
Australians in the Gallipoli Peninsula has sent a thrill of pride
throughout the whole Commonwealth. It was a great achievement to
land in the dark on a coast where the enemy’s strength was unknown,
and, having driven the Turks back, to hold the country firmly, while
reinforcements followed. Every one of those who are taking part in
the action against the Turks will appreciate the words of General
Birdwood, who said he could not sufficiently praise their courage,
endurance, and soldierly qualities. Though the list of casualties has
brought grief to many homes, there is consolation in the thought that
all our men at the front are fighting gloriously for the defence of the
Empire. Many more thousands of young men are giving their
services, and in course of time will join their comrades in the battle
line. And in the coming years the memory of all those who fought in
the greatest war the world has ever seen, and in the severest crisis
through which the Empire has ever passed, will be handed down from
generation to generation with pardonable pride.

Polemical work such as this about the landing with its inflated patriotic rhetoric inspired more
potential recruits, and ‘10,526 volunteers, many carrying Ashmead-Bartlett’s dispatch,
offered themselves in May, and 12,505 in June’ (Gammage 1974, p. 13). Going to war was a
matter of life, not death. It was an affirmation of vitality, youth and energy. It was a statement
of masculinity and national pride. Here, the Australian story was embodied by the Anzacs as
newly federated Australians. In the light of post-war histories, fictional accounts, memoirs
and films about the Gallipoli campaign, reports of this kind can now be seen as deeply ironic.

The legend provides productive ground for values and ideals that are seen to be lacking. As
Ross (1985, pp. 12-13) explains:

A myth is a legend built up as an ideal-type out of what the myth-
makers themselves, for whatever reasons, deem to be the most
important features of the experience. To them, as to later

23
propagandists, the truth or otherwise of the myth in any particular
instance is probably irrelevant. What matters to them is that an
essence is expressed, a distillation of important truths. This ideal type
then ceases to be descriptive, or claim to be descriptive: it becomes
an ideal in another sense, meaning the good for which one should
strive; or more cynically, the official line which should be put about
as being the real case.
According to Barthes (1993), myths remove contradictions by supplying a meta language that
removes signs from the original referent and the context of signification. The myth
transforms a sign into a symbol, a process that removes its direct relationship to the
contradictions that constitute historical reality.

The legend of the Anzac involvement in World War 1 has since been consistently involved in
creating various manifestations of Australian nationalism. It has become one of the dominant
paradigms of the stereotypical Australian character. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers from
many nations died at Gallipoli, in Egypt and on the Western Front, but the importance of the
Australian involvement to Australians was initially made clear by Bean who claims that those
months of 1915 at Gallipoli were seminal in the development of Australia’s national identity
and the ‘importance of the Gallipoli Campaign has been far too deep to fade … it was on the
25th of April 1915 that the consciousness of nationhood was born’ (Gammage 1974, pp. 9-
10). Australian involvement in World War 1 provided an opportunity to develop an
Australian identity which was distinct from that of the British, but willing and able to make a
significant contribution to the Commonwealth war effort. Bean’s reports and histories
constructed the image of the courageous Australian Digger, the Anzac. It was a quest for
authentic identity, for self-fulfilment and commitment to the values evoked for nationhood.

Since the first commemoration, annual events on Anzac Day have been consistently involved
in creating and appropriating various manifestations of Australian nationalism. The Anzac
myth is the result of complex weaving of personal, historical, social and cultural processes
that are at the core of Australian national identity. In the absence of a political or territorial
goal in sending Australian troops so far away, success would be ‘calibrated not by measuring
political or strategic achievement, but by the display of character, of courage and stoicism
and by the metaphorical creation of a nation. Anything less would make the sacrifice seem
more unbearable’ (Lake et al. 2010, p. 28).

Inglis (1965) examines the role of Bean in the Anzac legend construction and laments that
Bean as a historian and the Anzac campaign was largely ignored by historians in the years
after the Second World War. He finds exaggerations, omissions and inflations in Bean’s

24
writings and suggests that this may account for the neglect of his work in the years between
the wars and after the Second World War. Bean’s ‘habit of finding a single, national
response, of personalizing the nation’ (p. 32) that pervades his writing may in part account
for the neglect of Bean by historians at that time. Inglis, however, argues that a ‘severe
scrutiny of Dr Bean’s account would still leave large facts standing after the legend had been
cut away from them’ (p. 33). In the years after the Second World War, ‘peace-loving liberals
do not find it easy to believe that the history of war is continuous with the rest of history’ (p.
34). Inglis also discusses the ‘two main streams of national tradition, the one radical and the
other patriotic’ and asks whether they can ‘flow together or remain apart’ (p. 35).

Formal and informal processes since 1915 have contributed to powerful continuing myths
that have become the focus for a cherished traditional day. The myths and legends have been
constructed by many commentators and historians, some more influential than others. By ‘a
reactive and cumulative process they have a tendency towards monolithic consistency.
Opinions are repeated, perhaps with qualifications; these qualifications are subsequently
omitted but the opinions are continuously transmitted so that, over time, a conventional
wisdom is formed’ (Ross 1985, p. 13). The result is a fixed type of the Australian soldier and
as Blair (2001, p. 3) says;

stereotyping of the “digger” has served to obscure much of the reality
of experience of Australian soldiers in the First World War. Its
perpetuation deflects attention from the sometimes horrific realities
of individuals’ variegated experiences and thereby limits our
understanding of Australian experience in the First World War.
The mediated nature of the war and the Anzac legend, along with the role of Bean and
subsequent commentators and historians, allow the legend to be appropriated, controlled and
changed. World War 1 is the first of the modern wars with ‘the marriage of imaginative
literature and politico-military policy’ (Gerster 1987, p. 21). The tone and intent of Bean’s
work, and some subsequent histories, assert ‘a proud racial identity, acting as a controlling
nationalistic consciousness over narrative structures which are episodic and diffuse’ (pp. 62–
63). There are writers who are prepared to challenge the nation’s most treasured assumptions
about the nature and substance of Anzac heroism, but ‘the elevated status of the Digger
remained sturdily intact, in good shape to be further magnified by another horde of publicists
after the myth-reinforcing military events of 1939-45’ (p. 147). Any resistance to the Anzac
image of the Australian war hero made by the few iconoclasts of the 1930s was
overshadowed by the feats of Australian soldiers during 1939 to 1945 in the Second World
War. The Second AIF apparently showed that the legend of Anzac was not an accident of

25
history. Australians proved by their achievements on the Second World War battlefields that
‘the heroic capability was so ingrained in the race that it would automatically manifest itself
to meet fresh challenges on fresh arenas of combat’ (p. 172). The original Anzac legend was
reinforced and perpetuated. The Second AIF demonstrated ‘that Anzac was no pejorative
“myth” at all’ (p. 172).

The power and persistence of the Anzac myth is clear, but the reasons they are so strong
remain somewhat obscured:

Since the fateful April 25 of 1915, Australians have been continually
enmeshed in discourses that have included participation, celebration,
commemoration, condemnation, and study of Anzac (Seal 2004, p. 1).

There is a need for the Anzac myth because, for the Australian people, it connects ‘the potent
notions of community, nation and war’ (Seal 2004, p. 4). It is a necessary myth with which
all Australians ‘are required to have a relationship, positive or negative’ (Seal 2004, p. 4).
The central attitudes and values of honour, duty, bravery, sacrifice and salvation are
positioned specifically within a militarist context. The personal imperatives of mateship and
heroism are inextricably connected with nationalism and patriotism, emphasising the
comforting and redeeming aspects of unity, sameness, heritage and loyalty. These, as well as
the temporal distance from the first Anzac Day, increase the sacralisation of the Anzac legend
and history itself ‘imparts ever-accumulating significance to Anzac in the form of ”sacred
time”, forever lapsing, forever accreting around the icons and images of the Anzac tradition’
(Seal 2004, p. 4).

Commemoration
The history and memory of participation is also complex, emotive and contested. During the
1960s and 1970s the number of people attending Anzac Day marches fell as Australians
questioned the relevance of Anzac Day. In 1965 a group of World War 1 veterans re-visited
Gallipoli on Anzac Day. The only other Australians were four backpackers (Inglis & Wilcox
1999, p. 80). However, in the 1980s and 1990s there was a resurgence of interest in Anzac
Day with attendances, particularly by young people, increasing across Australia and with
many thousands making the pilgrimage to the Gallipoli Peninsula to attend the Dawn Service.
In 2010 close to 7,000 Australians were at the Dawn Service at Gallipoli (Australian
Department of Veterans’ Affairs 2010). They are responding to commemorating the concept
of Anzac not the actual memory. Individual Australians cannot ‘remember’ World War 1, it
is a war of the last century and nearly a century has passed. ‘The collective memory is a set of

26
assumptions and understandings compiled from many sites: family stories, war memorials,
school history lessons, television documentaries and series, film, literature and to some extent
academic works and debates’ (Winter & Sivan 1999, p. 60).

Jay Winter’s Sites of memory, sites of mourning (1995) is a study of the collective
remembering of European communities after World War 1. The experiences of Australians at
home were different, in that many European communities were at the front or close to it.
Winter describes the attempts of support organisations like Red Cross to assist with
information to families in Australia about men missing or killed in action. The official system
of notification by local clergy was not satisfactory as ‘most people knew that they were not
wholly true and always incomplete’ (p. 35). Personal loss, as well as the war itself was
mediated through film, personal histories, art and literature. Human reactions to war are
‘infinitely complicated and delicately coded’ (p. 224), as are human reactions to
commemoration of indirectly experienced war. The fictive nature of relationships of people
in the present to those who died in World War 1 illustrates to some extent ‘the powerful,
perhaps essential, tendency of ordinary people … to face together the emptiness, the
nothingness of loss in war’ (p. 53). Winter discusses the role of art, film, physical monuments
and memorials as collective symbols for bereavement and states that in Europe local war
memorials ‘arose out of the post-war search for a language in which to reaffirm the values of
the community for which soldiers had laid down their lives’ (p. 79). There would have been a
similar need to value the distant sacrifice of young Australians. This need then contributed to
the construction of the Anzac legend. For those without direct experience of the war, there is
still the powerful idea of loss and sacrifice. While the loss may be conceptual it is still able to
evoke emotion and grief, albeit vicariously. The issue of desertion is subsumed by the grief of
loss and sacrifice.

Views of the war have changed over the last ninety years argues Dan Todman in The Great
War (2005). Through various media, a distorted legend of heroes in the trenches led by
incompetent command has emerged. Todman argues that contrary to popular myth, the
British command was often highly professional and in the end won the war. He also claims
that not everyone involved remembered the war only for its miseries. He claims that, through
various media, a biased legend has emerged and became dominant. Putkowski (2008, p. 20)
argues that this is a revisionist position based on the reality of ‘the sheer human and material
cost, post-war economic vicissitudes and negative interpretations about the conflict’ and that
this ‘shaded and then shaped popular disillusionment about human and material losses as well

27
as the outcome of the peace settlement’. Putkowski (2008, p.21) claims that Todman
advances a ‘rather simplistic interpretation of British “popular culture”, corrupted by “myths”
and emotional responses to war’. However, if the BEF executions are seen in the context of
the war and the martial imperatives of the time, then a more comprehensive context can be
used to examine desertion and the disciplinary system. Commemoration is a powerful
influence on what stories survive and what stories are not necessarily repressed but become
silenced through not being told.

Memoirs, histories and analysis of the war focus on either military strategies and tactics or
the wartime experience of individuals. Those that have addressed the experience of the war
from a psychological point of view have tended to focus on the stress in coping with battle,
bombardment and front line deprivations. Some have looked at the legacy of the intense
psychological struggle that some soldiers endured.

The historical experience of pilgrimage (Scates 2006), specifically the pilgrimages of
Australians to Gallipoli, is a manifestation of reactions to war in the twenty-first century. The
‘sacred sites’ at Gallipoli are significant to successive generations, and ‘the complex
responses of young and old, soldier and civilian, the pilgrims of the 1920s and today’s
backpacker travellers’ (Preface) show their power. Scates claims to give a voice to history,
retrieving ‘a bitter-sweet testimony through interviews, surveys and a rich archival record’
(Preface). He attempts to explain through a collection of personal testimonies why the Anzac
legend still captivates Australians.

The ironic war
Paul Fussell’s The Great War and modern memory (1975) has a profound influence on
research into World War 1 claiming that one reason it was more ironic than any other war is
that ‘its beginning was more innocent’ (p. 18). He says that when the war started, the world
‘was, compared with ours, a static world, where the values appeared stable and where the
meanings of abstractions seemed permanent and reliable’ (p. 21). According to Winter (1992,
p. 525), Fussell ‘stimulated a shift in interest from the old military history (battles, strategy
and diplomacy) to a new sort of history which focuses on culture, psychology and social
transformation’. Fussell provides a study of the literary means by which the war is
remembered and mythologised, with irony becoming the ‘new’ stance from which to view the
war experience. He notes the ironic contrast between the actualities of war and the kind of
consciousness that this war engendered. ‘It was the first modern, mechanized and
industrialized war and yet it produced myths, fantasies and legends that are reminiscent of

28
more archaic mentalities’ (Leed 1979, p. 115). Fussell ‘reasserted the “evidence of
experience” as the cornerstone of war writing in the twentieth century’ (Smith 2001, p. 242),
using the narrative of tragedy juxtaposed against the narrative of heroism and sacrifice. His
emphasis is that ‘no coherent account of experience could be given without using a
conventional narrative structure of one sort or another to give shape and significance to the
details of the day’s activities’ (Darby 2002, p. 309). Fussell reveals the irony of how the war
writers and war poets portrayed the horrors of trench life to those at home to whom the war
was still framed in the old language of glorious battle and noble sacrifice. He wanted to
‘show the emergence of an ironic attitude to war and to the deceitful officialese by which its
realities were softened’ (Darby 2002, p. 313). He also aims to illustrate how ‘the image of
trench warfare became deeply etched in British (indeed, anglophone) consciousness, and
permanently affected the way in which we talk about warfare and think about the world’
(Darby 2002, p. 309). Fussell (1975) reveals the gap in perceptions and the transforming
effects of the war. He also claims that the stories and rumours of gangs of deserters, from all
armies, emerging nightly from basements and underground hiding to forage among the
corpses in no-mans-land was the ‘finest legend of the war, the most brilliant in literary
invention and execution as well as the richest in symbolic suggestion’ (1975, p. 123). He
remarks on the irony of these stories reflecting the organisation and collaboration of the
trenches.

The cultural historian Modris Eksteins in Rites of spring (1989) argues that the view of
incompetent leadership and injustice in World War 1 was challenged by the resurgence of
irony and satire in popular culture in the late 20th century. He interprets the war as a harbinger
of modernism and says the question ‘of what kept men going in this hell of the Western Front
is central to an understanding of the war and its significance’ (p. 171). Eksteins claims that
the horror of the trenches is the ‘sensation aroused solely by the unexpected contradiction of
values and conditions that bestow meaning on life’ (p. 154), but once the unexpected
becomes expected, the irony is that such horror loses its shock value. He claims that
Victorian residual values of honour and duty initially sustained soldiers but the ‘brutal reality
of modern warfare was bound to undermine the values’ (p. 190). The values were not strong
enough in all soldiers to prevent desertion.

Constructing the soldier: constructing the deserter
Within a cultural studies framework, I use certain examples of a specific group of soldiers to
illustrate the concept of subjectivity, as well as understand, through the concept of

29
subjectivity, their situation and the broader social context. The concept of subjectivity poses
the abstract idea that attempts to define our sense of separation from, or attachment to, other
individuals or groups of individuals. Although my research uses personal stories, it is not a
psychological study of individual motivation. The proposition by Heidegger (1889–1976) is
that the Cartesian idea of a free, unique and autonomous individual is a superficial illusion.

Michel Foucault in Powerknowledge (Foucault & Gordon 1980, p. 98) claims that the
individual is ‘the element of … [the] articulation’ of power as well as ‘an effect of power’.
The soldier is constituted by the power structure of the army and, by implication, by the
society that commissions the army, and is the vehicle by which that power is used. Foucault
discusses subjectivity and the objectivisation of the productive subject in his work about
power and the subject. His ideas about the different modes by which, in our culture, human
beings are made subjects are discussed in Michel Foucault: beyond structuralism and
hermeneutics (Dreyfus, Rabinow & Foucault 1982).

In The archaeology of knowledge (1989) Foucault uses the army as an example of the use of
hegemonic power. The type of power that the army had over the soldier is that

which categorizes the individual, marks him by his own individuality,
attaches him to his own identity, imposes a law of truth on him which
he must recognize and which others have to recognize in him (p.
212).
Foucault (1989, p. 18) identifies the means by which this is done in a system of four elements
that he calls Technologies of the Self:

1. Technologies of production, which permit us to produce,
transform, or manipulate things.
2. Technologies of sign systems, which permit us to use signs,
meanings, symbols, or signification.
This includes the language of war, nationalism, patriotism, masculinity and bravery.

3. Technologies of power, which determine the conduct of
individuals and submit them to certain ends or domination, an
objectivizing of the subject (p. 18).
These are the overt and covert military rules and laws that provide the discipline and
punishment that shapes a soldier’s behaviour, either as an individual or as a member of a
group.

4. Technologies of the self, which permit individuals to effect by
their own means or with the help of others a certain number of
operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and
way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a

30
certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or
immortality (p. 18).

Foucault departs from Heidegger’s essentialism with this theory of self construction. There
are no universal necessities in human nature, only different technologies through which the
subject is created or by which he creates himself. These technologies are realised through the
symbolic order created by recruitment, training and disciplining of soldiers in the army. The
behaviour of the ideal soldier is also reinforced by peer and social pressure.

The subject is the idea that a person has about who they are. Subjectivity usually refers to a
person’s perspective or opinion, particular feelings, beliefs and desires, and in this discussion
the concept is that these feelings, beliefs and desires are socially created. The subject—the
soldier and the identity of soldier—is constructed; it is not born fully formed. It is made in the
world through social interaction and language. The world we enter is already structured
according to cultural traditions and a civil politics laden with significances and imperatives.
So subjectivity, or our sense of personal identity, is made by language and symbols that exist
and evolve through social activities. Social activities are formed by relationships of power,
and so therefore is subjectivity. Lacan (cited in Homer 2005, p. 44) argues that:

We are born into this circuit of discourse; it marks us before our birth
and will continue after our death. To be fully human we are
subjected to this symbolic order – the order of language, of
discourse; we cannot escape it, although as a structure it escapes us.
As individual subjects, we can never fully grasp the social or
symbolic totality that constitutes the sum of our universe, but that
totality has a structuring force upon us as subjects.

Louis Althusser’s claim in Lenin and philosophy, and other essays (1972) is that subjectivity
‘is the type of being we become as we fit into the needs of the larger political imperatives of
the capitalist state’ applies to the soldier as a subset of the citizen. Subjectivity ‘requires us
not only to behave in certain ways, but to be certain types of people’. Subjectivity is not
really an existing thing, but has been developed by dominant systems of social organisation
in order to control and manage people to achieve political, economic and, in these cases,
military goals. The idea of individuality, identity and freedom is the primary workroom of
power and works through hegemonic processes.

The army constructs the idea of a soldier and controls its men by discipline through hierarchy
and the creation of expectations of power and care. Foucault in Docile bodies (1991, pp. 142–
143) identified the activities of enclosure and partitioning in controlling military groups:

31
Enclosure … the army, that vagabond mass; has to be held in place;
looting and violence must be prevented; the fears of local inhabitants,
who do not care for troops passing through their towns, must be
calmed; conflicts must be avoided; desertion must be stopped,
expenditure controlled.

Partitioning … One must eliminate the effects of imprecise
distributions, the uncontrolled disappearance of individuals, their
diffuse circulation, their unusable and dangerous coagulation; it was a
tactic of anti-desertion, anti-vagabondage, anti-concentration.

For military success, the army needed to be able to move and control men. This means that
the individual soldier body

becomes an element that may be placed, moved and articulated on
others. Its bravery or strength are no longer the principle variables
that define it; but the place it occupies, the interval it covers, the
regularity, the good order according to which it operates its
movements. The soldier is above all a fragment of mobile space,
before he is courage or honour (p. 164).
To do this, the identity of the soldier needs to be created as compliant and responsive to
discipline. This is done through training, social pressures and managed expectations, which
are created and perpetuated in a recursive semiotic cycle of myth, language and behaviour.

Military institutions and involvement in war are more than just the instrument of defence:

they are also a manifestation of a sense of community. Because this
symbolic function is important for a national and individual self-
image and identity, the armed forces come to be endowed with a
special sensitivity and sacredness (Ross 1985, p. 11).

The concept of ‘self as soldier’ as a separate, singular, and coherent entity is an imagined
construction, as is ‘self as deserter’ or ‘you as deserter’. Each soldier’s identity comprises
tensions between conflicting knowledge claims based on expectations of self and the other.
The symbols of identity, behaviour, appearance and compliance are controlled by systems of
punishment and reward as well as acknowledgement of achievement and failure. This applies
to the soldier as well as the ‘not-soldier’.

In The sublime object of ideology (1989, p. 113), Slavoj Žižek offers the idea that the subject
is always

fastened, pinned, to a signifier which represents him for the other, and
through this pinning he is loaded with a symbolic mandate, he is
given a place in the intersubjective network of symbolic relations
and that this is how the subject is created through language.

32
The subject, Žižek explains, is always attached to a meaning or label
– a signifier in Žižek’s terminology – which represents him for the
authority figure. As a result he is loaded with a mandate which
positions him in a symbolic network. However, the mandate is
ultimately always arbitrary, and so, when asked to explain why he
possesses it, and why he is occupying this place in the symbolic
network, he is unable to account for it (Barham 2004, p. 61).

The symbolic mandate of the soldier is loaded with denotations and connotations of
patriotism, masculinity, duty and sacrifice, to mention just a few. Žižek (1989) also maintains
that ‘this mandate is always performative, it cannot be accounted for by reference to the
“real” properties and capacities of the subject’ (p. 113). Some of the experiences of deserters
and shell-shocked soldiers could be seen to

exemplify this arbitrary dimension in which, even if the subject may
willingly have embraced the signifier which represents him for the
other, as by volunteering for the cause, still it becomes apparent quite
soon that there has been a misunderstanding, and the subject’s idea of
who he is, and what he has let himself in for, is quite at odds with the
mandate that has been foisted upon him by the authorities (Barham
2004, pp. 61–62).

Foucault in Michel Foucault: beyond structuralism and hermeneutics argues that power ‘is
exercised only over free subjects, and only insofar as they are free’ (cited in Dreyfus,
Rabinow & Foucault 1982, p. 221). By this he says he means ‘individual or collective
subjects who are faced with a field of possibilities in which several ways of behaving, several
reactions and diverse comportments may be realized’ (p. 221). With shifting meaning, and as
the soldier as subject is continually in performative process, there is the constant possibility
of the construction of the soldier identity going in any direction, including directions that do
not necessarily suit the military organisation or purpose. Desertion is one of these
possibilities.

The meaning with which we endow the soldiers of Anzac has more to do with a dominant
discourse that has resulted in a stereotypical ‘digger’ than with the actual lived events as an
Australian soldier in World War 1. The concept of the ideal soldier was needed in 1915-1917
to recruit for the AIF so that the Australian Government could fulfil imperial and colonial
requirements. That ideal has atrophied and been further idealised into a heroic myth to inform
our sense of the origins of the Australian identity.

Recruitment discourse
The desired Australian soldier in the period 1914 to 1918 was created by recruitment
discourse drawn from modernist ideas of classic masculinity. This described acceptable

33
physical attributes and forms of behaviour against which men could measure themselves and
be recruited to become soldiers. Martial law, military culture and social expectations then
define the correctly coordinated set of acts, image, gestures and behaviour to ensure the
individual soldier performs as required. The recruitment posters and strategies offer some
insight into the dominant discourse that was available to Australians at the time. The analysis
includes a possible alternative discourse that could be used to explain the diversity of the
events of desertion as well as show the idea of agency in subject construction.

1

Figure 1 Recruitment poster Australia Boys Come Over Here

Figure 1 shows a standard recruitment poster from WW1 issued by the South Australian
Government in 1915. It shows a side-on view of a young man in military garb against a green
background. There is a map of Australia in the top right corner coloured pink marked with
five capital cities Adelaide, Melbourne, Hobart, Sydney and Brisbane as well as Kalgoorlie.
These are familiar cities in Australia that may be home to potential recruits. A map of the

1
Museum Victoria Reg. No: HT 27656

34
Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey is in yellow in the lower right hand corner with Gaba Tepe,
Sari Bahr, Kilid Bahr, Chanak and Gallipoli identified along with The Narrows strait. These
places are exotic, far away from home. The text in bold black cursive, is ‘Boys Come over
here you’re wanted’.

The soldier figure is fully ‘kitted-out’ in a generic uniform and cap, with a pack, equipment
belt and rifle with bayonet. He is leaning forward with his left hand shielding his eyes while
he gazes into the distance. The address is directly to ‘Boys’, that is, young men who have not
enlisted. ‘You’re wanted’ it says, although for what is implied but not stated. The face of the
figure is ambiguous; he could be any boy or every man. His gaze and attention are clearly
moving towards somewhere other than where he is. He is a visionary, determined and ready.
It is not entirely clear whether he is a soldier already in the war calling back to Australia or a
newly recruited soldier in Australia answering the call with his attention fixed on the distant
battle. The meaning shifts between these. He is, however, an idealised boy-to-man depiction.

He is also depicted as a man. His bayonet is fixed and held in an upright phallic manner in a
gesture of almost casual easy defence. The figure takes up most of the space with the maps
disproportionately small, showing domination of masculinity over nature. His determination
and equipment show purpose and willingness. He is also depicted as a boy. The phrase
‘Come over here’ borders on the seductive, cajoling a young vulnerable boy by assuring him
that he is wanted. The green, pink and sandy colours are similar to carnival canvas colours,
with the strong khaki grey well defined in the foreground. The meanings are both obvious
and obscured. The overt message is that more men and boys are wanted. The mateship
discourse is signified by the address to the plural—‘Boys’—and the direct address of you in
‘you’re wanted’. The figure appeals to the aspirations of boys to become men. It is an
indisputable image of a soldier. The myth of mateship is riding on every soldier’s willingness
to do his duty. Barthes (1993, p. 117) says that the signifier is already understood through
language but myth ‘has in fact a double function: it points out and it notifies, it makes us
understand something and it imposes it on us’.

This poster was a direct copy (except for the maps) of a British recruitment poster of 1915.
The use of the same image and exhortation suggests either that this was an early recruitment
poster before there was time to develop uniquely Australian ones or that there was a sense
that there was no need to change it as the essential meaning would be understood equally well
in Britain and Australia as the cultural constructions of being a soldier were similar, or even
exactly the same. ‘Pre-war military theorists believed that human nature and, more

35
importantly, human character shaped the fighting qualities among their own troops’ (Oram
2003, p. 71).

2

Figure 2 Recruitment poster Britain Boys Come Over Here

The posters place Australian recruitment culture firmly within its British recruitment
equivalent.

Troops of all armies at the front were inundated with correspondence
that mixed patriotic and sacred images. The morality of one’s own
cause and the immorality of the enemy was a simple juxtaposition all
could comprehend even if the message was differently constructed on
either side of the barbed wire (Oram 2003, pp. 75-76).
The ‘over here’ is different, but the intent and meaning can be read as similar.

The British were culturally well prepared for war. In Britain since the nineteenth century, war
was a suitable extension of national policy (Paris 2002). There was an acceptance of violence
in war and preparation for war was embedded in popular culture. ‘Themes of glory and
masculinity had been used to create a society which was ready for war, from the men who
eagerly enlisted to the women who taunted civilian men with white feathers’ (Hammal 2010,
p. 32). The discourse of heroism and martial valour in cultural artefacts for the youth

2
Imperial War Museum PST 5165

36
transformed war into an entertaining spectacle, reconstructing battle as an exciting adventure
narrative. The prevailing myth was that ‘Britain’s wars were always just and the men who
fought them heroic agents of retribution who took up the sword of justice only when peaceful
methods of resolution had failed’ (p. 8). Considering that the Australian nation was less than
fifteen years old and that Britain was regarded as the ‘homeland’ by the majority of white
Australians, the extrapolation of the same cultural understanding of war is valid. The
importance of these stories to the British combined forces, and to British and Commonwealth
society, ‘was that it underpinned the notion of a “moral war” and bolstered the nation’s
commitment to the war effort—its morale. References to varying forms of “divine
intervention” should also be viewed in this context’ (Oram 2003, p. 75). The groundwork was
laid for Australia to consider war as the ‘midwife of national unity’ (Colley, as cited in Paris
2002, p. 97). The description of the attitude of Australians to their involvement in the war
reveals the prevailing discourse of glory and patriotism.

Australians hailed England’s declaration of war on Germany with the
most complete and enthusiastic harmony in their history. … Crowds
gathered to celebrate, laughing, cheering and singing, surging with
strength and joy and confidence. … Children sold pets, school prizes,
and the treasures of a lifetime to help patriotic causes. Strangers
embraced as brothers, cheers were given on the slightest pretext, flags
waved frantically, tumult and merriment ruled everywhere. The land
was full of visions of glory, and the historic importance of the
occasion (Gammage 1974, p. 4).
This describes an inherited culture that promotes the martial ideal, elevates the
soldier to heroic status and romanticises war.

37
Figure 3 Recruitment poster Australia the trumpet calls

The poster The trumpet calls3 (see Figure 3 ) by Norman Lindsay is a call specifically to
Australian men and a depiction of Australian masculinity. Lindsay produced a number of
propaganda and recruiting posters and cartoons for the Australian Government during World
War 1. Lindsay had farewelled his younger brother Reg, who had enlisted in the AIF and was
killed in France on 31 December 1916. ‘It is no accident that the figure of the heroic
ANZAC, so prominent in Norman Lindsay’s war posters, bears a marked resemblance to
photographs of Reg’ (Mendelssohn 1996).

The only text is the title. The trumpet call suggests a religious overtone. The image is
dominated by a standing figure in uniform with a slouch hat. His ability as a man is depicted
by the muscular arms, strong jawbone and manly bulge, which becomes the focal point, being
positioned in the centre of the poster. This soldier is calling behind with a bugle (not a
trumpet), showing the way forward with his open hand. He has his sleeves rolled up ready for

3
National Library of Australia pic-an14145658-v

38
action and his inclined stance suggests forward movement and action. He is standing bravely,
perhaps in the line of fire, suggesting a call to imminent fighting. There are four other
soldiers all armed, all looking in the same direction. They are also depicted as strong
determined men. They have rolled-up sleeves, open shirt fronts and one has a slouch hat
indicating that they belong not only in the Australian Army, but also firmly to the Australian
stereotype of willingness to do their duty on their own terms of informality and practicality.
One of the soldiers has a bandaged head representing stoicism despite injury. The Australian
soldier is the masculine ideal. The standing man has an aura of light surrounding his head
continuing the suggestion of hero-saint. This also serves to provide contrast so that the figure
captures attention. The five soldiers are drawn with firm outline and strong khaki colours.
Their gazes are fixed and constant. They are all looking in the same direction indicating a
mutual understanding and commitment. They are mates supporting each other in their own
way in doing men’s work. In contrast, the group of figures in the background, while clearly in
masculine roles, are shadowy and insubstantial. The meaning from this is that a man can only
stand out and become fully significant as a soldier. It is only then that his true masculinity can
be realised. Australians ‘had learnt before the war that readiness to die for one’s country
equated with sexual maturity, and now their manhood took up the gauntlet’ (Gammage 1974,
p. 8).

21st Century analysis of the participation in World War 1 questions whether all soldiers were
quite so heroic or tragic. The emphasis on the Anzac myth and national characteristics as well
as the glory and tragedy of war has been well documented and challenged through personal
stories and oral histories. Stories of desertion by Australian soldiers in World War 1 are not
covered in any depth in the mass of literature written about Australian involvement. From the
official histories through to media reporting on each Anzac day and in personal memoirs and
accounts, the discourse is primarily on the actions of the Australian soldiers in Turkey, Egypt
and France during World War 1 who are presented as heroic at best and stoically but
grudgingly tolerant at worst. Stories of desertion, cowardice, criminality and unmanly fear
are suppressed, glossed over or un-remembered.

Most commentaries and histories mention desertion in the AIF either as an aside to another
issue or to contrast the treatment of Australian soldiers with the treatment of soldiers from
other armies. Dale Blair in his history on the 1st Battalion of the AIF, Dinkum diggers (2001,
p. 4), claims that ‘the misrepresentation of the soldiers’ experience through false eulogy is
bad history’ and aims to confront the Anzac myth with a more robust truth through his history

39
of one battalion. He claims that false assertions in the service of the Anzac myth commit a
disservice to those that fought and died. The contextual and societal assumptions reveal the
prevailing attitude of historians that the reason for desertion resides within the individual,
their motivation and their character. My study of desertion in the AIF argues that the deserter
is not essentially mad, bad or cowardly. Desertion does not reside within the person nor are
there any personal characteristics that determine desertion. Desertion resides in specific
situations and environments. A military deserter only exists as a service person in an army,
navy or air force who, while on active service, leaves the action or disobeys an order to fight.
The military creates deserters along with its recruitment attempts to create the idea of an ideal
soldier-hero. My research addresses this gap in the research about desertion in the AIF and
joins the growing body of histories and cultural analyses that broadens the context and
understanding of Australian involvement in World War 1.

40
3. The research strategy
It does not matter whether the world is conceived to be real or only
imagined; the manner of making sense of it is the same (White 1978).

This chapter describes the research strategy and method used to reconstruct the narratives of
Australian soldiers who were sentenced to death for desertion in World War 1. These
narratives are then positioned in the cultural context of the war. This is a common method
used by historians to tell the stories of soldiers from the BEF who were executed in World
War 1 (Thurtle n.d.; Moore 1975; Babington 1983; Pugsley 1991; Putkowski & Sykes 1989;
Oram 1998; Godefroy 1998; Corns & Hughes-Wilson 2001; Barham 2004). Australian
soldiers feature in some of these accounts but are peripheral to the main stories of the
executions. The stories in this research are specifically about Australian soldiers who were
sentenced to death but were not executed. Because they do not include the tragedy of being
shot at dawn nor heroic actions, they are stories that are not told. They have slipped through
the Anzac narrative fissures. They add to the body of work interrogating and interpreting the
history of the AIF in World War 1.

The reconstructed narratives are used to discuss subjectivity and identity construction as well
as to theorise the creation of stories using historical ‘facts’ and extant archive documents. The
research raises questions in two areas. One is to look at how the identity of soldier and
deserter is constructed. It is the soldier as subject that is at the centre of my research and, as
Foucault says, ‘while the human subject is placed in relations of production and signification,
he is equally placed in power relations which are very complex’ (cited in Dreyfus, Rabinow
& Foucault 1982, p. 209). The stories are placed in the circumstantial and social contexts in
which some Australian soldiers deserted. Included in this is a statistical analysis of 466
records of soldiers who were court-martialled. The second area is to examine the process of
telling stories and contexts from archive and historical documents and expose the processes
of reconstructing ‘true stories’.

I use the stories of soldiers who were sentenced to death through court martial or court of
enquiry for a conviction of desertion. One case of a soldier who was convicted and sentenced
to death for disobeying an order is included. The stories are created by extracting information
about each soldier from their individual service record and records of courts martial and
presenting them in a readable narrative. These records are digitised by the National Archives
of Australia (NAA) and the Australian War Memorial (AWM) and, while available in the

41
digital domain, they are handwritten, often difficult to read and are organised in a way that is
not necessarily convenient for the individual researcher. As cultural artefacts, they are a rich
source of event descriptions about the war; however, they are still open to different
interpretations. Not all the stories of the 121 deserters sentenced to death are used; I
reconstruct seventeen stories and I refer to the five New Zealand cases and their context
discussed by Pugsley (1991).

De Beaugrande (2004, p. 114) states that ‘discourse should subsume all modes, means, and
events of human communication and interaction’, but as this range is ‘dauntingly vast and
diverse’, the selection of discourse data for critical analysis should be ‘expressly motivated
and justified in terms of its human and social relevance’. The records I used are
representative of the years 1916 to 1918 when the AIF was engaged on the Western Front.
The narratives are those found through records of courts martial and references in written
histories. The stories used for closer examination were chosen using criteria of relevance,
interest and, in some cases, availability of records such as correspondence to provide extra
information. Relevant court-martial records, also available digitally in the NAA, are used for
more detailed information about the specific circumstances of each desertion and conviction.
War diaries from relevant units and histories and commentaries about the war are used for
context.

The limitations of this method are that, in a discussion of desertion, choosing cases of death
sentence through courts martial means that those deserters sentenced to prison are excluded.
In addition, according to Oram (2003, p. 101):

When dealing with records concerning crime, whether military or
civil, it is important to keep in mind that we must qualify our
conclusions with the proviso that we are dealing with recorded crime
only.
This means that these are the stories of those deserters who were ‘unsuccessful’ in their
desertion. We do not have easy access to stories of successful deserters. In the chapter on
desertion I discuss unsubstantiated rumours of gangs of deserters behind the front-line
existing by thieving and running black market and gambling systems. Stories of successful
deserters, those not discovered, are not available in the records, memoirs or histories and are
likely to be suppressed through shame or the need for secrecy as alternative lives are
maintained. The traces of these stories are buried in rumour.

We also do not know of those deserters who were dealt with by their own unit. Robert Graves
was told in 1916 by a captain in a county regiment, ‘in the last two shows I had to shoot a

42
man in my company to get the rest out of the trench’ (cited in Babington 1983, p. 86). There
is a court of enquiry record of how Pte Nicholas Permakoff was shot by his own unit, but this
is the only one in the examined group. Oram (2003, p. 101) claims that ‘we have no records
whatsoever of summary executions (and there is other evidence that many were carried out)’.

There also may be more interesting and relevant cases in the records. Each narrative is
unique, and the issue of saturation does not apply as the stories are not used to develop a
theory, rather the stories are used to illustrate the discussion. The selection serves to show the
social and organisational context of desertion and to exemplify a theory of identity
construction and subjectivity, as well as examples of resistance to the dominant ideology.

Further limitations lie in the tension between the original function of the records, the purpose
of later histories and analyses, and my reading and use of the records. The ultimate purpose
of examining archived documents is to arrive at an understanding of the meaning and
significance of what the document contains. Scott (1990, p. 28) identifies the problem of
meaning at two levels: ‘the literal and the interpretive’. The reconstructed narratives address
the evident meaning of what happened to each soldier, when desertion happened and in what
order. Each narrative includes interpretation to select and arrange information to form a
readable narrative. It features ‘a double representation’ (White 2001) of my interest in
desertion as part of Australia’s involvement in World War 1 and my consideration of the
topic.

We get different accounts from the court-martial and service records of the soldiers who
deserted and went absent without leave (AWL) from those usually told to support the heroic
Anzac myth. The purpose in finding and telling these stories needs to be clear. Why are they
interesting? What insights can be gained? What do they add to our understanding of the
Anzac narrative? The archive records are seductive in that they offer the illusion of a ‘more
real’ truth as they are contemporaneous accounts of what happened from the participants’
own points of view, but they are grounded in the time they were written. They are ‘part of the
systems of surveillance and social control that have become such an integral part of
bureaucratic nation states’ (Scott 1990, p. 59). They are not records of ‘truth’; they are
bureaucratic and disciplinary records and do not give a complete narrative. These records are
not, and never were, merely neutral reports of events, they are ‘shaped by the political context
in which they are produced and by the cultural and ideological assumptions that lie behind it’
(p. 60). This is why I describe them as stories and not histories or case studies. While they are
based very closely on primary source material, my argument is that as a consequence of

43
various levels of mediation as well as the use of literary strategies, they cannot be presented
as factual accounts.

There is no story inherent in real life—there is just what people do and what happens to them.
Stories are what we construct to make meaning. The representation of a thing is not the thing
itself and the ‘principle way meaning is imposed on historical events is by narrativization.
Historical writing is a process of meaning-production’ (White 2001, p. 397). I am attempting
to endow the past with meaning to illuminate the implications of that meaning for the present.

Why tell the stories?
The process in this research of writing stories based on archive material is used to provide an
insight into the narrative of Australian cultural heritage and illustrate the dialogic field where
narrative reconstruction conflates with historical analysis. My aim is to provide an honest
construction of events, not just a static description of a state of affairs, and use these stories to
interpret and make meaning,

to tell the truth and nothing but the truth about real persons, things
and events which are past and no longer subject to direct perception.
… as a discourse about things no longer perceivable, historiography
must construct , by which I mean imagine and conceptualize (White
2001, p. 392).

