Mutinies in the 1st Australian Imperial Force (AIF)

The AIF suffered several mutinies during the course of the First World War. Some arose due to dissatisfaction with conditions and discipline in training camps such as at Casula Camp in January 1915 or Etaples in September 1917.

The bulk of the mutinies, however, arose from the situation facing the AIF in September 1918. The flow of new recruits had slowed to a trickle, 1914 enlistees were granted leave to Australia, and Lieutenant General Sir John Monash was pressing the Australian Corps forward, hard on the heels of the retreating Germans. Australian battalions that should have consisted of nearly one thousand men were barely able to muster a few hundred. The British command were aware of the state of Monash's corps and offered him the chance to slow the tempo of his operations but he refused; he correctly assessed that the Germans were just about broken, but so too were his own forces.

On 14 September 1918, the 59th Battalion was ordered back into the line, after a week of continuous operations, just as it had settled down for a rest. The men initially refused to go forward but were eventually convinced by their officers to obey their orders. A similar incident occurred on 21 September when the 1st Battalion was ordered back to the front halfway through a relief by another battalion. One company refused to comply. The mutiny quickly spread throughout the battalion and when it went forward again it did so with ten officers and 84 men; 119 had gone missing.

Further mutinies occurred after an order was promulgated on 23 September 1918 to disband the 19th, 21st, 25th, 37th, 42nd, 54th and 60th Battalions to reinforce others. All but the 60th refused to disband and on 27 September Monash postponed the order until after the coming attack on the Hindenburg Line. All of the battalions so ordered eventually disbanded. These events have entered Australian folklore as “soldiers' strikes” but as instances of mass disobedience against the lawful authority of commissioned officers, they were, plain and simply, mutinies.

Mutiny was one of only two charges for which AIF soldiers could be executed. No charges were ever laid for the 59th Battalion or the disbandment mutinies, but all 119 members involved in the 1st Battalion mutiny were tried, and all but one found guilty. Seemingly to avoid the application of the death penalty, all were tried with desertion and not mutiny. In any case, the end of hostilities caused Monash not to enforce the sentences.


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