Journal of the Australian War Memorial - Issue 29

The civilians who joined up, 1939-45

Author:  Dr Mark Johnston

{1} We may never have a completely satisfactory portrait of the 'typical' Australian recruit of World War II, but the more we know of the men who became soldiers, the better we can understand their behaviour in war. The civilian backgrounds of the men who joined the army have received little systematic attention, and the object of this article is to offer new evidence which starts to fill in several of the existing gaps: especially in our knowledge of the civilian occupations, age, height, education, measured intellectual ability and motives of the men who joined the Australian army between 1939 and 1945.[1] The purpose is to conclude by offering a tentative image of the 'typical' recruit.

{2} Australians who joined the army in World War II were generally young, though not perhaps as young as one might have expected. The age limits set for enlistment in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in 1939 were 20 to 35 for recruits, higher for officers and some NCOs.[2] (The AIF was composed of men who had volunteered for overseas service). In 1914 the corresponding limits had been 18 to 45.[3] The Second AIF maximum was raised to 40 in 1940, and the minimum lowered to 19 in 1941, and 18 in 1943; written parental consent was required for anyone under the age of 21.[4] Even when the limit was lowered to 18, men of that age were not permitted to go to New Guinea or the Northern Territory.[5] The same restriction also applied in the Citizen Military Forces (CMF), although there the 18 year lower limit existed earlier [6]. (The CMF, or militia, was composed of: men conscripted to serve on Australian territory and in New Guinea; men who had volunteered to fight on Australian soil; and AIF reinforcements).

{3} From 1942, the CMF also shared with the AIF a requirement that all recruits under the age of 20 on enlistment undergo six months training before being posted to a unit. [7] The CMF upper limit was 60, but, by February 1944, 96.4 per cent of those conscripted had been 18-35, and the final percentage would have been higher. [8]

{4} There were numerous cases of age limits being flouted in front-line units. It is surely no coincidence that among the men enlisted in the AIF by July 1941, single men supposedly just within the minimum and maximum age limits were the most over-represented age groups in the Force.[9]

{5} In 1940, Private John Butler made notes on his fellow members of the 2/23rd Infantry Battalion's anti-aircraft platoon. Of 11 whose ages he recorded, five were outside the limits, including one private aged 45 and another 18.[10] Yet these are not extreme cases. The official history mentions a private reputedly over 60 during the Syrian campaign.[11] Veterans of the First World War appear to have been in the ranks of most fighting units early in the war; none of these could have been under 35 in 1939, and very few under 40 when Australian troops went into action in 1941.

{6} At the other end of the scale, many under-age men enlisted, some as young as 15. One[12] battalion history records the case of a soldier who was 16 when killed at Lae in 1943, but who had been at Tobruk in 1941.[13] Such men were often discovered and sent home.[14] Over-age men in fighting units were less likely to have questions asked, especially if they were capable, but some were transferred, before action, to Guard Battalions, which protected headquarters and were popularly known as the 'Olds and Bolds'. Some older men who were not transferred found a second world war too much of a strain and left voluntarily.

{7} The fact that many soldiers falsified their ages on enlistment must be taken into account when assessing official figures on age, but the latter are worth noting. The figures in Table 1, for example, cover a 10 per cent sample of the entire army in 1942-3. [15] Together with Table 2 it provides evidence that at any time in the first four years of the war most Australian soldiers were in their twenties. Table 2 shows the year of birth given by all AIF enlistments up to July 1941: this group represents nearly one-quarter of the 686,473 men who served in the wartime army, and almost two-thirds of all direct enlistments into the AIF. [16] The table also shows recruits' marital status.