As most stories about deserters have been lost, I reconstruct narratives based on archive
records. These narratives are a form of history as creative fiction (White 1978, p. 82) inspired
by specific personal service records, court-martial records and contextual historical
information. These stories are then available to contribute to the evolution of the Anzac
legend as a foundational myth of Australian identity construction.

One way to understand why, how and what we think of ourselves as Australians is to
examine the stories we tell about ourselves. The Anzac heroic myth, whatever its origins and
status, now sits comfortably in the contemporary collective consciousness. The stories about
Anzac and our inherited past that we see as serious and meaningful determine and organise
the shape of our perceived identity. However, they do so within the network of discursive
relations as well as the background of discourse and social practices within which we
understand them. War can leave a profound emotional legacy. The loss of young men dead in
battle is a universal grief. For those who fought or served in a war, there are the memories of
extraordinary experiences shared with mates. For others there is gratitude for, and pride in,
the actions of those who served and sacrificed, if not their lives, their emotional peace and
physical health. For the broader community, there is the grieving for those whose lives were

44
lost and the subsequent lost generations. One response to these emotions is continuing public
participation in the discourse and ceremonies of remembrance, much of which, although
appropriated for various political and social purposes, manifests as the Anzac myth. By
creating different narratives and identifying the system of relations and practices, the
meaning of Anzac has changed over time, and can further change, through narrative and
language. Discursive formations do not cohere around well-defined objects, but change,
substitute and transform their objects in discontinuous and sudden ways (Foucault & Gordon
1980). This research shows that further change in the meaning of Anzac is possible.

The analysis of the space or context within which the narratives of Anzac have emerged and
transformed is important to locate these stories, not only in our perception of their time and
place but also in our own contemporary understanding. Within these spaces the role of
discursive formations is emphasised. Foucault argues that neither the primary relations
between institutions, techniques and social forms beyond discourse, nor the secondary
relations, such as reflective interpretations of subjects, shape which narratives become
serious. Rather, discursive formations determine what can count as persuasive. It is the
relations that discourse establishes between specific narratives and contexts that enable
Anzac discourse and practice to be appropriated or dismissed and lost (Foucault & Gordon
1980) .

The research is both a collection of stories of desertion in the AIF in World War 1 and an
examination of cultural attitudes about soldiering and the Anzac myth. It is not a historical
account of battles or the war, but it may contribute to a revision of Australian World War 1
history. As James McPherson (2003), the president of the American Historical Association,
claims that:

[R]evision is the lifeblood of historical scholarship. History is a
continuing dialogue between the present and the past. Interpretations
of the past are subject to change in response to new evidence, new
questions asked of the evidence, new perspectives gained by the
passage of time. There is no single, eternal, and immutable ‘truth’
about past events and their meaning. The unending quest of historians
for understanding the past—that is, ‘revisionism’—is what makes
history vital and meaningful.

Myths grow with stories. The Anzac myth is very powerful and grows more potent with
appropriation and exploitation (Stockings 2010). It is a resilient myth and my purpose is not
to deflate it, but to add texture through stories that have not been told. This then contributes
to a more complete understanding of who we are today.

45
White (1978, p. 41) challenges contemporary historians:

[T]o establish the value of the study of the past, not as end in itself,
but as a way of providing perspectives on the present that contribute
to the solution of problems peculiar to our own time.

The stories add to the clouds of narrative about us and our perceived origins. The central idea
of any myth is one of identity. Some of the ontological and epistemological questions that
inform our individual and collective sense of who we are as Australians can be excavated
from discourse and social practices around the Anzac myth.

The narratives, while based on extant documents, are a product of my own selection and
interpretation. They are presented as ‘true’ stories, but I do not claim to describe and
represent reality in objective terms nor to analyse and interpret the material accurately or
correctly. The stories reflect how I perceive them and why I think they are plausible accounts
of desertion and credible contexts. Derrida (Caputo 1997, p. 37) says that:

A tradition is not a hammer with which to slam dissent and knock
dissenters senseless, but a responsibility to read, to interpret, to sift
and select responsibly among many competing strands of tradition
and interpretations of tradition. If you have a tradition, you have to
take responsibility for it and for its multiplicity.

The aim is to create authentic and useful stories about Australia’s involvement in World War
1, decoded and reconstructed from archive and historical material. I approach and read the
material subjectively and respectfully acknowledge the original intentions. I deconstruct the
bureaucratic documents to mine them for interesting and relevant events. Deconstruction, as
Derrida has said, is ‘affirmative in a way that is not simply positive–that is, it is not simply
conservative’ (Caputo 1997, p. 4).

Derrida (Caputo 1997) suggests that deconstruction creates a tension between a conservative
commitment to existing texts and the radical possibility of something new, some new insight
or interpretation as a result of our own particular reading of a text. Derrida agrees that
deconstruction is characterised by a possible tension between deliberate disruption of existing
texts and respectful attention to them. Deconstruction attempts to understand society through
the study of its linguistic and other communicative structures. This research is to ascertain
how the transcripts of courts martial and service records can be deconstructed to reveal the
inherent contradictions and paradoxes in the military discourse.

When using the material in these texts, I do so not in order to reproduce them exactly but to
examine them for ideas and stories that mean something for my own particular purposes, and

46
to which I can provide some response. I look at the texts of the records to decide if I can see
in them concepts, ideas and values that may be of use towards my central thesis, while also
critiquing them. I follow the visible trace and also attempt to see what is around and below it.
Writing the stories is a creative process of choosing words and structures with which to
express how I see the concepts of desertion. It is a critical and interpretative process as well
as intentionally persuasive. I do not claim to represent reality—the world or the past—
accurately. I can only make up descriptions to convince others that my descriptions are
useful. However, even terms like ‘accurate’, ‘authentic’ and ‘useful’ are highly contestable,
as is the term ‘true’. I reconstruct the stories within a multifaceted environment of my own
expression and knowledge of language, including transformative poetic and literary devices. I
have a vested interest and concern for the reader’s emotions, interests and prejudices.
Metalinguistic strategies are used to clarify and justify terminology, and explanatory
procedures and phatic processes to ensure open communication and dialogue with the
imagined reader. I acknowledge that the stories are necessarily infused with my values and
interests. My motivations are complex but I assert that they are not relevant. I agree with
White (2001, p. 406) that ‘it is the intentions of the text that should interest us, not the
intentions of the writer’.

Society cannot be understood in isolated parts, but in the system of relationships that make up
the whole. This system includes stories from the past applied to social practices and attitudes
of the present. Any person’s life is an intricate jigsaw as is the system of relationships.
Arriving at any final or absolute meaning and understanding is impossible, but we can
understand what is meaningful at the moment within a chosen context, even if that meaning
differs from past meanings, because changing ‘cultural values lead to changing conceptions
of the historical significance of particular events’ (Scott 1990, p. 58) as well as shifting
meanings. This does not make the past meanings less significant, incorrect or of less value,
rather it supports the idea and value of meaning that changes and evolves. In looking at the
origins, transformations and relationships between institutional practices and dominant
discourses around the idea of desertion within the military and broader social contexts, I offer
an analysis of historically situated cultural practices that contribute to the construction of the
Australian identity. Babington (1983, p. 57) reminds us of the contextual risks:

It is always a temptation to pass judgement on the events of recent
history according to the outlook of the moment. … the intervening
period has witnessed, amongst the nations of the West, a major
reappraisal of the tenets of moral ideology and a by no means
inconsiderable advancement both in sociological and humanist

47
principles. It is also as well to remember the setting in which those
courts martial took place. When a soldier deserted on active service
he left a gap in the ranks, to the prejudice of all his more dutiful
comrades.

I acknowledge and celebrate the lack of essential meaning in these stories,
showing that meaning is always deferred, displaced or substituted by further
reference with a relational dependence of meaning and social practice.

Based on (un)true stories
White (1978, p. 3) argues that there is ‘always a failure of intention’ when trying to ‘represent
“things as they are” without rhetorical adornment or poetic imagery’. In reconstructing stories
about individuals from such a narrow source of archival material, I emphasise locally derived
social understanding rather than that driven by theory or notions of truth. Scott (1990, p. 84)
agrees with both Babington (1983) and White (1978) about the risks of writing stories as
history:

Attitudes to risk and death in the trenches involve stories and
emotions likely to be distorted by the passage of time. Using archive
military records as the primary source has limitations. Official records
do not tell personal stories and the documents are not impartial and
autonomous intellectual accounts; rather they are integral elements of
policy and administration.

I have minimised the use of rhetorical adornment or poetic imagery, rather choosing to strip
back to events to tell the stories. Of course, these are mediated and interpreted, not only by
me but by the creator(s) of the documents, who are recording for specific bureaucratic
purposes, as ‘descriptions of events already constitute interpretations of their nature’ (White
1978, p. 95) . Any story telling is

quintessentially a mediative enterprise. As such, it is both interpretive
and pre-interpretive; it is always as much about the nature of
interpretation itself as it is about the subject matter which is the
manifest occasion of its own elaboration (p. 4).

The rhetorical device used is to construct the narratives as if telling stories that have been
suppressed. The suppression is part of the cultural and historical context, acknowledging that
‘what really happened is already pre-encoded’ (White 1978, p. 91) in the bureaucratic and
military records archives as symbolic structures. White argues that historical narratives are
‘verbal fictions, the contents of which are as much invented as found’ (p. 82) and that:

[They] are not only about events but also about the possible sets of
relationships that those events can be demonstrated to figure. These
sets of relationships are not, however, immanent in the events

48
themselves; they exist only in the mind of the historian reflecting on
them’ (p. 94).
They also exist in the mind of the reader.

The ‘facts’ of each desertion event are chosen to describe the processes and events that led to
the desertion. They are then used as context to build a story about an individual soldier who
becomes a deserter.

Moreover, Lévi-Strauss maintains, if historical facts are constituted
rather than given, so too are they ‘selected’ rather than apodictically
provided as elements of a narrative. Confronted with a chaos of ‘acts’,
the historian must ‘choose, sever and carve them up’ for narrative
purposes. In short, historical facts, originally constituted as data by
the historian, must be constituted a second time as elements of a
verbal structure which is always written for a specific (manifest or
latent) purpose. This means that, in his view, ‘History’ is never
simply history, but always ‘history-for’, history written in the interest
of some infrascientific aim or vision (White 1978, pp. 55–56).

The second constitution is not relativism as there are many views of an object, in this case
desertion in World War 1, and there is no such thing as a single correct view. A perspective is
used that does not pretend to exhaust description or analysis of all the data in the entire
history of Australians in World War 1, but rather to offer one way, among many, of
disclosing certain aspects to show something of our ontological perspective. This contributes
to a diversity of interpretation rather than a reductive consensus (White 2001).

Interpretive strategies are used to tell the stories (White 1978, pp. 72–75). The stories are
idiographic, concentrating on specific cases and the unique traits or functioning of individual
soldiers, rather than on broad generalisations about human behaviour. Each case is
distinctive. They are all contextual, with each situation providing some explanation of why
and how desertion happens, and the stories are meaningless outside their historical context.
There is also a mechanistic element in the explanation of cause, process and effect as well as
telling the stories chronologically. The emplotment strategy is mostly tragic, showing the war
as a disastrous event and desertion as the struggle and downfall of an individual soldier, for
example Pte Swinton or Pte Braithwaite from New Zealand. In one or two cases, the
emplotment strategy is as a romance, with the deserter as a picaresque character creating and
having extravagant, albeit criminal, adventures, such as Pte Little or Pte Silburn. These
telling strategies do not detract from the analysis of reconstructed stories contributing to a
fuller, more textured version of the Anzac myth, but enhance the analysis by offering
authentic and accessible stories to add to our understanding of ourselves and our history. I

49
choose to tell these stories in this way. In an attempt to de-dramatise the events, I have not
added emotional descriptive language. I aim to be emotionally restrained, although the stories
do each have an emotional centre, and I acknowledge a level of personal affection for the
reconstructed protagonists through textual familiarity.

The story of Pte Will Swinton is created from his letter to his mother (see Figure 13 Letter
from Pte Swinton to his mother). This is an attractive artefact as the letter presents to his
mother a version of who he thinks he is or should be. The letter, written from training camp at
Salisbury Plains, is about 500 words, handwritten and articulate. He apologises to his mother
for running away some years ago when he was fourteen years old, and he admits to lying
about his age and using a false name on enlistment. He promises to return home and ‘start
over afresh’. He talks about people his mother might know from his home town of Greta, re-
establishing the family connections with phatic news. He positions himself within the family
by offering advice for his father to ‘keep off the drink because he will be a lot better without
it’ and by making a request that his mother not reveal his true identity. He offers a well-
constructed identity of himself as a soldier who is young and physically fit as he does not
drink or smoke. He claims sound mental health with the evidence that he is in the Salvation
Army, has the right attitude towards his duty and is attempting to atone for past sins by
apologising to his mother. This is a clear picture of how he thinks he should be and is
consistent with contemporary ideas of being a patriotic man and a good soldier. Will’s
identity construction is shown within the social context of recruitment and training. The
reason the letter is available in his official service record is because his mother sent it to the
army to inform on him (see Figure 14 Letter from Pte Swinton’s mother). It is rare to find
personal letters in the official files so these texts, his letter and his mother’s, appear to be
evidence towards Will’s ‘true’ story. They also provide material for a dramatic story of
betrayal and tragedy. The absence of any other letters means that Will’s desertion story may
not be complete, but because the story is plotted as a tragic downfall within the known
context of the war, it satisfies as a story.

The story of Pte Braithwaite of the NZEF, as told by Pugsley (1991, pp. 136–146) in the
chapter ‘Just a Bohemian journalist’, is reconstructed from his service record, personal
records and court-martial records. Pugsley also adds expert commentary on the military and
historical context. The tragedy of Braithwaite’s death sentence and execution for mutiny
emerges as a series of escalating violence, misunderstood intentions and disciplinary
frustration. His story is inextricably linked with that of Pte Little, who seems to have initiated

50
the specific sequence of events that led to Pte Braithwaite’s conviction, sentence and death.
There is the content of a letter written by Pte Braithwaite submitted as a plea in mitigation.
This is another example of the supposed voice of the protagonist being heard, adding
authenticity to the telling of the story. Braithwaite calls himself ‘just a Bohemian journalist’
and admits that he had made ‘a serious mess of things’ saying ‘where I came to win honour
and glory, I have won shame, dishonour and everlasting disgrace’ (cited in Pugsley 1991, p.
143). He presents in this letter as the well-meaning volunteer, who has inadvertently
transgressed military law through a personal weakness and is now penitent. There is also a
letter from Pte Little (see Figure 12 Letter from Pte Little to the court). All these records and
letters are social acts in the discourse of desertion, military discipline and martial law within
the broader social contexts of nationalism and patriotism.

These artefacts and events are examples of what Leese (2002, p. 6) calls a ‘malleable source’
and that he claims ‘cannot be relied on to reveal historical truth, but still provides a valuable
insight into how individuals and societies shape their identities through their relationship with
the past’.

The dialogic textual intersection of analytical and creative narratives
Narrative is concerned with both meaning and form. It is not useful to separate them, as the
way things are said can change the meaning, and the meaning can dictate the way things are
said. The constitution of systems of knowledge and belief that inform and shape social
practice can be examined through the reconstructed stories. Narrative and contextual
extractions are used to show the socially constitutive nature of stories around the Anzac
legend. The stories exist within a discursive framework, bringing text and analysis within a
social and political context. The analysis looks at the texts within a specific genre and setting.
Language used as a social practice is a mode of action, historically and socially situated in a
relationship with other facets. It is socially constitutive, socially shaped and also socially
shaping. The AIF in the period 1916 to 1918 within the BEF is a social and organisational
institution, with specific meanings and values, which are articulated in language, behaviour
and signs in systematic ways before, during and after the event. The manifestation and
recognition of these create a shared understanding of the social practice, as well as a
subjective community of those that understand and comply. The discourse and the social
practice express meanings and values and define, describe and limit acceptable behaviour and
language. The analysis reveals the framework of how desertion, courts martial and the death
sentence can be talked about, as well as descriptions of the overt and covert rules providing

51
the permissions and prohibitions of individual and group activity. I acknowledge that ‘moral
values and legal procedures are integrally connected in the systems of surveillance and social
control that are responsible for official record-keeping’ (Scott 1990, p. 61).

Textual and narrative analysis involves mediation and movement between the frames of
reference of the researcher, the producers of the text, the subjects of the text and the readers
of the text. Scott (1990, p. 31) identifies that the aim of this dialogue is

to move within the ‘hermeneutic circle’ in which we comprehend a
text by understanding the frame of reference from which it was
produced, and appreciate that frame of reference by understanding the
text.
My frame of reference becomes the point from which the circle is entered, and so the circle
reaches back to encompass the conversation between myself, the text and the subjects as the
‘attempt to understand the actions of another, as reported in an archive text, involves a
dialogue, a conversation between the researcher and the author of the text’ (p. 56). I add the
subject of that text, the soldier, as well as the reader, to the dialogue, and this provides an
emotional connection. In this conversation, there is a confrontation between two or more
frames of meaning, as I can only achieve an interpretation from the standpoint of my cultural
assumptions and intentions. The theories and interpretations used to explain the facts in the
records, and therefore the concepts employed to describe them, are integral parts of the
frames of meaning.

This interpretation precedes the dialogue between me as writer and the reader. The reader of
my narratives and analysis also brings cultural assumptions and a social and personal
framework, and so the meanings of the narrative and analysis multiply, transform and change
in ways beyond my intention and the original purpose of the records. In these dialogues, there
is a multiplicity of confrontations between frames of reference over time and cultural space.
Meaning then has the potential to multiply, disperse or transform with each reader. I interpret
the material from a standpoint of my own cultural assumptions, acknowledging that my
explanations and constructions, and the theories on which they are based, are integral parts of
my frame of meaning. Scott describes this as a ‘hermeneutic circle’, but it is not a closed
system, as the metaphor of a circle implies, it is more an expanding spiral as the dialogues,
and meanings, extend exponentially into an open and changing system of meaning and
understanding. Nevertheless, in the final analysis, the stories are still texts about other texts.

Foucault (1989, pp. 44–45) declares that:

52
[I]t is not easy to say something new; it is not enough for us to open
our eyes, to pay attention, or to be aware, for new objects suddenly to
light up and emerge out of the ground.
However, Foucault also says that his theory of power implies both the possibility and
existence of forms of resistance:

[T]here are no relations of power without resistances; the latter are all
the more real and effective because they are formed right at the point
where relations of power are exercised (Foucault & Gordon 1980, p.
142).
This resistance does not come from sites external to power and it cannot exist separate from
the power it opposes. Any resistance relies upon, and grows out, of the situation against
which it struggles, and resistance is understood as internal to power, denying the possibility
of achieving freedom from power. In the place of total emancipation from the Anzac myth, a
more specific, local Foucauldian resistance is created through the form of micro narratives
about individual soldiers that do not comply with the prevailing Anzac meta narrative,
reflective of the soldiers themselves who did not comply with military discipline.
Interpretation does not necessarily ‘consist of the same elements of meaning or the same links
or the same types of intelligibility, although they refer to the same historical fabric’ as the
grand narrative of Anzac. It is the disparities between the two readings which Foucault claims
make visible ‘those fundamental phenomena of “domination” which are present in a large
number of human societies’ (Dreyfus, Rabinow & Foucault 1982, p. 224). The concept of
resistance, desertion, emerges simultaneously with the formulation of proper duty as a
soldier.

Non-rational forces, such as sensations and emotions, are important in postmodernity as we
have an ‘incredulity toward meta-narratives’ (Lyotard 1997). Our exposure and
understanding of difference, diversity and ‘the incompatibility of our aspirations, beliefs and
desires’ means that ‘post-modernity is characterised by an abundance of micro-narratives’ (p.
36). However, there is very little overt incredulity about the Anzac metanarrative, and its
adhesive endurance provides fertile ground for resistance through micro narratives. To
understand an object, such as one of the many meanings of a text, it is necessary to examine
both the object itself, in this case desertion, and the systems of knowledge that produced
desertion—the military within the broader social context.

The Australian identity and the Anzac myth
The stories move our awareness beyond the existing paradigm of contemporary, historical or
national construction of identity by allowing desertion to enter the Anzac narrative. This

53
creates a more profound understanding, which enables a further enrichment of the Australian
Anzac legend.

The critical reading of the archive records and their contemporaneous context raises
contradictions in our understanding of the Anzac myth. Those inconsistencies show that the
interpretation and criticism of any myth, story or record reside in the reader. Any
interpretation includes that reader’s own cultural biases and assumptions. While our
knowledge of the past increases through access to more material, our understanding does not
necessarily improve (White 1978, p. 89). Events do not happen as stories, but we give them
meaning by remembering them in the form of stories, and this applies as much to nations and
groups of people as it does to individuals. This means that narratives based on historical
records are never finished or complete. The historical narrative is a symbolic structure and,
like fiction, ‘does not reproduce the events it describes; it tells us in what direction to think
about the events and charges our thoughts about the events with different emotional valences’
(p. 91). The stories position a reciprocal relationship between writer and reader in which each
is affected by the other. Reading the narratives of soldiers who deserted and attempting to
understand them is an act of inclusion and empowerment that challenges the dominant story
of desertion and shell shock as something shameful and isolated. Because masculinity is part
of the military discourse, the perspective of masculinity could also undergo some change.
The acts of writing and reading narratives of desertion contribute to the incremental but
essential shift in the social construction of soldier.

As discussed in the chapters about subjectivity and constructing the soldier, social practices
are shaped in ways people are usually unaware of: by social structures, by relations of power
and by the nature of the social practice they are engaged in, whose stakes always go beyond
producing meanings. So procedures and practices are politically and ideologically invested,
and people are positioned as subjects by them. In this context, an ideology is the system of
ideas and beliefs about social practice, which has been simplified and presented as natural
and common. The prevailing social order is ‘historically situated and therefore relative,
socially constructed and changeable’ (Locke 2004, pp. 1–2), and my narrative reconstruction
also views the prevailing social order in this way. The prevailing social order and social
practices are constituted and sustained by the persuasiveness of particular reconstructions or
versions of reality, and this creates the discourse of that particular social practice. This
discourse is coloured by and productive of ideology. The motivation of groups and
individuals is influenced by particular discursive configurations or arrangements, which

54
means that power in society is not so much an imposition on individual subjects as an
inevitable effect of a participatory discourse.

Stories of deserters emphasise the multiplicity of meanings and perspectives that exist within
contexts. The construction of the stories shows the complexities of, and tensions within, my
role and status as a researcher and the researched, as well as the relations between them.
Finding and writing the stories also show the potential and limits of reflexivity. At certain
stages I tell a soldier’s story, but then I open the discourse to analyse the broader context. At
times I interrupt the analysis to focus on just the story.

Recruitment: creating the soldier, creating the deserter
Selected texts of the time, as well as hermeneutic and historical accounts, are used to analyse
the discourse that is available to construct the soldier. Fairclough (1993, p. 225)
acknowledges that ‘there is no set procedure for doing discourse analysis’ and that it can be
approached in different ways according to the nature of the research and the preferences of
the researcher. The method I use is critical analysis of examples of crucial discourse around
the social practice of recruitment. I use texts, such as recruitment posters, which typify and/or
represent the discourse from which subjects as soldiers are constituted. ‘Many AIF values
related to personal achievement in war’ (Gammage 1974, p. 98) and the promise of personal
achievement is a prevalent motif in recruitment discourse. Some of these posters are clearly
obvious in their attempts to recruit, but there are gaps and absences in the text, which can
create unintended and oblique consequences.

Analysis shows how the ‘self as soldier’ comes into being and how this is ruptured or
appropriated in unexpected ways to constitute the deserter. There is also an alternative,
almost underground, discourse available that could be argued constitutes the soldier as a
criminal or from the lowest strata of society. I focus on the discourses of World War 1
recruitment that were available to Australians and enabled them to become subjects as
soldiers. In analysing the discourse as represented by recruitment posters and various texts of
that time, I discuss the constituting discourse and observe that there is an absence of any
discourse about death or significant physical or psychological wounds. This is one area that is
missing in the pre-war recruitment discourse that becomes very significant in the postwar
discourse. There is a pre-war absence of the abject. This is the ‘intolerable present’ (Foucault
1989, p. 37) that is revealed. It is the present of 1914 and 1915 interpreted in the 21st century.
The stories show how the men and boys of that time rendered themselves into soldiers

55
through the swirling political, popular and gender discourses. The discourses of masculinity
and patriotism were significant:

The manly image already important in peacetime was thought all the
more essential in time of war. A soldier in full control of himself, of
strong power of will, would be able to cope with the experience of
battle and become accustomed to the terrible sights which surrounded
him in the trenches, indifferent to death (Mosse 2000, p. 104).

The discourse is based on the masculine body in uniform as the object and the target of
power. The alternative latent discourse, as discussed in another chapter, is a remnant of 19th
century British attitudes to soldiering and is less accessible.

Any text is also a symbolic act and

uses language and accompanying resources to accomplish the act. It is
… linguistically semiotic in that it draws upon linguistic signs for
representing events as well as the people, things and circumstances
involved in those events (Stillar 1998, p. 3).
I chose the recruitment posters as texts that are available, typical and loaded with meaning,
making a personal judgement as to whether they are critical or relevant to the analysis. The
text ‘is an active step in a sequence of related social goings-on. It does something in its social
context. … performs a recognizable role in a series of acts’ (p. 3). I provide a close semiotic
reading of the posters and analyse them within my understanding of the sociocultural context
of that time.

The discourse itself is independent of the researcher, and there is no correct or definitive
interpretation of texts. The choice of which text to analyse is subject to my interpretation of
what specific text I identify to represent the body of discourse at that time on that subject.
The posters are only representations of the discourse; they are not the sum total of the
discourse. Furthermore, the discourse is not definitively or totally present in just the posters.
Analysis is interpretive and the process is unavoidably laden with my own attitudes, beliefs,
values, education and background. Within the analysis is where my position must be
acknowledged. Self-reflexivity does not invalidate the analysis, but awareness of the
analytical choices made, and these presuppositions, are acknowledged.

The posters are used differently now from when they were used for recruitment. Access,
context and place are all different, and their message and interpretations are placed in
different cultural and social contexts. To the researcher they are objects representative of
specific functions and discourse of another time. Their function in 1914 to 1915 is necessarily
different and is imagined, but can never really be fully known. They are inevitably simulacra

56
(Baudrillard 1984) of my own creation, copies without the original cultural referent. It is the
mediating discursive frame constructed by me that fill them with meaning. Text

has signs that construct content (it is about something), create
relationships (it is addressed and exchanged), and produce texture (it
is organized, it has structure). It also draws upon language resources
to accomplish a rhetorical act; it results from an assessment of
audience and of purpose, and it aims to bring about a change in a state
of affairs (Stillar 1998, p. 3).

The texts of the recruitment posters and the soldier stories bear a heavy interpretive burden. I
am not aiming to describe the full nuanced context and tease out what is happening within it.
Rather, I am seeking to create compelling representations of imagined moments of that time
in order to untangle the discursive frames that guide meaning and render subjects within it.
The posters and the stories do not contain, expose or reflect any universal truth, but resonate
as small stories in the larger discursive frame.

An understanding of the subjects who become soldiers, and in some cases deserters, indicates
that the discourses used for recruitment have intentional and unintentional consequences. It
becomes apparent that discourses with a certain intention may escape or exceed the intent of
the subject who speaks and acts according to their perception, or the subject may only
respond to part of the discourse. Also the subject may unwittingly use discourses that provide
unanticipated or undesired meanings. Another possibility is that the subjected soldier uses the
discourse to construct an overtly acceptable subject, but acts in ways that are contrary to
expectations from the dominant discourse, using aspects of the alternative discourse. This is
an example of agency. The stories of Pte Frith and Pte Sitters fit into this type. Their early
desertion and long absences clearly show their intent to use their time as soldiers in different
ways from the dominant ideology. They were involved in criminal and subversive activities
that benefited themselves, not Australia, the army or the war. Discursive practices may
involve the deployment of complex combinations of intentional and unintentional discourses
and their discursive effects.

Using discursive agency, as understood by Judith Butler (1999, 2005), the stories
demonstrate that there were multiple degrees of both intent and understanding among
subjects as soldiers. They were able to access different performances in terms of the
embedded meanings and effects of discourses. This approach suggests that subjects do not
necessarily consume discourse unwittingly. However, it also suggests that discourses are not

57
automatically cited knowingly and that they are not necessarily known explicitly to the
subject.

Analysis and interpretation
Courts martial are often seen as having purely legal functions, but through analysis the
ideologies and hidden constructions are revealed. Any social practice has various
orientations—economic, political, cultural, ideological or personal—and discourse may be
implicated in all of these without any of them being reducible to discourse (Fairclough 1993).
The reality of the death sentence through a court martial for desertion as textually,
contextually and intertextually mediated through verbal and non-verbal language systems can
show court-martial records as ‘sites for both the inculcation and the contestation of
discourses’ (Locke 2004, p. 2). The systematic analysis and interpretation of texts have the
potential to reveal ways in which discourses consolidate power and influence people through
positions that are often covert. Locke acknowledges that there are ‘sense-making stories that
can be viewed as circulating in society, that are not easily attributable to a particular originary
source’ (p. 5).

Any critique of a modernist paradigm, as a cultural analysis of World War 1 records must
invariably be, has contested boundaries and continually runs the risk of obscurity and
indeterminism. Conceptual vigour, however, lies in epistemological interpretations that allow
the collapse of established and naturalised dichotomies such as hero/coward, healthy/injured,
sane/shell-shocked, to name just a few. This can bring new focus on the Anzac myth and on
questions of identity, self and subjectivity. Attention can be paid to the relationship between
power, knowledge and the self (Foucault & Sheridan 1977; Foucault & Gordon 1980),
scientific and medical metanarratives (Lyotard 1984) and language (Derrida 1976, 2006).

This research considers the space between Althusser’s idea of subjection and the notion of
subjectification posited by Foucault that says that these

are wholly political in that they focus upon those aspects of the
present that Foucault finds ‘intolerable’. Foucault seeks to develop
understandings of how the present is made, and so how it might be
unmade, by ‘following lines of fragility in the present’, trajectories
that might allow us to ‘grasp why and how that-which-is might no
longer be that-which-is’ (Youdell 2006, p. 512).

J Butler (1999) navigates these ideas and poses the idea of performativity in constituting the
subject. The processes of subjectification of the soldier-deserter are analysed to illustrate
these concepts. The relationship between ‘the subject, truth, and the constitution of

58
experience’ (Foucault 1989, p. 48) is explored in Foucault’s questioning of the ‘nature of the
present’ (p. 36). J Butler (1999) takes this further and

posits a performative politics in which she imagines discourses taking
on new meanings and circulating in contexts from which they have
been barred or in which they have been rendered unintelligible, as
performative subjects engage a deconstructive politics that intervenes
and unsettles hegemonic meanings (Youdell 2006, p. 512).

The existence of deserters, soldiers who choose to perform differently to the understood
normal soldier, indicates that these soldiers were drawing from an alternative discourse as
discussed in the section on recruitment in Chapter 2.

Four conditions
Four minimum conditions for analysis and interpretation are identified for the method of
discourse analysis to be useful in investigating social practices (Fairclough 1993, 1995). First,
it needs to be multidimensional, enabling assessment of relationships between discursive and
social change. The enlistment in the AIF and Australia’s involvement in World War 1
provide a site of social change and changing discourse. Second, it needs to be multi-
functional, providing a method of analysis that looks at the interplay between discourse and
social practice. The intersection of soldiers with courts martial can provide insights into the
role that social practice and discourse play in the construction of desertion within the context
of military discipline. Third, it needs to be able to focus on the historical construction of
orders of discourse, using the analysis of how texts are constructed from other texts by being
articulated in ways that depend on, and change with, social circumstances. The discourse of
military discipline provides this. Fourth, it needs to be a critical method showing connections
and causes that are hidden, and revealing the struggle over the structuring of texts and orders
of discourse. Connections are made between the events of desertion and the resistance to the
dominant discourse that desertion indicates. The meaning of desertion, however, is not
simply a matter of individual interpretation, even though it has not been analysed in any
depth nor is it part of commemorative practices. It is still just as much ‘a part of the wider
cultural repertoire of discursive explanations, resources and maps of meaning’ (Barker &
Galasiński 2001, p. 35). As language and meaning are social in character, the concept of
deserting as undesirable, shameful and criminal is part of the embedded cultural common
sense and natural order, although somewhat suppressed.

The specific ontological and epistemological claims of desertion are described. This is a way
of seeing social practices as actively producing and transforming social structures while being

59
constrained by them. Practices of production and the relations between them, including
reflexivity, mean that there is a close and practical relation between what people do and the
representation of what they do as part of what they do (Chouliaraki & Fairclough 1999, pp.
24–28). However, social life cannot be reduced to discourse, while recognising the
importance of discourse in social practice.

With the soldier as subject at the centre and using stories of individual soldiers, the research
looks at the circumstances and social contexts in which some Australian soldiers deserted. I
contribute to understanding how the identity of soldier-deserter is constructed and I create
deserter stories. I am interested in telling stories that are not usually told within the Anzac
narrative.

The stories of desertion of Australian soldiers provide some contextual understanding of
desertion. Records of individual circumstances within the context of the war and the army are
a resource to examine Australian involvement in World War 1. There are the stories of Pte
Will Swinton who enlisted at sixteen by lying about his age and using a false name; Pte Harry
Frith who seems to have lied about everything; Pte Alex Little who could not control his
temper and struck a prison guard; Pte Joe Bagnell who refused duty in the front line trenches
because he did not have a tin hat; and Pte Charlie Miller who could not physically cope with
military life and ended up coming home with shell shock. Pte Bert Bartholomew and Pte Bert
White were good mates who enlisted together, deserted on the same day, were court-
martialled on the same day and went to prison together. Pte Frank Sheppard and Pte John
Foster both fell sick on the same march to the trenches. Pte George Lavender was convicted
for desertion twice and Pte Ed Rogers who was constantly absent without leave, made several
escapes from custody and blamed ‘the drink’. Pte Harry Sitters was convicted of disobeying
an order and sentenced to death because he hated a newly promoted sergeant and refused to
follow his orders. These reconstructed narratives are positioned in the cultural context of the
war, and used to show where and how the idea of desertion exists as either an agent of
reinforcement or resistance to the Anzac myth today.

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4. Desertion
In this chapter I develop the idea that desertion was necessary to define the boundaries of the
desired soldier and address the question of what events led to desertion. I look at desertion in
terms of the origin, the act and the aftermath, providing some contextual analysis of desertion
events. There is a common perception that World War 1 deserters ran away in fear from the
confusion of battle and shelling, that they were too terrified or confused or exhausted to fight
at that moment. However, as the stories show, while this may have been the case for some
such as Pte Baufoot and Lt Wells, others deliberately and with planning, deserted from rest
areas at the rear of the front. The stories of Pte Silburn and Pte Frith show different
circumstances of desertion. Some were opportunistic and simply slipped away during
marches to or from the front.

From 1915 to 1918 more than 500,000 Australian and New Zealanders volunteered to fight.
Historians and analysts have adopted a number of approaches to explain the resilience of the
Anzac digger myth and the relative combat effectiveness of the AIF and NZEF. These range
from attributing success to the physical prowess of each soldier to the essential character of
an Anzac soldier gained purely by virtue of him being an Anzac. Leaving aside the mythical
nature of these claims, the astonishing fact to a twenty-first century non-military sensibility is
that most of the soldiers enthusiastically enlisted, obeyed orders, fought in the war, killed the
enemy and in the post-war years reveled in their nostalgia for that time. The prevailing belief
is that they ‘went to war in 1914 … because it was their duty to do so and because they
believed that they were fighting in defense of their countries’ (Winter 1992, p. 632).
However, ‘fired by heroic scenarios of military adventures, the volunteers of 1914 and 1915
were quite unprepared for what they encountered’ (Barham 2004, p. 62). The terrifyingly
random and anonymous danger of trench warfare and the enforced ‘passivity in the midst of
extreme danger’ (Bourke 2000, p. 58) did not match the expectations created by the discourse
of heroism and personal valour. They had been ‘pitched into an alien environment in which
there were constant threats to their lives and to the integrity of their personalities’ (Barham
2004, p. 68). The British trenches were ‘wet, cold, smelly, and thoroughly squalid …
decidedly amateur, haphazard and ramshackle’ (Fussell 1975, p. 43). Materials and
equipment were sometimes inadequate and the nature of the volunteer civilian soldier
together with growing antagonism toward British command, as well as the inexperience of

61
the Australian leadership, mean that the reasons Australian soldiers stayed and fought are
hard to disentangle from myth and legend. The reasons that some soldiers decided not to
fight, to walk away from their mates, are also tangled with the expectations created by the
myth.

The rewards or outcomes of desertion were not necessarily economic, personal revenge or
satisfaction of passion but the perceived removal of danger to life and limb, reduction of
unpleasant emotions and tensions and, in some cases, benefits from criminal activities. Some
saw the life of a deserter as preferable to the life of a soldier in the trenches. However, the
strain of front-line trench warfare can be thought of as a necessary cause of desertion but not
sufficient cause in itself. Desertion has self-limiting characteristics. There was no way for the
Australian deserter to actually get home and resume a normal life; the best he could hope for
was to be sheltered by sympathetic civilians or live a subterranean, and possibly criminal, life
with other deserters. Material need would become apparent quickly—clothing, money, food
and transport would soon become necessary. Rumours were circulating that ‘deserters were
ekeing out an existence on the old battlefields on the Somme and in the woods around Paris
Plage to the south of Le Touquet’ (Babington 1983, p. 112).

Brig-Gen F Crozier of the BEF identified the French town of Hazebrouck as one of the towns
where deserters sheltered. When Hazebrouck eventually became a front-line zone and the
civil population and foodstuffs were evacuated, the deserters hiding there were stranded in
the cellars of houses that had been destroyed. In their efforts to exist and escape capture, they
looted and robbed the dumps at night for food. It was unsafe to venture through Hazebrouck
alone and unarmed at night in 1918, even though the cellars were periodically combed (Corns
& Hughes-Wilson 2001, pp. 219–220). Fussell (1975, p. 123) called the rumour of a gang of
deserters a ‘brilliant … invention’, that the ‘group of half-crazed deserters … harbored
underground in abandoned trenches and dugouts and caves … emerging at night to pillage
corpses and gather food and drink’ was, in reality, just a rumour.

Babington (1983, p. 19) argues that:

It was extremely difficult for soldiers who went absent from their
units to remain at liberty behind the line in France for very long, and
it was even harder for them to return to England. The Military Police
patrolling the roads, the villages, the towns and the railway stations in
the vicinity of the battle areas were constantly checking passes and
travel documents. A stringent surveillance was kept of all troops
entering the Channel ports of Le Havre, Boulonge, Rouen and
Dieppe, while Allied and neutral vessels using these harbours were

62
inspected periodically to ensure that no British soldiers were illicitly
on board.
Babington also claims that the provost services in the BEF were still operating in a
reasonably efficient manner and ‘it remained exceptionally difficult for an absentee to
preserve his liberty for any considerable length of time’ (p. 112). Nevertheless, the length of
time that some deserters were AWL indicates that there must have been some means and
covert infrastructure supporting deserters for lengthy periods.

Groups of deserters were seen by some in terms of pathos and inevitability, implying that
they deserved tolerance and forgiveness.

A few men, wearied by toil and incessant danger, gave up the
struggle, particularly in 1918, when the world seemed so bleak. Packs
of deserters marauded the back areas in France: They live by thieving
and gambling. The National pastime of two-up has chiefly given them
their living, and when searching B---, we took a double headed penny
off him … They stole from British and Yankee dumps such things as
petrol and clothing, for which they found a ready market among the
French (Gammage 1974, p. 218).

A more criminal intentional motivation is claimed by Pugsley (1991, p. 245), who claims
there are first-hand accounts of gambling schools that were well organised and run by ‘a gang
of notorious deserters and professional gamblers who are making large sums of money at the
Base and in the Forward areas’. Pte Braithwaite (cited in Pugsley 1991, p. 245) of the NZEF
notes in his journal:

Last night I saw a large gambling school in progress in Romarin,
taking part in the game of “two up” or “crown and anchor”. The
proprietors of the school appeared to be Australians. I tried to arrest
one of the Australians, but he went away, and I could get no
assistance from the participants of the games to help me arrest the
offender … I understand there is a regular gang of Australians who
are running these gambling schools. How they find time and
opportunity to come into our Brigade area I do not know. They must
surely be absentees from their own units.

