Beyond the Internet Week 15: Battle, Battalion and other military histories


This is Week 15 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. This week’s topic is Battle and Battalion histories and military reference books.  I’d love it if you wanted to join in with your thoughts on this topic, especially if you live overseas and have a different set of records to tell us about. If possible please provide a link to your post on this page.

Book references on Battalion and Battle histories, or more general background history, can be illuminating not just for context about your ancestor’s military life, but may also provide specific information on him personally. I’ll include my bibliography of relevant histories below but no doubt others will have favourites to add.

Battle histories

Given my interest in the Battle of Fromelles, I have two excellent books on this in my library. Both provide a wealth of detail about the circumstances of Australia’s Darkest Day[i] and the military strategy, or lack of it, that around this battle. Both books also have innumerable references to my husband’s great uncle, Lt Col Walter Edmund Hutchison Cass, including information which we did not know previously. At the 2003 Australasian Genealogy and Heraldry Congress, Roger Kershaw and his colleague from The National Archives (UK) spoke first on Anzac Day. They showed a backpack with a bullet hole in it and other documents. At the time the service records of Australia’s regular army had not been digitised and the TNA people assumed he’d been killed at Gallipoli. After the talk I managed to catch up with them, and let them know how much was in the Fromelles book that I’d bought the previous day. His military history is spread across the Australian War Memorial (AWM), The National Archives UK and the National Archives of Australia, and entirely possible in other locations as well.

These histories are very useful to learn more about the background to my grandfather’s cousin’s death at the very start of the battle.

Battalion Histories

Battalion histories are likely to provide a bird’s eye view of their battalion’s significant battles. Some will be more comprehensive than others but it’s worth searching the National Library of Australia catalogue to see what they have, remembering you can get an inter-library loan for any of the books they hold to the nearest reference library. If you don’t live near a reference library and have a specific question, perhaps a page reference, then the Ask a Librarian service may be able to help.

Official Military History

The benchmark history for World War I is Bean’s history which is now digitised on the AWM site here.

Military histories with an ethnic background

As is well known, Australians of German descent were personae non grata during World War I, with legislation governing their movements or internment. Neighbours were sometimes happy to “dob” on a German-born or German descent neighbour even with no true evidence of their disloyalty. I read a number of these long ago in the NAA in Brisbane, and there was definitely a sense of envy around some issues eg he has a new piano so he must be selling guns.

Despite this, or perhaps because, I found that the descendants of my Dorfprozelten immigrants were quite likely to join up, and to gain award and medals: perhaps they had a point to prove. The involvement of the descendants was more likely where their parents or grandparents were a German/other combination rather than German/German. This applied to the Catholic Bavarians from Dorfprozelten but really I can’t make generalisations about descendants of Germans from other areas. I chose to write about the German Anzacs in my Remembrance Day blog post last year.

The impact on the men

Last but far from least, there are many books, both fiction and non-fiction, which deal with the consequences of the war. Not only did the men suffer in all sorts of ways, so did their wives, children and families. Patsy Adam-Smith’s “Anzacs” and Bill Gammage’s “The Broken Years” are classics, but you may want to search the catalogues and bookstores to see what else you can find.

With the help of the National Library, your local reference library and bookshops with good military history selections, you will be able to find some excellent reading for your family’s military history.

Selected Bibliography from my bookshelves

Don’t forget me cobber, the Battle of Fromelles 19/20 July 1916, an Inquiry, Corfield, R S. Corfield and Co, Victoria, 2000.

Fromelles, Lindsay, P. Hardie Grant Books, Prahran Victoria 2008

The Great War, Carlyon, L. Picador, Australia, 2007

Always Faithful, the History of the 49th Battalion, Cranston, F. Boolarong Publications, Brisbane, 1983.

The 61st Battalion, 1938-1945, The Queensland Cameron Highlanders’ War, Watt, J. Australian Military History Publications, Loftus, 2001.

Anzacs and Ireland, Kildea, J. UNSW Press, Sydney, 2007

German Anzacs and the First World War, Williams, J F. UNSW Press, Sydney 2003.

Queensland and Germany, Corkhill, A. Academia Publications 1992.

Australia and The “Kaiser’s War” 1914-1918, Moses, J. Broughton Press, 1993.

The Broken Years: Australian Soldiers in the Great War, Gammage, Bill. Penguin, 1975.

The Anzacs, Adams-Smith, P. Thomas Nelson Australia 1981.

The Anzacs: Gallipoli To The Western Front, Pederson, P. Penguin Australia, 2007

Goodbye Cobber, God Bless You, Hamilton, J. Pan Macmillan 2004.

——–

[i] Fromelles. Lindsay, P, Hardie Grant Books, Prahran Victoria 2008, cover publicity.

