Accommodating the King’s Hard Bargain
Military Detention in the Australian Army 1914 – 1947
by Graham Wilson
Published by Big Sky Publishing
Australian Army History Collection
RRP $34.99 in hardback, 496 pages
When I picked up this book from my review bookshelf, I couldn’t help but reflect on the disciplinary record of my father Frank during his time in the Army in WWII. From his war record, I know of a couple of times at least when he went AWL – one when he married my mother – and another a telling 9 months before my eldest brother was born.
My father’s indiscretions seemed to elicit nothing more than loss of pay and/or loss of proficiency awards but clearly the Army, over the period, has had to deal with far more serious misdemeanours from those within its ranks.
Graham Wilson, whose previous works include Bully Beef and Balderdash (April 2012) and Dust, Donkeys and Delusions (June 2012) describes the systems of military discipline and illustrates these with individual stories, noting that Australia’s system was very much based on the British system on which our armed forces had been modelled.
World War I was Australia’s first experience of a mass army and the detention experience was complex, encompassing short and long-term detention, from punishment in the field to incarceration in British and Australian military detention facilities.
The World War II experience was similarly complex, with detention facilities in England, Palestine and Malaya, mainland Australia and New Guinea. Eventually the management of army detention would become the purview of an independent, specialist service.
With the end of the war, the army reconsidered detention and, based on lessons learned, established a single ‘corrective establishment’, its emphasis on rehabilitation.
Graham Wilson gives readers the back story of Australia’s colonial regiments and multiple appendices to explain many aspects of military structure.
Discipline is at the very core of successful military forces. It is in pursuit of this war-winning intangible that detention facilities are considered necessary — a necessity that continues in the modern army.