This could also be seen as an indication of the complex attitude of soldiers towards deserters.
On the one hand deserters may have been resented as abandoning their mates, on the other
hand there may have been sympathy for those who ‘can’t take it’. The support for those
running the illegal gambling schools among the troops of resting formations also indicates
complex and ambivalent attitudes towards deserters.

The situation leading to desertion disappears after the act. Desertion is a result of a specific
situation—even opportunistic desertion. Desertion does not take place in a vacuum and the

63
nature of military discipline means that desertion initiates a response. This response is shaped
by the processes and procedures that are created ideologically.

Desertion can be described in three parts: the origin, the act and the aftermath.

The origin of desertion
The first element of desertion, the origin or cause of desertion, is traditionally seen by the
military in terms of the personal; it was widely believed that desertion resides in the
individual through fear, mental illness or weakness. Other causes are situational, based on
panic about immediate death or injury. There were also those that were dissatisfied with the
general conditions—army discipline, lack of medical treatment or lack of integration into
their unit. Some deserted by default, being drunk or inadvertently in the wrong place. Less
often cited as reasons for deserting were those protesting at expectations beyond their idea of
the call of duty or at the belief that something they are doing is unacceptable for moral,
ethical or political reasons. There are also cases of criminal intent where deserters actively
seek to gain some illegal economic benefit. There are even less cases of desertion to the
enemy. Whatever the reasons, desertion ‘represented the complete rejection of military
discipline by the soldier’ (French 1998, p. 535).

The proof of intent of desertion was legally important:

The distinction between desertion and absence without leave consists
in intention. A soldier is guilty of the crime of absence without leave
when he is voluntarily absent, without authority , from the place
where he knows or ought to know, that it is his duty to be.
If, when so absented himself, the soldier intended either:-
a) to leave His majesty’s Service altogether, or
b) to avoid some particular important duty for which he would be
required, he is guilty of desertion (S.S412b. Circular
Memorandum on Courts-martial for Use on Active Service, p. 13,
issued by Adjutant General’s Branch of the Staff General
Headquarters, August 1918).

These are the reasons attributed to the individual; however if, as Foucault says, the individual
as subject does not exist as a naturally occurring thing, but is contrived by the double work of
power and knowledge to maximise the operation of both, then the decision to desert is
constructed within the military system.
Althusser’s (1972) central thesis was that ideology interpellates individuals as subjects. There
is no ideology except by the subject and for subjects. You and I are ‘always-already’ subjects
and as such constantly practice the rituals of ideological recognition, which guarantee for us

64
that we are indeed concrete, individual, distinguishable and (naturally) irreplaceable subjects.
All ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concrete subjects, by the
functioning of the category of the subject. The existence of ideology and the interpellation of
individuals as subjects are one and the same thing. Ideology interpellates individuals as
subjects. Ideology has always-already interpellated individuals as subjects. Individuals are
always-already interpellated by ideology as subjects. Individuals are always-already subjects.

There were those who had been brought down just by being in the
military environment. It is misleading to define them only by their
military failings, for this is to concede overmuch to the rectitude of
the general staff at the expense of acknowledging that these ‘failures’
also exemplify an alternative stance or vantage point within life, a
competing sensibility one might say, in which, regardless of their
limited articulacy and homespun horizons, they come over as
possessing a certain sort of unalloyed integrity, hanging on to their
own imaginings in defiance of the “whizz-bangs in the Old Kent
Road” [Sassoon] (Barham 2004, p. 78).
I argue that desertion is inherent in military codes of discipline.

The act of desertion
The second element of desertion, the act of desertion, was impulsive, opportunistic or
premeditated. There are also instances of deserters refusing to follow orders, being too sick,
not having equipment, going the wrong way or becoming lost. Soldiers desert in a very wide
variety of situations and contexts. These were also considered important in the determination
of intent. For desertion, it was necessary to prove the soldier intended to shirk an important
duty. Evidence was required showing the accused knew with reasonable certainty that he was
expected for duty and by his absence deliberately avoided that duty. There is a healthy, legal
and acceptable form of soldier behaviour, and the behaviour of individual soldier subjects can
be plotted against it. Power organises the population into individual units that are then subject
to monitoring in a system of maximum visibility.

In organising ‘cells’, ‘places’ and ‘ranks’, the disciplines create
complex spaces that are at once architectural, functional and
hierarchical. It is spaces that provide fixed positions and permit
circulation; they carve out individual segments and establish
operational links; they mark places and indicate values; they
guarantee the obedience of individuals, but also a better economy of
time and gesture (Foucault 1991, p. 148).

The location and movement of the soldier is of critical importance in organising the fighting
efficiency of the army. A deserter undermines this efficiency.

65
The aftermath of desertion
The third element, the aftermath of desertion, was straightforward as far as the military was
concerned. Proven desertion while on active service meant the death sentence. Whether the
soldier surrendered or was apprehended could be used as an indicator of intent. Foucault says
power depends on a system of proper proceedings that in turn must be justified by codes of
law or legal precedent. What was once a person becomes a phenomenon, a military unit. The
soldier who transgresses becomes something else altogether—a deserter. Courage in combat

was the most important index of a unit’s morale. If the morale of an
army were to be maintained, it would seem essential that the man who
ran from danger be severely punished (Bogacz 1989, p. 245).
It was also possible, ‘although there is no supporting evidence, that the battle police might
have been an unofficial means of providing a capital deterrent to desertion from the front’
(Wahlert 1999, p. 64).
The death sentence could also be commuted. Character assessment based on disciplinary
records and references could be used in the determination of the sentence, but not in the
finding of guilt. In the case of Pte Sweeney of the NZEF, who was charged, sentenced and
executed for desertion in 1916, no one spoke on his character as ‘no one in his battalion knew
him; he had worked on Gallipoli with the tunnellers, and even to the veterans he was a
stranger’ (Pugsley 1991, p. 127). This meant that Pte Sweeney’s death sentence and its
promulgation became inevitable. The character assessment

was a damning indictment submitted without the accused’s
knowledge and with no right of reply. Such submissions were
mandatory for each death sentence. They could save or condemn the
accused based on the judgement of the commanding officer and
whoever he chose to consult. This proved to be a trial after the trial,
but one where the odds were stacked against the defendant (p. 128).

The experiences of deserters who evaded capture, who ‘got away with it’, are not well
documented and they are likely to be part of those deserters who formed gangs that pilfered
army stores and ran gambling schools among the troops of resting formations.

This alternative discourse of a soldier as a criminal provided an opportunity for agency in
subjectification of the recruit. Pte Little and Pte Frith both exercised personal agency in their
overt choice of one discourse while covertly accessing another. These are the ‘hard men in
the ranks who established the rules by bouncing against them’ (Pugsley 1991, p. 25). Pte
Silburn is also an example of a soldier who made different choices.

66
No 1864 Pte George Harold Silburn 36th Battalion
A spell in a South African prison was the end of the war for George Silburn. In 1921 he wrote
a letter from Cape Town Gaol pleading to be brought back to Australia (see Figure 4 Letter
from Pte Silburn. He was twenty-three years old and had been away since 1916.
Secretary
Emigration Depot
Cape Town
Dear Sir, I am writing to you asking if you
can send me back to Australia when my time
is finished. I have two months to do for
Vagrancy and Theft though which is not my
profession. It is hard for me to
get/employment on account of having no
references or discharge. I have been in Cape
Town since Nov. 16 – 1919. I was going back
to Australia with the Troops on the Nestor I
deserted the ship here and to tell you the truth
I have had a hard time since I landed here. I
will work hard to get back if you will give me
chance; I have been away since 1914. This is
my Battalion Pte. G. H. Silburn, 36 Battalion
A.I.F.
My time is finished Sept. 1st. 1921 and I have
no home to go to when I come out and hardly
a pair of shoes to my feet.
Trusting a reply,
I remain, etc.
(Signed) G. Silburn.

Figure 4 Letter from Pte Silburn

George was an eight-year-old orphan from Ipswich in Suffolk when he came to Australia to
live with his Auntie Minnie and Uncle Fred. Uncle Fred had a good business as a painter,
paperhanger and general house decorator. George worked as a gardener specialising in
grafting, which is putting spliced cuttings from one plant into another. He stated his
profession as grafter, and it is easy to assume that this was a cheeky wink to his true
profession. A grafter, in criminal slang, is a petty criminal—a burglar, cardsharper, con artist,
cheat, pickpocket, housebreaker and all-round crook. Was George already a career thief when
he enlisted? Was he looking for opportunity or did he learn through necessity ‘on the job’?

He enlisted at Victoria Barracks in 1916 as soon as he had turned eighteen. His aunt and
uncle gave their consent and he spent the next five months in the training camp at
Cootamundra, leaving Australia with the 36th Battalion in September 1916. He had a clean
record until he was AWL in December for three days. For this, the sentence was forfeit of

67
thirty-one days pay and twenty-eight days of Field Punishment No 2. He was transferred
from the battalion to serve the rest of his sentence in France. A series of events including
missing records, miscommunication and misunderstanding means that he somehow evaded
prison and came to Étaples with his unit.

In January 1917 he was accused of stealing forty-one francs in a leather wallet belonging to
Pte Driscoll. Property belonging to other soldiers in the tent also went missing, but Pte Silburn
only admitted to stealing the wallet and money, saying, when searched by the Provost
Sergeant, ‘The game is up, I have the money on me. I had better make a clean breast of it, I
have got it here’. At the court martial Pte Silburn confessed to stealing the wallet, saying ‘I
regret very much having stolen the money, but cannot make any defence of my actions. I stole
the money’. He was found guilty and sentenced to ninety days of Field Punishment No 1.

Pte Silburn spent the next three months in the Field Punishment camp in Étaples, rejoining
the 36th in March 1917, just as they were preparing for the battle at Messines Ridge. He
settled down until he was caught stealing a watch from Pte English. He was arrested and
placed in custody. He escaped a few weeks later when prisoners were warned that they would
be going to the front with their units. He stayed away for over six weeks until August when
he reported as sick to the camp. While the lucrative trade in illegal gambling and black
market goods must have kept him going, the only access to medical facilities was through the
army. He must have been feeling very sick to give himself up and, within a few days, he was
in hospital with appendicitis.

Once he was discharged from hospital and had rejoined his unit in September, a court martial
was convened to hear the charges against him. The charges were as follows:

While on active service stealing goods the property of a comrade in
that he in the field on 20th or 21st June 1917 did steal a watch the
property of No 752 Pte J H English 36 Battalion.

When on active service when in lawful custody escaping in that he at
Neuve Eglise on 2nd July 1917 escaped from the guard in whose
custody he was placed.

When on active service deserting His Majesty’s Service in that he at
Neuve Eglise at 8pm on 2nd July 1917 when his company had been
warned to move into the support trenches on Messines Ridge
absented himself from his battalion and remained absent until 4.30pm
on 21st August 1917 when he reported himself to 3rd Australian
Divisional Reinforcement Camp.
He pleaded guilty to the first two charges and not guilty to the charge of desertion. Witnesses
were called for the prosecution and confirmed that Pte Silburn was missing, did escape from

68
the guard and had been seen throwing Pte English’s watch over the parapet after taking it
apart. He reserved his defence but the records do not show what his defence was. Whatever
he said, it was ineffective as the court martial found him guilty of all three charges and
sentenced him to death for desertion. Gen Sir H Plumer commanding the 11th Army
confirmed the sentence but commuted it to ten years penal servitude.

Pte Silburn spent the next year in No 7 Military Prison with some time in hospital, missing
the next major battle for the 36th at Passchendaele. In October 1918 the unexpired portion of
his sentence was suspended and he was transferred to the 35th Battalion and sent back to the
front. The 36th Battalion had been disbanded in April 1918 to reinforce the 35th. After
Armistice in November 1918, Pte Silburn stayed with the 35th until it disbanded in March
1919. This was the opportunity for him to go AWL again for three days. In April he was
again illegally absent for twenty days, during which time he lived with Mme Alice LeClerk in
Eu. His intentions were clear enough, as he threw his uniform and military identification into
the sea at Tréport. To get enough money to buy civilian clothes, he and another deserter
burgled the house of Mme Thuillier, a friend of Alice, and stole 1200 francs. He kept 600
francs as his half and bought clothes, a watch, a pair of boots and a coat for Alice.

He was arrested again and sent back to Australia on the SS Nestor. He deserted in Cape Town
and ended up in prison. The Australian authorities responded to his plea to be returned to
Australia at the end of his sentence (see Figure 4), and he sailed for Australia in September
1921. He was denied his war medals.

Pte Silburn was not suffering from shell shock nor is there any evidence of cowardice or fear.
He used his time as a soldier to suit himself. His extended time as a deserter, over six weeks,
was interrupted by his appendicitis in 1917 and his resulting need for medical treatment.
Otherwise, he would probably have used his skills in thieving to survive in one of the gangs
of Australian deserters that exploited the black market and illicit gambling schools behind the
lines. He would appear to have enlisted with the intention of deserting to pursue criminal
activities once overseas. Pte Frith also fits into this group of soldiers who chose an alternative
to the dominant construction of dutiful and heroic soldier.

No 2592 Pte Harry Frith 55th Battalion
Pte Harry Frith, then of the 3rd Battalion, was accused of deserting His Majesty’s Service
when on active service. At Pozières on the 17 August 1916, he left the firing line at the front
without permission and was arrested at Amiens on 7 October 1916 by the MP. There is no

69
record of what he did during this absence of nearly two months. He had been in the AIF for
just over twelve months, but had also gone AWL from the 55th Battalion earlier in 1916 and
had been posted as a deserter from that battalion. He had several other periods of AWL as
well as some time in hospital after being wounded. Pte Frith was a serial absentee and all the
evidence points to him being both opportunistic and deliberate in his absences. He was
twenty-seven years old and well practised in a variety of illegal activities. He told Sgt Napper
of the MP, after he was arrested, ‘they will have a hard job to find out who I am and how
long I have been absent, as I have nothing on me’, and indeed he was not wearing any cap
badge or numerals when searched and no pay book or disc was found on him. He was
however wearing an MP brassard. Early in 1916 he had a two-month training period in the
MP of the 14th Brigade. Here he undoubtedly learnt much to give him confidence in evading
capture during his later exploits. His absence from the 55th occurred a few days after
returning from this training.

He was well known as a potential deserter. Pte Frith had frequently told officers and other
ranks in the 3rd that he had previous service with the 1st AIF in Egypt in 1914 from which he
was discharged in February 1915 as undesirable. He re-enlisted in Australia in 1915. He had
joined the 3rd Battalion with reinforcements after the action of Pozières in July 1916. He must
have turned up with a credible story to then be attached to the 1st Training Battalion before
being transferred to the 3rd. The day before his desertion, he had absented himself without
leave in Albert and was brought back by the MP.

On the 17 August 1916, ‘A’ Company was laying down the support trenches at Pozières. Sgt
Millard went along the trench and could not find Pte Frith. He looked for Frith because he
had been told that Frith was trying to get out of the trench. Cpl Ogilvie was in charge of ‘A’
Company and he had received orders to prepare to move to the front-line. Pte Frith was one
of a fatigue away party. At Pte Frith’s court martial, Cpl Ogilvie stated:

When he returned I told him to prepare to move to the front line, he
reported back to me with his equipment on and asked if he could go
to the latrines. I said ‘Yes, don’t be long and report when you come
back’. I received the order to move off, Private Frith was not there. I
then walked down the trench which my company occupied. I looked
all around but could not find the accused, I then reported his absence
to the Platoon Officer. There was not a latrine in my company lines. I
visited the nearest latrines to look for accused. I reported his absence
to Lieut Robb. I personally warned accused to move to the front line.

Pte Frith was prepared to tell his side of the story:

70
On the 17th August after coming from fatigue in the front line I was
ordered by L/Cpl Ogilvie to be prepared to move to the front line
which I did. About ten minutes afterwards I asked him if I could go to
the latrine. He said ‘Yes’. While at the latrine a shell came over and I
was buried. I was dug out and taken to the nearest dressing station,
finding no doctor there I was taken to Casualty Corner. I remember
no more until I found myself in Amiens and I was afraid to come
back again. The latrine I went to was about one hundred yards from
Cpl Ogilvie’s dug-out. It was the nearest one. I was there about one
minute. I do not know where I was sent to after leaving the dressing
station at Casualty Corner. I was in Amiens all the time I was away. I
was not in hospital. I have no knowledge of being in any hospital. I
do not remember anything for two days after when I found myself in
Amiens. I was afraid to report back to my unit on account of being
punished. I did not think they would believe my story. I did not make
a statement to the Military Policeman who arrested me. I am also on
the strength of the 55th Battalion. I was in a paddock at Amiens when
I came to my senses. It was two of the First division Engineers who
dug me out when I was buried. I do not know who they were.

He was also confident enough to cross-examine Cpl Ogilvie, maybe hoping to imply that Cpl
Ogilvie had not searched thoroughly for him. However, as his defence was that he was absent
through being buried by a shell, this seems like a futile attempt. His defence of ‘not
remembering’ was a common one, and it was probably prudent not to present a story that
could be tested for the truth. The court was not convinced by Pte Frith and found him guilty
of desertion and sentenced him to suffer death by being shot.

The Brigade Commander, Gen N M Smyth recommended that the sentence be carried out. No
one had believed Pte Frith’s story. His commanding officer was of the opinion that he
deserted deliberately from cowardice. There was a search for him when he was found to be
absent, and it was generally considered in his platoon that his claim that he was buried was
false as no trenches were found to have fallen in near where his platoon was. No stretcher-
bearers could have taken him away within the hour or so before the platoon went forward
because there were none in the vicinity. His sentence was confirmed by Gen Rawlinson but
varied to ten years penal servitude. This was then commuted to two years imprisonment with
hard labour.

After eleven months in prison, Pte Frith was released with the remainder of his sentence
suspended. He returned to the 3rd Battalion in Belgium but within a month made another
attempt to go AWL. This time he was absent for only one hour before being apprehended. He
was found guilty and sentenced to six months imprisonment with hard labour with the
unexpired portion of his previous two years sentence to be served concurrently. Pte Frith
spent the next year in military prison, was released and rejoined the 3rd Battalion in March

71
1919. In April he was again AWL and was awarded twenty-eight days Field Punishment No
2 and forfeited thirty-eight days pay. In July he was caught stealing a gold watch and £1.15.0,
and this time was convicted by a civil court. A previous conviction for felony in 1906 was
taken into account and he was sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment with hard labour.
In July 1920, after serving twelve months of his sentence, he was released with the unexpired
portion of his sentence remitted and he embarked for his return to Australia. He was
discharged from the AIF as ‘Services No Longer Required’, which meant Pte Frith was not
entitled to a war pension. He was also ineligible for war medals because of his conviction for
desertion.

The discourse of recruitment defines the ideal soldier and, by defining the boundaries of the
ideal, the deserter. This is further reinforced by the legal and social structures within the
military designed to discipline and control. Pte Silburn and Pte Frith, and others, who we can
assume were not caught, exercised agency in choosing to use the dominant discourse, as well
as the alternative discourse, to pursue their self-serving activities.

466 stories
This section offers a perspective on desertion in the AIF in World War 1 based on a group of
service and court-martial records as well as some example stories from individual records.
The group consists of the records of 466 soldiers, most of whom were court-martialled for
AWL or desertion or both (see Appendix A). The group also includes those who were
charged with joining in a mutiny as well as other offences. From this group, thirty-two men
were convicted of desertion and one convicted for disobeying orders received the death
sentence. The narratives I used to tell more detailed stories in other chapters are drawn from
this group of thirty-two.

During the war there were 126,818 courts martial for desertion and AWL in the BEF, which
includes the AIF, the NZEF and all Dominion divisions from the Commonwealth. In the field
there were 7,361 courts martial for desertion and 37,034 for AWL, and in the United
Kingdom, there were 31,269 courts martial for desertion and 51,154 for AWL. Postwar
statistics show that:

[The] overall desertion rate between 1914 and 1918 was one per
cent—so that in an army of 1 million men, there were over 10,000
absentees—the equivalent of a whole division of troops (Corns &
Hughes-Wilson 2001, p. 216).

72
This reveals desertion and AWL to be serious problems during the war. In the light of over
700,000 casualties in the BEF, it may be difficult to understand, accept or value those who
were seen to have faltered in their duty or who had actually deserted their posts.

There is no public list of Australian deserters or soldiers convicted of desertion. The National
Archives of Australia (NAA) holds 330,000 service records of Australians who served in
World War 1, including those in the AIF. The records commonly contain biographical
information supplied on enlistment, such as name, address, next of kin and age, as well as
service information such as movements, postings, changes in rank, injuries or illness and
disciplinary proceedings. Although most records contain these basic elements, they do vary in
the amount of information they contain. The NAA also holds records of all courts martial in
World War 1. These are the records I searched for records of soldiers who were charged with
desertion and who were also sentenced to death.

There are limitations in using such a comparatively small group of 466. There were an
estimated 30,000 Australian courts martial in World War 1 for a variety of offences, so 466
cannot be said to be representative. The offences of AWL and desertion totalled 38 per cent
and 9 per cent respectively of total courts martial charges (Ekins 2010, p. 119). There were
121 death sentences (Ekins & Stewart 2011), so the twenty-nine I found, which is 23 per
cent, as well as the five from New Zealand, is a reasonable sample. However, because
desertion was discursively constructed with some personal agency and there is no typicality
in either the person or the situation, the validity of statistics is limited. There is also no
consistent correlation between the various circumstances of desertion and the death sentence,
as courts martial and sentences were used as examples to others for disciplinary purpose as it
was ‘a widely held belief in all armies that examples were necessary to maintain discipline
and to underpin soldiers’ commitment to the war effort’ (Oram 2003, p. 39). However,
desertion or AWL from the front-line was considered more serious than desertion or AWL
from training camps, hospitals or areas behind the lines. The only areas of commonality are
that the men were soldiers in the AIF and the courts martial were between 1915 and 1918. By
choosing records from the court-martial records, we do not have access to those cases that
were dealt with formally or informally within the unit.

These cases are not well documented, but Maj-Gen Sir Andrew Russell of the NZEF had
stated that ‘all persons attempting to cross the line … and who refuse to halt on being called
upon to do so will be fired upon’ (cited in Pugsley 1991, p. 123). There is also some evidence
to suggest that:

73
[Some MP] stationed to the immediate rear of the trenches had orders
to execute summarily men found deserting. … In July 1916 units
were informed that ‘any man who refused to go over the top would be
shot on the spot by Military Police’ (Wahlert 1999, p. 64).
We also do not have records of those soldiers who deserted and were presumed killed in
action. Nor do we know about those who deserted, successfully evaded arrest and never
returned, perhaps recorded as missing or presumed killed in action. Another limitation is that
not all court-martial records are digitised. The result is that this research uses available data to
provide an interpretive snapshot of desertion.

Bureaucratic records in themselves have limits in that they are written for a purpose; they are
written and kept for purposes of information and control. They are not records of ‘truth’. My
list of 466 is also compiled for a specific purpose—it is a list of those records I examined to
find cases of desertion and the death sentence. These are the criteria that I chose to decide
which stories to construct. This selection of discourse data for interpretation is ‘expressly
motivated and justified in terms of its human and social relevance’ (de Beaugrande 2004, p.
114). From these 466, I chose the records of stories that I found interesting and that I
considered had enough material to reconstruct the narratives.

The information from the group of 466 records also offers some insights into the discourses
of desertion and AWL in the AIF. There are three types of discourse: conventional discourse,
which helps to reproduce and maintain existing systems of knowledge and belief; creative
discourse, which helps to create and transform them; and resistant discourse, which contests
the dominant systems (Fairclough 1995, p. 56). The discourse of a practice includes text,
signs and symbols as well as verbal and non-verbal communication. The non-verbal and non-
recorded verbal forms of communication of courts martial in World War 1 are not available.
The analysis of extant text is concerned with both meaning and form. The function of the text
can be used to investigate the constitution of systems of knowledge and belief, which then
inform and shape social practice. The reconstructed narratives as well can show the
constitutive nature of the discourse around desertion and deserters and the connection to the
social practices of the court martial.

The death penalty
The information from the group of 466 records also offers some insights into the practices of
desertion and AWL in the AIF. Most of the courts martial were in 1917, 177 (38 per cent)
and in 1918, 204 (44 per cent) (see Figure 5). This is a similar proportion to the distribution
of total courts martial in the AIF (see Figure 6) (Lambley 2012, p. 12). These numbers reflect

74
not only the sites of engagement but also the number of soldiers in the AIF at those times. It
also illustrates the complexity of disciplinary management as the war progressed, or in some
places, did not progress. It possibly shows that more soldiers were frustrated with their
conditions. If soldiers were not being court-martialled for desertion in 1915, it could be that
at that time the expectations of the soldiers corresponded to those of the army. Most of the
AIF in 1915 were volunteers and possibly not yet war-weary enough to leave their unit. The
AIF spent most of 1915 in Gallipoli where the limited terrain may have made it difficult to
desert.

Number of Courts Martial in this
research group
250
204
200 177

150

100 75

50
3
0
1915 1916 1917 1918

Figure 5 Number of courts martial in this research group

Number of Courts Martial - Total in
AIF
9000 8,323
8000 7,568
7000
6000
5000
4000 3,427
3000
2000
741
1000
0
1915 1916 1917 1918

75
Figure 6 Number of courts martial - Total in the AIF

The distribution of death sentences (see Figure 7), however, does not correlate with the
distribution of courts martial. From the research group of 466, in 1916 there were fourteen
death sentences, 19 per cent of the seventy-five courts martial that year. In 1917 there were
fifteen death sentences, only 10 per cent of the 177 courts martial that year. In 1918 there
were only three death sentences, less than 2 per cent of the 204 courts martial that year. The
most likely reason for this is the growing awareness that the death penalty was unable to be
implemented because of the legislation in Australia. This implies that it was ineffective as a
deterrent.

Number of Death Sentences each
year in the research group
16 15
14
14
12
10
8
6
4 3
2
0
0
1915 1916 1917 1918

Figure 7 Number of Death sentences each year in the research group

AWL, desertion and other charges
From this set of records, there is also no indication that particular units were more likely to
have deserters, AWL or harsher discipline than other units. From this group of 466 courts
martial, the most death sentences in one unit was three in the 4th Battalion, over three years,
and three in the 45th Battalion, two of which were in 1916. However, the figures for all courts
martial show that some battalions had a higher incidence of court-martialled soldiers
(Lambley 2012, p. 14).

The type of charge is more difficult to analyse statistically. From this group the majority,
94 per cent, of the charges are for desertion and AWL. This is because these are the
charges I was specifically searching for to find those soldiers sentenced to death. Other

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charges that resulted in a death sentence were for mutiny. Pte Le Guier and Pte Sheffield
were charged with joining in a mutiny and Pte Little for striking a superior officer. They
were all involved in the mutiny at Blargies prison, as was Pte Braithwaite from the NZEF.
The sentences of Pte Le Guier, Pte Sheffield and Pte Little were commuted to penal
servitude, but Pte Braithwaite was executed by being shot at Rouen on 29 October 1916,
along with Gunner Lewis from the BEF. The Australians, specifically Pte Little, were
identified as being the instigators of the fray that led to the Blargies mutiny.

There were no service offences of outright treason, so desertion and mutiny were the most
serious offences. According to Section 98 of the Australian Defence Act 1903, no member of
the Defence Force can be sentenced to death by any court martial except for four offences:
mutiny; desertion; traitorously delivering up to the enemy any garrison, fortress, post, guard,
or ship, vessel, or boat, or aircraft; or traitorous correspondence with the enemy. Also
according to Section 98, no sentence of death passed by any court martial shall be carried into
effect until confirmed by the Governor-General. No death sentence in the AIF was carried out
because none was confirmed by the Governor-General. There were twenty-eight death
sentences passed on soldiers from the NZEF, and five of these were confirmed and carried
out (Pugsley 1991). Of the five death sentences carried out, four were for desertion and one,
Braithwaite, for mutiny. Of the twenty-eight death sentences passed, one was for sleeping at
post, one for leaving guard, one for mutiny and twenty-five for desertion. Pte Sweeney and
Pte King of the NZEF were both born in Australia, but because they had enlisted in the
NZEF, the death sentence was carried out and they were executed by firing squad. Pte
Sweeney would not have been executed had he enlisted in his home state of Tasmania and
served with an Australian unit.

Another charge that attracted a death sentence was for Pte Sitters for ‘disobeying in such a
manner as to show a wilful defiance of authority’. I found no records of the charge of
deserting to the enemy, but the case of Pte Permakoff, who was shot by his own unit while
crossing no-mans-land, allegedly to join the German Army, may fit into that category.

LCpl Manning 56th Battalion
Some charges indicate panic and confusion. There were five charges of abandoning post in
the 56th Battalion. LCpl Manning and four men, including cousins Victor and Richard
Newham, were charged with ‘shamefully abandoning a post’. They were found not guilty, but
guilty of ‘misbehaving before the enemy in such a manner as to show cowardice’, and
sentenced to ten years penal servitude. The court recommended mercy on account of

77
Manning’s youth and inexperience and referred the sentencing to a higher authority. Gen
Birdwood did not confirm the sentence. He explained his reasons in a note attached to the
court-martial record (see Figure 8 Letter from Gen Birdwood about LCpl Manning).

Headquarters
Fourth Army “A”
The G.O.C 5th Australian Division personally discussed
this matter with me and pointed out that the N.C.O. i/c
of the party was a boy of 19 years of age, only just
arrived at the front, and had never been in the trenches
before; moreover that he had received no definite
orders from his Company Commander as to his duties.
In these circumstances it was considered that the fault
lay more with the administration of the Battalion than
with the N.C.O. and men.
The Commanding Officer is being relieved and steps
taken to ensure the proper organisation of the duties
with the Battalion.
Under the circumstances the G.O.C. 5th Aust. Division
considers it preferable that L/Cpl MANNING and the
men should be given another chance to retrieve their
reputations and in this I agree.
(signed)

Figure 8 Letter from Gen Birdwood about LCpl Manning

In this group of 466 records, there are only six with a recorded diagnosis of shell shock. The
discursive nature of shell shock is discussed in more detail in another chapter. There were an
estimated ‘200,000 soldiers … discharged due to various mental disorders’ (Leese 2002, p.
10) in the BEF, although the ‘official statistics are notoriously unreliable’ (p. 9).

Lt Edmund Wells 47th Battalion
Only five of the 466 records were for officers. Lt Edmund Wells was charged with
‘misbehaving before the enemy in such a manner as to show cowardice’. Lt Wells was in
command of No 4 Platoon when he was ordered by his colonel to reconnoitre Westhoek
Ridge. The court-martial record, beginning with the testimony of witness Capt Bremmer,
shows a poignant narrative of a breakdown:

At about 1 pm I saw the accused at Anzac house in a state of utter
collapse. The accused put his arms around my neck and asked me to
save him. … About 7.20 pm … I saw the accused … he said I am
joining with a working party and asked if he might remain until
shelling ceased. No shelling in immediate vicinity … he was in a state
of abject fear.

78
Lt George Reid also testified that Lt Wells ‘seemed really afraid’ although there were no
shells falling nearby, and that he ‘collapsed, fell to the floor sobbing and crying’. Lt Reid
acknowledged that it was Lt Wells’s first time in the trenches, but he had not heard that ‘he
suffered from shell shock’. Lt Wells had reported with insomnia and leg pain to Capt John
Jones of the AAMC attached to the 47th Battalion. Dr Jones found him to be ‘extremely
nervous’ with ‘signs of fear’ and making ‘no effort to control himself’. Dr Jones’s opinion
was that ‘it is impossible to say if a man be suffering from shell shock in absence of direct
proof that a shell burst near him’. Lt Wells claimed to have shell shock, but Dr Jones had
dealt with a number of cases of shell shock and was adamant that, in his opinion, Lt Wells
was not shell-shocked. In his defence, Lt Wells’s batman, Pte Fitzpatrick, confirmed that Lt
Wells had a sore leg. He also testified that Lt Wells seemed very nervous after ‘three shells
had burst near us, one about five yards away’. He also said Lt Wells seemed ‘run down, tired
and nervous’ two days later and that he was ‘shaking and trembling’.

Dr Jones reflected the army’s reluctance to recognise the condition of shell shock.
Throughout the war, military and medical officers rejected shell shock as a real condition, as
they believed it undermined discipline amongst the ranks. To countermand this threat, the
army ‘promoted military aggression and masculine virtues, and failure to “do one’s duty” was
therefore seen as a betrayal of the group, as a personal and collective dishonour’ (Leese 2002,
p. 30). Many diagnoses of shell shock are either not recorded or hidden in the records by
euphemisms such as ‘delusional’ or acronyms such as NYDM (Not Yet Diagnosed Mental).

Traditional expectations of manliness and moral fibre were deflated
by scores of unsettling displays in which a soldier burst into tears
when questioned, or threw himself on the floor before the doctor
(Barham 2004, p. 64).
A consequence of the vigilance shown by medical officers in the presentation of pretended
illness to evade duty ‘was that they came to be regarded with a certain amount of animosity
and distrust by a large proportion of the front-line soldiers’ (Babington 1983, p. 59). Those
who treated shell shock during the war ‘occupied a position somewhere between sympathetic
counsellor and military policeman, with emphasis on the latter role’ (Bogacz 1989, p. 243).
The ‘shell shock committee’ of 1922 had insisted that although some men would feign
psychological symptoms in the hope of escaping from the front-line, doctors could
distinguish between malingerers and genuine casualties (French 1998, p. 531).

Irrespective of what neurologists and psychologists were saying,
regimental medical officers and non-medical military officers in the

79
front lines continued to believe that a large proportion of soldiers
suffering from nervous shock were feigning it (Bourke 1995, p. 4).
Assumptions about the authenticity of symptoms and the character of shell-shocked soldiers
‘translated into poor treatment for the unfortunate men appearing at the Casualty Clearing
Stations (and later the hospitals), shaking or screaming, who were assumed to be
malingering’ (p. 62). The trust between doctors and soldiers was eroded and many with
genuine symptoms would not report for medical diagnosis or treatment ‘because they knew
they would be judged by the requirements of discipline and fighting fitness more than their
personal welfare’ (Leese 2002, p. 32). By the time the AIF joined the forces in France, cases
of shell shock were already approaching the proportions of an epidemic. Babington (1997, p.
81) estimates that:

[D]uring the twelve-month period before 30 April, 1916, a total of
approximately 1,300 officers and 10,000 other ranks had been
admitted to the special hospitals in Britain for shell-shock patients. In
addition, an increasing number of cases were being treated in France
without being sent home.

Some of the charges offer an insight into the desperation that led to drastic measures to get
home. There are three recorded instances in this group of self-harm, which was a court-
martial offence. Pte Allen Broadhead and Pte A Huddy were charged with wilfully maiming
themselves by injecting petrol into their knee. Pte Percy Newman committed suicide by
cutting his own throat after being reduced to the ranks for one day of AWL.

Shell shock and self-harm were of concern to those in command, but not out of compassion
for the individual. ‘By far the greatest concern during the war was that shell-shock was
infectious, causing mass hysteria, and destroying discipline in even the best units if not
checked’ (Oram 2003, p. 61). In 1916, Adj-Gen G H Fowke wrote that soldiers who ‘failed to
“maintain mental equilibrium” could not be allowed to escape disciplinary action merely on
the grounds of a medical diagnosis of shell shock’ (Bourke 1995, p. 9).

Lt Wells was one of five officers (three captains and two lieutenants) court-martialled and
found guilty of desertion or a lesser charge: three were cashiered from service, one was
dismissed from service and one reprimanded. The difference in the number of officers
compared to the number of soldiers at the rank of private indicates a difference in attitude, as
well as a difference in the management of discipline for different ranks. However, for all
ranks, the industrial and impersonal nature of conditions on the Western Front was the same,
‘a static struggle dominated by machines where the individual counted for little, contributed

80
greatly to widespread mental illness after November 1914 when the stalemate began’
(Bogacz 1989, p. 233).

The charges of mutiny in the group of 466 are a result of either incidents in prison or the
mutiny in the 1st Battalion in 1918. On 21 September 1918 when the 1st Battalion was ordered
back to the front halfway through a relief by another battalion, one company refused to
comply. The mutiny quickly spread throughout the battalion and when it went forward again
it did so with ten officers and eighty-four men; 119 had gone missing. All 119 members
involved in the 1st Battalion mutiny were charged and court-martialled, and the seventy-eight
in the group of 466 that I examined were all found not guilty of mutiny but guilty of the
second charge of desertion. This and other mutinies have been well researched and written
about (Blair 2001) and are outside the parameters of this research. They are included in my
list because the records were examined in my search for deserters.

The mutiny at No 2 prison at Blargies provides remarkable and significant context for the
story of Pte Little and the New Zealander, Pte Braithwaite. Three other Australians, Pte Le
Guier, Pte Mitchell and Pte Sheffield were also sentenced to death for their involvement in
this prison uprising, but Pte Braithwaite, because the NZEF still used the death penalty, was
the only Anzac soldier executed. Pte Little’s story is told in the chapter on discipline and
military prisons. These men were all in prison for various other offences, mostly desertion.

Sentences
The 121 death sentences from 30,000 courts martial, less than one per cent, shows that the
death penalty was not used extensively. However, the serious and absolute nature of the death
sentence meant that it had potential significant impact. Across the BEF, death sentences and
executions were ‘only a small part of the disciplinary process, but they formed arguably the
most important component in an army dominated by ideas of deterrence’ (Oram 2003, p. 3).
In the AIF, all death sentences were commuted to periods of penal servitude or imprisonment
with hard labour. Many sentences were suspended under the Army Act (Suspension of
Sentences) 1915, which was ‘designed to retain men in the trenches “with the sentence
hanging over his head” rather than “reward” offenders with prison sentences’ (p. 69). Most
sentences were remitted on repatriation.

Figure 9 Original sentence after court martial, shows that in the research group of 466,
imprisonment with hard labour is the most common sentence, ninety-three (20 per cent) in
this group of courts martial. Imprisonment with hard labour was for periods between one

81
month and five years. Penal servitude was considered a more serious sentence with ninety-six
(20 per cent) in this group. Eight of these were penal servitude for life. The difference
between imprisonment with hard labour and penal servitude is not clear, other than the length
of imprisonment, and they seem to be used interchangeably. In English law, penal servitude
is defined as imprisonment with hard labour. Penal servitude was substituted for
transportation in 1853 and abolished by section 1(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1948.
Imprisonment with hard labour was abolished by section 1(2) of that Act. I identified 34
death sentences (7 per cent) in the research group (see Figure 9 Original sentence after court
martial).

Original Sentence after Court Martial
80 73
70
60
49
50
39
40 34
30
20
20
8
10
0
IHL < 1 year IHL > 1 year PS 3-9 Years PS > 10 years PS Life Death
Length of sentence

Figure 9 Original sentence after court martial

The military prisons could not be perceived as safer or easier than life in the trenches. The
‘coward’ should not be rewarded with imprisonment that removes him from the trenches.
Military prisoners had to work as an additional form of punishment beyond imprisonment
alone. However, sometimes imprisonment had fatal consequences as Pte Baufoot’s story
shows.

No 3544 Pte James Baufoot 50th Battalion
Pte Baufoot died aged twenty-five at Harefield Hospital in England in June 1918.

He was born in India, where his father, Lt Cornelius Baufoot, served in the Essex regiment.
He moved to Australia and worked as a motor mechanic at Medindie, a suburb of Adelaide,
with his uncle, Ernest Bosisto. He enlisted in the AIF at Keswick South Australia in July

82
1915. He was twenty-two and taller than average at five feet ten and a half inches. In August
1916 he was wounded in action in France and sent back to England for treatment after a
diagnosis of shell shock. In February 1917 he married seventeen-year-old Ivy, but he was
sent straight back to the front.

In June 1917 he went missing in Belgium and was later arrested as an illegal absentee. He
admitted he was AWL saying ‘I was worn out and could not stand the strain and lost control
of myself under the barrage.’

At the court martial, he admitted he was deserting, saying ‘I was down at Calais looking for a
boat to get away in’. Pte Baufoot was behaving as though he still had options, was in some
measure the author of his own destiny and could put himself back on the track from which he
had been rudely diverted. He was charged with desertion, court-martialled and sentenced to
fifteen years penal servitude, which was commuted to two years imprisonment with hard
labour. He went to No 5 Prison in Calais and, while there, his spine was fractured in an
accident.