Table 1: Age distribution, Army census 1942-43 (10 % sample)
Age group Total % in each age group
<20 4421 10.5
20-24 12680 30.2
25-29 9060 21.6
30-34 6536 15.5
35-39 4031 9.6
40-44 2576 6.1
45-49 1472 3.5
50-54 849 2.0
55-59 333 0.8
60+ 85 0.2
Not stated 307 -
Total 42350 100
Table 2: AIF enlistments to 31 July 1941, by year of birth and marital status
Birth year Age 1940 Single Married Widowed/Divorced Total
1880 60 2 1 - 3
1881 59 - 1 - 1
1882 58 - 1 - 1
1883 57 - 5 - 5
1884 56 - 6 1 7
1885 55 1 6 1 8
1886 54 1 12 - 13
1887 53 1 16 1 18
1888 52 3 23 2 28
1889 51 3 21 - 24
1890 50 8 32 4 44
1891 49 6 70 7 83
1892 48 12 82 2 96
1893 47 11 106 2 119
1894 46 24 128 3 155
1895 45 42 197 9 248
1896 44 66 340 19 425
1897 43 68 300 12 380
1898 42 70 322 10 402
1899 41 181 606 21 808
1900 40 1183 2868 135 4186
1901 39 1491 3079 162 4732
1902 38 1521 2723 103 4347
1903 37 1246 2183 71 3500
1904 36 2004 2907 94 5005
1905 35 3592 4778 206 8576
1906 34 3270 3848 142 7260
1907 33 2830 2910 103 5843
1908 32 3129 2849 89 6067
1909 31 3054 2526 61 5641
1910 30 3886 2853 62 6801
1911 29 3995 2568 54 6617
1912 28 4725 2508 31 7264
1913 27 5359 2222 45 7626
1914 26 6872 2323 31 9226
1915 25 7039 1756 26 8821
1916 24 8449 1474 15 9938
1917 23 9677 1147 10 10834
1918 22 13359 872 10 14241
1919 21 15664 512 4 16180
1920 20 10908 170 4 11082
1921 19 2582 22 - 2604
1922 18 736 3 - 739
1923 17 1 - - 1
Total - 117071 51376 1552 169999

{8} Some 69 per cent of volunteers had been single on enlistment. Well over half were in their twenties in 1941, and nearly one-third were aged 20 to 25. The average age of this group, and of the 1942-3 sample, was approximately 29.[17] The average age of the first division recruited, the 6th Division, was higher than expected, and these figures suggest that the trend continued for some time after 1939. [18]

{9} During the last 18 months of the war, however, the average age almost certainly dropped. During that time, 85-90 per cent of all conscripts were 18 on enlistment.[19] Many of these would not have reached the front before the war ended, but those who did would have lowered the average.[20] Similarly, the youth of reinforcements to AIF units in the last year of the war is often noted. Many 19-year-olds fought in New Guinea, Borneo and Bougainville in 1945, [21] and still younger soldiers had been prominent in the fighting on the Kokoda Trail, some three years earlier, for numerous 18- and 19-year-olds were in the CMF battalions which participated in that campaign. [22] This illegal situation was not tolerated for long, but Australians at the front were almost certainly somewhat younger than the army average.[23] The oldest men were generally not in fighting units, and those responsible for allocating recruits probably recognized that younger men, being the keenest and fittest available, were the best suited to front-line soldiering.

{10} A recruit might conceal his age, but not his height. In 1939 the AIF minimum was 5 feet 6 inches (167.6 cm); a year later 5 feet (152 cm) was enough.[24] The patchy figures available suggest an average of about 5 feet 7.7 inches (172 cm), slightly shorter than the American average of 5ft 8.4in (173.7 cm). [25] The height of Australian front-line soldiers was still sufficient to be remarkable in comparisons with Italian, Japanese, Greek and British soldiers, and to give rise to foreign publicity about 'Laughing giants from Down Under'.[26]

{11} The mental capacities of recruits are far harder to measure, but the army psychologists who assisted in recruitment from 1942 had to try to assess men's aptitude for the various army branches. In this they relied mainly on mental tests, notably an Otis-type intelligence test.[27] The results of such testing need to be treated with caution, but are interesting for their evidence of the army's attitudes towards its men and towards its various branches. A compilation of results of the intelligence testing suggest that, from 1942, the median 'mental calibre' of the army population was 20 per cent lower than that of the Australian adult male population. As Table 3 shows, the average recruit in several army branches created for front-line service, and indeed for the 'Arms' in general, was above the army median as measured by this test.[28]