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6 thoughts on “Beyond the Internet Week 15: Battle, Battalion and other military histories

  1. Your posts are always so informative Pauline that I’m delighted to be able to add a little to this topic. I too have found reading Military History most useful in helping understand the lives of Ancestors. My husband’s Grandfather was “on the Somme” and I found “Somme Mud – The war experiences of an Australian infantryman in France 1916-1919″ most enlightening. It was written by Private E.P.F Lynch, in pencil in 20 school exercise books on his return from France in 1919, and edited and published by Will Davies in 2006.

    My husband’s Uncle was in BCOF (British Commonwealth Occupation Forces) in Hiroshima, Japan. As is written in the Foreword “Most Australians don’t know their troops occupied Japan for nearly seven years after fighting ceased and peace was signed.” I only know because a family Death Notice (accessed via Trove) had “serving in B.C.O.F” entered after his name so I went hunting. The book is titled “BCOF An Unofficial History” and is prepared and edited by Larry Lacey in 1995. He, like many, sufferred the effects of radiation from the bombing of Japan.

    I also inherited, from my mother a copy of “The Australian Magazine” titled “Our Finest Hour – Australia on the Western Front 1916-1918″. It is a 57 page Special 75th Anniversary Edition published Aug 7-8 1993 which is most informative, esp the maps of troop movements.

    Finally, as you would know there was a great German/Prussian migration to South Australia in the early days of the Colony some of whom I’m related to and the effect the hostilities with Germany, in World War 1, did indeed affect many of them. One small lasting example is that our name Habel was “anglicized” (in pronunciation) from “Harble” to “Hayball”, or so the family story goes. Many South Australian Towns named by the original German Settlers were also “anglicized”… such a shame.

    Thankyou for so willingly, and constantly, sharing so much information. Hopefully you and maybe some of your readers will find this small contribution, of mine, useful :-)
    Cheers, Catherine.
    PS… yes, Adam-Smith’s “The Anzacs” is excellent. Must get myself a copy of “Anzacs and Ireland”… it sounds fascinating.

    • Hi Catherine, Thank you so much for the additional references and info on this topic. I’m sure many people will find this interesting & useful. I knew of the BCOF troops because one of my father’s cousins was stationed in Hiroshima also with Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Corps (RAEME). His name was Greg Kunkel (I wonder if your husband’s uncle is still alive despite the radiation, probably not and neither is Greg).

      You’ve given me additional reading with your suggestions, which is great…always happy to find a new book. I hadn’t known of Somme Mud or the BCOF history. I have a feeling that I may have the 1993 mag tucked away “somewhere”.

      Corkhill’s view re the Germans in Qld wrt WWI is that because it was a large dispersed state, they weren’t harrassed to the same extent. My own theory is that the German Catholics perhaps didn’t draw as much flak as they were dispersed into the Irish community more because of religion. I’m sure they still spoke German and saw their German friends, but they were less socially “obvious”. The renaming of places happened in Qld towns and streets too.

      Thanks again

      Pauleen

  2. Hi Pauleen,
    The name of my hubbie’s uncle, who served with the BCOF in Hiroshima, is Arthur Maxwell ANDERSON (known as Mac), Sadly, he died Apr 1990 from Brain Cancer at the age of 64. Interestingly an article appeared in our Adelaide, “Sunday Mail” on 8 Apr 2012, page 13, titled “Fighting for Recognition: Hiroshima troops seek health card.” Sixty years after the BCOF Troops lived amongst the contamination, without any protection etc., they’re still fighting for full medical benefits as promised by wartime prime minister Ben Chifley in 1946. For more info, people can go to http://www.adelaidenow.com.au … and do a search “Fighting for Recognition”. There are also links to other articles on this topic.

    I agree with your theory that your Ancestors, being German Catholics , were probably more dispersed into the community than were our South Australian Lutherans who tended to live and work in their own communities, inter-marrying and continuing their customs, language etc … so were a sitting target for the anti German abuse/discrimination during WW1.

    Thanks again for your most interesting and informative blogs. I’ve just been enjoying the sights of Mull. Such a delight that I can almost feel the wind and taste the salt air :-)
    Cheers, Catherine.

    • Thanks for the additional information on BCOF, Catherine. I agree it’s pathetic that all these years later they are still battling for health benefits when they went into an unprecedentedly hazardous environment. Glad you’ve enjoyed Mull. I hadn’t done a slideshow before so thought this was a good chance to try it, and indeed it was windy and salty and sometimes very cold. Pauleen

  3. Two of my great great uncles, who were born here in Australia, but their parents were of German birth, were working in the public service at the time of WW1. They both had to make statements that they were not German sympathisers etc so that they could keep their jobs. In addressing the issue they gave quite a lot of information about the family, some of which I had not found elsewhere. These statements are available from the NAA, and were a great source of information and very enlightening about what people with German surnames faced, even though they readily identified as Australian.

    • That’s fantastic to have found the additional information. I searched the NAA in Qld donkey’s years ago and while I found the documents fascinating, there was nothing about my relatives. Only the odd cryptic comment about parents born in Australia. I feel so sorry for my George Kunkel -he’d been here 60 years, been naturalised etc etc but probably experienced some discrimination.

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