Sgt Foreman described the accident:

At Vendroux on the 12.2.18 I was in charge of a group of 12 British
prisoners (soldiers) detailed to load timber on the railway trucks. The
timber consisted of firing beams which I had been informed were
under 15 cwt. After they had loaded 1 beam which had been lifted
from the ground by them with a view to making the task lighter, I
arranged for a crane to lift the next beam shoulder high thus allowing
the men to get their shoulders underneath before taking the weight. I
got the men underneath the beam six on each side said “Are you
ready” one of them said “Yes” and I gave the order to two men
working the crane “lower steadily”. Just then S/Sgt White came up
and said to the men “Stick to it”. The beam was lowered and the men
took the weight, Gnr Wright released the slings and S/Sgt White gave
the word “Forward” 4 men then gave way and the remainder jumped,
but Pte Baufoot who was the tallest did not clear his shoulder quick
enough and the beam in falling struck him in the lower part of the
back.
Sgt Audsley said that Pte Baufoot ‘was the last to give way, being always a willing worker’.
The court of inquiry into the accident found that Pte Baufoot was in no way to blame for the
injuries he received.

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To Officer Commanding
Dear Sir
I am writing to ask if you can give me any news, concerning my husband Pte. J. Baufoot 3544
50 Batt. He got into trouble some months ago, and was sent to a M.P. Camp. He was allowed to
write once a month. I have not heard now, for over two months and cannot get any news of
him. Last week, two letters were returned from France, to and his address is not known. I am
very anxious to know if he is still in France, or where he is, and would be glad if you could let
me know. I am sorry I cannot apply personally.
I shall be extremely obliged if you will send an early reply.
I am
Yours Respectfully
Mrs Baufoot

Figure 10 Letter from Ivy Baufoot

He was sent back to England and admitted with paraplegia to The King George Hospital.
During this time, Ivy lost touch with him and wrote an anxious letter trying to find him (see
figure 10 Letter from Ivy Baufoot).

The army finally was able to notify Ivy that her husband was in hospital in France,
dangerously ill, but she could not afford to visit him there. Pte Baufoot was then transferred
to a London hospital in April 1918. The remainder of his sentence was remitted. A medical
board found him unfit for further military service and he was transferred to Harefield
Hospital where he died of his injuries—a fractured spine, paraplegia and a urinary infection.
There was enough time for Ivy to visit him at Harefield between his transfer and his death.

Pte Baufoot was an early volunteer, enlisting in July 1915. He did not go to Gallipoli, joining
the 50th Battalion in February 1916. He was wounded in France a year after enlisting and
seemed to spend most of 1917 trying to manage his shell shock, mainly by attempting to get
back to England. He exemplifies the arbitrary dimension of the subject in a symbolic order

84
in which, even if the subject may willingly have embraced the
signifier which represents him for the other, as by volunteering for the
cause, still it becomes apparent quite soon that there has been a
misunderstanding, and the subject’s idea of who he is, and what he
has let himself in for, is quite at odds with the mandate that has been
foisted upon him by the authorities (Barham 2004, p. 61).

Pte Baufoot is an example of a constructed subject, compliant and resistant at the same time,
who is unable to meet the expectations of himself as a soldier. He was unable to assume fully
and without restraint the symbolic mandate.

Using the records
Of this group of 466, eleven were killed in action. One, Pte Percy Stafford, was killed while
resisting arrest and Pte Nicholas Permakoff was shot by his own unit and died of his wounds.
Several died of sickness, influenza or from wounds. The majority survived and returned
home. The Military Medal was awarded to five of this group of 466, and the Distinguished
Conduct Medal given to two, including Pte Patrick Molloy of the 58th Battalion, who later
disappeared, but was never charged with desertion or posted as killed in action.

This section offers a perspective on desertion in the AIF in World War 1 based on the group
of court-martial records I selected to find cases of desertion and the death sentence. The
group of 466 courts martial is not statistically large in an estimated total of 30,000. However,
the numbers can suggest an overall context for desertion in the AIF and the use of courts
martial and the death sentence as disciplinary tools. The thirty-four records of courts martial
that resulted in a death sentence provided enough material to support my argument that
desertion was discursively constructed with some personal agency and that there is no typical
deserter or process of desertion.

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5. Military law and the death
penalty
This chapter considers how military law contributed to the creation of deserters, specifically
deserters from the AIF. It describes military law and its application in the AIF within the
BEF. It also looks at the death penalty and how in some cases punishment seemed to endorse
desertion. I examine the legal and cultural dimensions of army discipline and analyse the
framework in which desertion, courts martial and sentencing occurred. This provides
background and context to the individual stories of desertion and contributes to the argument
that deserters were created by the army.

Military discipline is a complex issue and ‘the simplistic view [that in World War 1] soldiers
were repressed by incompetent generals located far away from the front-line is no longer
good enough’ (Oram 2003, p. 15). The purpose of military law is discipline; the concept of
justice is subsumed to the aim of an efficient fighting force. Just as the purpose of military
medicine is to return the soldier to the fighting, not to full health, the purpose of military law
is also to restore the soldier to the front-line. To win, the war troops must be available, fit and
willing to fight.

Babington (1981) focuses on the legality and judicial processes of the courts martial and
draws some conclusions about comparative justice, or in some cases, lack of it. The army was
constrained to some extent by its own regulations once a soldier had been charged with
desertion. Corns and Hughes-Wilson (2001) describe the history of military law from the
early military times of the Romans through mediaeval society in Europe to the 1914 Manual
of Military Law published by His Majesty’s Stationery Office for the British War Office. This
was the manual used to conduct all courts martial during World War 1. The differences
between military law and civil law reflect the differences in the circumstances between ‘the
unregulated and brutal exigencies of the battlefield’ (p. 50) and civilian life. There are
explicit differences in ways of dealing with offences committed while on active service and
the same offences committed away from the front-lines.

The Australian divisions were subject to the British Army Act and British military law except
where the Australian Defence Act was different. On 7 June 1917, the Australian Solicitor-
General wrote to the Australian Secretary of Defence (see Appendix B) with advice on a
query presumably generated by pleas from Gen Sir D Haig to be able to apply the death
penalty to the Australian forces:
86
I am of the opinion that, in view of the amendment of section 55 of
the Defence Act, the Australian Imperial Force is subject to the Army
Act save so far as it is inconsistent with the Australian Defence Act.

The Defence Minister noted on 25 July 1917 that ‘Cabinet has decided that they will not
approve at this juncture to amend the Defence Act to conform to the Army Act in reference to
sentence of death for desertion’ (see Appendix B). In all other respects, the AIF was subject
to the same military law as the rest of the British and Dominion forces.

This caused problems as Australian troops had a problematic reputation on the Western
Front. While no one doubted the Australians ‘ferocity in action or their fighting ability, they
were, by British Army standards, woefully undisciplined’ (Corns & Hughes-Wilson 2001, p.
390). In 1917 Gen Sir D Haig felt that the discipline of the AIF was in a ‘serious state’ and
that:

[U]nless Commonwealth Government agree to place their troops
under Army Act without any restrictions as regards death penalty
fighting efficiency of these divisions will deteriorate to an extent
which may gravely affect success of our arms.
He also argued that the lack of the death penalty applied to Australian forces was a
‘privileged position’ and ‘likely to promote bad feeling amongst troops’ and would have ‘far
reaching results to the Empire’ (see Appendix B). Apparently, ‘wherever Anzac troops
gathered in a gang out of the line there was usually crime, disorder and trouble’ (Corns &
Hughes-Wilson 2001, p. 391).

Gammage’s (1974, p. 236) view is that ‘while statistically it remains possible that the AIF
contained an abnormally high proportion of shirkers, far more probably its indiscipline
reflected a forceful Australian assertion of civilian prerogatives’. His opinion is that the
Australian perceived lack of discipline is explained by ‘their endemic dislike of the military’.
He makes the curious assertion that ‘certainly many of the men convicted of desertion had no
intention of shirking their duty in the line’ (p. 236). There is an apocryphal story that two
Australians had gone into a nearby town and bought a few towels. They were caught when
they knocked over a garbage can as they arrived back in camp and charged and sentenced for
desertion. This is cited by Gammage (p. 236) as an example of the unfairness of the epithet of
‘un-disciplined’ and how ‘good blokes doing good things’ can be outrageously
misunderstood. However, there really were discipline problems in the AIF:

The Australian divisions of Birdwood’s 1 Anzac Corp also had an
epidemic of offences for drunkenness and absence without leave, with
an increase in courts martial. The numbers of courts martial in each

87
division were also closely related, and monthly variations depended
on whether a division was in the line or resting. Court-martial
convictions for both Anzac Corps taken over the eight months from
June 1916 to, and including, January 1917, showed very little
difference. The 1 Australian Division averaged 50 courts martial a
month, 2 Australian Division 47, and the New Zealand Division 47; 4
Australian Division arrived in June and in seven months averaged 60
courts martial a month. In the same period the monthly average in the
four divisions of the Canadian Corps was 31 courts martial a month
(Pugsley 1991, p. 65).

The statistics indicate more than just a dislike of the military.

Courts martial
There may have been informal penalties for minor cases of AWL dealt with within the
platoon, or when there was some doubt as to intent. There are some instances of soldiers
sympathising with those who ‘can’t take it’ and protecting them from being charged. An
actual charge of AWL could mean either punishment or court martial. A charge of desertion
could only be dealt with by court martial. A court martial is a military tribunal numbering a
body of officers with complete jurisdiction to hear offences committed by soldiers under the
Army Act. Serious offences were heard before a general court martial, which could award
punishments of penal servitude and death. On active service, all offences could be heard by a
field general court martial. This court condensed the court-martial procedures, which were
laid down for district and general courts martial. It had the same power as a general court
martial but is ‘convened in an exceptional way … and is subject to exceptional rules under
which the procedure is of a more summary character’ (Manual of Military Law, UK War
Office 1914 Ch. V S(i) Clause 24, p. 35–54).

The AIF operated and applied military law using the Defence Act 1903, which included the
Imperial Army Act 1881 known as the Army Act. The use of the Army Act was a product of
colonialism and politics when raising the new Australian Military Forces in 1901 and
reflected the predominantly militia and part-time nature of Australia’s military forces at
federation in 1901. The Australian Military Regulations and Orders were introduced in 1904.
They formed the regulatory base for the discipline and administration of the Army in peace
and war, whether in Australia or overseas, and covered a great variety of subjects. They were
the only Australian content implemented locally that influenced or even resembled Australian
military law. They were read and used in conjunction with the Defence Act. A court martial,
however, is not a court of law. It is constituted, ordinarily, by non-legal people. The
participation of anyone with legal training would be accidental. Many officers and non-

88
commissioned officers did not understand how to apply military law and its procedures to
their soldiers, with the consequence that many units were disciplined poorly or not
disciplined at all and sometimes disciplined unlawfully. This may have contributed to a sense
that soldiers considered they had been harshly and unjustly dealt with under the military
system.

Australian written technical and instructional manuals were rare in the newly formed AIF and
considered an unnecessary expense. British Army manuals were readily available and could
be easily purchased from the British Army as part of the Australian Defence budget. Manuals
produced and sold in the United Kingdom and Australia written by former officers and other
individuals were available for private purchase for those who wanted to know the basics of
interpreting and applying military law (Buckingham 2007). To attempt to deal with these
problems, one solution was to print ‘pocket books’ of military law that detailed the British
Army Act laws and procedures that provided a reference for inexperienced officers to
interpret military law. These pocket books were an expedient way to supposedly correct
deficiencies in officer training. One such example of this was a book carried by Australian
Army officers in World War 1: Precis of Military Law and Kings Regulations for Young
Officers by Maj R L C Brooker, which cost 9 pence (Buckingham 2007). Another was
Military law made easy by Lt-Col S T Banning which by 1917 was in its eleventh edition.

The death penalty, justice and discipline
Once a court martial was convened, the charge was formal and if found guilty of desertion
the sentence could only be death. However, because of Clause 98 of the Australian Army Act,
the AIF could not carry out the death penalty. Maj-Gen Sir A Russell of the NZEF states that
punishment, if it is to

act as a deterrent, must be immediate and certain; and, under war
conditions, the award should be proportionate to the offence and not
be influenced by the offender’s previous history as it is in peacetime
(Pugsley 1991, p. 120).
As the purpose of martial law is discipline, the death penalty was not used just as punishment
in the BEF but also for the sake of example to deter other soldiers from deserting. This use as
a deterrent in the AIF was undermined by Clause 98.

The death penalty still had some value as a deterrent in the BEF, if not specifically in the
AIF, and as an instrument of discipline and control. The fear of apparent injustices and the
finality of the death sentence were used as an effective disciplinary tool in maintaining
discipline as:

89
Rumours of unjust executions did much to spread fear through the
ranks. Ultimately, it was this fear that commanders hoped would
ensure compliance from their troops. The death penalty was highly
valued for this reason (Oram 2003, pp. 14–15).
The overall consistency of one execution in every ten in the BEF overall, reflecting the older
practice of decimation, was ‘a managed figure which it was believed would achieve its
military purpose—deterrence—without appearing excessively harsh’ (p. 9). The power of the
death penalty in the trenches of World War 1, however, is more complex. Its value as a
deterrent must be ironically questioned in the context of such a high probability of death from
shelling, enemy snipers, close fighting with the enemy, trench sickness and the mechanised
weapons of war. There is also the question of the fairness of the death penalty for desertion
for men who had volunteered.

Capital punishment had been part of the Australian legal system since British settlement;
therefore, the idea of the death penalty as punishment was not entirely alien to colonial or
newly federated Australians. Capital punishment in the United Kingdom was used from the
creation of the state in 1707. The term ‘capital punishment’ is derived from the Latin caput,
meaning ‘head’. It originally referred to death by decapitation but applies generally to state-
sanctioned executions. In nineteenth century Australia, as many as eighty persons were
hanged each year for crimes such as burglary, sheep stealing, forgery and sexual assaults as
well as for murder and manslaughter (Potas & Walker 2012). Death sentences were also
carried out under Aboriginal customary law, either directly or through sorcery. The first
executions under European law took place in 1629, when Dutch authorities hanged some of
the mutineers of the Batavia on an island off the coast of what would become Western
Australia (Potas & Walker 2012).

There was a widespread acceptance of the deterrent and disciplinary value of the death
penalty in the upper command of all the armies of World War 1 in the BEF, including the
AIF and the NZEF. For centuries the British Army had been governed by a ‘system of control
which was once referred to as the “discipline of fear”’ (Babington 1983, p. 1). Gen Russell
(cited in Pugsley 1991, p. 121) of the NZEF believed that the death of the first New Zealand
soldier, Pte Hughes, who was executed for desertion, was a necessary example and he
supported and promoted the ultimate sanction:

We have had one death sentence carried out. It is hoped its effect will
prevent another being necessary … he has lost his life as an example
to the rest and to that extent he has helped towards the desired
victory.

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Gen Birdwood, commanding the AIF, also believed in the death penalty and found it very
frustrating that the Australian Government did not legislate to make its use possible. In May
1916 he wrote to the Australian Government asking that they take legislative action to place
the AIF solely under the British Army Act so that the death penalty could be applied. The
Australians were the only army that could not actually carry out the death penalty. However,
the AIF could still impose a death sentence on an individual deserter, as armies from all
dominions

showed a willingness to pronounce the death sentence on their
soldiers: it mirrored the code of the day … It also reflected how keen
were Dominion commanders, including the Australians, to improve
and maintain discipline. The Dominion divisions were the spear point
of the British armies and increasingly carried the major burden in the
offensives of 1917 and 1918. This had its impact on the discipline and
morale of the troops and is also an element of the higher percentage
of executions … The need for death as an ultimate sanction was
equally self-generated, and it was accepted as part of the social and
military code of the age (Pugsley 1991, p. 135).

Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, commander of the British II Corps and Second Army of the BEF,
said in 1915 that the ‘only way of discouraging the men who were deserting to avoid service
in the trenches … was to carry out some death penalties’ (cited in Babington 1983, p. 19).
This was an accepted approach in a military culture in which

an authoritative strand of opinion held that men who could not make
efficient and brave soldiers deserved to be shot … such attitudes
formed part of the atmosphere which ordinary soldiers breathed
(Barham 2004, p. 73).
This attitude combined the deterrent value of the death penalty with a punitive aspect.

The Australian Government declined to amend the legislation to allow the execution of
volunteer soldiers in the AIF (see Appendix B). This was a political decision as the then
Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, considered that any news of executions would negatively
affect the referendum on conscription. Hughes wanted to fulfil the British requests and
maximise the chances of a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum. This was not well received, and there
was ‘frustration and anger in some quarters of the Australian and British military hierarchy
over the Australian Government’s decision not to approve the use of the death penalty for
Australian deserters’ (Wahlert 1999, p. 64).

In this war, the extent and type of death was beyond any participant’s previous experience.
The death penalty used as a disciplinary tool meant that at least one aspect of death could be
seen to be controlled. If desertion is discursively constructed then the death penalty,

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executions and firing squads are all part of that discourse. The deserter cannot exist without
the soldier but the ‘good’ soldier cannot be constructed without the idea of the deserter. The
death sentence for desertion was a disciplinary tool. Constructing and controlling the soldier
requires the idea of the deserter and the ultimate sanction of the death penalty. The idea of the
death penalty and its actual use was ‘the ultimate statement of authority and control. It was
designed to ensure compliance by the rankers to the will of the commanders’ (Oram 2003, p.
14). Pugsley (1991) argues that the harshness of these measures ensured that the New
Zealand Division became a highly disciplined and efficient fighting force. However,

[The] threat of the death penalty and other forms of punishment could
be and were employed to subjugate the men to the authority of the
generals but even this was not a sufficiently strong weapon to allow
for complete domination of the men (Oram 2003, p. 49).

There are not many first-hand accounts of actual executions in the mass of memoirs and
histories of World War 1. Oram (2003, p. 98) claims that it is ‘clear though, from those
available that executions left behind a deep sense of shame’. Executions for desertion in the
BEF were intentionally and widely publicised to provide the desired deterrent effect. ‘Not
only were the particulars announced in the Commander-in-Chief’s routine orders but much
fuller details were often published in the routine orders for the condemned men’s own
divisions’ (Babington 1983, pp. 29–30). This emphasis also meant that rumours swiftly
circulated through the ‘bush telegraph’ with inevitable exaggerations. There is ‘ample
evidence that an execution for a military offence gave rise to a great deal of revulsion and
resentment in a condemned man’s immediate unit’ (Babington 1983, p. 25) and that outrage
and revulsion would probably extend to other units. The ceremony and importance of the
military rituals, including executions and publicity about them, is one of the means by which
authority manifests itself. The firing squad itself became a ritual of power and domination.
Whether this provided a deterrent or fuelled the divisive sense of injustice between the ranks
and the command is contestable.

Deserters in the AIF
While 361 soldiers in the BEF were shot by firing squad, none of the 121 Australian soldiers
in the AIF convicted for desertion and sentenced to death was executed. In the absence of the
ability to apply the death penalty, soldiers found guilty of desertion were usually sentenced to
between three and five years penal servitude. However, senior officers reviewed the cases of
men committed to prison or detention barracks after they had served a short time in prison. If
there appeared to be good cause, or there was a need for men at the front, they recommended

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that the remainder of the sentence be suspended, and the prisoner was returned to his unit for
normal duties. Each case was then reviewed every three months. The result of the review
depended on the soldier’s conduct while under suspended sentence. The system was intended
to avoid wasting manpower, discourage soldiers from committing serious offences because
they wished to exchange the discomfort and danger of the front-line for the safety and
comparative comfort of a detention barracks, and to give soldiers a chance to rehabilitate
themselves (French 1998, p. 543). The story of Pte Woods is used to speculate on the
effectiveness of sentencing a soldier to death for desertion and the overall effect of the death
penalty.

No 4928 Pte Clarence Merton Woods 55th Battalion
Being sentenced to death for desertion seems to have no effect on Pte Woods of the 15th
Battalion. When he enlisted in 1915, he was an eighteen-year-old labourer from Cowra in
New South Wales. In 1916 he was transferred to the 55th Battalion. Within weeks he was in
trouble and court-martialled for being late on parade, being insolent and using insubordinate
language to his superior officer. He was sentenced to five days of Field Punishment No 2. He
was shipped to France and presumably took part in the battle at Fromelles. In August 1916
Pte Woods was AWL for a day and on 14 August 1916 he was charged with AWL, striking
his superior officer and using threatening language to his superior officer. He was found
guilty of all charges and sentenced to suffer death by being shot. The sentence was confirmed
by Gen Sir H Plumer and immediately commuted to five years penal servitude, then
commuted to two years of imprisonment with hard labour. Pte Woods was sent to military
prison until May 1918. His sentence was suspended at that time so that he could return to his
unit. After Armistice, he was AWL several times. In January 1919 he was sent back to prison
to serve out the unexpired portion of his suspended sentence. He was released from prison in
March and returned to his unit. He did not stay long and was AWL several times and at one
stage charged with assaulting a policeman and fined £3. Pte Woods came back to Australia
after five years and was discharged in November 1919.

Astonishingly, Clarence Woods re-enlisted twenty years later and served in the Second
World War. He was court-martialled again in 1943. In 1958, Clarence, then a pensioner,
requested a copy of his World War 1 service badge so that he could become a member of the
local sub-branch of the Returned and Services League. He signed the receipt for this, cheekily
adding ‘With many thanks & Wishing you a bright healthy and Prosperous New Year’. There
must have been something about him that the local sub-branch of the Returned and Services

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League was not sure about, as in 1966 he requested a copy of his discharge certificate, again
for ‘the records’. Clarence died in 1980 aged eighty-three.

Members of the court martial
The Army Act stipulated that a field general court martial must consist of not less than three
officers with the president not being below the rank of captain. The other members would be
from different regiments or battalions. Before the trial the accused soldier would be offered
the assistance of an officer to be the ‘prisoner’s friend’, who then sometimes acted as
defending counsel. Babington (1983, p. 121) considers that ‘the prisoner’s friend was an
officer even more than an advocate and he was usually influenced by an unconscious bias in
favour of discipline’. This may be why accused soldiers from the ranks often chose not to
have one. There is little evidence to ascertain the individual motivations of the officers
involved with courts martial, but Pugsley (1991, p. 201) believes that in the NZEF:

The officers of the courts saw themselves charged with a
responsibility to the hundreds of men in their battalions who were
doing their duty and living with their fears. They themselves lived
with death and believed death the appropriate penalty for those who
let down the battalion. Rarely did the courts discern shades of grey;
those judgements were left to the higher commanders and their staffs.

There was a likely inherent class imbalance in the make-up of British courts martial:

Assuming that death sentences were imposed by officers
overwhelmingly drawn from the upper classes, on soldiers who were
predominantly of working class origin, the taint of class justice which
accompanied the Edwardian civil magistracy cannot have been absent
from courts martial (Putkowski & Sykes 1989, p. 14).

This may not have applied to the courts martial in the AIF as some commentators claim that
‘almost all Australian officers had been promoted on merit from the ranks’ (Gammage 1974,
p. 241). The Australian officers supposedly had different attitudes from British officers as
well as different attitudes towards their men compared to the class distinctions in the BEF.
However, there may have been biases in the AIF ‘that cast considerable doubt on the
supposed egalitarianism of the AIF’ (Blair 2001, p. 23), and while officers may have been
promoted from the ranks, Gen J Monash declared that they represented ‘the cream of our
professional and educated classes’ (cited in Blair 2001, p. 23).

Leaving aside any class bias, the attitudes of officers of an Australian court martial are likely
to be similar in attitude and motivation to those of the NZEF. Whichever court was hearing,
the prevailing attitude was that the death sentence was appropriate in some cases, and the
evidence in the cases in this study indicates that the courts took their responsibility very

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seriously. In practice, the members of the court were soldiers without legal training and ‘they
were not easily swayed by argument and had little time for rhetoric or oratory’ (Babington
1983, p. 121). The courts saw serious cases of desertion as threatening the integrity of their
battalions and imposing an additional burden on soldiers and mates already coping with
almost unbearable conditions. The officers of the court ‘lived with that fear themselves and
were conscious that it was true for every man in their unit. They had no sympathy for those
who shirked duty’ (Pugsley 1991, p. 296). After 1917, the Australian officers and soldiers
had the added knowledge that any death sentence could be used for symbolic disciplinary
reasons but would not be carried out.

Processes of courts martial and sentencing
Faced with a desperate military situation almost from the beginning,
British commanders, it seems fell back on traditional ideas of control
based on the principle of deterrence, and executions became
commonplace in the years 1914-17 (Oram 2003, pp. 2-3).
Putkowski and Sykes (1989) warn against judging military law and its implementation by
contemporary cultural standards. ‘Like it or not, there is little presumption of innocence at the
summary justice level of the army’ (p. 88). They also argue that because army units were
closed social units there was ‘a completely different attitude to both authority and
punishment’ (p. 86) from civilian law. Infractions of discipline were dealt with internally by
as low a rank as possible, and platoon discipline in 1914 ‘tended to reflect the hierarchy and
custom of the Edwardian factory or shipyard: it was brutal, informal and fierce’ (p. 85). By
‘the standards of the day and by regimental thinking, for any individual to be charged with a
“court martial offence” represented a very serious matter indeed’ (p. 89). It would have to be
something that was beyond solving with the rough immediate justice of the platoon, the
company, or the battalion. Discipline and control of the troops, whether individual or
collective, ‘remained the focus of military leadership’ (Oram 2003, p. 70).

The trial would be carried out in the field, most likely the acquired office of brigade
headquarters with the battalion or unit adjutant as prosecutor. The accused would be asked if
he had any objection to members of the court. The charge would be read and the accused
would enter a plea. The court would then hear evidence and witnesses from the prosecution,
with a right to cross-examination by the accused. The court could also ask questions. At the
end of the prosecution case, the accused, or the prisoner’s friend, could give evidence or call
witnesses in defence. Evidence of character could be offered before the finding of the court
was given. However, in cases of desertion, the court had to prove desertion, and therefore the

95
evidence consisted mainly of establishing that the accused was absent without permission,
and that he had deliberately avoided an important duty such as going to the front. In 1917,
Anzac courts looked at the crime and not at the man:

[P]revalent offences received severe sentences to deter others from
taking the same path. No real investigation was made by the courts
into the causes of a man’s desertion; it was sufficient to prove he had
deserted (Pugsley 1991 p. 204).
The offence of desertion was a crime in which the intent of the accused was the crucial
element. This was explored by the court using the length of time AWL, ‘as the absence of a
soldier for months or even years, was good evidence that the man had abandoned his
commitment’ (Putkowski & Sykes 1989, p. 11). Other factors taken into consideration by the
court were the circumstances of the soldier at his arrest:

[I]f a soldier disappeared from the battlefront, and on the same day
was discovered in civilian clothing on board a ship about to sail for
England, then this too was prima facia evidence that the man had
deserted (Putkowski & Sykes 1989, p. 11).

The court was then closed to consider their finding and for sentencing. It was at this stage that
the court could again look at mitigating circumstances, such as the disciplinary record of the
accused or any evidence as to character. In the British courts, sentencing and the issue of life
or death was determined by two factors:

whether it was considered that the condemned man had the makings
of a good soldier; and whether his execution might be beneficial for
the immediate needs of discipline (Babington 1983, pp. 16-17).
The Manual of Military Law clearly states that ‘In deliberating on their sentence a court-
martial should ever remember that the object of awarding punishment is the maintenance of
discipline’ (Ch.V. s(ii) Clause 80, p. 49).

The court would pass sentence, attach written recommendations and pass the proceedings up
the chain of command to general headquarters with each general adding his
recommendations. British commanders reviewing capital cases ‘frequently seemed reluctant
to commute death sentences’ (Putkowski & Sykes 1989, p. 15) because of the assumption
that the judgements ‘were passed in the full knowledge of all aspects of the case’ as argued
by Babington (1983). Putkowski and Sykes (1989, p. 15) claim that ‘it would be surprising if
the reasoning would stand up to present day scrutiny’. At each stage of the progress of the
proceedings, various comments could be attached and recommendations made. Before getting
to the Commander-in-Chief, the proceedings of the court martial were checked by the Deputy
Judge Advocate-General (DJAG) to ensure the conviction was legal. These bureaucratic
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processes were considered to be checks and balances; however, they also had the effect of
objectivising the convicted deserter into an instrument of power and control, by being an
example to others, of punishment and, in some cases, of retribution. The story of LCpl
George Lavender of the 4th Battalion illustrates the attempts of Brig N M Smyth to influence
the sentence and punish Lavender for tarnishing the reputation of the 4th Battalion of the AIF.
Brig Smyth’s reveal his attitude towards desertion.

No 2691 Pte George Lavender 4th Battalion
When George Lavender enlisted in the AIF in August 1915, he had already spent six months
in the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF) in New Guinea. He
was discharged from the AN&MEF in March 1915 and was working as a controller on the
Sydney tramways. He left Australia in November with the 6th Reinforcements of the 19th
Battalion. He was assigned to the 4th Battalion in Egypt in February 1916, and because of his
military experience, was immediately promoted to lance corporal.

On 24 June 1916 as the 4th Battalion was engaging the line at Fleurbaix, LCpl Lavender took
a party of six men to take over a post from the 2nd Battalion in the firing line. They were
heavily shelled and took what cover was available. While looking for dugouts, Lavender
went along the communication trench away from the firing line. He left his equipment and
rifle hanging at the back of a bay. Lavender was presumed missing. Some believed a rumour
that he had gone over to the Germans and some of his company supposedly identified his
body in no-man’s-land. Lavender claims he became lost, confused and was not sure how he
ended up at Boulogne where he was arrested a week later. At his court martial, the
prosecution established that he was AWL from 24 June until he was apprehended at
Boulogne on 30 June. This period of absence was confirmed by two privates in his party. The
prosecution also used LCpl Rippon of the MP as a witness to Lavender’s arrest in Boulogne.

Lavender was allocated a prisoner’s friend for his court martial, Capt Gould, who attempted
to defend Lavender by arguing that, although he was AWL, Lavender did not desert as the
intention to desert was not proved. He supported this by also presenting an argument as to
character:

The accused enlisted with the Naval & Military expeditionary Force
on August 5th 1914 during his service he came under the favourable
notice of the President of the Court of Inquiry on his disappearance.
He contracted malaria and was invalided out of the forces. He enlisted
again in the AIF thus showing his willingness for service. Further in
His Majesty’s Forces he came under favourable notice and was
promoted to the rank of a Lance Corporal.

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I wish to draw your attention to the favourable evidence of the Court
of Enquiry as to his character and demeanour in action and under
shell fire.
In proving that there was no premeditation the pack was untouched.
He gave his correct name and number when apprehended.
I will now draw on the extracts from the statement by the accused.
He left the fire trench to go to the support. He did not know the
surroundings and took the wrong communication trench. This
occurred after dark. He was unable to find his way in the dark and
wandered until exhausted when he went to sleep. On awakening it
was still dark and he wandered until he reached Fleurbaix. There he
encountered some civilians who gave him some cognac and took him
along with them to Sailly where he had more cognac. He does not
remember what happened until apprehended at Boulogne. He did not
alter his uniform in any particular and gave his correct name and
number.
In conclusion I wish to draw the attention of the Court to the effect of
exposure and the effect of a strong drink like cognac on a constitution
already enfeebled by malaria and by an accident which occurred in
1912 where he had a broken leg.
It is also stated by his comrades to have epileptic fits.
In similar cases the apprehending in a nearby area and a shorter time
have been dealt with very leniently.
Though the facts of the evidence are not with the same causes as in
the case of the accused are for the plea of insanity and making no
claims to have accused evade further military service on general
health grounds. He is willing, as always to do his share in the service
of his country.

The prosecution, Capt N A Maine, answered this defence:

I maintain that the prosecution has proved that Pte Lavender deserted
the firing line and that it rests with the accused to prove that he did
not do so.
As far as being in Boulogne where there are Military Police, it would
be hard to find any place where Military Police are on duty and who
would not question a stranger. Boulogne is the most likely town for a
deserter to make for as it is one of the biggest shipping towns and the
most likely exit.
Regarding the statement as to being under the influence of drink. Is it
likely that a man would be drunk for five or six days without some
sober moment in which to consider his position?
No witnesses have been brought forward to prove he was drinking.
It is not probable that a good soldier, such as the prisoner’s friend has
sought to prove the accused to be, would leave the firing line to get
some part of his equipment without notifying one of the men under
his charge, unless he had some intention to desert.
The witness has been brought forward to show that he was short of
any equipment.

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Regarding the statement that he lost his way in the communication
trenches, the firing line is always well marked at night time by lights.
Provided a man was anxious to get back these lights would guide him.

The court found LCpl Lavender guilty of desertion and sentenced him to death.

The Field General Court Martial was held on 6 August 1916. On 10 August, Brig Smyth
asked for a report on Lavender from LtCol Mackay, who was commanding the 4th Battalion.
Mackay reported as much as he knew:

1. L/Cpl Lavender belonged to the 6th Reinforcements of the 19th
Battalion but joined the 4th Battalion at Tel-El-Kebir in February
1916. He was at that time a corporal but on joining this battalion has
reverted to the ranks and was subsequently made Lance Corporal. His
papers show that he enlisted in the AIF on 8/8/15. He is said to have
been a member of the Aust. Expeditionary Force to New Guinea in
1914. His conduct in the Coy was such that he did not come under the
notice of his officers either for good conduct or bad. He appears not
to have mixed much with the other men and to have been of rather a
taciturn nature – so much so that his Officers regard him favourably
for further promotion. Very little is known of him from a fighting
point of view as when in the Petillon sector of trenches from May3/20
he presented the same average level as before and did not attract
notice one way or the other.
2. The Commanding Officer has practically no knowledge of L/Cpl
Lavender beyond what he saw of him at Orderly Room and there are
very few officers in the Battalion now who have anything but a short
personal knowledge of this man. From this fact that L/Cpl Lavender,
though put in charge of a post in the trenches, deliberately left the
trenches for the rear and endeavoured subsequently – if the written
evidence from Étaples can be believed – to conceal not only his own
identity but the unit to which he belonged, the opinion of the
Commanding officer is that his action was taken with deliberate
intention of avoiding service in the trenches.

Brig Smyth wrote his own version of this to the Divisional Commander revealing his
prejudices .

1. Lance Corporal Lavender showed no special courage or enterprise during
the period while his battalion was in firing line of Petillon Sector of
Trenches previous to his desertion. His conduct in action or under shell
fire was unnoticed by his officers, which leads to the conclusion that he
was of little value as a fighting man. His general conduct was of a non-
committal character. His comrades were led to believe that he was not on
good terms with his relations. He was not married but gave the name of a
woman friend instead of filling up the return of next of kin. He belonged
to the 6th reinforcement of the 19th Battalion AIF in which he held the
rank of Corporal but reverted to the ranks on joining the 4th Battalion in
Egypt about February 1916. He enlisted in Australia on 8.8.1915. It has
been stated that he was a member of the Australian Expeditionary Force
to New Guinea 1914.

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2. The state of discipline in the 4th Battalion has always been very good. No
member of the Battalion has been hitherto charged with desertion on
active service or misconduct in the disorder in Cairo in April 1915.
3. His Commanding Officer is of opinion that the act of desertion was
premeditated and deliberate, see attached report.
4. I am most reluctant to recommend that the extreme penalty should be
carried out on a member of the 4th Battalion which has distinguished itself
as highly as any other Corps in the Australian army particularly by the
magnificent attacks at Lone Pine (Gallipoli) and Pozières (Battle of the
Somme) but I can see no redeeming feature in the offender’s crime,
which is abhorred by his comrades. I therefore recommend that he be
deprived of all rights of citizenship of the Commonwealth of Australia,
that he be drummed out of the Australian Imperial Force, that his name be
struck off the roll of the 4th Battalion and dissociated from it forever by a
general order and that he subsequently suffer death by being shot, this
concession to be made in view of his having had the honour of serving in
the firing line.

Smyth’s reinterpretation of Mackay’s assessment of Lavender reveals his attitude to
deserters. Brig Smyth is clearly incensed by Lavender’s desertion. His request that Lavender
be deprived of citizenship was correctly identified by Maj-Gen H B Walker as being ultra
vires—beyond their legal power or authority. Smyth also considered that being shot was a
‘concession’, preferable to the shame of being a deserter and presumably to salvage
Lavender’s (and the 4th Battalion’s) honour. Walker could see no extenuating circumstances
in the case and recommended that the death sentence be carried out. Gen Birdwood,
commanding the 1st Anzac, agreed, but was still waiting for a reply from the Australian
Government on the ‘question of death sentences’. Lavender’s sentence was commuted to
fifteen years of penal servitude. Smyth wanted Lavender completely disassociated from the
4th Battalion, but after serving just over a year in prison, Pte Lavender rejoined the 4th
Battalion in December 1917. He took another spell of AWL and in April 1918 a court of
inquiry found him illegally absent from March 1918. He was apprehended in Paris on 13
April 1918 and charged with desertion for the second time; the sentence this time being penal
servitude for life, with the unexpired portion of his previous sentence added for good
measure. During this time in prison, Lavender became involved in the November 1918 revolt
at Rouen prison and along with twenty others was charged with mutiny and found guilty. His
sentence was 90 days of Field Punishment No 1. In May 1919 he was moved to Norwich
prison. In June his sentence was suspended and he was discharged from prison. Before
arriving back in Australia in September 1919, he took another couple of days AWL and on
the sea voyage home was charged with insolence and giving a false name, earning him 168
hours of detention. In 1922 Lavender wrote to the army demanding to know where the
medals ‘due’ to him were. He was confident that he was entitled to all three, glossing over his

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convictions and periods in prison. The army bureaucracy, however, was clear that he was not
eligible for any medals due to his unsatisfactory war record. Brig Smyth would have been
partially satisfied that this penalty at least was applied.

Pte Lavender is clearly a soldier who wants to be in the army on his own terms, not under
control of the army. However, control of soldiers, individually and in groups, is crucial to the
effectiveness of an army, and this

concept of control is what really distinguishes military law from
civilian law. Theoretically the civilian law is concerned with an
abstract concept called ‘justice’ … the primary purpose of military
law is to ensure that the will of the commander is obeyed at all times
(Corns & Hughes-Wilson 2001, p. 39).

Lavender was not controlled, and, in spite of the best efforts of Capt Gould to argue
otherwise, it is obvious that he was not an effective soldier. However, the machinery of
military law did not deal with him in any way that resulted in changed behaviour that suited
the army. His periods in prison and hospital were costly, as was his transport from and to
Australia. His repeated desertion and frequent infractions of discipline are indications that he
refused to obey and comply. This refusal and disobedience undermines the fighting
effectiveness of any army:

Disobedience strikes at the heart of the army’s core existence. A
soldier must obey a command without question; in battle there is not
time to debate an order—right or wrong it must be carried out.
Without obedience of that nature an army cannot function. To the
military eye disobedience is an irritation; to the army commanders of
1914 it was a capital offence (Corns & Hughes-Wilson 2001, p. 123).

Lavender is an example of the type of Australian soldier that Gen Haig found so frustrating
and supported his argument that the lack of the death penalty meant that ‘the average number
of cases [of desertion] in Australian Divisions is 4 times greater than average’ and that this
can only be because of the ‘state of law’ (see Appendix B).

Courts martial can be regarded, according to Oram (2003, p. 54), as:

overt statements of military authority rather than judicial hearings.
The trappings of legal processes merely served to put an acceptable
face on what was in effect a tool of military authority.
Courts martial were instruments of discipline, and courts martial for AWL and desertion
signified the power of the army over the location and movement of soldiers. It had power
over ‘the distribution of individuals in space’ (Foucault 1991, p. 141). Some individuals,
however, wanted to control their own movements. The story of Pte Sitters shows his attempts

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to deal with the frustrations of a soldier’s life and how he considered the expectations of him
to be unrealistic if the army did not keep to its side of the arrangement.

4

Figure 11 Photo of Pte Sitters on enlistment

No 3758 Pte Harry Tolchard Sitters 48th Battalion
Pte Harry Sitters was sentenced to death in October 1916, not for desertion, but for
‘disobeying in such a manner as to show a wilful defiance of authority a lawful command by
his superior officer in the execution of his office’. In a separate later incident, he was charged
with desertion in April 1918, found guilty and sentenced to penal servitude for life. The death
sentence seems severe for disobedience; however, it gives an indication that disobedience
was a serious offence and that there was probably more to the story.

Harry was nineteen years old when he enlisted in Adelaide in August 1915 (see Figure 11).
His parents, George and Emma, gave written permission for him to enlist and serve abroad.
He was assigned to reinforcements for the 16th Battalion, but after training in Egypt he was
taken on strength to the 48th Battalion. The 48th was raised in Egypt in 1916 as part of the
‘doubling’ of the AIF. Roughly half of its new recruits were Gallipoli veterans from the 16th

4
SRSA GRG 26/5/4/4/874

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Battalion, and the other half were fresh reinforcements from Australia. Reflecting the
composition of the 16th, the men of the new battalion hailed mainly from regional South
Australia and Western Australia. The new battalion formed part of the 12th Brigade of the 4th
Australian Division.