Table 3: Psychological assessments of intellectual capacity of recruits: Proportion above median for the army standard recruit population (%)
Civil adult male population 72
Recruits (standard recruit population) 51
Recruits allocated to arms 72
Signals 91
Armoured and cavalry 75
Machine guns 72
Artillery 71
Infantry 65

{12} While the intelligence of the average signals recruit was assessed as above the civilian median, in several other combat arms there was little or no variation from that mark, and in the main combat arm, infantry, the intelligence of the average recruit was measured as some 7 per cent below the civilian level.[29] This tendency in infantry recruitment was attributed by an authority to the 'heavy drainage' of specialists to technical units, and it mirrored the experience of the British and American infantry.[30]

{13} It should be noted that psychological assessment was introduced only in 1942. Although this meant that potential recruits who were psychologically unsuited for service were more likely to be accepted earlier in the war, there was later general agreement amongst the psychological assessors that in terms of 'mental calibre' the 'quality' of the pre-1942 recruits had been higher.[31] Certainly the assessors measured a sharp downturn in recruit quality from 1942 to 1944. In 1943-4, 27 per cent of all recruits were from what the Army's Director of Psychology called 'the bottom 8 per cent of the population.'[32]

{14} Of all the services, the air force had the strongest public appeal, and it won a disproportionate share of those assessed as intellectually 'superior'.[33] Moreover, until 1943 the air force and navy, both of which depended on voluntary enlistment, had lower minimum recruiting ages than the AIF, and this attracted many eager young recruits who were unwilling to wait to join the AIF or risk the stigma of conscription.[34] Together with strict occupational limitations, which were chiefly responsible for keeping up to half a million potential recruits from the services, these factors tended to discourage recruitment of the more highly skilled, particularly for compulsory service.[35] The downward trend in the quality of army recruits was arrested only after the introduction of more stringent intellectual requirements in 1944 and various curtailments in recruiting for the munitions industries and RAAF in 1945.[36]

{15} Australian army recruits were generally not highly educated: men assessed as requiring attention because they were 'educationally backward' were probably more common than those who had completed a full secondary course, and illiterates were two to three times more prevalent than the university educated.[37] The 1942-3 census found that approximately half the men in the Army had left school at age 14, two-thirds at or before that age.[38] Only 7 per cent had completed a full secondary course, and 1.4 per cent a degree or diploma.[39]

{16} The overwhelming majority of Australian soldiers who served in World War II were 'substantially of European origin or descent'. This was inevitable, given the ethnic composition of Australia's population and the relevant provisions of the Defence Act. [40] That legislation excluded 'full-blooded' Aborigines from enlistment. Some men of part-Aboriginal descent who were not legally entitled to join the AIF were accepted early in the war, and successive governments referred to the eligibility of 'the better type of half-caste'.[41] However, on the advice of commanding officers, the Defence Act provisions were strictly applied from mid-1940.[42] At that time, the Director-General of Medical Services, whose branch had discretion in individual cases, stated that: 'In general the enlistment of half-caste aboriginals is not advisable.'[43] The files of the Australian Archives document pathetic cases of hopeful men rejected: including four men of part-Aboriginal descent who, after initial acceptance, saw 'Aboriginal - reject' marked on their papers; and two young men of similar background whose efforts to follow their father (a POW at the time) into the AIF were repeatedly thwarted by their classification as 'essentially of abo. blood'.[44]

{17} Every recruit was asked about his civilian occupation. Two detailed censuses, taken in 1941 and 1943, offer evidence on the peacetime employment of recruits. Table 4 reproduces a summary of 'industries' made in June 1941 from the data cards of some 94,000 AIF men, nearly one-seventh of all the men who served in the Army and a higher proportion of those who saw action.

