Soldiers and Gentlemen
Australian Battalion Commanders in the Great War, 1914 -1918
By William Westerman
Published by Cambridge University Press
RRP $59.95 in hardback • ISBN 9781107190627
Published as part of the Australian Army History Series, this book by historian William Westerman examines the background, role and conduct of the Australian infantry battalion commanders of the AIF during the Great War. Despite being a vital position within the AIF hierarchy, their contribution has often been overlooked in Australian histories of the war.
In seeking to redress this oversight, Westerman has identified 183 substantive battalion commanders. Each battalion had on average just over three COs over the period of the war. Though they held positions of power, COs inhabited a leadership no man’s land – they exerted great influence over the units but they were largely excluded from the decision-making process and faced similar risks as junior officers on the battlefield. Yet a soldier’s wellbeing and success in battle was heavily dependent on his CO’s competence.
In examining their stories, Westerman has assessed their ability to exercise command against three criteria: tactical ability, administrative ability and leadership.
His study demonstrates that, by 1918, Australian battalion commanders were largely competent in all three. “Both battalion commanders and the organisation to which they belonged had reached such a level of maturity and proficiency that battlefield success was a realistic expectation,” he writes.