Postcard from The Diggers

Chris Coulthard-Clark has written a well researched book whose content is derived from the Australian Dictionary of Biography (referred to here as ADB). The result is a collection of biographies ranging in length from a single page to five or six. The criteria for inclusion are either Australian born and raisd, or entensive senior-level combat experience in the Australian military.

The first sixty pages discuss the military experiences prior to the first World War - the Colonial Era. Coulthard-Clark identifies the differences between the initial defence needs as provided by the British government, and the requirement for a home-grown defence force following the withdrawl of British troops in 1870.

He mentions the first overseas compaign involved 770 troops from New South Wales assisting the British in a failed attempt to recapture the Sudan from the Mahdi. Australia lost nine men to disease and three slightly wounded.

The biographies for this era begin on page 10 with a single page on Henry Parke Airey. Each biography provides a sentence or two about his early life with the bulk of the text covering military service in varying detail. Campaigns, promotions and medals are discussed.

The rest of the 357 pages is taken up with the first world war. There is a map on page 62 which shows the locations where Australians saw action between 1914 and 1919.

In total, Coulthard-Clark has provided 207 biographies of Australians who served in the military during the first fifty years, the period during which Australia was forming her identity and place in the world. It's not a book for light reading, but the material is well presented and warrants "dipping into".

Further reading:


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