Table 4: Employment background of AIF recruits by industry (to May 1941)
Industry Number Per cent
Labourers 20,409 21.7
Commerce/Finance 10,005 10.7
Clerical (inc. public admin & prof) 13,150 14.0
Factories: metal 5916 6.3
Factories: other 5929 6.3
Agricultural etc 12,263 13.1
Motor drivers 7730 8.2
Building 4316 4.6
Other 14,148 15.1
Total 93,866 100

Source: AAV: MP 508/1, file 304/750/14.

{18} Table 5 comes from the 1942-3 census already mentioned, and shows the civil occupation and grade of employment stated by a 10 per cent sample.

Table 5: Usual civil occupations and grades of employment, army census 1942-43 (10% sample)
Occupation Employers Self-employed Employed Unemployed Assisting Other Total No Per cent
Fishing, trapping 9 98 34 - - - 141 0.3
Rual 780 1515 5083 28 292 7 7705 18.2
Forestry 16 83 303 3 - 1 406 1.0
Mining 11 103 751 4 - 1 870 2.1
Industrial 297 288 9849 53 5 7 10499 24.8
Building 219 180 2210 18 3 4 2634 6.2
Transport 199 349 3438 33 9 - 4028 9.5
Commerce 374 450 5719 21 10 - 6574 15.5
Clerical/admin 168 177 5933 26 17 7 6328 14.9
Entertainment 27 66 312 5 3 - 413 1.0
Domestic 105 103 925 7 4 - 1144 2.7
Other 3 2 1295 68 4 4 1376 3.2
Unemployed* - - - - - 232 232 0.6
Total 2208 3414 35852 266 347 263 42350 -
Per cent** 5.2 8.1 84.7 0.6 0.8 0.6 - -


* "Not gainfully occupied"
** Per cent in each grade of employment

"Grades of employment" are the horizontal categories in the top row.
"Occupational groups" are the vertical categories in the left column.

Source: AAV: MP 729/6, file 58/401/485.

{19} As the compiler of the original table noted, only 0.6 per cent said that they were unemployed at the time of enlistment, compared with an unemployment rate of 12.5 per cent among wage earners at the outbreak of the war: clearly many previously unemployed men did not record the fact, and thus there must be some inaccuracies in other parts of the table.[45]

{20} An additional problem in the tables is that men in a large and increasing number of civil occupations were not permitted to join the armed forces unless their technical skills could be of use there, and thus volunteers from these 'reserved' occupations had to lie to be accepted; their untruths are in the tables.[46] Nevertheless, some important trends can be discerned. First, Australian soldiers were not predominantly bushmen or farmers. More of them are defined here as office workers than as agricultural or rural workers, and it seems that industrial labourers predominated over farmers.

{21} Employers appeared in the Army in a ratio commensurate with their prevalence in civil life. 'Workers on own account' were less common in civil life than in the AIF (8.1 per cent compared with 11.5 per cent), while employees and 'helpers without pay' were proportionately over-represented (86.6 per cent compared with 82.8).[47]

{22} The figures in these tables represent more than the fighting units. By 1945, only one man in three or four could be defined as a 'front-line' soldier, and, although this was the furthest extent of the growth in the army's tail, one cannot be sure whether men in some civil occupations were more likely to be allocated to fighting units than those in others.[48] Beaumont shows that 80.8 per cent of privates and 62.9 per cent of NCOs in the combat-oriented force that was sent to defend Ambon in 1941 were 'manual' workers of varying degrees of skill. Most of the officers, however, came from non-manual, 'inspectional', 'managerial' and 'high administrative' occupations.[49]

{23} Although combat soldiers and men observing them often noted the great occupational diversity within their ranks, and every infantry battalion probably had its share of intellectual privates and NCOs, it does seem reasonable to assume that the labouring end of the occupational spectrum was better represented in the front-line than further back, and in the Other Ranks than among the officers.[50]

{24} The newly-recruited wartime officer was more likely to have had pre-war military experience than his subordinates. In AIF units, most of the original officers and some NCOs had been militiamen before the war, whereas the majority of the privates had no military experience.[51] Immediately before war broke out there were 80,000 men (all volunteers) in the militia, but this figure was quickly and drastically reduced because men were permitted to leave either for the AIF or on certain occupational and marital grounds.[52] As a consequence, many of those who eventually saw action in CMF units were without pre-war military experience.