For three months Pte Sitters was LCpl Sitters, but a charge of being late to early morning
parades meant that in July 1916 he reverted to his permanent rank of private. The first major
battle for the 48th on the Western Front was at Pozières. Here, the battalion was tasked with
defending ground captured in earlier attacks by the 2nd Division and entered the firing line on
two separate occasions in August. During the former period, the battalion endured what was
said to be the heaviest artillery barrage ever experienced by Australian troops and suffered
598 casualties. Pte Sitters survived these battles, but in September he was admitted to hospital
with an injury to his right ankle. After two weeks in hospital, he returned to the divisional
base, rejoining his battalion in October 1916.

Also in the 48th was William Keogh, who had just been promoted to sergeant, most likely
because of the losses at Pozières. He had joined the 48th after Pte Sitters and had less time as
a temporary corporal. Was this the cause of Pte Sitters’s resentment and refusal to follow the
new sergeant’s orders? Pte Sitters was also indignant at the loss of his pack, which he was
ordered to leave at Ypres and never saw again.

At his court martial, Sitters admitted he refused to go on the fatigue party as ordered by Sgt
Keogh, saying:

It seems to me I have been part of nearly every fatigue, and when
warned on the 12th to go on fatigue that night I said I would not go,
and the next day after I was paraded before the lieutenant and told to
go on the fatigue then being paraded. I told him I was not going on
any more fatigues so long as Cpl Keogh was in the battalion.

The problem must have been between Sitters and Keogh, as the only previous trouble Sitters
had been in was that one incident of being late to parade. Character witnesses for Pte Sitters
stated that he was ‘a good worker’ and ‘willing to carry out orders’. Sitters was clearly fed up
with the army at this stage. The soldier experience did not seem to be meeting his
expectations. The court, faced with such definite statements of ‘disobeying in such a manner
as to show a wilful defiance of authority’, felt there was no option but to apply the death
sentence, which Gen Rawlinson immediately confirmed and commuted to five years penal
servitude.

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Pte Sitters went to prison and had been there for twelve months when his sentence was
suspended. He rejoined his battalion in November 1917. Like most AIF battalions, the 48th
rotated in and out of the front-line through the winter of 1917–18. William Keogh had
already returned to Australia with a septic foot. Pte Sitters had been hardened by his prison
term and in March 1918 went AWL for a day and was charged with desertion. He had been
reported as missing in action, but he was later arrested as being AWL. He was found guilty of
desertion and sentenced to penal servitude for life. Within a month this sentence was
suspended, and he again rejoined his unit in time for the battle of Amiens in August, the
48th’s last battle, to seize the Hindenburg outpost line in September 1918. He had two weeks
leave in the United Kingdom, returning to the front in October 1918. After Armistice, he
spent more time in hospital and had the unexpired portion of his sentence remitted. He
returned to Australia in May 1919.

Pte Harry Sitters seemed a good enough soldier until he had to leave his pack behind and was
given orders by Keogh, whom he clearly hated. He served in several battles at the front but
went AWL when the opportunity presented itself. He seems to have been sick but there is no
mention of an actual wound. There is a note of petulance about never seeing his pack again,
or maybe he considered it to be mitigating circumstances. What happened between him and
Keogh is not known, but that particular working party commanded by acting Sgt Keogh was
clearly the last straw for Sitters, and was the issue he chose to assert himself against the
perceived unfairness of the way he was being treated. The contract between Sitters and the
army had been broken by the army in Sitter’s eyes, and he therefore felt it was no longer
necessary for him to behave as the army required. He adjusted his expectations of the army
and changed his behaviour accordingly. The army had created a serial deserter.

Deterrent?
In Britain, the death penalty was not reintroduced for desertion during the Second World
War. There were several reasons for this. The most important reason was simply that ‘the
Army Council’s fears expressed in 1930 that discipline would collapse unless they retained
the ultimate sanction of the death penalty, proved unfounded’ (French 1998, p. 531). The
Army Council argued that if the death penalty was abolished, the worst punishment offenders
faced was imprisonment. This was considered an inadequate deterrent because offenders
could rightly assume that they would be amnestied at the end of the war. They viewed
desertion as ‘a cold-blooded deliberate crime of the meanest description’, but they could not
sustain the claim that abolishing the death penalty would ‘undermine the very basis of

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military discipline and imperil the success of future operations’ (p. 535). David French in
"Discipline and the Death Penalty in the British Army in the War against Germany during the
Second" (1998), draws on the executions of World War 1 as context for his study of
discipline in the British army in the Second World War. He argues that the British
Government did not re-introduce the death penalty because desertion rates were not as high
and that the re-introduction lacked support from the dominion armies.

Later studies have argued that the death penalty may actually have a brutalising effect,
inspiring acts of violence, and thereby diminishing rather than increasing the deterrent effect
of capital punishment (Potas & Walker 2012). The evidence failed to establish that the death
penalty is any more effective than imprisonment in deterring crime (Potas & Walker 2012).
The question is whether the use of the death penalty had any effect on desertion. Pugsley
(1991, p. 297) argues that in ‘hindsight one can see that the executions in 1914-1918 failed as
a deterrent to men sated with death and the fear of death’.

As well as a legal framework, the effective application of discipline requires infrastructure—
a policing system, a punitive regime and a system of imprisonment and detention. In this
section the story of the mutiny at Blargies prison explores not only the bare life conditions of
military prisons, but also the frustration of commanders at the inability to use the death
sentence for the Australian instigators of the mutiny. It also illustrates the extent to which
Australian soldiers were protected from the permanent and more severe outcomes of the
disciplinary system.

Formal methods of dealing with offenders were for commanding officers to charge them and,
in serious cases, subject them to a court martial which, if the finding was guilty, could impose
one or more of the following types of punishment: forfeiture of pay or a fine, reduction in
rank, field punishment, detention, imprisonment or the death penalty. The intensive nature of
warfare, particularly on the Western front, ‘cruelly exposed the inadequacies’ in the systems
for management and discipline, according to Oram (2003, p. 38),and ‘commanders, fearful of
losing control of a much-enlarged army, were encouraged, expected even, to resort to capital
punishment’ (Oram 2003, p. 38). While the death penalty for Australians was still an option,
the promulgation of the sentence—actual execution—was not available. This meant that all
sentenced Australians had to go to prison. An Australian soldier convicted for desertion
would go to prison for anything between two years and life. This sentence was usually
commuted to a lesser time, and then, under the Army Act (Suspension of Sentences) 1915, the
sentence could be suspended or remitted and the soldier sent back to his unit. However, in the

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meantime the prisons were filling up. By 1918 Australians were in prison for military crimes,
some of them extremely serious, at the rate of nine per thousand; for the rest of the Dominion
troops, the New Zealanders, South Africans and Canadians, the figure was only 1.6 per
thousand (Corns & Hughes-Wilson 2001, p. 391).

Blargies Prison
Before the establishment of the 1st Anzac Field Punishment Compound in France in
September 1916, Australians and New Zealanders were sent to British military prisons. These
were not a soft option nor did they offer a better existence than at the front. Conditions in
prisons were deliberately harsh and often brutal. Prisoners followed a strict punitive regimen
with a basic diet, little privacy, plenty of hard labour and the potential of even worse
conditions. The No 1 prison at Blargies North Camp had a separate section for Australians
and New Zealanders. Blargies was a ‘grim place … behind belts of barbed wire was a small
stockade of corrugated iron housing twenty-five bell tents [and] a punishment cell block’ for
300 prisoners who had been transferred from the military prison at Rouen. The prisoners
were used for hard labour on working parties for the Royal Engineers and at the nearby
railway junction. The conditions were harsh and according to Corns and Hughes-Wilson
(2001, p. 382) ‘water and washing facilities were few and even latrines were restricted, with
only twelve to fourteen seats for up to 300 men, many suffering from acute diarrhoea’.

There were two major incidents at Blargies, both attributed to the arrival of thirty-five
Australian and New Zealand prisoners in August 1916.

In typical Anzac fashion they were surly and truculent and had, on 12
August, refused to obey orders, forcing the camp commandant, Capt.
Baker to make a number of concessions over razors, washing
facilities and living conditions (Corns & Hughes-Wilson 2001, p.
382).

The British contingent was involved in a serious refusal to work on the 14 and 15 August,
probably hopeful that there would be similar concessions as given to the Australian and New
Zealand prisoners. Their protest, called the British mutiny, resulted in charges of mutiny for
seven of the British prisoners. They were all court-martialled in October 1916 and found
guilty; six were sentenced to death. Five of the sentences were commuted by the
Commander-in-Chief, Gen Haig, to ten years penal servitude. Haig confirmed the death
sentence for Gunner Lewis. Corns and Hughes-Wilson confirm that Lewis was clearly one of
the ringleaders and ‘his guilt as a mutineer seems beyond doubt’ (p. 387). The alleged
ringleader of another mutiny was Pte Little of the AIF.

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No 3254 Pte Alexander Little 10th Battalion
The ‘colonial mutiny’ at Blargies was on 28 August, two weeks after the British mutiny. At
the centre of the colonial mutiny was Pte Alexander Little.

Considering his record, it is hard to see why Alexander Little persisted in his attempts to get
in the army. He was an undesirable soldier against any criteria, but he was determined. He
first enlisted in South Australia in February 1915 and was discharged in April as being
‘unlikely to become an efficient soldier’ after several episodes of insubordination, AWL,
disobedience and breaking ranks. He enlisted again in August 1915 in Western Australia, but
was discharged in September for disciplinary reasons after further episodes of fighting, AWL,
assault, evading arrest and impersonating a piquet. He attempted to re-enlist in Perth in
October 1915 but was not taken on.

He then turned up in Egypt, probably stowing away with mates from the Reinforcements for
the 10th Battalion, and convinced AIF administrators on arrival in Egypt that he had enlisted
but not been allocated a number. He was re-attested in December 1915 at Zeitouin, given a
number and posted to the 10th Infantry Battalion. Within two weeks he was AWL, staying
away a total of twenty-eight days. He was caught in Cairo, recognised and arrested by a
sergeant attending a disturbance in a local bar. Pte Little just happened to be passing by the
hotel during the fight. He was returned to confinement but within two days had escaped. Two
days later he was arrested during another fight in another bar. The court martial in March was
a muddle of charges and processes that earned the admonishment of the office of the DJAG
and a quashing of one of the convictions. Pte Little seems to have been good at confusing the
issues and talking his way into and out of trouble. After twenty-eight days of Field
Punishment No 2 and losing twenty-nine days pay, Pte Little left Alexandria with the 10th
Battalion arriving in Marseilles on 6 June 1916. The next day he was AWL, staying away for
two days. Further bouts of drunkenness, using obscene language and disobedience finally
landed him in the Field Punishment Camp at Étaples.

On 15 July Pte Little was in more trouble with the British MP, who were warders at the Field
Punishment Camp. LCpl Credland of the MP gave evidence at the court martial:

I had to check the accused Pte Little for his bad language. The
accused squared up to me with his fists clenched and in order to
prevent him striking me I closed with him. A struggle took place and
the accused struck me on the side of the face with his fist.

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Another witness said he saw Pte Little spring forward and strike LCpl Credland in the face.
Pte Little, by now confident in his ability to talk his way out of trouble and seemingly
impervious to punishment, had a different version:

L/Cpl Credland was waiting near by to escort me. He was trying to
aggravate me by shaking his fist at me and saying “I will get you
fixed up this time”. I told him to go his hardest and he said he would
shove his fist down my throat. At the same time he came up and
shook me by catching hold of my tunic. We were then marched off
and on the way Cpl Credland said “What are you Australians but sons
of convicts and bastards”. I half turned towards him and said “I am no
bastard”. He then struck me with his fist on the nose. We then
struggled and both fell to the ground. Some other warders then came
out and held me on the ground while one of them tried to break my
arms and also my nose by squeezing it and giving it a sharp twist. I
was then hand-cuffed and taken to the OC’s tent. While we were
standing in front of the tent, L/Cpl Credland again got hold of me, put
me on the ground and fell on my stomach with his knee.

The British officers of the court were not convinced by Pte Little’s story and, with procedures
this time in order, he was found guilty of an act to the prejudice of good order and discipline.
He was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment with hard labour.

Pte Little was admitted to the prison camp at Blargies North in early August 1916 with thirty-
five Australians and New Zealanders who immediately started to protest over conditions. By
this time Pte Little had been in the army, officially and unofficially, for eighteen months and
had spent most of this time AWL or in detention and virtually none soldiering. The British
mutiny at Blargies was on the 14 August. Two weeks later Pte Little was at the centre of, and
most likely the cause of, the colonial mutiny at Blargies.

The mutinies were taken very seriously and it took two months to convene the courts. The
General Courts Martial from 9 to 12 October were convened by no less than a full Lieutenant
General, Sir F T Clayton KCMG CB, Inspector General of Communications. The court sat
and considered the two mutinies and the separate charge for Pte Little. The officers were
Brevet Col P Bulman DSO commanding No 2 Territorial Base Depot as president, LtCol A L
H Buchanan commanding No 4 Infantry Base depot, Maj J P Benn of the 37th Lancers, Maj G
T Savage of the Army Service Corps and Capt C A H Graves of the Middlesex Regiment.
The accused were represented by defence counsel. The court convened on 5 to 9 October to
hear the charges of mutiny against the British soldiers, 11 October to hear the charges of
mutiny against Pte Braithwaite and three Australians, and on 12 October to hear the charge
against Pte Little of striking an officer in a situation very similar to his previous charge in the
Field Punishment Camp.
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The testimony of SSgt Shearing sums up what he thought happened:

At Blargies, North, near Abancourt, on August 28th 1916, at about
11.30am I was in charge of a party in the Bath House. Private Little,
whom I now recognise was one of the party. He came out of the
Vapour Bath, and said to me, “Do you call this a fucking hot bath?” I
told him not to speak like that and he replied “Go and fuck yourself”.
After the party had finished bathing, I marched them back to the
Compound. I brought the accused before the Sergeant Major and
reported the case. I was ordered by the Sergeant Major to place Little
in the Cell Compound. I marched him to the Cell Compound, and
when he reached the gates he called out to the Mess Orderly to bring
his dinner over. He also added the remark that “This fucking pan of
lice is putting me inside”. I then opened the gates and ordered him to
go through. He refused to do so. I laid my hand on his shoulder and
he resisted me. He then took off his coat, and struck me on the left
cheek with his fist.
A large party of Australians and New Zealanders heard the noise, and
rushed down and took Little away from me.

Pte Little offered a much milder version:
I did not strike Staff Sergeant Shearing. When he ordered me to
march through the gate of the barbed wire compound, I obeyed the
order, but I asked if I could have my dinner brought up to me. Before
I asked this question, I halted and turned about in order to speak
direct to Staff Sergeant Shearing. I had then gone through the Gate
and was about two feet inside, the Sergeant pushed me on to the
barbed wire, and there I remained till the other Australians came and
pulled me away.

Pte Little conducted some cross-examination of the witnesses himself, but his defence
counsel, Capt Glenville, summarised the defence. Pte Little also wrote a letter to the court
(see Figure 12).

After two mutinies and having already handed out at least eleven death sentences, the court
was in no mood to tolerate Pte Little’s plea to ‘play the game again’. He was found guilty and
sentenced to death.

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11 Oct 1916 Rouen
Sir
I am being tried for a crime of striking a
Superior Officer in act of his duty and it is a
crime that I know nothing about and it never
entered my head to do such a thing on the first
charge they accused thirty five men of mutiny
and they had not enough evidence and they
picked out the supposed ring leaders determined
to get some of us convicted and this is the charge
they have fitted me with it comes very hard to
me Sir owing to me travelling about seventeen
thousand miles to fight for my King and Country
and rights and freedom of the Union Jack.
If the proceedings of the Court goes against me I
would like very much if they would make it as
light as possible as I would like to get back to my
Battalion to get on the Square and play the game
again.
I remain your Obedient Servant
3254 Pte Alex Little
10th Batt AIF

Figure 12 Letter from Pte Little to the court

All the death sentences were confirmed by Gen Haig, the Commander-in-Chief, but the
DJAG recommended that the death sentences be commuted to ten years penal servitude.
Haig commuted all but two of the death sentences—Gunner Lewis for the British mutiny
and Pte Braithwaite for the colonial mutiny were both executed, shot at dawn at Rouen on
29 October 1916.

Pte Little went back to prison at Rouen. However, he had not rehabilitated and seemed to
have no intention of reforming. In December 1916 he escaped from hospital and managed to
stay away for six weeks. He was arrested again, readmitted to prison, where he stayed until
May 1918, with one spell of four weeks in hospital for dysentery. His sentence was
suspended in May 1918 under the Army Act (Suspension of Sentences), which enabled him to
be released back to his unit. He had been back with his battalion for two weeks when he was
killed in action on 4 June 1918 during an attack near Mont de Merris in France. This was a
successful advance as part of the attempt to stop the German spring offensive. In this battle,
there were only two fatal casualties from the battalion, with over 200 enemy prisoners taken.
The Unit War Diary reports ‘Very little resistance was made by the enemy during the
advance and in nearly all cases prisoners came in freely, having been unmistakably surprised
during a relief’. Cpl Phillip Davey was wounded and awarded the Victoria Cross ‘for

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conspicuous bravery and initiative’ in taking an enemy machine gun post and killing eight
enemy soldiers. There is no record of how Pte Little died.

Pte Little’s sentence was remitted on the day he was killed, and his family was therefore
entitled to his service medals as well as a memorial scroll and memorial plaque; these were
issued to his father in 1922. He was clearly blamed for the mutiny at Blargies: on the letter
from Lt-Gen Clayton to the DJAG there is a handwritten aside saying ‘Pt Little whose
insubordination was the starting point of the Colonial Mutiny’. It is more than likely that he
was also involved in the original protests that sparked the British mutiny. The counsel for
Gunner Lewis clearly blamed the Australians for that mutiny saying ‘this unfortunate affair
was a stupid mistake and a technical offence which the conduct of the Australians was
responsible for’ (cited in Corns & Hughes-Wilson 2001, p. 75). Pte Little was not an efficient
soldier as predicted at his first enlistment in 1915 by Lt Blackett, the Adjutant of Mitcham
Camp, South Australia. Pte Little was able to hold his own in a fistfight, to survive and profit
as a deserter for lengthy periods and endure long stretches in military prison, but he was
unable to survive as a soldier. The curious fact that he was killed in an action where the
enemy seemed not to engage suggests that either he was dealt some informal justice by his
own side or that he was an extremely incompetent soldier.

Resistance beyond a point of possible reversal
Military command clung to ultimate control and authority using the mechanisms of law and
discipline. The urgent and primary concern was to defeat the enemy, and consequently,
according to Oram (2003, p. 70):

[T]he army cared little for individual soldiers. Military law merely
served to legitimate this authority, which was usually handled with a
surprising degree of caution, but which on occasions was applied in a
most oppressive and brutal manner.

Through the mechanism of a court martial, the conduct of others can supposedly be directed
with reasonable certainty.

Military law and the apparatus of military discipline contributed to the creation of deserters.
The legal and cultural dimensions of army discipline and the legal processes of arrests, courts
martial and sentencing show the framework that reinforced the discourse of desertion and
resistance. If, as a condition of the existence of power relations and discipline, there is
resistance and obstinacy on the part of those subjects responding to their own perceived
principles of freedom, then there is no relationship of power without the means of escape or

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possible flight (Dreyfus, Rabinow & Foucault 1982). The power relationship between
soldiers and command, between volunteer soldiers and the military, implies the potential for
struggle and resistance. Each constitutes for the other a kind of permanent limit, a point of
possible reversal. This point can become an act of AWL, drunkenness or insubordination. A
relationship of confrontation reaches its term, its final moment when a stable mechanism,
such as a court martial, replaces the free play of antagonistic reactions such as
insubordination, drunkenness or short periods of AWL. Desertion is resistance beyond a point
of possible reversal.

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6. The irritable heart of the soldier
In this chapter I describe historical aspects and the context of shell shock. The story of Pte
Miller is told to illustrate the development of shell shock of a committed soldier. The
implication to notions of masculinity is briefly discussed and attitudes to shell shock are
revealed through the attempts to manage it with medical and disciplinary procedures during
the war. Various government enquiries were established after the war and these tended to
reinforce prevailing attitudes to shell shock. The story of Pte Rogers also illustrates the
inadequacies of treatment of shell shock during and after the war.

I contend that shell shock was discursively constructed. Desertion is often associated with
shell shock, either as a cause or as a result. Australian soldiers were treated in England and
only started to return home after the war. Because of Clause 78 in the Australian Army Act,
no Australian soldier from the AIF was executed, so the sense of outrage in Australia about
shell shock was not as clamorous as in Britain. Despite a generalised public sympathy for
shell-shocked returned men, there was limited patience for those who could neither return to
duty nor fit back into civilian life. The military and civil mental health system was not
equipped to either treat or accommodate these cases (Barham 2004).The social, military and
medical systems were inadequate for management and treatment of shell shock. Barham
(2004) argues that this created a crisis in mental health care in Britain, and although the result
was widespread reform in the British mental health system, shell shock was not then, nor is it
now in its manifestation as post-traumatic stress disorder, fully understood.

The ‘true’ man
Since the beginning of the twentieth century masculinity as an ideal had taken on a definite
outline. There was a consensus in Europe and Australia that a ‘true’ man was a man of action
who controlled his fears. ‘The decade and a half prior to the first world war was the high-
water mark of the celebration of character and the will’ (Bogacz 1989, p. 231). War was the
supreme test of manliness, and soldiers with shell shock and vague physical symptoms that
took them out of the front-line of fighting failed this test. If shell shock is seen as an
individual weakness, then the soldier’s shell shock reaction to his war experience can be
attributed to his lack of manliness, and notions of masculinity remain intact and
unchallenged. If the shell-shocked soldier’s experience as a specifically historically and
culturally constructed neurosis is accepted as being caused by involvement in the war, then

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ideas about masculinity become problematic. Bourke (2000, p. 59) argues that despite the
‘unique frightfulness’ associated with the modern, technology-driven battles of World War 1,
it was ‘widely accepted that the “abnormal” men were those who were repelled by wartime
violence’. Men who reacted negatively to the violence had to be cured: they had to
‘rediscover their “natural”, masculine bellicosity. The assumption was that it was normal for
men to act extremely aggressively’ (Showalter 1985, p. 169). As the public image of war was
one of bravery and strong masculinity, the reality of returning shell-shocked soldiers ‘was in
itself a shocking contrast to the heroic visions and masculine fantasies that had preceded it’(p.
169). In examining the challenge to masculinity ironically created by the war, Showalter
(1985, p. 171) claims that:

[When] all signs of physical fear were judged as weakness and where
alternatives to combat—pacifism, conscientious objection, desertion,
even suicide—were viewed as unmanly, men were silenced and
immobilized and forced, like women, to express their conflicts
through the body.
Shell shock was ‘a disguised male protest not only against the war but against the concept of
“manliness” itself’ (p. 172). The story of Pte Miller is an example of the personal cost of shell
shock, as well as the implications for the military and society.

No 1493 (1633) Sgt (Pte) Charles Miller, 1st Pioneers
Charles Miller, then thirty-seven years old, enlisted in 1915 and was appointed to the 3rd
Reinforcements of the 8th Battalion. He had attempted to enlist in November 1914 but needed
to get some dental work done. Once he was accepted, he embarked immediately for active
service abroad with the rank of lance corporal. Miller presented himself on enlistment as an
experienced soldier, claiming to have spent time in the war in South Africa. He also claimed
that he had seven months experience with the Australian Commonwealth Horse at King
Edward’s coronation. He stated that he had served five years in the Victorian Mounted Rifles,
with sixteen months active service in the 1st Victorian Mounted Rifles. He was a member of
the Rushworth Rifle Club and was working as an engine fitter. He first tried to enlist in 1914
and persisted over several months until accepted in early 1915. His experience, age and
previous service made him seem an ideal recruit and a good candidate for the rank of lance
corporal.

He joined the 8th Battalion at Gallipoli on 8 May 1915 and the next day reported to the
casualty clearing station with a sprained back. A week later he was wounded in the thigh and
evacuated to a hospital ship, then to the military hospital at Ras-el-Tin. In June 1915 LCpl

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Miller embarked for England and was admitted to hospital in Manchester. In July and August
he was also treated for twenty days for venereal disease. He returned to the 8th Battalion in
Lemnos in October 1915 but was admitted to hospital on the same day with bronchitis and
pleurisy. After ten days he rejoined his unit in Lemnos. He spent most of the next two years
of service in hospital, including at least one year in an asylum and returned to Australia in
November 1917 with clear symptoms of shell shock.

LCpl Miller was promoted to sergeant in December 1916 and transferred to the 1st Pioneer
Battalion based at Serapeum. Pioneer battalions performed building tasks in the forward area
not requiring the special equipment of engineers, such as constructing trenches and dugouts,
although they occasionally acted in the engineer role on tasks such as the building of bridges
(Digger History 2012). They had a large proportion of tradesmen and were organised the
same as infantry battalions. They could and did serve as infantry in the front-line. Knowing
the sequence of Miller’s experience reveals to some extent the accretion of trauma and illness
that culminated in his eventual condition.

In Egypt, Sgt Miller was charged with being AWL for three days, but managed to convince
the court martial that he had reported sick, was detailed as off duty and the AWL charge was
the result of a misunderstanding. Sgt Miller then sailed to France, arriving in Marseilles in
early April. The 1st Pioneers were on their way to Sailly-sur-la-Lys to join the Royal
Engineers for mining duties.

The battalion was to be attached to the 172nd Tunnelling Company of the Royal Engineers.
These units were engaged on underground work including the digging of subways, cable
trenches, saps, chambers (for such things as signals and medical services), as well as
offensive or defensive mining. The British tunnelling companies were made up of men drawn
from the ranks, mixed with drafts of men, usually miners, specially recruited for this kind of
work. The Australian units were attached to the 172nd and distributed among them. LtCol
Nicholson, commanding the 1st Pioneers, was not impressed with the discipline problems that
this arrangement created and was of the opinion that the tunnelling company ‘has been run
more as a civilian organisation than a military one with regard to attached parties’. In his
opinion this ‘considerable laxity’ was the reason for so much crime. The officers of the 1st
Pioneers detached for duty with the 172nd Company had little real supervision over their own
men while working, as the men were distributed among other officers. LtCol Nicholson
eventually insisted on his battalion’s own officers having charge of their own men when in
work, and he considered that the laxity was then able to be checked.

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Sgt Miller had been working underground in the saps on detachments to the 127th since 10
April 1916. His company commanding officer, Lt Gregson, gave him a good character
reference saying he had ‘no cause to complain of his conduct’. He had also known Miller at
Gallipoli where Miller was in charge of a sapping party on the peninsula, bringing the party
up and handing them over; he was not involved with the actual work of digging underground.
In France, his work while in the trenches was to go underground and supervise the tunnelling.

On 15 April 1916 Lt Gregson instructed Sgt Miller as to a change of routine. Sgt Miller’s
duty would be forty-eight hours in the trenches and ninety-six out, twenty-four of which he
would be employed as orderly sergeant. Sgt Miller worked effectively in this arrangement for
two weeks. On 28 April Sgt Miller should have gone on duty at 6.00 pm by falling in with a
detachment relief party at Sailly and marching with them to the trenches. When the relief
arrived at the trenches at about 7.00 pm, Sgt Miller was absent. He had not received
permission to be absent nor did he join the relief during the next forty-eight hours.

Sgt Miller was charged with desertion and court-martialled on 16 May 1916:

When on active service deserting His Majesty’s Service in that he at
Sailly-sur-la-Lys after having been paraded for duty in the trenches
did wrongfully absent himself from such duty from about 7pm on 25th
day of April 1916 knowing that by so absenting himself he was
evading his tour of duty in the trenches.

He pleaded ‘Not Guilty’ and represented himself. His defence was that he was taken sick on
the way to the trenches:

I was never warned for duty on 28th by anyone. I went to the parade
ground and then I went up along the road with the party. I was taken
very bad, had diarrhoea for 2 or 3 days. I went to the latrine alongside
of the road and called to one of the men of the party to go on and be
careful when they got down the corner because of the machine-gun
fire. I stayed in the latrine for about 20 minutes then I went along
after the party. I had to stop 2 or 3 times in between. When I got up to
the trenches the party had gone down the front line trench to their
work. I was very, very bad and asked one of the RE’s if any party had
returned. As I had no more responsibility I merely went into the dug-
out close by and I stayed there very, very bad until about 9am next
day. I then went out to get my bag which I had left in the latrine and I
came back to the trenches again and stayed all day in the dug-out…I
did not then say I was ill because I thought I would do my best. The
dug-out in which I slept was about 150 yards from where my
Detachment was working…I also spent the night in the dug-out, never
went away except to the latrines. On morning of the 30th at about
11.30 I followed the first shift down the trench as they came off duty.
When I reached the Billet at about 1pm I met Sgt Harper and he said I
had to be placed under arrest.

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He did not think it was necessary to report his absence to anyone as he had gone to the
trenches as instructed, and he considered that was the limit of his responsibility. His intention
to stoically do his best while ill with diarrhoea shows that he clearly understood the broader
expectations the army had of him and that he was unable to live up to those expectations. The
‘considerable laxity’ in the Pioneers meant that he was able to be missing for two days.

The court of Maj L M Mullen of the 12th Battalion AIF, Capt E H Chapman of the 4th
Yorkshire Regiment, Capt A H Macfarlane of the 11th Battalion AIF and Lt R K Hurcombe
of the 10th Battalion AIF found Sgt Miller guilty and sentenced him to suffer death by being
shot. The finding and sentence were confirmed by Field Marshal Plumer, but commuted to
five years penal servitude and reduction to the ranks. Gen Birdwood agreed with Maj-Gen
Walker, Divisional Commander, who was of the opinion that:

[Because Sgt Miller] apparently remained within the area of the
operations, i.e., in a dug-out 150 yards from where his party was
working, he might be given the benefit of the doubt as to desertion,
which implies remaining permanently absent.
His sentence was subsequently suspended and he rejoined his battalion.

The 1st Pioneers spent June and early July 1916 in Sailly improving the drainage, repairing
the duck-walks and strengthening the salient in the Fleurbaix sector. The conditions were
difficult because of heavy rain. In July they were working on the Pozières trench. On the
evening of 22 July, the battalion moved to the rendezvous near Contalmaison after
completing the system of forward trenches between Black Watch Alley and the German East-
West trench. During this night of intense bombardment, Pte Miller was buried by a shell
explosion and knocked unconscious. He did not regain consciousness for eight hours. From
the 44th Casualty Clearing Station, he was transferred to hospital at Rouen with a diagnosis of
‘shell shock’. From there he went to Graylingwell Asylum in England. Miller’s active service
was over.

For the next year, Pte Miller was treated in military hospitals in Perham Downs and
Weymouth until September 1917 when he was finally declared unfit for general service. On
13 September his suspended sentence was remitted. He continued to have bad dreams,
insomnia and heart palpitations. Capt Macdonald, the treating doctor at Weymouth, thought
that Pte Miller ‘looked fit, but is shaky and tremulous and easily excited’. He returned to
Australia, disembarking at Melbourne on 8 February 1918. He had spent at least one year in
an asylum and was eventually discharged after the war as medically unfit with shell shock.

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Attitudes to shell shock
In Britain, involvement in World War 1, the ‘Great War’ initially promised to reassert ‘the
power of the moral over the mechanical, of the elite over the mass, of spiritual over material
forces’ (Bogacz 1989, p. 232). This was overlaid by the desire in Australia to be seen as a
mature partner in world affairs, contributing ‘courageous men of character who would defeat
the enemy through the exertion of their implacable will-power’ (p. 233).

Early in World War 1, medical officers regarded shell shock as a physical, organic illness
caused by the violent concussion of a nearby exploding shell affecting the nerves. The
bursting of a large shell in an enclosed space such as a trench led to ‘commotional shock’ as
the sudden rise of atmospheric pressure produced minute haemorrhages in the brain. Burial in
the debris of an exploding shell was also believed to be a causal factor (Mott 1916, p. 331).
The possible cause and effect was described by Tyquin (1993, p. 146):

The soldier was practically always blown over by the blast from a
shell and often buried by the debris and deafened by the explosion. A
temporary vacuum is formed around him, which is rapidly filled by a
great rush of air causing a transitory increase of atmospheric pressure.
Any sudden severe change in the atmospheric pressure can cause a
disturbance in the cerebro-spinal fluid and therefore may produce an
injury to the underlying cerebral tissue (citing J Laffin 1970 Surgeons
in the Field). The symptoms included dizziness, tremors, tachycardia,
insomnia, nightmares, disordered personality and amnesia.
The account by Pte Wilson (cited in Pugsley 1991, pp. 68–69) of the NZEF gives a vivid
account of shells exploding in the trenches:

Really nobody who has not been through it knows what the awful
sensation of a bursting HE [High Explosive] is at close quarters. No
wonder men’s nerves are ruined for life. I can sympathise with
anyone so affected after last night. One shell landed in the observer
post within 12-15 feet of where we lay. For about six seconds after
the explosion, you don’t know if anything is wrong or not. It sort of
numbs you. The hot stifling gases mixed with dust and black smoke
choke you. You can’t see for falling earth and clay and your ears ring
like fury. Besides these sensations the trench rocks to and fro, and the
ground simply rises up and falls back and then there is the general
concussion which caps the whole lot. I don’t know how men can
stand the strain for long. I know I couldn’t and last night I stood it
better than most, but today we all feel the effects of it. Our nerves are
upset and I feel like breaking down. Our Captain has already given in;
he took it very bad. The shell that shook us up, blew the two
observers in their post to atoms…they could not have been more
chewed up if a train had run over them. It was an awful sight to look
at and an even worse one to dig them up.
As visceral as the impact of shells exploding nearby can be, as shown by this description,
theories of psychological damage had emerged by the middle of the war and ‘emotional

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shock’ was beginning to be accepted. Charles S Myers, consultant psychologist to the British
armies in France was at the forefront of this shift, arguing that emotional disturbance was
sufficient cause for the same symptoms (Myers 1915, p. 316). After the war, by 1922, even
medical professionals in the somatic school of thought were conceding that only five per cent
of shell shock cases were due to ‘commotional disturbance produced by proximity to the
explosion of a large shell’ (Mott 1919, p. 331). For most of the war, the military medical
corps divided the war neuroses into four diagnoses: shell shock, hysteria, neurasthenia and
disordered action of the heart. This new phenomenon needed new ways to manage, but the
military inevitably reverted to old ways.

To prevent the feared shell-shock epidemic, the army employed a
number of strategies. Firstly, it sought to deter through the military
code and with harsh punishments. Secondly, deterrence could be
achieved through the form of treatment. Finally there was an overt
reluctance to recognise the condition (Oram 2003, p. 61).

The term shell shock was taken up swiftly from the time it was first used when the first
British soldiers suffering from war neurosis started returning to England in September 1914
(Babington 1997, p. 43). In 1915 Myers used the term in an article in the Lancet. The name,
with its concise alliterative description of cause and effect, became the overarching term for
the full gamut of all the non-physical dysfunctional symptoms caused by involvement in
World War 1. It became the ‘emblematic psychiatric disorder’ (Young 1995, p. 50) of that
war. Before World War 1 and as the science of psychology was emerging, ‘mental’ disorder
in a soldier was called many things: conversion hysteria, nostalgia, melancholy, soldier’s
heart, anxiety neurosis, battle hysteria, battle fatigue, battle exhaustion, windage, nervous
exhaustion, neurasthenia, grenade fever, nervous breakdown, traumatic hysteria, disordered
action of the heart, mind wound, hysterical paralysis and irritable heart of the soldier
(Babington 1997). In the late eighteenth and nineteenth century, it was called nostalgia,
manifesting in an intense desire for home, and this could be the reason that shell shock and
desertion are often conflated. In the late twentieth century, similar conditions are known as
post-traumatic stress disorder or combat stress reaction.

In the modernist paradigm of empirical scientific thought of the early twentieth century,
aetiology of shell shock should have provided an insight into effective treatment. Shell shock,
however, confounded the wartime medical and military community in both aetiology and
treatment:

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In truth, the army’s perception of shell-shock and the treatment it
used was most influenced by its own immediate concerns. The sole
purpose of treatment, from a military point of view, was to return as
many men to the fighting line as quickly as possible (Oram 2003, p.
60).

The experience and frustration of the military authorities trying to control shell shock meant
that their attitude to diagnosis and treatment was that any concession or acceptance

was a thoroughly dubious innovation, by no means exclusively a
therapeutic dynamo for mentally re-equipping soldiers to return to
fight, or at least some form of duty. On the contrary it was fast
becoming an ambiguous and porous domain, exploited by a diverse
band of prospectors and travellers, an attractive exit ticket for ‘dirty
sneaks’ and ‘blameworthy weaklings’ anxious to escape from the
front line (Barham 2004, p. 18).
Gen Sir D Haig, commanding the British and Dominion forces, directed that all cases of
nerve failure should be kept in the army area until investigated, not so as to find appropriate
treatment, but to see if disciplinary action by court martial was warranted. Certain casualty
clearing stations were designated to hold all ‘shell shock’ cases until the investigation was
complete. A soldier would only be evacuated if there were ‘definite lesions’ that confirmed
him a battle casualty, or if it was proved that he had been gassed. This policy was based on
the Command’s belief that punishment through discipline was the answer to malingerers and
cowards pleading ‘shell shock’ to escape their duty as soldiers. They feared that the new
armies would melt away if threats of severe disciplinary penalties were removed (Pugsley
1991, pp. 182–183). This attitude was not confined to the British command. The German
High Command and the German Army doctors ‘were inclined to look on war neurosis as a
violation of military discipline’ (Babington 1997, p. 65).

Shell shock is no excuse
The issue of shell shock was not manageable by any medical or military procedures existing
at the time (Barham 2004). Desertion was at least clearly defined in the military environment
and could be expected to be managed through disciplinary processes with the ultimate
penalty being the death sentence. Also, a deserter, if seen as a coward, evoked no public
sympathy or support. The army considered that a deserter was either insane and destined for
the lunatic asylum, or responsible for his actions and subject to the death penalty. They were
the only possibilities. The army had no mechanisms to deal with shell-shocked soldiers
leaving the front-line; it was ‘a world with no exit but wounds, death or neurosis’ (Leed 1979,
p. 24). The BEF did not accept the actuality of shell shock, nor was it regarded as a valid

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defence in courts martial for cowardice or desertion in the field. It was a real issue in the
trenches as nervous soldiers in front-line units were a constant problem:

[F]or this was an age which still regarded cowardice in a male as one
of the vilest types of degradation. To send back these men to a place
of safety seemed utterly unthinkable; in any event there was no
recognized procedure for doing so unless they had been passed as
unfit by a medical officer (Babington 1983, p. 92).

It was an ineffective defence for a man to plead in answer to a charge of desertion that he had
been suffering from loss of control or amnesia. The 1922 report acknowledged that in former
conflicts ‘a soldier who lost self-control was usually court-martialled and frequently suffered
the penalty for the military crime of cowardice or of desertion’ (Southborough 1922, p. 8).

The double bind of trauma, treatment, recovery and return is described in all its irony and
senseless logic in Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1962) in a fictionalised account of a similar
dilemma in the Second World War from a soldier’s point of view. Among other things,
Catch-22, the novel, is a general critique of bureaucratic operation and reasoning, particularly
in the military. Catch 22 is an imagined military rule with self-contradictory circular logic
that prevents anyone from intentionally avoiding combat missions. In Heller’s (1962, p. 46)
own words:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that
a concern for one’s safety in the face of dangers that were real and
immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and
could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did,
he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions.
Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if
he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and
didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to.

This is similar to prevailing views in World War 1 in the military and to medical attitudes
that believed that treatment of shell shock prolonged or reinforced the condition. Recovery
means a return to the front-line, the cause of the condition. So if a soldier started to get better,
he was returned to the fighting. If not, he was subjected to increasingly harsh ‘treatment’ as
well as the social reprobation of being called a coward or malingerer, or worse, a deserter and
subject to the death penalty. Rivers (1918) identified cases where the preferred treatment did
worsen the condition and alternative treatment was relatively effective. Some treatments were
indeed iatrogenic and had the effect of further fixing the symptoms. Other treatments are
revealed as technologies of domination attached to a specific ontology of essentialism and
personal agency and throughout the war ‘shell-shock remained a major factor in the army’s
preoccupation with a possible breakdown in discipline’ (Oram 2003, p. 62).

