Legends of War: The AIF in France 1918
By Pat Beale
Published by Australian Scholarly Publishing
RRP $34.95 in paperback | ISBN 9781925588644
This is another book that has been neglected among my stack of review books.
Author Pat Beale served as an officer in the Regular Army for thirty years, seeing active service in the later days of the Malayan Emergency, the Confrontation in Borneo, and then Vietnam, which certainly gives him an understanding of active military engagement.
He came to write this book through what he describes as ‘nagging concerns’ about three issues in particular, relating to the Australian involvement in the war in France in 1918. These concerns can be roughly described as:
- The why and how – how did the Diggers who performed so stolidly in 1916-17 evolve into the fighting force of 1918?
- The legends that arose about the Australians – ‘lions led by lambs’ and ‘lovable larrikin’ being just two examples of our distorted perceptions of the Australian soldier; and
- The misperception of the Diggers of 1918.
In fact, 1918 was a year of triumph for the Australian Corps in France yet today this is seldom recognised in Australia. Our perceptions have been clouded by legends, built up over the past century, that have trivialised their achievement.
Beale attempts to re-discover why and how the Corps was so successful and also the reasons why their triumph has been ignored and yet the defeat at Gallipoli three years earlier has been raised to ‘hallowed’ status.
This concise and knowledgeable account will not sit comfortably with everyone. As the author admits, he slaps a number of ‘sacred cows’ on the rump and challenges some deeply held perceptions, but he hopes it will encourage a better understanding of the great victory of those men and how they achieved it. And the personal horrors they endured.
NOTE: POST UPDATED 4/7/20: This book is not Pat Beale’s first book, as originally stated.