{25} Why, then, did Australians who had previously shown no interest in soldiering, many of whom probably shared the widespread Australian antipathy to peacetime soldiering, now decide to enlist or accept their call-up without making the appeal to which many were entitled? [53]

{26} Here it is not necessary to differentiate combat from support troops, for it seems to be natural for most enlisting soldiers to expect to fight. The motivations of so large a group were very diverse, and many recruits had more than one reason for joining; as well, the character and strength of stimuli to enlistment changed with fluctuations in the course of the war. Despite these difficulties, almost every source points to the primacy of three factors: a desire for adventure, a sense of duty, and a sense of the Australian military heritage. Although the financial rewards of service may have been a primary inducement for a few, and a secondary one for more, the so-called 'economic conscripts' were in a distinct minority.[54]

{27} The official historian, Gavin Long, defines the desire for adventure largely in terms of an urge to break away from boring or unhappy civilian lives.[55] This is not the whole story, however, as the 'adventure' opened by enlistment could be less an escape from an old world than an entry into an unknown and exciting one. For the young, inexperienced and largely uneducated men that most soldiers were, overseas travel and war were not just an adventure, but what they called 'the great adventure'.[56] It was the stuff of romance, often lasting at least until exposure to battle: 'Dark finds us well past Alex[andria] headed west towards El Alamaine [sic] the enemy and adventure', wrote one typically excited reinforcement in his desert diary.[57]

{28} G.H. Fearnside, one of the best writers on Australia's World War II soldiers, argues that 'Perhaps the call to adventure was the greatest motivation' for volunteers; certainly it continued to attract young men eager to test themselves, although the air force was even more popular. The lure of adventure was never greater than to the very first volunteers, who formed the 6th Division in 1939.[58]

{29} For several years after 1939, less personal motives seem to have become more pressing for potential recruits. The heaviest recruiting to the AIF occured during the two or three months following the German invasion of France in May 1940.[59] Part of the reason for this was probably the fact that it was now clear that 'the Phoney War' was over and men could be certain of their 'great adventure'. Enlistments rose on other occasions with reports of fighting.[60] Yet too many observers noted the seriousness and unusual maturity of the fighting soldiers among these later reinforcements for opportunity to be the whole explanation; they found the cause in the recruits' sense of duty, which had supposedly been activated by wartime crises.[61]

{30} Unfortunately for our purposes, Australian front-line soldiers in the Second were rarely as willing as their First World War predecessors to talk openly of patriotic duty.[62] Indeed, writers have often prefaced comments about the importance of such motivation by saying that hardened soldiers would much prefer to offer trivial and fabricated reasons, or none at all, than to confess to patriotic motivation.[63]

{31} Yet many undoubtedly had a desire to 'do one's bit': in the first years of the war to protect Britain, Australia, the Empire and even the world from the Germans; and from late 1941, when enlistments shot up again, to protect Australia from the Japanese.[64] This attitude is well exemplified in a letter written home by a captain on Timor at a depressing point in the war: 'I hope it never comes to the day when you would have to shoot Germans and Japs Dad ... That is why I joined up - to keep the cows away from Home.'[65]

{32} In a large post-war survey of motivation for readiness to go to war, 'duty' emerged as the single most important factor, with the related concepts of 'Australian nationalism' and 'Empire loyalty' second and third.[66] In a poem about his battalion, a soldier wrote in Palestine of 'that patriotic urge that made us all depart'. Yet later in the poem he imagined the unit's eventual return to Australia and the pub where they would 'tell of thier [sic] adventures to a very eager crowd'.[67] This combination of duty and adventure also exerted a powerful attraction on many other volunteers.[68]

{33} Patriotic duty had appeal throughout the war, but it was probably not so alluring from late 1943, when the threat to Australia and the Empire had passed. As mentioned, most new enlistments in the latter part of the war were very young, and they were probably strongly attracted by the prospect of adventure. Another motivation is indicated by a further development in the composition of the Army in the second half of the war: the huge growth in the proportion of AIF men in the army. Between November 1942 and the end of the war fewer than 21,000 new men joined AIF units, but more than 200,000 CMF men changed their status to AIF by volunteering for overseas service within their units.[69]