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There were cases where the preferred treatment worsened the condition and cases where the
alternative ‘talking treatment’, which did not include return to the trenches, was relatively
effective (Rivers 1918, pp. 171–178). Some doctors, including Rivers, had an approach to
mental therapies as being culturally constructed (Young 1995, pp. 43–85). Rivers criticised
repression as therapy and the ‘happy chappie’ approach to treatment based on the idea that
effective treatment for the shell-shocked soldier was based on cheerful conversation and
exhortations to forget trench experiences. He also identified potential cases of iatrogenic
hetero-suggestion, where the symptoms in some cases were suggested by the treating doctor
and taken up by the patient. This could be because in some ways the symptoms and
experiences of shell-shocked soldiers were uncanny, repressed and indescribable in the
cultural lexicon of the day.

No 1171 Pte Ed Rogers 26th Battalion
In 1926 Mr A Evans of Government House Grounds, Hobart wrote to the army records office
on behalf of Ed Rogers enquiring how Rogers could claim any money or medals owed from
his war service. Evans describes Rogers as ‘destitute’, ‘a drunkard and devil-may-care thro’
being abroad’. Pte Ed Rogers was a veteran of Gallipoli and the Western Front. He was
knocked out by a shell at Gallipoli and spent the last few months of 1915 in hospital with
dysentery and bronchitis. He had joined the 26th in April of 1915, nine months after his
brother Archie had enlisted in the 12th Battalion. Archie was wounded at Gallipoli and was
recovering in hospital when Ed joined up. By the time Ed got to Gallipoli, Archie was again
in hospital in Malta.

Pte Ed Rogers then travelled with the 26th to France to join the BEF in March 1916. He took
the opportunity to take a few days AWL for which he was sentenced to twenty-eight days
FP2. While under open arrest he escaped but was again caught. In April 1916 he earned
himself 120 hours of Field Punishment No 1. In May and June he made two more attempts to
get away, and in June he succeeded, escaping while under arrest. A FGCM in June sentenced
him to two years imprisonment with hard labour. He talked his way into being allowed to go
to the trenches and fight. However, he went missing from Lille Post. He went AWL again
when he had reported back to Red Lodge and was under open arrest. He was finally
apprehended by the MP at Armentieres on 20 July 1916. The MP returned him to his
battalion, where he again convinced the commanding officer that he was willing to fight.
However, he disappeared again and was AWL for three days while the battalion fought at
Pozières. He escaped from custody again in August and returned to his unit in October.

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The FGCM was convened for 2 November 1916 and heard two separate charges of desertion
against Pte Rogers. He was found guilty and sentenced to be shot for desertion. This was
commuted to ten years penal servitude. He was then admitted to prison at Rouen in early
December 1916, with his sentence commuted to two years imprisonment with hard labour.
After thirteen months, he was released from prison with the unexpired portion of his sentence
suspended. His brother Archie was killed in action in France in May 1917. Early in 1918 Pte
Rogers joined his battalion in Belgium, but within a few months took another month of
AWL. His third court martial in June 1918 found him guilty of AWL but not guilty of
desertion. He was sentenced to another two years imprisonment with the unexpired portion of
sentence of the previous two years to run concurrently with the recent sentence. He returned
to prison where he stayed until June 1919. During this time he was admitted to hospital with
epilepsy and was unconscious for four days. Ed finally returned to destitution in Australia in
July 1919 with a suspended sentence and with no real support for his shell shock and
alcoholism.

It was common for shell shock to be viewed by military command as a threat to discipline
and the fighting efficiency of the army. The medical concern was that soldiers could fake
symptoms of shell shock to avoid combat duties. Perceptions have changed since the war and
the popular current idea is that shell-shocked soldiers were misunderstood and consequently
inadequately treated. This has the tendency to conflate shell-shocked soldiers into a
stereotype of terrified young men unable to carry on and unfairly charged with cowardice.
However, the complexity and diversity of situations, as shown in this chapter by the stories of
Pte Miller and Pte Rogers as well as the story of Pte Baufoot in Chapter 4, reveal that shell-
shocked soldiers cannot be typified. Along with the repression of discourse about shell shock
this continues to be an area that is open to analysis and interpretation.

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7. Discussion—constructing the
soldier: constructing the deserter
Contrary to popular belief not every digger who set foot in Egypt,
Gallipoli, France or Belgium was a hero (Tyquin 2006, p. 33).

Desertion is discussed further as a social construct in this chapter. The analysis positions
desertion within the military and Anzac discourses and argues that soldiers and deserters
were created through the ideological use of power, discipline and language. The story of Pte
Bagnell and the combined story of Pte White and Pte Bartholomew show the progress of
well-intentioned soldiers to deserters. All the stories in this and previous chapters show that
the concept of self as a soldier or a deserter is a fictional construct and can be adjusted with
differing expectations. I argue that the soldier is created for the system that needs him. The
public reality of a soldier is determined by the social and disciplinary apparatus of the
military that calls him into a certain kind of being and his response to that call. Using
Foucault’s theories of power and resistance desertion can be seen as a performance within the
symbolic order of military discipline. In this chapter I also discuss identity construction using
the story of Pte Swinton. Shell shock is also discussed further in terms of how expectations
were not managed by individuals or institutions. The story of Pte Sheppard and Pte Foster
show this. I also discuss the alternative discourse available to recruits.

There is a generalised respect and reverence for the men of Anzac, especially as in the 21st
century they are all dead and can be idealised and mythologised. War makes for good stories,
and there are plenty of stories of endurance and bravery. The result of these stories is that
more than 500,000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers who were involved in World War 1
are collected, grouped and generalised. They are all branded as the same type of person. This
is reinforced by the recruiting posters, histories, memorials and ceremonies that continue to
flourish. These do not necessarily reflect the full diversity of World War 1 experiences as
myth ‘drains signifiers of their native signifieds and combines them into new stories, images
and performances that permit an audience to find pleasure in what is most problematical’
(Leed 2000, p. 86). We seem to have a need to valorise our ancestors or antecedents and then
take credit for their deeds by attributing to them the characteristics we most admire and then
assigning them back to us. This recursive process reinforces the grand narrative of heroism
and reduces the complexities promulgated in smaller stories.

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Identity is created by expectations, and expectations of the Australian identity are caused, in
part, by the Anzac grand narrative. Australian involvement in the war led to the creation of
the Anzac myth. The mythical elements of soldiering were used to recruit from subjects who
already had an understanding of the expectations of the myth and were prepared to either
meet those expectations or exploit them for their own purposes. Barthes (1972, p. 129) argues
that meaning can be disconnected from myth:

In passing from history to nature myth acts economically: it abolishes
the complexity of human acts, it gives them the simplicity of essence,
it does away with all dialectics. … It organises a world which is
without contradictions because it is without depth, a world wide open
and wallowing in the evident. It establishes a blissful clarity: things
appear to mean something by themselves.

Soldiering and desertion are positioned in this context, along with all the mechanisms of the
military apparatus of control and discipline and the actual experience of trench warfare.

The central idea of any myth is one of identity. ‘Who do I think I am?’ addresses the
ontological and epistemological questions that occupy analysts of the post-modernist
condition. ‘This question of the subject and the living “who” is at the heart of the most
pressing concerns of modern societies’ (Derrida 1991, p.115). When extended to ‘Who do we
think we are?’ it becomes the basis to examine the idea of the Australian national identity
through the Anzac myth, and to interrogate the Anzac myth through stories of soldiers who
deserted. Australia’s participation in overseas conflicts, wars or peace-keeping often causes
controversy at home. Attitudes to sending troops overseas are frequently divergent and
loaded with emotion and strong opinion.

The legend contributes to the discourse, which is part of the dominant symbolic order that
exists to create the soldier and the deserter. The discourse of civil liberty was available as a
symbolic order enabling the constructed soldier to deconstruct in one symbolic order and use
agency to reconstruct and perform in another. The collection of narratives in my research is
an interpretative reiteration of cultural ideology about desertion, including the imperative to
restrain, discipline and control soldiers who are different from the culturally empowered
norm. In order for cultural ideology to maintain its power and thus maintain order, soldiers
who are in some way deviant must be disciplined to comply with the norm. They must also
internalise the notion of normal soldier behaviour in opposition to their own aberrant
behaviour.

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The idea of disruption to the sense of identity of individuals and society during and after the
war provides a platform to explore the creation of the deserter. Involvement in the war
‘mobilized, articulated, and modified the resources of signification available to the
individuals who entered its bewildering and terrifying reality’ (Leed 1979, p. x); it could be
argued that the war was ‘nothing if not an experience of radical discontinuity on every level
of consciousness’ (p. 3). There were also positive attitudes and ‘unquestionably heartfelt,
intense enthusiasm for war’ (p. 6), as well as the perception that the experience also offered a
potential breaking of social barriers. After the war, many veterans felt as if they had shared in
a momentous destiny and ‘the glowing memories of comradeship and common endeavour
were commonly separated from the horrors of war’ in commemorations, memoirs and
histories (p. 25).

The Australian War Memorial states that 416,809 Australian soldiers enlisted in World War
1, and there were approximately 100,000 from New Zealand (McGibbon 2012, p. 1). Of this
number, there must necessarily have been a wide variation in character and behaviour. The
BEF command considered the Australians and New Zealanders ill-disciplined and unruly and
struggled to find ways of managing them. This attitude probably originated from experience
based on the actual behaviour of the Australians and New Zealanders. Stories of

Australian lawlessness and misconduct abound and a host of first-
hand contemporary references detail the lengthy list of their
misdeeds—which were not limited to drunken sprees in estaminet
behind the lines (Corns & Hughes-Wilson 2001, p. 391).

Desertion is the event that happens when the constructed soldier starts to deconstruct in one
symbolic order and uses agency to reconstruct and perform in another, either as resistance to
the dominant discourse, responding to an alternative discourse or reverting to a symbolic
order such as that of civil society. Soldiers are constructed from civilians, and the civilian
discourse is still available, even if only in memory. Civilians are constructed and are always-
already subjects within ideology. Soldiers are always-already subjects within military
ideology, which exists as a repressive apparatus to the imperial nation-state. ‘Discipline
“makes” individuals; it is the specific technique of a power that regards individuals both as
objects and as instruments of its exercise’ (Foucault 1991, p. 170). Where there is military
discipline, there is necessarily indiscipline. In creating and interpellating the soldier, the anti-
soldier—the deserter—must also exist in the symbolic order so that soldiers know how to
behave and what not to do. If there are strong measures to prohibit something, there is likely
to be a correspondingly strong desire to commit the crime.

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Despite current Australian belief, and C.E.W. Bean’s writings at the
time, Australian commanders insisted on maintaining standards of
dress, bearing and saluting. Lack of reinforcements and heavy losses
increased Australian disciplinary problems; that these were not
ignored by Australian commanders is reflected in the number of
courts martial and the severity of sentences awarded (Pugsley 1991,
p. 298).
This cycle of transgression and punishment operates within the military system of order and
discipline.

There were expectations of the soldier by general society in all armies, and the soldiers
themselves had certain expectations. The English and Germans had different attitudes
towards the war. As Eksteins (1989, p. 118) says:

For the Germans this was a war to change the world; for the British
this was a war to preserve a world. The Germans were propelled by a
vision, the British by a legacy.
In Germany, ‘whether considered as the foundation of culture or as steppingstone to a higher
plateau of creativity and spirit, war was an essential part of a nation’s self-esteem and image’
(p. 90). In England and France, and by extension in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, the
belief was that they were fighting to preserve existing values. Eksteins argues that these
originate from Victorian and Edwardian era values, ‘the craving for fixities’ (p. 128).

Soldier subjects come into existence through the complex interplay between power and
language. The power of the military over soldiers is invested in systems of administration and
hierarchical discipline. It promotes truths about soldiers that distinguish normal, hero and
compliant, from abnormal, deserter and disobedient, behaviour. The subject does not exist as
a naturally occurring thing, but is contrived by the double work of power and knowledge to
maximise the operation of both. Power depends on a system of proper proceedings that, in
turn, must be justified by codes of law or legal precedent. However, these do not always
result in expected outcomes, as Eksteins (1989, p. 190) claims:

The soldier had been sustained by social values in which he genuinely
believed, but … those values had been subjected to such grievous
attack in the course of the war that his attitudes toward society,
civilization and history were irreparably altered

What was once a person becomes a military unit—a soldier. The soldier who has left this
order becomes something else—a deserter. The trigger for desertion seems to be different in
every case. The story of Pte Bagnell illustrates how one soldier’s expectations were not met.

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No 2032 Pte Joe Bagnell 36th Battalion
Joe Bagnell lied about his age on his third attempt to enlist, saying he was twenty-one, but he
may have been even younger than eighteen. His first attempt to enlist was in January 1916;
his brother Roy had enlisted twelve months before. Joe said he was eighteen then, but he was
rejected because of his eyesight. He tried again in March and was again rejected as medically
unfit. The same recruiting officer who rejected him in March accepted him in April;
somehow, he had aged three years in that month. Did Lt Thompson, the recruiting officer,
forget Joe’s previous attempts or was he under pressure to increase numbers? The Medical
Officer was less strict; Joe’s eyesight had not improved and was still 6/24 in his right eye. Joe
certainly showed persistence; he was rejected twice and still came back. He seemed
determined to join his brother, who had been promoted to sergeant in the 17th Battalion and
was at the front in France. Pte Bagnell finally left Australia with the reinforcements on the
HMAS Anchises in August 1916, seven months after he had first tried to enlist and eighteen
months after his brother Roy.

In England during training and while waiting to reinforce the battalion in Belgium, he went
AWL twice: once for one night and again for two days. He surrendered to the MP and was
awarded seven days Field Punishment No 2 and forfeited ten days pay.

The 36th Battalion became part of the 9th Brigade of the 3rd Australian Division. It had
crossed to the front in late November 1916 and moved into the trenches of the Western Front
for the first time on 4 December, just in time for the onset of the terrible winter of 1916–17.
When the emphasis of British operations switched to the Ypres Sector of Belgium in mid-
1917, the battalion took part in its first major battle, the battle of Messines, launched on 7
June. The 9th Brigade was then held in reserve during the battle for Broodseinde Ridge on 4
October.

The battle of Broodseinde Ridge was the third operation launched by Gen Sir H Plummer as
part of the Ypres offensive of 1917. It was a large operation, involving twelve divisions,
including those of both I and II Anzac. The attack was planned on the same basis as its
predecessors—the attacking troops’ objectives were approximately 1,500 metres deep, the
advance would be preceded by a massive artillery bombardment, and a creeping barrage
would lead the troops on to their objectives and then protect them while they consolidated
their positions.

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The attack began before dawn on 4 October 1917. The Australian troops involved were
shelled heavily on their start line, and a seventh of their number became casualties even
before the attack began. When it did begin, the attacking troops were confronted by a line of
troops advancing towards them; the Germans had chosen the same morning to launch an
attack of their own. The Australians forged on through the German assault waves and gained
all their objectives along the ridge. It was not without cost, however. German pillboxes were
characteristically difficult to subdue, and the Australian divisions suffered 6,500 casualties.

On 3 October Pte Bagnell was reported missing in action, but the next day he found his unit
and was reported not missing. The unit diary of early October 1917 describes the conditions
on that night:

3-10-17: Heavy artillery fire from both sides, very little falling on our
front line or supports. Aircraft very active from both sides. Our
snipers shot 3 of the enemy in vicinity of Levi Cottage and Jacob’s
house. Back areas being heavily shelled. Snipers very active from Hill
40.

He was clearly missing, not AWL. However, on 15 October Pte Bagnell went missing again
and this time was declared AWL. The battalion had just one day’s rest in a shell-hole near
Jacob’s House, before marching to Cavalry Camp. The unit diary records ‘All ranks very
exhausted’.

On 15 October the battalion moved up to the front-line to relieve the 42nd Battalion at
Augustus Wood. Capt Doig warned that all men were to fall in ready to move up to the front-
line for duty. He claims to have seen Pte Bagnell at that time and confirmed that Pte Bagnell
had heard the order. Sgt Key called the roll when the detail arrived and found Pte Bagnell
absent.

A Field General Court Martial was convened by Brig-Gen Rosenthal to try Pte Bagnell on the
charge of ‘while on active service, deserting His Majesty’s Service’. The court consisted of
Maj A C Blacklow as President and Capt H J Connell, both of the 35th Battalion, Capt W H
Douglas of the 33rd Battalion and Capt J D Cassells of the General List. After statements
from Capt Doig and Sgt Key, with a further statement from LCpl Lucas, Pte Bagnell admitted
he did not go to the front.

He claimed that he had no steel helmet or gas mask, rifle or equipment and did not think it
was fair to go without any equipment. LCpl Lucas confirmed that on that morning he saw Pte

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Bagnell who said he was looking for a steel helmet. Pte Bagnell elected to give evidence in
his own defence:

I never knew they were going up the line. I never had any steel helmet
or gas mask, rifle or equipment. Ten days before that I reported that I
had no equipment. No notice was taken of it. Captain Doig said I
could find the things when I got up the line. He said that the night of
Oct 14. I did not think it was fair to go up there without anything in
the shape of equipment.

Capt Doig partly confirmed this when recalled by the court:

When I gave the order the accused had no steel helmet. I do not know
why he had not one. He had a box respirator. He had no other
equipment. The other members of the party were not equipped when I
gave the order, but they got equipment before they left the Camp. If
the accused had remained with the party going up the line he would
have been given equipment. The accused has never reported to me
about his equipment. I do say in the Summary that I saw the accused
parade and start off for the line. I did see him parade & start off for
the line. He had equipment when he started off. He was in fighting
order, including steel helmet. I saw that personally. The accused had
the equipment of a man medically unfit. Several men were left behind
unfit. Their equipment was taken from them and handed to the men
going up the line. When the Batt moved out of the line it moved to a
camp south of Ypres where deficiencies in equipment were made up
by every man who required articles.

Pte Bagnell ended up in Bailleu a day later where he was questioned and detained by a
military policeman. His main argument for his absence was his grievance about lack of
equipment:

I reported the loss to Capt Macnee then I asked for a blanket and he
told me it would cost ₤9.15.0 against me. I told Capt Doig three days
before that I had no equipment. When I was sent on working parties I
borrowed a gas mask and wore a felt hat. I knew generally that my
party was going up the line. I do not know what made me go to
Bailleul instead of going up the line. I thought it was too risky
without equipment.

The Field General Court Martial found Pte Bagnell guilty of desertion and sentenced him to
suffer death by being shot. Gen Sir H Plumer commuted the sentence to ten years penal
servitude and then suspended that sentence.

Was Pte Bagnell frightened or just plain annoyed at the unjust muddle of it all? There is a
hint of Joe being personally affronted at not being given the right stuff, and maybe he realised
he was not made of the ‘right stuff’. He is one of those who ‘found themselves projected
quite outside their normal range, and forced to account for themselves as someone whom
they never realised that they were’ (Barham 2004, p. 62). Given his persistence in joining up,
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he must have been very disappointed in himself and the army. He had certain expectations of
the experience and of his own ability but found the reality to be very different. He was keen
to enlist but found the actual experience unlike anything that had been described. He is one of
those that Barham (2004, p. 64) identified as responding to a specific call to arms:

Yet when they arrived on the scene they invariably proved
themselves very resistant to discipline, perplexed and
uncomprehending of what was asked of them, flouting the
regulations at every turn, and behaving as though the situation
in which they found themselves was not at all to their liking.

Pte Bagnell then went back to his unit. What was that like? What did the other men think?
Was it a triumphant return showing that he could beat the system or was it a shameful
tolerated return? Or a grudging comeback and admiring ‘I showed them’? Pte Frank Hughes
of the NZEF was also returned to his unit after being convicted of desertion, but he found he
was not welcome. Pugsley (1991) claims that it was obvious Hughes had no mates in the
platoon, and mateship was everything if one was to survive in the trenches. Pugsley reports
Hughes said ‘The men of my platoon did not seem pleased to see me back again’. He did not
want to stay in the trenches and his platoon members, ‘who saw him as a troublemaker, did
not want him and were glad to see him go’ (Pugsley 1991, p. 105). Pte Hughes deserted again
and was eventually charged, convicted and sentenced to death for desertion. He was executed
on 25 August 1916. Pte Bagnell spent most of 1918 either AWL or in hospital. He returned to
Australia in 1919, as did his brother Roy. Joe died in 1974.

The soldier subject
The deserter is interpellated as something other, as part of a different symbolic order or as
resistor to the dominant symbolic order. The hegemonic nature of ideology gives the subject
what is needed to continue as subject.

A subject, suggests Althusser (1972), can be simultaneously:

1. A free subject—a centre of initiatives, author of and responsible for its actions

2. A subjected being, who submits to a higher authority, and is therefore stripped of all
freedom except that of freely accepting his submission.

The individual is interpellated as a free subject in order that he shall submit freely to
hegemonic commandments, that is, he shall make the gestures and actions of his subjection
‘all by himself’. In this system of interpellation, the subjects work by themselves at being
subjects. The exceptions are the ‘bad subjects’, deserters and AWL soldiers, who provoke the

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intervention of the apparatus of military discipline and law. The deserter can be examined as
a subject caught between the ‘free subject’ and the ‘subjected being’.

Agency happens when the soldier subject of (2) decides that he is actually (1), that is, when a
person volunteers and submits to army rules and discipline, becomes a soldier, and then
decides, either consciously or unconsciously, that he is actually author of his own actions and
location. The Australian volunteer may have been similar to those British soldiers that
Barham (2004, p. 64) identifies as ‘unwilling to relinquish entirely their citizen selves and
their prized individualities, or to become fully absorbed into the military machine; they might
be deferential up to a point’. The soldier subject may pretend to submit or performs as if he
has submitted, but he may also be responding differently to the symbolic order, or responding
to a different symbolic order. It is only those who are caught and court-martialled who
actually become deserters. The stories of Pte Bartholomew and Pte White illustrate the
workings of agency and the tension between the free subject and the subjected being.

No 299 Pte Herbert Bartholomew and No 547 Pte Albert White 25th Battalion
Herbert Bartholomew was nineteen when he enlisted at Gympie in Queensland on 17
February 1915. He was born in South Africa and came to Australia as a child with his family.
Before enlisting he worked as labourer. By the time he returned to Australia in 1919 after the
war, he had fought on the Western Front, was court-martialled several times for various
offences, spent time in prison, married and was wounded twice in battle. His mate, Albert
White joined on the same day; he was twenty-one and his parents still lived in England. He
was a painter by trade. They were assigned to the 25th Battalion and embarked from Australia
in June 1915.

The 25th was raised at Enoggera in Queensland in March 1915 as part of the 7th Brigade. The
battalion predominantly consisted of men recruited in Queensland, with a small contingent of
men from Darwin. The battalion left Australia in early July, trained in Egypt during August,
and by early September was manning trenches at Gallipoli. However, they did not see much
action as the last offensive at Gallipoli was already over. The brigade left Gallipoli in late
1915, arriving in Egypt early in 1916. During the training in Egypt, Pte Bartholomew went
AWL for two days, as did many of the AIF. In March 1916 the 25th went to France, landing
on 19 March 1916. It was the first AIF battalion to arrive there. The 25th, fighting now as part
of the 2nd Division, took part in its first major battle at Pozières between 25 July and 7 August
during which it suffered 785 casualties. It was during this time that Pte Bartholomew was
wounded in the arm. This was severe enough for him to spend nearly a month in the 11th

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General Field Hospital. The day after rejoining his battalion from hospital, he took another
day’s AWL, earning himself seven days Field Punishment No 2. Pte White spent several
weeks in hospital with problems with his feet. After a spell in a quieter sector of the front in
Belgium, the 2nd Division came south in October to attack again in the Somme Valley. The
25th Battalion took part in two attacks to the east of Flers, both of which floundered in the
mud.

Although it acted in a supporting role at the second battle of Bullecourt, the 25th Battalion did
not carry out a major offensive role again until 20 September 1917, when it was part of the
2nd Division’s first wave at the battle of Menin Road in Belgium. Victory here was followed
up with the capture of Broodseinde Ridge on 4 October. The 25th went back to Menin Road,
in what was its last large-scale offensive action for the year.

It was on 4 November 1917 at Charlton Camp that Pte Bartholomew and Pte White went
AWL from their unit. The battalion was warned by Capt Nix, their commanding officer, that
the battalion would be going into the trenches that night. Sgt Spotswood warned his platoon,
including Bartholomew and White, that they were about to move to the trenches at the front.
Sgt Spotswood claimed that he saw Bartholomew and White at 11.45 pm when they moved
off, and they had answered to the rollcall a short time before. In the dark and rain, they must
have slipped away, as when the platoon arrived at the trenches Sgt Spotswood could not find
either of them. However, the initial rollcall was called and answered while the men were in
and about the tents, so it was conceded by Sgt Spotswood in the court martial that someone
else could have answered for both men and that they had left earlier. The platoon attacked as
soon as they were in the front-line trenches so Sgt Spotswood did not have time to look
further. The roll was checked every day after 4 November, and neither Pte Bartholomew nor
Pte White was present from then on. The next time Sgt Spotswood saw them was in the
Guard Room at Fricourt Huts two weeks later.

The emphasis by the court on whether the men had heard the warning for the front indicates a
search for intent—if they had heard the warning and then went AWL, then the court could
surmise that they had gone AWL with the intention of avoiding the front-line trenches. This
then becomes desertion.

They were arrested by LCpl Seekings and LCpl Greenbridge of the MP, who were on duty at
the Outrean railway siding on 11 November, when they saw Pte Bartholomew, Pte White and
two others walking along the main road towards Étaples. They were stopped and questioned

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but the MPs were not satisfied with their story. They said they had missed the train at
Boulogne and were walking to Étaples. They were detained by the MPs, taken to Boulogne
and handed over to the officer in charge of the detention barracks. It was December 1916
before Bartholomew and White were both tried for desertion by a General Court Martial in
the field. Maj G Read of the 28th, Capt P J Thorne of the 26th and Capt J D Elder of the 27th
were convened to try them for desertion. Also before the court was No 150 Pte William
Lawson charged with ‘misbehaving before the enemy in such a manner as to show
cowardice’. Pte Lawson was found not guilty, but Bartholomew and White were found guilty
of desertion and sentenced to suffer death by being shot. Lawson returned to his unit, was
wounded in 1917 and killed in action in 1918. He had also joined at Gympie in 1915. It is not
clear from the records whether Pte Lawson was one of the other two men walking to Étaples
with Bartholomew and White; however, it is unlikely as he was charged with a different
offence.

Pte Bartholomew and Pte White were seen as prime candidates for the use of the death
sentence as an example to deter other deserters. The colonel temporarily commanding the 7th
Brigade wrote to headquarters on 11 December 1916 about Bartholomew and White:

1. Prisoners’ characters from a fighting point of view are bad.
2. The state of discipline of the Battalion is comparatively good.
3. The CO of the men considers they absented themselves deliberately,
with the sole object of avoiding the particular service in question.
4. I recommend that the sentence be carried out, for the following
reasons:-
a. The cases seem to be very clear instances of constructive
desertion.
b. The crime is prevalent, and is becoming more so.
c. A few cases of the Death Sentence being carried out would have a
very good effect on discipline.
d. The view is prevalent amongst the men that we are afraid to shoot
an Australian.

The death sentences were both varied on 23 December 1916 by the General commanding the
4th Army to ten years of penal servitude. Bartholomew and White were admitted to prison at
Rouen in January 1917 with their sentences further commuted to two years with hard labour.
They served nearly twelve months and were both released to their unit on 22 December 1917
with suspended sentences. Once out of prison, they returned to the 25th. From then their paths
diverge.

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Pte White was wounded in action in June 1918 in one of the battles of the Somme and was
invalided to England soon after. He had a bullet wound in his right hand. In December 1918
he returned to Australia and was medically discharged. Pte Bartholomew was wounded for
the second time in September 1918, this time in his right leg and thigh. He was invalided to
England, to the Southern General Hospital in Birmingham. He was discharged from hospital
in early October 1918 and married Grace Payne later that month. The 25th disbanded in
October 1918 due to previous heavy casualties and lack of reinforcements. Bartholomew and
White were not part of the mutiny in the 25th in September 1918 when the battalion initially
refused to disband to reinforce others. They also missed the last action of the 25th Battalion
when it took part in a successful attack early in October 1918 to break through the German
defence around Beaurevoir.

The commuting and remitting of the prison sentences under the Army Act (Suspension of
Sentence) 1915 was because of the high level of casualties that had depleted and significantly
weakened the BEF. Men were needed back at the front and this was a way to get them there
with a sentence suspended, not remitted. Both men went back to the fighting, but through
being wounded and being sick spent most of 1918 in hospital. White’s bullet wound to the
hand could have been self-inflicted; this was a ‘known’ self-inflicted ‘back to Blighty’ wound
and was usually regarded as highly suspicious. Bartholomew was wounded by a shell in the
right knee, thigh and buttocks.

The penalties for desertion could be seen to be effective as both Pte Bartholomew and Pte
White returned to the front. However, they seem to have found other ways to avoid the
fighting and they returned home. They both received their war service medals, although only
White was initially deemed not eligible because of the court martial and verdict of desertion.

In the AIF
The concept of the self as a separate, singular and coherent entity is a fictional construct, as
are the concepts of the soldier and the deserter. Each of these constructs comprises tensions
between conflicting knowledge claims and expectations of gender, race, social standing, rank
and citizen within the contemporary political and social context and the institutional context
of the military.

There is a very wide variety in the perceived motivations, behaviour and experiences of
deserters. There is the man who joins up with the intention of exploiting the situation. Pte
Frith and Pte Silburn seem to be examples of this. At the other end of the spectrum is the

135
person whose intentions and expectations are supposedly honourable, that is, compliant with
the metanarrative, but find that they, or the army or the war, cannot fulfil those expectations.
Both could be said to come from the same place of regarding the self as an independent being
with power to make decisions. The army, however, operates on the opposite premise—that
the soldier is not an independent being but is entirely dependent and a ‘docile body’
(Foucault 1991, p. 138), created and constrained by disciplinary structures. The fighting
efficiency of the army depends on each soldier doing what is required—mostly against their
‘natural’ inclinations. The high rate of individual soldiers taking control of their own
environments and actions, often resulting in AWL and desertion, may be a manifestation of
resistance to this.

The soldier is created and continues to exist for the system that needs him and many like him
organised into an efficient military system. His wants, talents and desires are not created from
within the person but are formed by the social needs that are presented to him. The soldier’s
public reality is determined for him by the social and disciplinary apparatus of the military
that calls him into a certain kind of being and his acquiescence to that call. The military, as a
social institution, creates deserters at the same time as ‘good’ soldiers.

The idea of an ideal soldier as hero is drawn from ideas of masculinity and modernity and is
harnessed by the military as a hegemonic tool serving nationalistic, capitalistic and territorial
interests. In Britain, propaganda, during and after the Boer War (1899–1902), ‘permeated
popular culture and the press, disseminating the “dominant ideology” of militarism,
monarchism, and social-Darwinism’ (Hammal 2010).

The military takes up the idea of the soldier, intensifies it and applies it to the body of the
individual. The legal and social structures within the military exist to ensure that soldiers
perform to the soldier-hero ideal and are punished when they transgress. However, the idea of
the soldier-hero ideal can only exist when the boundaries are clearly stated and the idea of
performance outside the boundaries is imagined, described and warned against. Foucault
(cited in Dreyfus, Rabinow & Foucault 1982, p. 224) argues that:

It would not be possible for power relations to exist without points of
insubordination which, by definition, are means of escape.
Accordingly, every intensification, every extension of power relations
to make the insubordinate submit can only result in the limits of
power. The latter reaches its final term either in a type of action
which reduces the other to total impotence (in which case victory over
the adversary replaces the exercise of power) or by a confrontation
with those whom one governs and their transformation into
adversaries.

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Once the possibility of desertion exists, as something the soldier-hero ideal would not do, any
person who does not, or cannot, conform to the soldier-hero ideal has an alternative.

The transition from citizen to soldier marked the beginning of a new identity whereby the
recruit engaged in a series of initiations that marked a distinctive rite of passage. A soldier’s
identity is both separate from his civilian identity and unique in that it is formed beyond the
margins of normal society (Leed 1979). Recruits did not volunteer grudgingly; rather, it was
seen as an opportunity to assume a new identity, a loftier persona than that of worker, son or
husband. Even in Australia, the constrictions of class and education played a part in the
motivation that ‘thrust many out into the streets, into the recruiting offices, and onto the
parade grounds and barrack yards was precisely a longing to throw off a too narrow and
confining identity’ (p. 47).

The aspiration to the masculine ideal was used to create a desire that could only be fulfilled
through enlistment and participation in war. The military world the citizen enters to become a
soldier is already structured according to cultural traditions with civil and military politics
laden with significances and imperatives. This is part of the symbolic order identified by
Lacan (cited in Homer 2005, p. 44):

[W]e are born into this circuit of discourse; it marks us before our
birth and will continue after our death. To be fully human we are
subjected to this symbolic order – the order of language, of discourse;
we cannot escape it, although as a structure it escapes us. As
individual subjects, we can never fully grasp the social or symbolic
totality that constitutes the sum of our universe, but that totality has a
structuring force upon us as subjects.

The soldier as subject is ‘caught up in the chain of signification and it is the signifier that
marks the subject, that defines the subject’s position within the symbolic order’ (Homer
2005, p. 45). Pte Swinton’s story shows the development of a soldier identity and its progress
into a deserter.

No 1985 Pte Will Swinton 35th Battalion
On 28 September 1916 Pte Will Swinton (then known as Pte Wilson) wrote a long letter (see
Figure 13) to his mother from Salisbury Plains telling her he was in England in the AIF
waiting to go to France. He was sixteen years old. He had run away from home two years
earlier, and had enlisted in January 1916, giving a false name and lying about his age. Will
had created an effective identity that had worked well for him since he had left home. In
Goulburn, he left the travelling carnival he had joined to escape his home town of Greta and
had found a better job. He was doing well until he was caught up in the recruiting fever for

137
the war. Will’s main problem was that he was too young to join up. This was easily solved by
adding a couple of years to his age. Tall and well built, he was readily accepted in 1916 when
enlistment numbers were starting to decline.

The army had an ideal identity all ready for Will. He was young, physically fit, willing and
able to conform to the masculine culture of mateship and patriotism. He joined the Salvation
Army and did not drink or smoke. He had a future of clean living mapped out after he had
done his bit for his chums and his country. Before going to war he wanted to make peace
with his mother. He was sorry about any trouble he had caused by running away, but he was
determined to make his own way.

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Dear Mother
Just a line to let you know that I am still
alive after these years. I am a size now I
will be just about as big as Dad. I am about
5ft 9½ in high in my socks and nearly 12
stone. I am in England now and in the
Australian Imperial Forces. I am in the 9th
Brigade now about 5 thousand strong. They
say that we will be going into action in
France soon so I suppose I will be gone to
France before you get this letter. I posted a
letter on the boat the day we left Sydney but
I don’t know whether you received it or not.
I have been in very good health ever since I
left home. I neither drink nor smoke and I
have had a good position up to the date of
sailing. The first news I received from Greta
was yesterday when I saw George Scarlett
yesterday he is

over here near our camp I went up to him
and he didn’t know me untill I said roll up
& tumble up and he new in a flash who I
was. I was very sorry to hear that I caused
so much trouble to you but I hope now that
I will be spared to come back and start over
afresh. I suppose you remember Dad saying
he would make a Parson out of me well he
was right. I now belong to the Salvation
Army and hope to live a better life in future.
I heard that Walter is in Hospital in England
here somewhere but I don’t know. Clyde
Anderson has his address but Clyde is up in
another camp and I can’t find him.
McMahon and McCosker are in the 34th
Battalion and Bob Lindsay. I suppos you
will hear of the Great Australian Review on
Salisbury Plains before you get this letter.
There were about 40,000 troop and if you
were to put them 4 deep in a column it
would be 30 miles long.

139
I am going over again to George Scarlett
tonight because he is shifting camp
tomorrow. I am under under another name
here in camp. So do not try to get me out of it
because I have been enlisted 9 months now
and I have plenty of chums and if God spares
me to come through this war I will return
home. I came over here to do my little bit
and I am not going back without doing it.
Give my love to all at Home and tell Dad to
try and keep off the drink because he will be
a lot better without it. Don’t let anybody get
hold of this letter because I don’t want it to
get about everywhere. You can tell them all
that I am well and at the war. I thing this is
all the news at Present so I will now close
with Love
From
Your Affectionate Son
Will

Figure 13 Letter from Pte Swinton to his mother

He asked his mother not to show the letter to anyone, but within a very short time she sent his
letter to the army and informed them of his age and whereabouts (see Figure 14). She did not
want him discharged and returned, but did wonder whether he had made a will and where his
money was, and said that she felt she had ‘the best right’ to his money if anything should
happen to him.

140
Dear Sir
enclosed you will find the adress
of my son William George Wholert
inlisted under a false name will you please
let me know who he has made his next of
kin as he is only 16 years old and as his
mother I would like to know he is on
active service in france I do not want him
brought back I honor him for his pluck but
I would like to know who he has made his
will too I have had letters from him he tells
me his money is banked in Australia but
nothing further I hope it will cause no
trouble to him but of course as his mother I
have the best right to his money if
anything should happen to him as there is
every chance where is but with the trust of
God I hope he will return hoping you will
oblige me with full particulars I am
Mrs E Wholert
Greta
Turn over for his adress

Figure 14 Letter from Pte Swinton’s mother

Will joined the 35th Battalion, which was formed in December 1915 in Newcastle, New
South Wales. The bulk of the battalion’s recruits were drawn from the Newcastle region, and
it was dubbed ‘Newcastle’s Own’. Will had enlisted in Goulburn. In 1916 he was shipped
overseas with the 35th which became part of the 9th Brigade, 3rd Australian Division. It left
Sydney, bound for the United Kingdom in May 1916. Arriving in early July, the battalion
spent the next four months training on Salisbury Plains. They crossed to France in late
November and moved into the trenches of the Western Front for the first time on 26
November, just in time for the onset of the terrible winter of 1916–17. The battalion had to
wait until the focus of British and Dominion operations switched to the Ypres Sector of
Belgium in mid-1917 to take part in its first major battle—the battle of Messines—launched
on 7 June.

The first challenge to Pte Wilson’s sense of himself as a successful soldier was the physical
hardship of life in the trenches on the Western Front. In June his battalion entered Ploegsteert
Wood where they were met with steady gas-shelling. There were long stoppages with
intervals of tense anxiety. The air in the woods was still and stagnant with dense gas lingering

141
in the air and on the ground. The Germans were shelling the wood heavily, using high-
explosive and incendiary shells. Wherever the slow-moving columns were dislocated by
shelling, men were gassed and fell out, retching and collapsing (Bean 1968, pp. 588–636). On
9 June Pte Wilson was buried by a large shell when in the support line sector of the Messines
offensive. The next day he was knocked over by a shell in Ploegsteert Wood. He saw a
medical officer but, although his balance was affected, no treatment was prescribed.

The next setback for Will was finding out about his mother’s betrayal. He had specifically
asked her not to show his letter to anyone as he did not want to be sent home. Despite this,
she immediately sent his letter to the army with his address. His mother’s letter set off a chain
of events, and on 4 July 1917 the army bureaucracy caught up with Pte Wilson in the field.
He was forced to make a sworn declaration that his true name was George William Swinton,
and admit that his seventeenth birthday was in May 1917. He was revealed as an under-age
recruit.

By July 1917 Pte Swinton’s battalion occupied support trenches south-west of Messines. The
battalion headquarters was situated in the old front-line. During this tour, the Brigade
provided relief and working parties and men were constantly employed digging and
improving communication trenches towards the new front-line. They came under severe
enemy shelling with heavy casualties. Capt Yates of the 35th commented that:

[T]he month was one of the most strenuous in the history of the
Battalion … as the new ground in front of Messines was in a
very wet and muddy state, and hastily constructed trenches
combined with long tours in the line and the natural desire of
the enemy to prevent us settling down, made conditions very
trying for all ranks.
On 20 July Pte Swinton had endured enough and, that afternoon, decided to leave his platoon
when it was moved back from the front-line for safety during the heavy bombardment. When
he walked away from his platoon, after the successful but costly Messines battle, perhaps
Will was trying to take back control of his identity and his life. Giving himself up three hours
later in Steenwerck and admitting to other occasions of being AWL can be read as revealing
that he was back in control of the performance of who he was, what he did and what was
expected of him.

On 13 August 1917 Pte Swinton was court-martialled for deserting the front-line on 20 July.
Sgt R Thompson gave the following statement at the court martial:

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In the front line Messines sector at 3 pm on 20 July 1917, I was
Platoon Sergeant of the Platoon to which the prisoner belongs. I
received orders to move my platoon 200 yards to the right for safety,
while the heavy guns were firing on enemy’s strong points. Pte G W
Swinton, the prisoner, moved with the platoon back, according to
orders, to its original position. Pte Swinton was absent when I got
back to the original post. I looked for him several times during the
evening but found no trace of him. The prisoner had no permission to
be absent. I reported the matter to the officer commanding the
Company.

Another witness told a similar story. The third witness was the New Zealand MP to whom
Pte Swinton had surrendered in Steenwerck. In his defence, Pte Swinton admitted that he had
walked away from his unit but offered no real explanation as to why he had left. However, he
did mention his experiences of being buried and knocked over by the shelling. He had also
admitted to his true age. 2Lt Brown attested to Pte Swinton’s ‘excellent character’.

The court of Col C F Stevens, Maj R J A Massie of the 33rd Battalion and Capt E A Iceton of
the 35th Battalion found Pte Swinton guilty of the charge of ‘desertion when on active
service’. The sentence was ‘Death’ but they recommended mercy, due to ‘the prisoner having
been buried by a shell and later been shaken by a bursting shell during Messines offensive.
Also on account of his previous record of good conduct’.

The sentence was commuted to ten years penal servitude. That sentence was subsequently
suspended by the Army Commander.

Pte Swinton spent the next three months in the divisional compound, rejoining his unit in late
October 1917. The 35th had fought in the battle around Passchendaele on 12 October, which
had been a disaster for them; 508 men crossed the start line but only ninety remained
unwounded at the end. Taking into consideration that Pte Swinton was under age, in
November the General Officer Commanding 9th Infantry Brigade remitted Pte Swinton’s
sentence and sent him back to England with instructions that he be returned to Australia.

Will’s expectations of himself would suggest that he would be able to ‘do his little bit’ as he
had presented himself as meeting most of the expectations of the army. Of course, he had not
told the truth about his name or his age, but his decision to lie about his age was based on
knowledge that he would not be accepted under a certain age, and this was confirmed by his
premature return to Australia. His desertion and subsequent death sentence through court
martial are a complex mix of social and personal expectations, military organisation and
trench battle environment.

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It was not soldiering or military life that Pte Swinton found difficult; he seemed to enjoy the
training and life on Salisbury Plain. He had no previous charges against him for any sort of
misconduct, AWL or disobedience. He was socially confident as shown by his willingness to
look for friends from home, and he said he had ‘plenty of chums’. He deserted after weeks of
trench warfare. His two episodes of being buried and knocked over by a shell are the types of
situations that are now seen as classic situations for shell shock. This was given as the reason
for the recommendation for mercy, although shell shock is not mentioned. It is likely that his
age was also taken into account. He returned to his unit in October 1917, but went to England
in November and by January 1918 was back in Australia. He was awarded the 1914/15 Star,
the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. There is a record of a marriage between
George W Swinton and Florence Blackshaw at Goulburn in 1918. This could indicate that he
was willing and able to shed his deserter identity and construct another more suitable identity
for the rest of his life until his death in 1978.

Many recruits ‘found themselves projected quite outside their normal range, and forced to
account for themselves as someone whom they never realised that they were’ (Barham 2004,
p. 62). Will was unable to keep up the performance of Pte Wilson or Pte Swinton as a
functioning soldier according to the expectations of himself and by others as a soldier. His
story is an example of a young soldier’s ‘inability to comprehend and explain the mandate
with which they have been loaded that Žižek instances, where the subject is alternately
resistant, petrified and confused’ (Barham 2004, p. 63).

The soldier as a social subject
The discourse of recruitment in Australia in the early 20th century shows a specific and time-
bound construction of the soldier, within the wider discourse on masculinity, used to attract
recruits into the army to join the allied forces in Europe. The discourse of discipline continues
the construction of the soldier and contributes significantly to the construction of the deserter.

The meaning of what it meant to be a soldier in 1914 is historically and discursively
contextual. It means something different to any previous or future soldier construction,
although it draws from classic ideals of masculinity and heroism. Discourse, according to
Foucault, is a historicised phenomenon (cited in Hall 1997, p. 74). The ideal soldier of the
time was constructed by discourse,

by all that was said, in all the statements that named it, divided it up,
described it, explained it, traced its development, indicated its various
correlations, judged it and possibly gave it speech by articulating, in

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its name, discourses that were to be taken as its own (Foucault 1972,
p. 32).
There have been soldiers for many centuries, but the Australian soldier recruit of 1914 had to
be articulated, defined and talked about before the soldier subject could come into being. The
Australian soldier as a particular social subject had to be produced within the existing moral,
legal and social discourses of masculinity and Australian identity.

The army creates deserters, in that the soldier is a decentred subject, that is the soldier
identity is socially and discursively constructed externally; the identity does not come from
the ‘centre’ of the person. This is different from the humanist essentialist view that sees
individual consciousness as the centre and the creator of meaning. The soldier is a social
construct shaped by productive discourses and discursive practices that determine what a
soldier is, brave and masculine, and what he is not, weak and unpatriotic. Soldiers exert little
control over their destinies, except for the illusion of choice in enlisting as a volunteer;
instead, discourses and practices control their actions. The discourse provides an internalised
form of disciplinary surveillance exerting pressure on them to conform to the constructed
standard of soldier normality.

There is an overt and voluntary change of identity for the civilian-recruit to become a soldier,
but there is a further disruption to identity caused by the actual experience. The ‘experience
of combat altered the status, self-conceptions, attitudes, and fantasy lives of participants’
(Leed 1979, p. 2). The war combined competing public interests into a shared objective so
that the volunteer citizen-soldier embarked on his journey to war with the knowledge that he
was part of a socially sanctioned campaign in a community in which many of the social
barriers had not only been pulled down but where there was a promise of achievement and
social valorisation. A soldier’s front-line experience ruptured this mutuality of sacrifice in the
depersonalised nature of shelling and trench warfare in which individual acts of martial
heroism were impossible. There, contrary to the traditional images of war, he discovered that:

[T]he industrial world imposed itself upon him in a way that it had
not done in his civilian life and that the mechanised destruction that
pervaded life in the trenches was a mirror image of industrial
production (Leed 1979, p. 204).

The ideal of masculinity had been clearly defined:

[There was] a consensus in western and central Europe about what it
meant to be a ‘true man’ - and about the function which he fulfilled as
exemplar and guardian of the society’s values and coherence in an
age of accelerated change(Leed 1979, p. 205).

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A true man was a man of action who controlled his fears and who ‘in his harmonious and
well-proportioned bodily structure expressed his commitment to moderation and self-control’
(Mosse 2000, p. 101). Many pre-war values were shattered in the confrontation of shell shock
with the realisation that if shell shock could not be easily managed by existing military,
medical or social structures, it could not be blamed on any lack of essential character in the
individual. It was an ‘impervious leveller of class’ and ‘could not be safely attributed solely
to misfits, mental degenerates or weak men of the lower orders’ (Bogacz 1989, p. 247).

The price of resistance
Punishments and courts martial, as the apparatus of military discipline, provide the external
form of control. The discipline system of the British Army remained punitive as ‘harsh
physical punishments, including the death penalty, floggings, and the tying of defaulters to
stakes, continued to be used throughout the 1914-18 war’ (Wahlert 1999, p. 77). Since
individuals are not unified rational beings in the humanist sense whose behaviour can be
predicted, there will always be pockets of resistance. In terms of the army, this can take the
form of desertion. The death penalty becomes the price of resistance. This is a more overt
manifestation of power than the type of power Foucault describes. It is closer to power
structures described by Althusser (1972) as a repressive state apparatus (RSA). While
Foucault rejects the classic Marxist idea of ideology applying power through class and means
of production, he sees discourse as the means by which subjects are constructed, whereas
Althusser theorises that the subject is constructed by ideology. Ideology is constructed by
discourse, as well as being informed by discourse and informing discourse. Althusser says
that ideology has no history. Ideology is conceived as a pure illusion, it has no material
existence. It is an imaginary construction. It is a ‘representation’ of the imaginary relationship
of individuals to their real conditions of existence. What is represented in ideology is not the
system of real relations that govern the existence of individuals, but the imaginary relation of
those individuals to the real relations in which they live. While ideology has no material
existence, there is no practice except by and in an ideology, and there is no ideology except
by the subject and for subjects. Foucault poses a similar process in the construction of the
subject.

The construction of the soldier is through both ideology and discourse. Performativity and
agency in terms of reaction to the discursive performance is how citizens are subjectified into
soldiers. This is how a country can raise a volunteer army. It explains how thousands of
civilians can be persuaded that enlisting is the right and proper thing to do.

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Shell shock
Pte Miller, whose story is told in Chapter 6, had presented as an experienced soldier with
highly valued skills and willingness to do his duty. He was not, however, physically able to
cope and the system had no effective means of either assisting him or removing him. In the
‘prevailing military culture, a soldier with nervous problems was either a lunatic destined for
the madhouse or a malingerer’ (Barham 2004, p. 41). Pte Miller certainly seems like both
with his constant litany of physical complaints and his eventual admission in 1916 to
Graylingwell Asylum. He had been wounded in action, sprained his back, caught a venereal
disease, had pleurisy and suffered in the trenches from stomach problems and diarrhoea.
When he returned to his unit in July 1916, he was living under a suspended death sentence for
desertion. Being buried by a shell and not regaining consciousness for eight hours was
possibly the last straw to the integrity of his sanity and his expectations of himself as a man
and a soldier.

How did other soldiers cope with their shell-shocked mates? ‘Whether viewed as
“unconscious malingerers” or “genuinely ill”, shell shocked soldiers at the front generally
received a sympathetic response from their comrades’ (Bourke 1995, p. 9). Everyone was at
risk and enduring this was accepted as part of the construction of the soldier-hero. In the
trenches, every soldier could become a shell shock victim. There was no predisposition of
age, strength or character. Everyone acknowledged that the war was horrible and soldiers
‘hesitated before condemning their mates who had “broken” under stress of shelling’ (p. 9).

There are also firm arguments that the aetiology of shell shock lies within the person reacting
to a stressful environment. Watson (2008, p. 232) argues that:

Overwhelming artillery fire and the spatial restrictions of the trenches
hindered men’s ‘fight or flight’ instincts, leading to an intense sense
of loss of control, which in turn generated emotionally wearing
feelings of fear, anger and depression.

Shell shock ‘developed in a culture that already stressed the importance of personal moral
responsibility for both mental and physical health’ (Reid 2010, p. 15). Reid recounts
information about the diagnosis of ‘shell shock’, including observations about how it varied
by class and rank, as well as fundamentally challenging notions of masculinity. She explores
the aftermath of the war on shell-shocked men and the inadequacy of the postwar mental
health care systems. Pte Rogers, whose story is told in Chapter 6, is an example of a returned
soldier who did not fit back into postwar society.

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The management of shell shock is inextricably linked with notions of poor discipline as well
as personal failure. Manifestations of shell shock were seen as the result of poor discipline
and ‘it was widely held that shell-shock did not occur in the best or well-disciplined
divisions—the final report [of the Southborough Committee] was most explicit on this point’
(Oram 2003, p. 63).

As a consequence of the committee’s discussion of cowardice, desertion and shell shock, the
values of masculinity and bravery were exposed and challenged. In ‘subtle and overt ways
the report of the “Shell-Shock” Committee is an ironic cultural document’ (Bogacz 1989, p.
249). In its attempt to explain shell shock to alleviate anxieties about the morality of the war,
it exposes contradictions and ‘displays all the ambiguities arising from the shell-shock crisis’
(p. 246). The impossibility of neat explanations is exposed and the committee was forced to
recognise ‘that the shell-shock phenomenon threw into question some of the most
fundamental inherited conceptions of how a man ought to act’ (p. 246):

The vast numbers of shell-shock casualties raised the most
fundamental human questions; none more so than whether in their
wake there were still firm moral laws governing a man’s behaviour or
whether one must now create a new ethics for each situation (p. 249).
That which was thought of as a moral code held by an individual, was revealed to be a social
construction imposed on the individual. The suspension of this moral code with regard to
cowardice is ‘an extraordinary demonstration of the power of the shell-shock phenomenon to
undermine traditional values’ (p. 247).

Alternative Discourse
Any other discourse available to the potential recruit is less obvious in extant documents.
Before federation in 1901, each of the Australian colonies had their own armies composed of
a mixture of regular, paid full-time; militia, paid part-time; and volunteer, unpaid part-time
units. In March 1901 the Commonwealth Government assumed responsibility for defence
matters and the colonial armies were merged to form the Commonwealth Military Forces .
The Australian Military Forces, as they soon became known, remained a part-time force of
citizen-soldiers with only a small regular component. These were restricted to service on
Australian territory. A special volunteer force, the AIF, was formed for service overseas
during World War 1.

Until this, soldiers in Australia had mainly been British and there was a residual attitude in
Australia to soldiers and the army similar to that in Britain.

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When the Duke of Wellington described the British army as “the
scum of the earth, enlisted for drink,” he was probably speaking no
more than the truth. But what is significant is that his opinion would
have been echoed by any non-military Englishman for nearly a
hundred years subsequently (Orwell 1939).

The idea of a soldier as little more than a criminal was available as an alternative to the idea
of the soldier as a self-sacrificing hero. In Britain, soldiering ‘was considered worthless by
most classes, but most especially among the working class who regarded the army as a refuge
for drunkards and criminals rather than a respectable trade’ (Oram 2003, p. 26).

In the nineteenth century the British common soldier was usually a
farm labourer or slum proletarian who had been driven into the army
by brute starvation. He enlisted for a period of at least seven years –
sometimes as much as twenty-one years – and he was inured to a
barrack life of endless drilling, rigid and stupid discipline, and
degrading physical punishments. … at home he was hated or looked
down upon by the ordinary population, except in wartime, when for
brief periods he was discovered to be a hero (Orwell 1939).

While Orwell was commenting from a distinct Marxist agenda for political reasons, the rise
of popular militarism in response to fear that the Empire was fading did not completely
suppress the discourse. An analysis of British working-class reactions to the Boer War shows
that reasons that members of the working class volunteered to serve in the army were ‘most
likely to be for economic or social gain, rather than to defend the Empire’ and that they were
‘less affected by jingoism’ than the middle classes (Price, cited in Hammal 2010). Desertion
and shell shock could be seen as an expression of the inability of the subject to fulfil the
expectations of themselves and others. They are unable to assume fully and without restraint
the dominant symbolic mandate. Barham (2004, p. 61) claims that:

We can see this dialectic at work in military social relations, most
obviously in the subordination of ordinary soldiers to military
discipline and the rigours of service on the war front.

No 497 Pte Frank Sheppard and No 1650 Pte John Foster 51st Battalion
Pte Frank Sheppard and Pte John Foster were both charged with desertion on 2 April and
tried by a Field Court Martial. Their trials were on different days but the court of Maj Loutit,
Capt Smith and Capt Owen tried both cases. Sheppard and Foster were in ‘B’ Company in
the 51st Battalion, part of the reinforcements to that battalion. John Foster was a twenty-eight
year old married tailor when he enlisted in St Kilda in January 1916. Frank Sheppard was
twenty-two when he signed up in Tasmania on 1 March 1916.

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On the night of 2 April 1917 they both left their units, which were marching to the front, but
it is not clear from the records whether they left together. They had separate courts martial a
day apart, but their defence was almost exactly the same and they had returned on the same
day. Some of the similarities could be attributed to the need to provide clear ‘facts’ for
evidence, or to the recording clerk smoothing out any inconsistencies. Pte Foster went AWL
again when he found out he was to be charged with desertion and was absent for another
three weeks.

The role of witnesses was to establish that the soldier was missing and that he had been
present when warned for action, supposedly showing intent to avoid fighting. The statements
of Sheppard and Foster show their grievances with their health issues not being attended to.
Pte Foster’s statement was:

On the morning of 1st April last I reported to the Medical Officer of
the Battn close to Battn Hdqrs. The Medical Officer (since wounded)
gave me something for my sore back and some tablets to take and my
back was rubbed twice that day under instruction from the Medical
Officer. On the evening of 1st-2nd April I moved with the Company to
take part in the attack but left the Company after going about ¾ of a
mile as my back was too sore to proceed further. I reported to the
Lieutenant who told me to report to the Aid Post and gave me
directions to it. I was unable to find the Aid Post. As I could not find
the Aid Post I went down to the Sunken Road near the sugar refinery
and stayed there until the 4th April last.

Pte Sheppard’s statement was similar:

On the evening of the 1st April I paraded to the Aid Post to see the
Medical Officer. The Medical Officer was away but one of the AMC
orderlies gave me some pills. Capt Bardwell told me to fall out if I
was unable to keep up on the morning of 2nd April last. I was unable
to keep up and fell out returning to the dug-outs we had occupied
before moving up. I did not go to see the Medical Officer on the 2nd
April but tried to find him on the 3rd April. On the 4th April I reported
to Corporal Hetherington on the road to the old cemetery. I asked him
where the rest of the Platoon was.

Pte Sheppard was found guilty of desertion on the night of 1 April and sentenced to death. Pte
Foster was found not guilty of desertion on the night of 1 April, but guilty of desertion on 4
April. He said:

After I rejoined my Company on the 4th my back again became sore
and my foot was also giving me trouble. I was very upset on the night
of the 4th as I was told I was being charged with desertion.

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Both death sentences were commuted. Pte Sheppard’s sentence was commuted to ten years
penal servitude then to two years imprisonment with hard labour. Pte Foster’s sentence was
commuted to two years imprisonment with hard labour then suspended a year later.

Pte Foster rejoined his unit in May 1918 after eleven months in prison with a suspended
sentence and was promoted to corporal in December. He was repatriated to Australia in
November 1919. Pte Sheppard also rejoined the 51st battalion in May 1918, but was AWL
within two days then arrested two weeks later. For this he was court-martialled again and
sentenced to prison for two years. He died of influenza in the military hospital at Calais in
February 1919.

The prevailing myth is that the AIF was fair and egalitarian. The Australian soldiers had
volunteered. Australia was a new democracy within a strong discourse of equity, fairness and
egalitarianism. The Australian recruits ‘assumed their voluntary status and the democratic
notions they held would be sustained in the military organisation they were joining’ (Blair
2001, p. 189). They also assumed they would be treated fairly and sensibly as Australians
before they were treated as soldier units. However, as Blair (2001, p. 189) says, ‘In these
respects they were mistaken … [as contrary] to the democratic ideals that many enlistees
brought to war, the autocratic and adversarial methods of military discipline were a feature of
Australian army life’ (p. 189).

As early as soon after the Armistice in 1918, there was widespread fear that, among the
soldiers convicted by courts martial for cowardice, desertion or other crimes, ‘there were a
considerable number who had been suffering from war-induced mental illness and thus had
been unjustly sentenced’ (Bogacz 1989, p. 228) and executed. If desertion, as well as shell
shock, is seen as a personal weakness or a lack of discipline, then they can be attributed to a
soldier’s lack of manliness and control so notions of masculinity can remain unchallenged. If,
however, the deserter’s or shell-shocked soldier’s experience is accepted as specifically
historically and culturally constructed caused by involvement in the war, then ideas about
masculinity and discipline are contestable.

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8. Conclusion
Stories of deserters in the AIF do not feature in histories and commentaries about Australia’s
involvement in World War 1. Any literature on desertion is usually within discussions of
shell shock, military law and discipline. Early reports and histories constructed the image of
the courageous Australian Digger, the Anzac, in World War 1. An Australian sense of
nationalism was then developed from the story of the Anzacs. The legend of the Anzac
involvement in World War 1 has been consistently involved in creating various
manifestations of Australian nationalism and is one of the dominant paradigms of what it
means to be Australian. Deserters, criminals and shell-shocked soldiers do not comply with
this construction. The stories of soldiers who deserted from the AIF in World War 1 address a
significant cultural gap in World War 1 literature. The unique circumstance created by Clause
98 of the Australian Army Act, meaning the AIF could not carry out the death penalty,
provides contextual opportunities to examine martial discipline and the use of the death
penalty without the tragedy and emotion of actual executions.

Telling stories of individual deserters shows the diversity of their situations and how the
progress of events that led to desertion was specific in each case. Their identification and
classification as deserters were however created by the hegemonic constrictions of the
military system so that soldiers could be controlled and disciplined with the assumption that a
controlled and disciplined army would prevail. There are no characteristics, no essential
personality of a deserter; the function of desertion lies externally in the structure of the army.
A deserter cannot exist outside of the army structure and only military personnel can be
deserters and only while on active service. The army structure recognises the potential for
desertion or mutiny in every soldier and the disciplinary processes, including courts martial,
presupposes the possibility of desertion and mutiny. The military disciplinary structure
creates the idea of desertion at the same time as it creates the idea of the soldier. Along with
disciplinary processes, the martial socialisation process, underpinned with ideas of patriotism
and nationalism, is structured to stop soldiers from natural flight in face of threat to their
personal survival. The stories reveal that the men who enlisted were diverse and responded to
different aspects of the dominant discourse. They enlisted for different reasons and they had
varied experiences. The stories show that in some cases they were unable to meet their
expectations of themselves and others’ expectations of them. This was a group of ordinary,
civilian, independent Australians who were expected to become something else—compliant

152
and disciplined soldiers. This is the basis of the exploration of how we become ourselves
through becoming something else.

Stories were reconstructed from historical ‘facts’ and extant archive documents, and I use
these to illustrate the discussion of subjectivity and identity construction. I followed the
documents, concentrating on the act of desertion, the context and response. This provides
boundaries for the research and reveals as a false premise the emphasis on any individual as
representative. Researching, reading and writing about soldiers who deserted, and attempting
to understand them, are acts of inclusion and empowerment that challenge the idea that
desertion and shell shock are shameful and isolated. Writing and reading narratives of
desertion contribute to the incremental but critical shift in the social construction of soldier
and thus masculinity. If desertion and shell shock are seen as being caused by involvement in
the war, then ideas about masculinity and its connection to the Anzac myth can be
challenged. What was thought of as a moral code held by an individual, is revealed to be a
social construction imposed on the individual. The circumstances and social contexts in
which some Australian soldiers deserted are described. I also show some aspects of how the
identity of soldier as deserter is constructed and how this contributes to the construction of
Australian identity. The analysis reveals the framework of how desertion, courts martial and
the death sentence can be talked about.

The stories of Pte Swinton, Pte Sheppard and Pte Foster show the process of subjectification
and interpellation of the citizen and individual into a soldier and then into a deserter. The
stories of Pte Bartholomew, Pte White and Pte Bagnell are used to illustrate the differing
expectations of the individual and the social institution of the army. Within a cultural studies
framework, soldier stories exemplify the concept of subjectivity as well as describing their
situation and the broader social context. The soldier as deserter is created along with the
soldier as hero.

A perspective on desertion in the AIF in World War 1 based on the records of 466 soldiers
who were court-martialled for AWL or desertion or both is offered to provide a wider
depiction of desertion. The stories of LCpl Manning, Lt Wells and Pte Baufoot show different
aspects of desertion and shell shock. From this group, thirty-two men convicted of desertion,
one for disobeying orders and one for AWL and using insubordinate language received a
death sentence. The narratives I use to reconstruct more detailed stories in other chapters are
drawn from this group. These all show diversity of character and a lack of typicality in
circumstances.

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My central argument is that desertion was socially and discursively created at the same time
as ‘good’ soldiers. In the chapter on desertion, the conditions, processes and outcomes of
desertion are exposed and provide a more detailed analysis of desertion in an ideological
context. The stories of Pte Silburn and Pte Frith show the use of alternative discourse to
create the deserter. An understanding of the systems of military discipline, specifically the
court martial as an instrument of control, provides an insight into the ideology of the time.
The system of charges, courts martial and sentencing was considered effective for
disciplinary purposes. The stories of Pte Lavender and Pte Sitters are used to illustrate
different aspects of the attitudes to discipline. Various lengths of imprisonment were, by
1917, the only sentences available for severe breaches of discipline by Australians. The
entangled story of Pte Little and Pte Braithwaite in the mutiny at Blargies prison explores not
only the terrible conditions of military prisons, but also the frustration of commanders in the
inability to use the death sentence for the Australian instigators of the mutiny.

The stories of Pte Miller and Pte Rogers are placed within the history and discursive nature of
shell shock, which is often conflated with the idea of desertion in a cause-and-effect
relationship. Shell shock, and by association desertion, was a crisis of modernist and classical
masculine identity. If they are seen as a weakness in the individual, then they can be
attributed to lack of manliness and notions of masculinity can remain intact and
unchallenged. If desertion and shell shock are seen as being caused by involvement in the
war, then ideas about masculinity can be questioned. Pte Miller’s story shows how shell
shock confounded the wartime medical and military community and was not manageable by
any medical or military procedures of the period. Pte Rogers returned to destitution in
Australia with no real support for his shell shock and alcoholism.

Pte Woods’s story illustrates the attempt to control a soldier by using a death sentence. The
widespread acceptance of the deterrent value of the death penalty meant that some executions
for the sake of example could be justified, but this could not be used in the AIF. The death
penalty was however still used as an instrument of discipline and power. The deterrent value
of the death penalty is questioned in the ironical context of such a high probability of death
from trench warfare. There is also the question of fairness of the death penalty for desertion
for a volunteer army. There is no compelling evidence to show that the use of the death
penalty was an effective disciplinary tool.

By close scrutiny of specific aspects of the dominant discourse of the Anzac legend, I reveal
some of the ways in which individuals and groups participate, then and now, in the creation

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of the perceived social reality of soldier and deserter. The soldiers of Anzac carry endowed
meanings that have resulted in a stereotypical ‘digger’. The concept of an ideal soldier was
needed in 1915 to 1917 for recruitment to the AIF. That ideal has atrophied and been further
idealised into a heroic myth to inform our sense of the origins of the Australian identity.

The stories of actual experiences of Australian soldiers are disappearing. They are subsumed
to the advancement of a positive national self-image through the reiteration of heroic stories.
This enables ‘positive images of ourselves as a nation while at the same time distorting the
experiences of the nation’s First World War soldiers’ (Blair 2001, p. 187). The effect of
telling stories that do not conform to the Anzac myth may destabilise the myth but provides a
more inclusive context to the contemporary construction of the Australian identity. The
restoration of individual stories of desertion and shell shock releases them from secrecy and
shame.

Wars can make history seem deceptively simple. They provide clear events as cultural
turning points. Clear differences can be drawn in comparing before and after, winner and
loser, right and wrong. However, stories from the past are not linear. They have no clear
boundaries and are changeable. Perspectives change, values shift and alternative versions are
created. Will Swinton returned to Australia in January 1918 as an under-age recruit. He was a
convicted deserter, but the conditions of desertion disappeared once he was discharged from
active service, and his sentence was remitted. He was able to shed his deserter identity and
construct another more suitable identity until his death in 1978.

We can begin to understand Australian soldiers who became deserters in World War 1
through stories of specific soldiers. Further research could be done on Australian deserters
from other theatres of war such as Europe in the Second World War, Korea and Vietnam. The
comparison of the construction of the soldier and deserter from the different wars could
contribute to the argument that these are discursively constructed. The comparison between
deserters from different armies in World War 1, such as others in the Dominion forces as well
as the French, Russian, Turkish and German armies would increase our historical knowledge
and understanding of the Australian position in the conflict. An analysis of the use of
suspended sentences, under the Army Act (Suspension of Sentence) 1915, could also provide
better understanding of the use of legal power in the overall disciplinary methods of the time.
There is interest in returned soldiers’ stories, but the question is whether they can still be
called deserters once they are removed from the necessary conditions of desertion such as
active service. Further exploration of the Anzac myth through more detailed stories of

155
individuals who deserted or did not conform in other ways to the Anzac heroic myth would
provide a more realistic reading of the Anzac myth and add to the historical reconstruction of
the Australian identity. These may of necessity be fictionalised accounts.

The rumours and legends of gangs of well-organised deserters exploiting the black market,
evading capture and thriving in the rear areas are not easily substantiated through official
records. Close reading of memoirs, unit diaries and assumed missing soldiers could reveal the
extent of this. Fussell (1975, p. 123) calls this legend a ‘brilliant … literary invention’ and
claims that one reason the legend of the wild deserters is so rich is ‘that it gathers and unifies
the maximum number of meaningful emotional motifs … it offers a virtual mirror image, and
a highly sardonic one, of real, orderly trench life’ (p. 124). An exploration and analysis of
rumours like this could reveal further stories that do not comply with the dominant discourse.
These may also need to be fictionalised accounts.

The expectations of the voluntary citizen-soldiers of the first AIF were very high and the
stories show how expectations were in some cases unsupportable. The heroic Anzac myth as
one foundation among many is used to construct the idea of ourselves as Australians. The
inclusion of the stories from this research provides a broader and more inclusive context to
the contemporary construction of the Australian identity. Australian soldiers were the only
ones exempt from the death sentence. They were sheltered from the most extreme forms of
military discipline. This could be argued to counter the popular myth the Australian troops
were especially heroic in the face of being sacrificed by British command, when in fact they
were protected from the worst excesses of the disciplinary system.

Researching soldiers who deserted and were sentenced to death provides individual and very
personal perspectives on the Anzac myth. While there are limitations from using official
records of service and courts martial, there is enough detail and description to recognise
events within their context and empathise with the person, or at least understand the
complexities of their desertion. The stories clearly illustrate how desertion fits into the
military structure and ethos, as well as where and how it exists in the broader social context.

156
Primary Sources
Information about individuals is taken from the National Archive of Australia Series B2455.
A description of this series can be accessed at the NAA website.
Information from courts martial is taken from the National Archive of Australia Series A471.
A description of this series can be accessed at the NAA website.
http://www.naa.gov.au/
General information about the AIF and Australia in World War 1 is taken from the Australian
War Memorial collection.
http://www.awm.gov.au/research/
Information about units and battles is taken from the digitised unit diaries held by the
Australian War Memorial unless otherwise specified. These can be accessed at the AWM
website.
http://www.awm.gov.au/units/unit_11193.asp
and
First World War Diaries – AWM4, Sub-class 23/23
http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/records/awm4/subclass.asp?levelID=1778

Sources for specific soldiers
No 2032 Pte Joe Bagnell 36th Battalion (NAA:B2455, BAGNELL J H; NAA: A471, 8923)

No 299 Pte Herbert Bartholomew 25th Battalion (NAA:B2455, BARTHOLOMEW H J)

No 3544 Pte James Baufoot 50th Battalion (NAA:B2455, BAUFOOT J C)

No 1650 Pte John Foster 51st Battalion (NAA:B2455, FOSTER J A; NAA: A471, 3236)

No 2592 Pte Harry Frith 55th Battalion (NAA:B2455, FRITH H; NAA: A471, 22280)

No 2691 Pte George Lavender 4th Battalion (NAA:B2455, LAVENDER G; NAA: 471, 1929; NAA:
A471, 2306)

No 3254 Pte Alexander Little 10th Battalion (NAA:B2455, LITTLE A; NAA: A471, 6126; NAA:
A471, 6129; NAA: A471, 3919; NAA: A471, 18124)

LCpl Wallace Manning 56th Battalion (NAA:B2455, MANNING W B; NAA: A471, 11951)

No 1493 (1633) Sgt (Pte) Charles Miller 1st Pioneers (NAA:B2455, MILLER C; NAA: A471, 6230)

No 7286 Pte Nicholas Permakoff 4th Battalion (NAA:B2455, PERMAKOFF NICHOLAS)

No 1171 Pte Ed Rogers, 26th Battalion (NAA:B2455, ROGERS E; NAA: A471, 2021)

No 497 Pte Frank Sheppard 51st Battalion (NAA:B2455, SHEPPARD F ; NAA: A471, 2306; NAA:
A471, 10343, NAA: A471, 7577)

157
No 1864 Pte George Harold Silburn 36th Battalion (NAA:B2455, SILBURN G H; NAA: A471,
22327; NAA: A471, 22328; NAA: A471, 22329; NAA: A471, 19905)

No 3758 Pte Harry Tolchard Sitters 48th Battalion (NAA:B2455, SITTERS H T; NAA: A471, 8005;
NAA: A471, 16606; State Records of South Australia GRG 26/5/4/4/874)

No 1985 Pte Will Swinton 35th Battalion (NAA:B2455, SWINTON G W; NAA: A471, 8430)

Lt Edmund Wells 47th Battalion (NAA:B2455, WELLS E F; NAA: A471, 21574)

No 547 Pte Albert White 25th Battalion (NAA:B2455, WHITE A E)

No 4928 Pte Clarence Merton Woods 55th Battalion (NAA:B2455, WOODS C M; NAA: A471,
8117; NAA: A471, 17412, NAA: B884, N278724)

158
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Appendix A

1
Appendix B
Correspondence about the death penalty in the AIF

NAA: A6006, 1917/7/25

1
2
NAA: MP367/1, 403/8/354 and NAA: MP367/1, 403/3/5

3
4
5
Transcript
SECRET
Decipher of cablegram received from the Secretary of State for the Colonies dated London,
23rd August 1917, 12.55p.m.
Your telegram February 23rd application of Army Act to Commonwealth Forces, Sir Douglas
Haig reports since date of his last representations as to the serious state of discipline of
Australian Forces in France in relation to desertion and absence without permission condition
of affairs has become much more serious and he considers that unless Commonwealth
Government agree to place their troops under Army Act without any restrictions as regards
death penalty fighting efficiency of these divisions will deteriorate to an extent which may
gravely affect success of our arms.
In respect of desertion in the British Expeditionary Force January to June 1917 5 Australian
Divisions total convictions 171. 57 remaining Divisions 586.
Every division in France except Australian Divisions is subject to Army Act without
reservation and fact that average number of cases in Australian Divisions is 4 times greater
average throughout remaining divisions in France can in his opinion only due to state of law.
Argument occasionally put forward that men from overseas dominions are less amenable to
discipline as result of the freedom of their ordinary life is not borne out by the facts for there
is no difficulty as regards New Zealand division which is under Army Act without
restrictions and number of convictions for desertion in this division was only 8 during the
above period.
Consideration of other offences yields same results. Absence without permission is akin to
desertion because the cases of absence tried by Court-martial are usually those that have
resulted from absence from firing line. One Army reports that this offence very prevalent in
the three Australian Divisions in … gives following figures for period June … to June 30th
for three Australian Divisions. Total convictions 63. For remaining divisions in Army 42.
Commander-in Chief states that he has endeavoured as far as possible to avoid drawing
attention of rest of armies to special position of Australian Forces but it is now beginning to
be generally known and commented on and is likely to promote bad feeling amongst troops.
Your Ministers may be assured that power to inflict death penalty is very sparingly used only
where offence is very deliberate and an example urgently required are such sentences
confirmed.
Sir D. Haig observes that he cannot think that when Commonwealth Government are aware
of the situation they will continue to keep their troops in this privileged position bearing in
mind that it may ultimately lead to state of affairs which may have far reaching results to the
Empire. He adds that soldiers of all four Allied Armies on Western Front are liable to this
maximum penalty for offence of deserting their posts and so far as he is aware position is
same in all other armies excepting Australian Imperial Force. Unless Commonwealth
Government can render their troops subject to Army Act without present restrictions he states
that he cannot be responsible for serious consequences that may ensue.
In forwarding above representations Army council express opinion that gravity of situation
cannot be exaggerated and His Majesty’s Government earnestly trust that your Ministers will
give question of remedying this serious position their urgent attention.
The Acting Secretary
Department of Defence

6
Referred, by direction, for consideration and favour of advice in connection with your minute
of the 8th February last.
(signed)
Secretary
Prime Minister’s Department.
27/8/17.