{34} This changeover occurred mainly because of desire for the prestige attached to the AIF membership. Its status derived largely from the First World War, although by 1943 the tradition of the Second AIF was also impressive and probably attractive. This urge to be associated with an awesome 'tradition of military prowess' existed throughout the Second World War.[70] Some of the attachment was frivolous: Butler wrote of a man in camp 'who did not want to go to the front but joined to be called a Digger'.[71] Others, such as men with veteran relatives, were deadly serious in their hopes of living up to an act that was hard to follow. Barrett's survey showed a majority of respondents acknowledging the ANZAC tradition as a factor in their enlistment.[72]

{35} Who, then, was the typical Australian recruit destined for front-line service? The huge variety in serving soldiers threatens to defeat any attempt to define him, but the following characterisation may be attempted. Typical Australian fighting soldiers shared most or all of these characteristics: white; Australian born; aged in their 20s; healthy; height medium to tall; left school at 14; former wage-earning manual workers, who had enlisted largely because they believed that the war was morally right and because it offered them the prospect of an exciting adventure with the promise of legendary status.


1. Two books which offer some valuable detail on soldiers' backgrounds are John Barrett's We were there (Ringwood, 1987), which is based on numerous questionnaires completed in the 1980s, and Joan Beaumont's Gull Force (Sydney, 1988), which looks at the backgrounds of the men in that force.

2. Forty in exceptional circumstances for warrant-officers and NCOs. Forty-five for lieutenant-colonels, the men who commanded battalions and regiments in the line. Australian Archives, Victoria (hereafter cited as AAV): MP 742/1, File No. 275/1/34. Gavin Long, To Benghazi (Sydney, 1986), p. 49. Allan Walker, Middle East and Far East (Canberra, 1956), p. 34.

3. AAV: MP 742/1, file 275/1/34.

4. Ibid. Long, To Benghazi, p. 87n.

5. AAV: MP 742/1, files. 275/1/34, 275/1/43.

6. AAV: MP 742/1, file 275/1/34.

7. AAV: MP 742/1, files 275/1/34, 275/1/43.

8. Australian Archives, Tasmania: CRS P617, 527/1/126, 'Recruiting for AMF - History 1939-45', p. 6.

9. Calculated from AAV: MP 742/1, File No. 304/701/45 and AAV: MP 729/6, File no. 10/401/142. The former gives ages of single men in July 1939; the latter gives the year of birth of single men in the AIF in July 1941. See also Long, To Benghazi, p. 58n.

10. Pte J.M. Butler, 2/23 Bn, 'Platoon mates', 1940, pp. 8-9. Manuscript borrowed from Mrs G. Butler.

11. Gavin Long, Greece, Crete and Syria (Sydney, 1986), p. 498n. See also Long, To Benghazi, p. 149n; Victor Austin, To Kokoda and beyond (Carlton, 1988), p. 114; Philip Masel, The Second 28th (Perth, 1961), p. 8; Malcolm Uren, 1,000 Men at War (Swanbourne, 1988), p. 11.

12. Examples in: David Hay, Nothing over us (Canberra, 1984), p. 68; Bob Holt, From Ingleburn to Aitape (Brookvale, 1981), p. 3; Pat Share (ed.), Mud and blood (Frankston, 1978), p. 383.

13. Share, Mud and blood, p. 271.

14. Examples: Holt, Ingleburn to Aitape, pp. 150,152; Graeme Macfarlan Etched in green (Melbourne, 1961), p. 22; Peter Medcalf, War in the shadows (Canberra, 1986), p. 30.

15. AAV: MP 729/6, file 58/401/485, Census of Army Personnel, 1942-43.

16. Direct enlistments do not include enlistments by men still in original CMF units. There were 261,617 direct enlistments to 18/8/1945. AAV: MP 742/1. file 275/1/193. Table 2 figures from AAV: MP 729/6, file 19/401/142.