Considered by Cabinet, the Rt Hon the Prime Minister will place the position of the
Government on this question before the Government of the United Kingdom.
(initialled)
28/8/17

Sec
A minute to be sent to Prime Minister’s Dept as a reminder on above decision.
(initialled)
29/8/17

7
Name First names Service number Unit Charge Finding Sentence Length of absence
Other Charges Notes Date of CM
Abbott Joseph Hope 2370 51 Neglect to prejudice of good order Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL FP2 14 days Self inflicted wound 1917
Aborn Henry Joseph 1652 18 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 2 years 2nd AWL charge 1918 1917
Akers Roy Thomas 7194 21 Desertion Guilty PS 3 years AWL 1918
Alden A 4973 36 Desertion Guilty PS life 2nd AWL charge 1918 1918
Alderton HF 3103 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Alexander RD 1938 36 Desertion Guilty PS life 1918
Ali Almas Sydney 4267 24 Desertion Not Guilty 1916
Allen Ernest Edward 2515 5 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Detention 90 days 2 weeks 1918
Anderson Charles John Q8296 9 Desertion Guilty Detention 90 days 44 days Losing clothing and regimental necessities
Under age? 1917
Anderson Edward Harold 6946 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Angus Frederick James 64859 58 Desertion Guilty IHL 30 days 3 days Breaking out of VD camp Apprehended in plain clothes 1917
Antin Mahrtin Mikkel 1408 4 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL 77 days Apprehended in plain clothes. AKA Fritz Lepin 1918
Archer Henry 82 5 MG Desertion Guilty IHL 2 years AWL Disobeying Orders AWL 4 mths 1918
Arcus GA 2115 28 Desertion Guilty PS 5 years 1917
Arthur William 2105 50 AWL Guilty Detention 154 days 56 days Pleaded Guilty 1918
Ashford William John 3235 47 AWL Guilty Detention 50 days 3 days 1918
Ashurst Robert James 897 6 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL PS 10 years 44 days Violence to superior officer. Drunkenness. Escaping custody 1916
Atoff Mik 7683 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn. Born in Russia 1918
Austin Henry Charles 6458 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Bagnell Joseph Henry 2032 36 Desertion Guilty Death 1 day AWL 1917
Baker Bertie Whitmore 6225 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Baker Jack 4023 32 AWL Guilty FP No 2 90 days 1917
Bamback Archibald 18 35 AWL Guilty Detention 10 days 1 day False pass 1918
Barclay Alan Stanley 1229 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion PS 3 years 1 day Desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Bardney Richard 3653 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion PS 8 years 1 day Mutiny in 1st Bn. LCpl 1918
Barker Francis James 5045 13 AWL Guilty PS 12 years 4 days Shellshock. AWL 1918 1919 1916
Barnett A 7350 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Barratt Maurice 3909 15 AWL Guilty Detention 90 days 1 day 1918
Barrington William 6664 37 AWL Guilty Detention 9 months 76 days 1917
Bartholomew Herbert John 299 25 Desertion Guilty Death 8 days see White 1916
Baufoot James Cornelius 3544 50 Desertion Guilty PS 15 years 7 days Shell shock. Died of injuries from accident in prison 1917
Bartley John Joseph 2962 57 Desertion Guilty IHL 2 years Shell shock 1918
Bates E 3778 22 Desertion Guilty PS 3 years 1918
Bates Ernest 6709 4 Desertion Guilty PS 3 years 10 days 1918
Beard Earnest James 1793 Provost Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 6 months 35 days AWL Ag LCpl 1918
Beckman Ernest George 3700 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Beggs Richard 1382 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn. LCpl 1918
Bell Edward Potter 2682 47 Desertion Guilty IHL 6 months 2 months AWL. False pass. Escaping. InsolentCM
language
and CI also in 1917. Diagnosed delusional Insanityl in1916
1918
Bennett Charles 2023A 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Bentley John 6292 22 Desertion Guilty PS life 2 days AWL CM also 1918 1917
Besley EA 2562 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Betti Paolo 926 NA Desertion Guilty IHL 6 months. Discharged In Australia. Did not embark 1916
Bickerstaff George 338 27 AWL Guilty Detention 60 days 56 days CM in 1915 for impeding provost 1917
Biegel A 5786 26 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 1 day 1917
Blackwood Thomas John 6949 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Boland Edward 372 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion PS 3 years 1 day Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Bond Thomas 711 54 Desertion Guilty IHL 2 years 5 days AWL. Disobedience. Threatening language.
Cpl. Reduced
Escaping
to Pte 1917 for AWL 1917
Bond A 4655 20 Desertion Guilty IHL 2 years Court recommended mercy 1917
Booth George Edward 1655 21 Escaping confinement WOAS Guilty IHL 2 years Group CM 1917 for escaping Skidmore, Higgins, Weston,1917 Daniels, West
Boyle William 312 9 Insubordinate language Guilty PS 3 years Striking officer - not guilty 1917
Boyce Patrick Joseph 4071 18 AWL Guilty Reduced to ranks 7 days Sgt. MM DCM.1919 charges of fraud with group. 1919
Bozeat William John 2902 34 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 3 months AWL. Mutiny in No 2 Prison Rouen 1918 1917
Bradley Frank William 1834 5 Pioneer Desertion Guilty PS 5 years 2 months Bad language. AWL. Mutiny in No 2CIPrison
also 1916,
Rouen1917
1918and 1918. CM also 1919 1917
Bradley Robert Michael 3628 18 Desertion Guilty IHL 9 months 2 weeks AWL. Escaping. False pass. Mutiny in
CI No
also2 1917.
PrisonCM
Rouen
also1918 1916
Brady T 5810 28 Desertion Guilty IHL 2 years 1 month 1918
Bragg Sydney Broughton 3885 5 Fld Amb AWL Guilty FP2 90 days Drunkenness 1916
Braithwaite John NZ 24/1521 NZEF Mutiny Guilty Death Mutiny at Blargies prison. Executed 1917
Braun William 3277 51 AWL Guilty IHL 90 days 2 months 1916
Brett Robert 5299 2 D Sig Coy Desertion Guilty IHL 1 year 6 months 1918
Brisset Joseph 550 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Broadhead Allen Storm 3238 58 Wilfully maiming self Guilty IHL 2 years Injecting petrol into left knee. Court-martialled in 1916 and
1918
1917
Brooks Leslie Stuart 5830 48 Desertion Guilty PS10 years Court-martialled for desertion also in 1918 PS life 1917
Name First names Service number Unit Charge Finding Sentence Length of absence
Other Charges Notes Date of CM
Brown Alexander Hall 4073 18 Desertion Guilty IHL 2 years 4 days AWL. Escaping CM also 1917 1918
Brown David William 1666 2 Pioneer Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL FP No 2 60 days 5 days 1917
Brown Robert Gardner Captain Provost AWL Guilty Cashiered 10 days Captain. Pleaded Guilty. Sentence commuted to dismissal.
1917
Brown Arthur 1665 2 Pioneer AWL Guilty Detention 6 months Conduct unbecoming False pass 1917
Bruce Douglas Gordon 7202 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn. Court-martialled in 1919 1918
Buchanan B 7212 37 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years Same CM as Taylor 1918
Buckley William James 3893 1 Desertion Guilty Death 4 days 1917
Bunworth W 1211 22 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 1 year 1 day 1918
Burke Frank Richard James 2526 40 AWL Guilty Detention 90 days Conduct unbecoming False pass 1917
Burns John A 859 14 LH AWL Guilty Reduced to ranks. Conviction quashed Cpl. AKA John Laverty. Pleaded Guilty. 1915
Burns Robert 1945 33 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 2 years 5 days Escaping from custody AKA Henry Carr 1917
Burns Charles 4373 24 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 1917
Burns Miles Blake 1518 18 AWL Guilty Reduced to ranks 9 months Sgt. Recommendation for mercy previous good service 1919
Butler Ernest Robert 4082 27 AWL Guilty Detention 40 days 15 days LCpl 1917
Butler Patrick 2814 33 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Detention 2 years 3 months 1918
Butler Roy 2340 9 AWL Guilty Detention 120 days 2 months Pleaded Guilty 1917
Butters Roy Escott 7206 23 Joining in a mutiny Guilty Mutiny in No 2 Prison Rouen 1918. CM in 1918 striking an
1917
officer and resisting an escort
Byrne William Joseph 4670 23 AWL Guilty Detention 1 year 5 months Pleaded Guilty. CM also 1917 desertion 1917
Caldwell Joseph Albury 1786 58 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 18 months CM also 1918 and 1919 for AWL 1917
Callaghan Thomas James Alfred 809 21 AWL Guilty Detention 44 days 19 days 1918
Campise GA 3019 20 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 1 year AWL 1918
Carr Ronald James 292 6 AWL Guilty Forfeit pay 30 days 5 days Cpl. A/g Sgt 1918
Carrig Andrew 766 Mitcham camp Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Detention 90 days 34 days 1916
Carroll Charles William Henry 4483 51 Desertion Guilty PS 8 years 1917
Carroll Frank (Francis Kennedy) 7465 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Cartwright AR 455 48 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 14 days 1918
Case William 1234 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Casey Ambrose Bede 2830A 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Caulfield John 3992 23 Desertion Guilty IHL 2 years 1917
Caulfield Simon Patrick 614 24 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 1917
Chandler J 1013 4 AWL Guilty Reduced to the ranks Conduct unbecoming Sgt 1917
Chappell Walter Guy 2630 25 Desertion Guilty IHL 2 years 1918
Cheeseman Cecil Henslowe 1274 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Church Winston 1683 23 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 18 months 6 months 1918
Clark Horace Stewart 7472 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Clarris George Henry 3527 31 Desertion Guilty PS 5 years 8 days 1918
Clements Alfred 748 7 AWL Guilty Detention 28 days 2 days False pass. Act to the prejudice. Escaping.
CM alsoResisting
in 1917 escort.
qnd 1918 1916
Clift Alfred 7214 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Clive Richard William Archibald 2211 6 Desertion Guilty IHL 2 years 1 year CM also in 1917 for AWL 21 months 1919
Cloherty William John 3951 2 Pioneer AWL Guilty Detention 21 days 6 days CM also 1918 1917
Colgan George 1642 14 LTM AWL Guilty Detention 18 months 6 months KIA 2/9/1918 1917
Collins Alfred Henry 5131 21 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 7 days AWL. Escaping. Act to the prejudice.CM Disobeying
also 1917 1918
Collins Sidney 6047 17 AWL Guilty Detention 70 days 17 days Conduct to the prejudice 1918
Collins Vincent Andrew 1522 19 Desertion Guilty Detention 2 years 6 months AWL. 1918
Collins Thomas Edwin 2335 16 Conduct to the prejudice Guilty Detention 6 months 2 paybooks. CM also in 1915 for disobeying and 1916 AWL.
1916
Colwell Maurice Joseph 4911 15 Desertion Guilty Detention 42 days 1917
Condick William N19783 30 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 60 days 18 days 1916
Considine Thomas Helliary 2460 2 Battery Field Artillery
Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Detention 40 days 16 days CM also July 1918 1918
Cook George Magnus 3733 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Cooper Alfred Horace 6352 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Cooper B 3220 32 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years AKA Joseph Brewer 1917
Cooper Sidney Thomas 3071 1 AWL Guilty Detention 90 days 40 days 1918
Cope Harold Charles Whitaker 1435 14 Desertion Guilty Reduced to ranks. Detention10
18months
months Cpl A/g Sgt. CM also in 1918 1917
Copeland Robert 672 10 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Detention 30 days 1 month 1916
Copping Joseph Henry 7219 13 AWL Guilty Detention 80 days 1 month AKA Harry Joyce 1918
Corbett Cecil William 1198 28 AWL Guilty Detention 1 year 1 month 1918
Cornford Rupert 5228 2 Desertion Guilty IHL 18 months 3 days 1917
Coss AJT 328 22 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL FP No 2 90 days Disobeying orders. Conduct unbecomingInsulting an officer 1918
Cotter Joseph 5811 24 AWL Guilty IHL 2 years 2 days Disobeying orders. Escaping CM in 1919 negligently using firearm wounding 4143 Pte1917
Hamilton. Charge of murderafter d
Couley James John 2978 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Coward George Bartley 4091 41 Desertion Guilty IHL 12 months 2 days Escaping CM also 1916 stealing 1918
Cowls Albert 2642 36 Desertion Guilty Death 2 days AWL. Conduct to the prejudice. Assault 1918
Name First names Service number Unit Charge Finding Sentence Length of absence
Other Charges Notes Date of CM
Cox William Henry 1022 1 Desertion Guilty PS 3 years Disobeyng orders 1917
Crosswell T 5354 9 Desertion Guilty PS 7 years 12 days 1918
Curtis HJ 571 7 LH Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Forfeit pay 40 days 1916
Cust AC 5360 14 Desertion Guilty PS 5 years 7 days 1917
Daly Gordon 1030 48 Desertion Guilty PS 5 years 1 month AWL Cpl. MM 1917
Daniels Ernest Sydney 5589 21 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years Escaping. AWL Group CM 1917 for escaping Skidmore, Higgins, Weston,1917 Booth, West
Dart Leslie Francis 1664 10 AWL Guilty IHL 6 months 1 week False pass 1916
Davies John Thomas 3477 10 AWL Guilty Detention 40 days 1 month Insolence. Obscene language MM. 1917
Davies David B 7602 5 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 42 days AKA Daniel Davies 1918
Davis CHW 2551 39 Desertion Guilty PS 5 years 17 days 1917
Dawson James Robb 4651 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Derham William 1907 57 Desertion Guilty IHL 2 years 2 days 1918
Dillow William 7106 12 AWL Guilty Detention 9 months 1 month AWL. False paybook CM also 1918 1917
Dolman Victor Lance 4757 50 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 2 years 3 months AWL 1917
Donkin Robert Baden 5133 21 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 3 weeks AWL Mercy on grounds of youth. Mutiny in No 2 Prison Rouen1917 1918
Dorrington Jesse 9437 AWRS AWL Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Detention 6 months 6 days Desertion 17 days 1918
Douglas Harold Graham 2 Lieutenant 55 AWL Guilty Severe reprimand. Forfeiture9 of
days
seniority 2 Lieut. Neuresthenia 1917
Downing David Alexander 2602 1 Pioneer AWL Guilty Detention 45 days 3 weeks Gambling. Refusing to obey. Conduct to the prejudice 1918
Doyle David 3309 14 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 2 years 12 days AWL CM also 1917 1918
Doyle Norman Allister 3776 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion PS 3 years Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Dunkerley Eric Leslie 835 1 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Detention 14 days 1918
Dunn William Patrick 2159 57 Breaking out of camp Guilty IHL 12 months Drunkenness 1916
Dunne Arthur Willis 242 1 AWL Guilty Detention 1 year CM also in 1917 and 1918. Civil charge 1919 larceny 1916
Dunnings EJ 2887 49 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 6 days 1917
Dunshea Charles James 5443 17 Desertion Guilty IHL 2 years 1917
Earle James 7723 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion PS 3 years Persaude persons to join in a mutiny.
Mutiny
Joining
in 1st
in aBn
mutiny 1918
Edwards William James 95 Arty Dtls AWL Guilty Detention 18 months 10 months Drunkenness. AWL CM also 1916 1919
Ellicott Richard George 429 36 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 2 years 3 days AWL KIA 18/7/1918 1917
Elliot William Joseph 3631 13 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 45 days 1917
Ellison Horace James 1798 26 Desertion Guilty IHL 2 years Escaping 1918
Ellis Arthur John 6004 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Facey John 1840 1 Pioneer Desertion Guilty IHL 2 years 3 months 1917
Farrell Christopher Augustus 4113 48 AWL Guilty Detention 90 days 3 days CM also in 1919. CI 1919 1918
Fearnley Arthur 78 4 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 3 months AWL CM also in 1915 1917
Filby George Richard 2144 45 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 2 days 1917
Fish Edward William 6619 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Fisher Leonard Chesterfield 3746 10 Desertion Guilty PS 5 years 34 days 1918
Fitzgibbon John 74331 1 Desertion Guilty IHL 3 years 6 months did not embark 1917
Flintoff Frederick Joseph 2242 10 Desertion Guilty Detention 2 years 9 months CM also 1915 1917
Flynn Martin 2560 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Flynn Joseph 724 3 Desertion Guilty IHL 2 years 2 days AWL 1915
Foran JJ 2899 49 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 1 day 1918
Foster John Richard 1650 51 Desertion Guilty Death 24 days AWL 1917
Franks Leslie 2334 1 LH F Amb AWL Guilty FP No 2 42 days 1 day 1917
Freestone Thomas 6605 1 Desertion Not guilty desertion. Guilty escaping IHL 6 months 1917
Frith Harry 2592 3 Desertion Guilty Death 7 weeks AWL. Stealing 1916
Galloway Robert James 3755 62 AWL Guilty PS 6 years 2 days 1916
Galloway JM 5580 26 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 2 years 5 months 1918
Garcia Lou 323 14 AWL Guilty Reduced to Cpl 37 days 1917 Drunkenness. Using obscene language
2 Lieut. Dismissed 5/7/17 1916
Gardner James 1734 45 AWL Guilty Detention 12 months 4 months AWL. Disobeying orders 1917
Garrett Jack Campbell 7730 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Gaw Henry 1647 58 AWL Guilty Detention 6 months 2 weeks False pass. Wilfully maiming himselfCM also 1918 1918
Gilham William Frederick 2396 12 Desertion Guilty Detention 42 days 30 days Arrested in London 1917
Glastonbury O 2467 48 Desertion Guilty PS life 14 days 1918
Goggins David Henry 6738 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Grant Lewis 2177 4 LH AWL Guilty Detention 60 days 28 days 1917
Grayston Thomas Samuel 4473 3 Desertion Guilty PS 5 years 2 months CM also 1918 guilty desertion PS 15 years 1917
Green J 768 7 LH Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Forfeit pay 40 days CM also 1917 1916
Greenwood W 2622 4 Pioneer Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL FP No 2 40 days 1 day 1917
Gregg Darwin Charles 2942 10 Joining in a mutiny Guilty PS 10 years False documents. Insubordinate language.
Mutiny atCreating
Calais a disturbance. Impersonating a Sgt. Drunkenness
1919
Gregory Edward Robert 2556 39 AWL Guilty FP No 2 45 days 3 weeks CM also 1919 1918
Griffiths George 1246 6 AWL Guilty Detention 1 year 10 months 1917
Name First names Service number Unit Charge Finding Sentence Length of absence
Other Charges Notes Date of CM
Griffiths REG 2178 40 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL FP No 1 90 days 1918
Grubb John 1039A 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Guilfoyle Harry 6253 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Fraud altered pay book Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Guthrie Michael 3497 8 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years CM also in 1918.Mutiny in No 2 Prison Rouen 1918 1917
Halcroft Thomas William 5709 4 Desertion Guilty IHL 60 days 1 month In Australia 1916
Ham Edward Hartley 1624 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Hamling John Jack 4835 45 Desertion Guilty Death AWL 1917
Hammond Alfred 284A 4 Pioneer Desertion Guilty Death 1917
Hardisty Edwin Henry Lipson 2814 38 AWL Guilty Detention 35 days 1 week 1918
Hardy James 2482 8 AWL Guilty FP No 2 90 days 14 days 1918
Harper Adrian Charles 1344 55 Desertion Guilty Detention 20 months 1 month AWL. False pass. Disobeying. Stealing
CM also 1916 and 1917 1918
Harris John 1702 19 AWL Guilty Detention 90 days 1 month CM also 1918 1917
Harrison AE Captain 19 AWL Guilty Dismissal 10 days Escaping arrest Creditable record of service 1917
Hartshorn H 6749 13 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 2 years 1917
Harvey Charles Donald Croskie 2617 12 AWL Guilty Detention 1 year 10 months 1918
Harvey William Alfred 2127 26 AWL Guilty Detention 90 days 3 months 1916
Henderson J 4195 19 Desertion Guilty PS 5 years 1917
Higgins Albert Edward Ernest 4135 21 AWL Guilty IHL 2 years CM also for desertion 1917 1917
Higgins Gerald Ruthven 51 51 AWL Guilty Detention 9 months 4 months 1918
Hinchsman PC 68 7 LH Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Forfeit pay 40 days 1916
Hipworth Edward 176 21 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 5 months AWL CM also 1917. Shot and wounded while resisting arrest 1919
Hiscock Cyril James 6812 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Hobbs Thomas William 5690 41 Desertion Guilty PS 5 years 22 days 1917
Holmes William James 7738 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Holy Aubrey Rupert 2567 58 Striking superior officer Guilty IHL 6 months Resisting escort 1917
Homme Peter Andres Svine 7253 11 Desertion Guilty PS 3 years CM also for desertion 1918 PS life 1917
Hordern Theodore Charles 3698 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Howell EO 1100 26 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 1 day 1918
Huddy A 2485 60 Wilfully injuring self Guilty IHL 2 years injecting petrol into knee 1918
Hughes Charles Andrew 2157 18 AWL Guilty Detention 60 days 2 weeks CM also 1917 1918
Hughes John Henry 3783 57 AWL Guilty FP No 2 45 days 3 days Disobeying. Insubordinate language. CMConduct
also 1917
to the
andprejudice.
1918 Stealing 1916
Hughes Frank A NZ 24/2008 NZEF Desertion Guilty Death Executed 1917
Humphrey William Robert 568 23 AWL Guilty IHL 18 months 1917
Humphreys David Watkin 3064 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Humphreys John Lorimer 3831 51 AWL Guilty Detention 90 days 2 months Insubordinate language. Striking an officer. Attempting to escape 1917
Hunt John 7012 13 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Detention 1 year 2 weeks Escaping. False information 1917
Hunt Samuel John 7737 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Hutchinson Thomas Gregory 5600 24 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 2 years 1917
Hynes Alfred Raymond 2738 1 AWL Guilty IHL 6 months 3 weeks False pass. Escaping. Conduct to theCMprejudice
also 1916 and 1919. Civil charge 1917 indecent assault
1917
Isaacs FW 2398 49 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL FP No 2 90 days CM also 1916 and 1919 1918
James Walter 7344 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Jensen Harold Charles 3141 4 Desertion Guilty IHL 1 year 30 days 1918
Johnson James William NA 10 Desertion Guilty In Australia. IHL 1 year. Discharged with ignominy
AWL did not embark 1917
Johnson Joseph Andrew 1663 59 Striking superior officer Guilty IHL 6 months Conduct to the prejudice of good order. Insubordinate language. Resisting an escort 1917
Johnson Albert 5861 21 AWL Guilty IHL 2 years 1917
Johnston AM 6761 13 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 1917
Johnstone Charles John 7754 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Jones Henry Joseph 1145 2 AWL Guilty Detention 30 days 12 days Conduct to the prejudice of good order 1918
Josephson Joseph 6758 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Kay Percival Cyril 6324 24 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 2 years 1917
Kendall Oscar Fitzroy 413 20 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Detention 11 months 1 month AWL. Escaping. False pass.Civil charge
AKAlarceny
Albert Ambrose. CM also 1916 and 1919 1917
Kenny William Harold 171 Provost Manslaughter (civil) L/Cpl. MM. DCM. Killed Richard Thomas 1524 on 30/1/1916.
1916DCM
Keyes S 5400 13 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 1917
Keys James Leo 2619 35 AWL Guilty Detention 6 months 3 months 1918
King John NZ 6/1598 NZEF Desertion Guilty Death Executed 1917
Kressen William 2047 24 Desertion Guilty PS 3 years 1916
Krygger Alexander 1608 10 LH Desertion Guilty Dismissal 38 days did not embark 1916
Lamb David Edward NA NA Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Detention 21 days. Fine 20 days In Australia 1917
Lane John Edward 3848 19 AWL Guilty Detention 1 year 4 months CM also 1917, 1918 and 1919 for AWL 1916
Lavender George 2691 4 Desertion Guilty Death L/Cpl. CM also 1916
Lawrence Arthur 2606 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Lawrence John 464 47 AWL Guilty Reduced to ranks. Detention33months
months Cpl 1917
Name First names Service number Unit Charge Finding Sentence Length of absence
Other Charges Notes Date of CM
Leak John 2053 9 Desertion Guilty PS life 5 days 1917
Le Guier Bertie Whitmore 2943 14 Joining in a mutiny Guilty Death Mutiny at Blargies prison 1916
Levin Myer 57683 Lt Tr MB Desertion Guilty IHL 4 months 6 months In Australia 1917
Lewis James Clive 7031 10 Desertion Guilty PS 5 years 2 months Cm also in 1918 for desertion 1918
Liddell Gordon 3087 53 AWL Guilty FP No 2 28 days 5 days Escaping 1918
Lindsay George Stanley 3676 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Little Alexander 3254 10 Striking superior officer Guilty Death Mutiny at Blargies prison. 3 CM also in 1916. KIA 1918 1916
Little George Nichols 4323 2 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 15 months 5 months AWL. Disobeying orders 1916
Lord George Henry 6082 23 Desertion Guilty PS 3 years 5 days CM also 1917 1918
Loaring Alfred James 5457 28 AWL Guilty IHL 18 months Stealing. Assault. Escaping Stealing from French woman. CM also 1917 1918
Loughrey Gordon Alfred 3661 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Lyons John 7610 6 AWL Guilty Detention 40 days 1 month CM also in 1918 and 1919 1917
Mackaness Herbert John 496 1 LH AWL Guilty IHL 5 months 2 months Masqueraded as an officer CM also in 1915 and 1917 1916
Madden John 2623 36 AWL Guilty Detention 4 months 2 months CM also in 1916 for mutiny in Sydney 1917
Malloy Patrick Michael 58 3 LH Desertion Guilty IHL 21 months. Discharged with ignominy DCM. Disappeared 1915
Malone Edward Henry 3030 60 AWL Guilty Reduced to rank Neglecting to obey battle orders WO 2. AKA Jack Briton. CM also 1918 1918
Maloy William 1520 15 Disorderly conduct Guilty Reduced to ranks. Detention 40 days Cpl. AWL. Escaping CM also 1916 and 1917 1916
Malthouse Sydney Harold 3201 10 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 5 days CM also 1918 1917
Malthouse Albert Charles 6140 6 AWL Guilty Detention 20 days 2 months Escaping 1918
Manning Wallace Black 3434 56 Abandoning post Not guilty. Guilty cowardice PS 10 years Abandoning post. Misbehaviour showing
L/Cpl. Recommendation
cowardice of mercy - youth and inexperience
1917
Marschell BHL 529 48 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 14 days 1918
Marshall Willian Whitcombe 4737 19 AWL Guilty Detention 6 months 2 months 1917
Marshall Daniel 2429 33 AWL Guilty IHL 1 year 20 days Escaping 1918
Marshall Thomas 4596 29 AWL Guilty Detention 60 days 1 month Act to the prejudice CM also 1918 1917
Martin Walter 3787 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Martin William Edward 4039 24 AWL Guilty IHL 6 months 1 month Prejudice to good order CM also 1917 for 3 months AWL 1916
Maskell Percy William 1951 24 AWL Guilty Detention 8 days 1 month CM also 1919 1918
Matthews George 5727 2 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 1 month 1918
Mayersbeth Joseph William Lieutenant 48 Conduct to the prejudice Guilty Reprimand Fighting. Drunkenness KIA 12/6/17 1916
Mayfield Ivens Harry 2392 5 Pioneer Fraud Guilty Detention 90 days Altering pay book 1918
McCarthy William Alexander 4856 56 Abandoning post Not guilty. Guilty cowardice PS 10 years Recommendation mercy - good service and inexperienced 1917
NCO
McCormack Charles 6372 23 Stealing Guilty PS 3 years AWL. Escaping Robbery with violence 1917
McCurdie J 2609 39 Desertion Guilty PS 5 years 7 days 1917
McDarra James Joseph 6534 37 AWL Guilty Detention 60 days 36 days 1917
McDonald Angus John NA NA Desertion Guilty Reduced to ranks. IHL 42 days
17 days A/g Sgt. In Australia 1916
McGann John 2737 Vet Hosp AWL Guilty Reduced to rank 2 days Disrepute. Drunk. Resisting arrest Cpl A/g Sgt. CM also 1918 1916
McGhee CS 4435 23 AWL Guilty IHL 2 years 1918
McKay William Henry 341 11 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Detention 25 days Civil charges of assault and GBH CM also 1916, 1918 and 1919 1917
McKay Reginald Hugh Copps 3966 1 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years and reduced to the
1 day
ranks Cpl 1918
McLeod Edgar Andrew Robert 1741 24 AWL Guilty Reduced to rank Cpl. MM 1918
McQueen Joseph 403 27 AWL Guilty Detention 9 months 4 months 1918
Menz John 52721 Camel Corps Desertion Guilty IHL 4 months 9 months 1916
Miller Charles 1493 (1633) 8 Desertion Guilty Death Cpl A/g Sgt. Shellshock. CM also 1916 1917
Millar Donald MacKay 1551 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Miller FG 1380 14 Desertion Guilty PS 5 years Conduct unbecoming Tried to break own arm. CM also in 1917 for forgery 1916
Milner A 534 7 LH Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Forfeit pay 40 days 1916
Minty James Dargo 2224 12 FA Neglecting to obey orders Guilty IHL 2 years MM. prejudice to good order. CM also 1917 1916
Mitchell Frederick William 2414 5 Joining in a mutiny Guilty Death Mutiny at Blargies prison 1916
Mitchell JT 2701 39 Desertion Guilty PS 5 years 1917
Mogg Benjamin Silverious 2132 48 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Detention 21 days 4 months KIA 12/10/17 1916
Moller Leslie Frank Middleton 2866 3 AWL Guilty Detention 20 months 1 month Disobeying orders. Destroying govtCMproperty
also 1916 and 1918 1917
Moloney William Peter 2143 26 Desertion Guilty PS life Disobeying orders. Wilfully harming self 1917
Monkhouse William 2825 7 F Eng AWL Guilty Detention 7 months 3 months 1917
Moore John Joseph 673 21 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 16 months AWL Cpl. CM also in 1916 1918
Moore William Mervyn Creswick 2267 6 AWL Guilty Detention 75 days 1 month 1917
Moran James 760 45 Desertion Guilty Death Disobeying orders 1916
Morgan James 2185 22 Act to the prejudice Guilty IHL 12 months Uncoupled train in Egypt 1918
Morse FH 16670 10 Assisting a deserter Not guilty Gave food to Pte Fleming of Scottish Rifles 1918
Moyle William Hill 4254 46 AWL Guilty Detention 6 months 1 month Prejudice to good order. Insubordinate
CM also
language
1918 1917
Moyle William John 6544 46 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL FP No 2 30 days 3 days CM also in 1918 1917
Muir Cecil William 3407 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Murphy Thomas 7534 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Name First names Service number Unit Charge Finding Sentence Length of absence
Other Charges Notes Date of CM
Mullins Arthur 2177 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Murray AJ 2655 1 MG AWL Guilty IHL 2 months Disobeying. Violence to superior officer. Resisting arrest 1918
Nelson William Alexander 3097 46 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 3 days 1917
Newell Alfred 2498 57 Desertion Guilty Death CM also 1918 desertion and 1919 for joining a mutiny Rouen
1917prison
Newham Victor Charles Patrick 2231 56 Abandoning post Not guilty. Guilty cowardice PS 10 years Recommendation mercy - good service and inexperienced 1917
NCO
Newham Richard Herbert 2230 56 Abandoning post Not guilty. Guilty cowardice PS 10 years Recommendation mercy - good service and inexperienced 1917
NCO
Newman Percy Albert 1790 57 AWL/Drunkenness Guilty Reduced to the ranks 1 day Cpl. A/g Sgt. Suicide 4/8/16 - cut his own throat 1916
Nicoll Eric Kenneth 1714 1 LH AWL Guilty Detention 40 days 1 month KIA 10/10/1917 1916
Ninness Joseph Dillon 3521 3 MG Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 2 years 6 days 1918
Noad Joseph 6066 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Nolan John Michael 2194 9 AWL Guilty Detention 20 days 2 months DOW 3/6/18 1917
O'Brien George Patrick 7287 15 Desertion Guilty PS life 1 day 1917
O'Connell L 6777 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Orr Edward 5190 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
O'Sullivan Paul Vincent 2920 2 Pioneer Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL FP No 2 30 days 1917
O'Sullivan Christopher Patrick 3320 2 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years AWL. Joining in a mutiny Mutiny in No 2 Prison Rouen 1918 1917
Oswin Thomas William 3670 31 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 1 year AWL for 7 months and 5 months in 1919 1917
Owens Thomas Craig Hunter 14442 AMC Desertion Guilty IHL 6 months. Discharged with
5 months
ignominy AWL In Australia 1916
Parish Eric Charles 3450 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Parker RR 2404 47 AWL Guilty IHL 12 months 1917
Parkes Ernest 2119 36 Desertion Guilty Death AWL 1917
Paton P 2060 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Pearce Philip Charles 4266 45 Desertion Guilty IHL 2 years 11 days AWL in 1918 and still AWL 1920 1917
Pearson Raymond Arthur 130 50 AWL Guilty Detention 90 days 1 month Giving wrong name. Insubordinate CM language
also 1917 1916
Permakoff Nicholas 7286 4 Desertion Guilty Death Disobeying. Insubordinate languageShot by own unit. Born in Russia 1918 Court of Inquiry
Perrier John Moore Captain 49 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Cashiered 20 days Fraud - guilty 1917
Pettit Leonard William 3812 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Phillips Harry 7299 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Phillips Julius Alexander 1577 23 AWL Guilty IHL 18 months 1917
Phipps Henry 2536 45 AWL Guilty Detention 50 days 1918
Piana Alberto 4343 1 Con Depot Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Detention 60 days 3 months In Australia 1916
Pollock Alexander 1626 17 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Detention 28 days 2 weeks AWL. Insubordinate language. Disobeying
CM also 1917 and 1918 1916
Porteils John Ernest 1164 55 AWL Guilty FP No 2 17 days Resisting an escort. Escaping. Act toCMthealso
prejudice.
1916 and
Fraud
1917 1918
Porteils W 4064 55 Desertion Guilty PS 15 years 1917
Porter Edward Maitland 3801 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Portley Edward 431 3 MG AWL Guilty Detention 38 days 3 days CM also 1919 1918
Poulter William James 2713 57 Desertion Guilty PS 5 years 13 days 1918
Povey Edward Thomas 2833 57 Desertion Guilty Detention 2 years 6 months 1918
Puckeridge James 1714 55 Desertion Guilty PS life 4 days AWL. Disobeying orders CM also 1919 joining in a mutiny Rouen prison 1917
Pyke Cecil Reaves 3898 58 AWL Guilty FP No 2 25 days Disobeying. Insubordinate languageCI 1917. CM also 1918 1916
Quillan James 3210 4 Desertion Guilty Detention 2 years 9 months 1918
Reeves Frederick James 489 21 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 14 days Also CM in 1918 for desertion and sleeping at post 1918
Reid G 472 7 LH Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Forfeit pay 40 days CM also 1917 1916
Richards Albert Arnold 2428 5 Pioneer AWL Guilty IHL 2 years Disobeying orders. Conduct unbecoming. Insubordinate language 1917
Ridge Mervyn Claude 2 Lieutenant 27 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Dismissal 1 day Sentence commuted to severe reprimand. CM also 19181916
Roberts William Richard 7307 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Robins William 746 21 AWL Guilty FP No 2 90 days L/Cpl. 1917
Robinson Dennis Michael 6548 4 Desertion Guilty PS 5 years 1 month 1918
Robinson Albert William 7038 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Robson William James 2700 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Rogers Edward 1171 26 Desertion Guilty Death CM also in 1916 and 1918. Brother of Archie 1916
Rogers Archie 88 12 Disobedience Guilty Detention 28 days No pass or identity disc KIA 1917. Brother of Ed No CM
Rogers Raymond Sylvester 3679 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Rook Albert 6077 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Roser George Eric 2550 1 FAB AWL Guilty Detention 60 days 3 weeks False pass. Attempting to escape. Escaping
CM also 1918 1917
Ross Alex Samuel 3748 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Ross Ivan Lionel Crawford 4757 27 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 1917
Ross Joseph Thornby 1103 24 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Detention 10 months 3 months AWL. Conduct to the prejudice CM also 1917 1918
Rowell Armen 4918 ACSC AWL Guilty Detention 60 days 1917
Ryan Thomas 7307 21 AWL Guilty Detention 60 days 2 weeks AKA Percival Love. Cm also 1918 1918
Sainty John Thomas 2876 40 AWL Guilty Detention 35 days 1917
Sams Ernest George 1987 55 AWL Guilty IHL 1 year 12 days Escaping confinement - IHL 2 years 1917
Name First names Service number Unit Charge Finding Sentence Length of absence
Other Charges Notes Date of CM
Scott John William 346 1 Pioneer Conduct to the prejudice Guilty IHL 6 months Fraudulant passes 1916
Seach Herbert 6884 23 Desertion Guilty PS 4 years 2 weeks AWL. Disobeying orders CM also 1917 1918
Settle Isaac 6846 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Sewell Henry 1831 2 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 18 months 2 days 1917
Sharples Reginald James 1502 22 Act to the prejudice Guilty IHL 12 months Uncoupled train in Egypt 1918
Sheffield Sydney Albert 4613 4 Joining in a mutiny Guilty Death Mutiny at Blargies prison 1916
Shepherd WJ 6867 38 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 2 years 1917
Sheppard Harold 4512 26 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years AWL. Joining in a mutiny Mutiny at Rouen prison 1918
Sheppard Frank 497 51 Desertion Guilty Death 1917
Shevlin Francis Joseph 3594 60 Desertion Guilty IHL 2 years 1918
Sidebotham WE 1506 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Silburn George Harold 1864 36 Desertion Guilty Death 1916
Simpson Alexander 1797 19 Desertion Guilty IHL 1 year 1 week AWL Disobeying orders. Civil charge fraud. CM also 1918 1916
Sitters Harry Tolchard 3758 48 Desertion Guilty Death 1917
Skidmore William Patrick 5722 21 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years Escaping Group CM 1917 for escaping Booth, Higgins, Weston, Daniels,
1917 West
Slatter Francis Thomas NA 42 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Detention 42 days 2 months In Australia 1916
Smith Bert 3632 47 AWL Guilty Detention 120 days 2 months Disobeying orders. Disrepute. Drunkenness
KIA 28/3/18 1917
Smith Frederick Rowe 6084 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Smith George William 2227 57 AWL Guilty IHL 6 months 2 weeks False pass 1916
Smith William Thomas 2227 53 AWL Guilty Detention 4 months 1 month Declared deserter 1916 Court of Enquiry 1918
Smith Herbert 455 16 AWL Guilty Reduced to the ranks 1 week Sgt 1917
Smith Albert Edward 2275 57 Desertion Guilty IHL 12 months 1918
Soderholm OH 687A 22 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 1 year 2 months 1917
Soppet George Henry 3630 46 Desertion Guilty Detention 18 months 9 months Recommendation of mercy - youth and good character 1917
Sparrow Percy Arthur 690 52 Desertion Guilty IHL 2 years 3 months AWL. Disobeying orders. DisreputeCivil charge stealing 1918
Spencer Victor M NZ 8/2733 NZEF Desertion Guilty Death Executed 1917
Spratt Frank Alfred 1565 61 AWL Guilty Detention 4 months 1 month 1917
Stafford Percy George 1485 48 AWL Guilty Escaping confinement. Disobeying orders.
Killed while
Disrepute.
resisting
Conduct
arrest unbecoming 1916
Stafford Richard 7784 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Staunton William Reginald 6062 39 AWL Guilty Detention 120 days 2 months Disobeying orders CM also 1918 1918
Steele Dudley Neil 3633 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Stephenson Stanley Northcott 503 22 DUS AWL Guilty Detention 30 days 1 month Recommendation of mercy - good character and length of 1917
service
Stephenson RH 7083 13 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 12 days 1917
Stephenson WA 6322 13 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 3 days 1917
Stevenson David Harold 4824 21 AWL Guilty Detention 60 days 1 month 1918
Stevenson William Clarence 5297 13 AASC AWL Guilty Detention 1 year 1 month Civil fraud 1918
Stewart Thomas 4563 3 AWL Guilty FP No 2 40 days 6 days AWL. Conduct to the prejudice Accidently wounded 5227 Pte E J Smith 1918
Stokes Ernest Francis 1715 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion AWL Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Stowe Sydney William 1436 4 AWL Guilty Detention 90 days 1 month CM also 1917 and 1918 (3 times) 1917
Summers John Walter 2548 57 Desertion Guilty IHL 1 year 1918
Swanson FW 2121 32 AWL Guilty IHL 2 years CM also 1919 1917
Sweeney John 3227 45 Desertion Guilty Detention 18 months 1 year 1919
Sweeney John J NZ 8/1384 NZEF Desertion Guilty Death Executed 1917
Swinton George William 1985 35 Desertion Guilty Death AWL Under age 1917
Swords Michael 3925 4 pioneer Desertion Guilty Death 12 days CM also 1916 (3 times) 1917
Taylor Frederick 1559 23 Desertion Guilty PS 3 years Shellshock. CM also 1918 1917
Taylor AW 2216 37 Desertion Guilty PS 5 years 15 days Recommendation for mercy owing to youth. Same CM as1918 Buchanan
Thomas Matthias 5349 28 AWL Guilty Detention 60 days 1 month 1916
Thompson Claude 841 51 AWL Guilty Reduced to the ranks 11 days Cpl 1916
Thompson JH 65 7 LH Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL Forfeit pay 40 days CM also 1918 1916
Thompson Edward Alexander 197 33 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 71 days CM also 1918 1918
Tickner HH 6327 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Tooze Charles Carlisle 2439 35 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL FP No 2 8 days 1918
Towers JH 3622 50 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years 2 months CM also 1917 1918
Travers F William 6570 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Turbit RC 1756 49 Desertion Guilty PS 3 years 1 day CM also 1916 1918
Turner Alfred 6640 4 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty of conduct to
Reduced
the prejudice
to the ranks AWL. Conduct to the prejudice Sgt. Left "Nestor" in Capetown. CM also 1017 1916
Turner John Joseph 6097 4 Desertion Guilty PS 7 years 1918
Tyler James 4556 23 Desertion Guilty PS 10 years Drunkenness. AWL 1917
Unsworth Scarlett 815 2 Mtd Reg Desertion Guilty IHL 2 years 11 months CM also 1917 1918
Vagne Lindsay Herbert q13089 52 Desertion Guilty Detention 28 days 6 months In Australia 1917
Vickery Francis Clement 3145 33 Desertion Guilty PS 5 years CM also 1918 1918
Name First names Service number Unit Charge Finding Sentence Length of absence
Other Charges Notes Date of CM
Vidler Walter Thomas 7826 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Vincin RH 2991 45 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL FP No 2 30 days 1917
Voumard ADR 5660 27 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 2 years 1917
Wadley Henry 5140 20 Desertion Guilty IHL 2 years Disobeying orders. Conduct unbecoming 1918
Walker Ernest 2928 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Walker Percy Stewart 827 7 AWL Guilty Detention 45 days Escaping CM also 1916, 1918 and 1918 1917
Walker Samuel Alexander 1744 56 Abandoning post Not guilty. Guilty cowardice PS 10 years Recommendation mercy - good service and inexperienced1917
NCO
Walker Henry Arthur 2281 53 AWL Guilty Detention 6 months 2 months 1917
Walker John George 6105 1 AWL Guilty Detention 60 days 1 month Escaping 1917
Wallace William 3133 34 AWL Guilty Detention 34 days 3 weeks 1918
Walsh James Michael 4903 54 AWL Guilty Detention 30 days 2 weeks CM also 1918 (3 times) 1918
Wareing Claude 1437 70 Desertion Guilty IHL 2 years 6 days AWL CM also 1917 1918
Watts John 3322 48 Desertion Guilty Death CM also 1916
Webber William 4917 45 Desertion Guilty Death 1 month 1916
Wells Edmund Fred Lieutenant 47 Misbehaving before the enemy Guilty disobeying Cashiered Disobeying 1917
West Francis James 5719 21 AWL Guilty IHL 2 years Group CM 1917 for escaping Skidmore, Higgins, Weston,1917
Booth, Daniels
Wethered George F 3661 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Weston William 5961 21 AWL Guilty IHL 2 years Escaping Group CM 1917 for escaping Skidmore, Higgins, West, Booth,
1916 Daniels
White Albert Edward 547 25 Desertion Guilty Death 8 days See Bartholomew 1916
White George 2017 34 AWL Guilty IHL 1 year 6 days 1917
Whitely Thomas Alexander 4616 57 Desertion Guilty IHL 12 months 2 days 1918
Williamson James Thomas 3969 2 AWL Guilty Detention 30 days 2 weeks MM 1917
Williamson Alfred 4028 23 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 5 years 21 days AWL CM also 1918 wilfully injuring self 1916
Willis Daniel 2751 48 Desertion Guilty PS 15 years AWL. Escaping 1918
Wilson Mark 575 55 AWL Guilty Detention 42 days 1 month 1917
Wise Joseph Henry 2742 44 Desertion Guilty IHL 2 years 12 days 1918
Woodbury Percy 3202 1 Joining in a mutiny Not Guilty mutiny. Guilty desertion Mutiny in 1st Bn 1918
Woodman Edward 2217 57 AWL Guilty FP No 2 60 days 4 days Disobeying orders. Conduct unbecomingAKA Edward Morris 1918
Woods Clarence Merton 4928 55 Desertion Guilty Death Striking superior officer. Threatening
CMlanguage
also 1918 and 1919 1916
Wright Alfred Henry 1729 51 AWL Guilty Detention 20 days 3 weeks CM also 1918, 1918 and 1919 1917
Young James Henry 561 26 AWL Guilty Detention 95 days 6 weeks CM also 1918 1917
Young J 2925 49 Desertion Not Guilty desertion. Guilty AWL IHL 1 year 6 days 1918