17. The average of the 1941 sample would have been 28.95 in July 1941, if all birthdays had fallen in the first half of the year, and none of the men had been dead, POWs or discharged. By 26 July 1941 there had been 1585 deaths, 2165 POWs, 5183 missing, 20791 discharges. AAV: MP 508/1, File No. 304/750/17.

18. Higher than expected: Long, To Benghazi, p. 58. See also A Bentley, The Second Eighth (Melbourne, 1984), p. 2.

19. Australian Archives, Tasmania CRS P617, file 527/1/126, 'Recruiting for AMF - History 1939-45', p. 57.

20. See, for example, Russell Mathews, Militia battalion at war (Sydney, 1961), p. 157.

21. Gavin Long, The final campaigns (Canberra, 1963), pp. 98, 451. R P Serle (ed.), The Second Twenty-Fourth (Brisbane, 1963), p. 299.

22. Austin, Kokoda, pp. 1, 19, 70, 71. Dudley McCarthy, South-West Pacific Area - first year (Canberra, 1959), p. 130.

23. Not tolerated: AAV: MP 742/1, File No. 275/1/34.

24. Long, To Benghazi, p. 87n. Walker, Middle East, p. 34.

25. Long, Final Campaigns, p. 635. Ellis, John, The sharp end of war (Newton Abbot, 1980), p. 12. In Barrett's survey, the median height of Australians on enlistment was 5ft 9in, the mode 5ft 8in. Barrett, We were there, pp. 163-4.

26. Quoted in Gnr W.C. Bird, 2/10 Fd Regt, POW Diary, borrowed from Mr J. Bird. Comparisons: e.g. Long, To Benghazi, pp. 172, 274; Henry Gullett, Not as a duty only (Carlton, 1984), pp. 21, 44, 134.

27. Ashburner, J.V., 'Psychology in the Australian Army', The Medical Journal of Australia , July 20, 1946, pp. 87, 90. AAV: MP 742/1, File No. 275/1/286.

28. Based on table in Ashburner, 'Psychology', p. 91.

29. Ibid. See also sample in AAV: MP 742/1, file 323/18/136.

30. Heavy drainage: Ashburner, 'Psychology', p. 90. British and American: Ellis, Sharp end, p. 12. See also Serle, Second Twenty-Fourth, p. 299; Share, Mud and blood, p. 123.

31. Ashburner, 'Psychology', p. 90. Up to March 1942, some 0.5 to 0.7% of potential Australian recruits examined appear to have been rejected on psychological grounds. R J Taylor, 'Examination of recruits for the army', The Medical Journal of Australia, 20 December 1941, p. 700. Youngman, N.V., 'The psychiatric examination of recruits', The Medical Journal of Australia, 7 March 1942, p. 285.

32. Ashburner, 'Psychology', p. 90.

33. AAV: MP 742/1, file 275/1/286.

34. AAV: MP 742/1, file 275/1/34. Long, To Benghazi, p. 59. Fortunately for the Army, up to 70 per cent of those unable to meet the RAAF's medical requirements were regarded as fit enough for army service. Tasmanian Archives: CRS P617, 527/1/126, Recruiting for AMF - History 1939-45, p. 61.

35. AAV: MP 742/1, File No. 275/1/43. Two authoritative sources disagree as to whether the number of men aged 18-35 who had no service in the war was 346,000 or nearly 500,000. Ninety per cent of exemptions were for occupational reasons. Australian Archives, Tasmania: CRS P617, 527/1/126, 'Recruiting for AMF - History 1939-45', pp. 15, 105.

36. Ashburner, 'Psychology', pp. 88, 90.

37. Educationally backward: 8% in a 1045 men sample were assessed as such in May 1944. AAV: MP 742/1, File No. 323/1/990. Illiterates comprised 3.4% of this sample. Other samples in the same file gave the total as 2.8% and over 3%. Long, Final campaigns, p. 85 mentions 4%.

38. AAV: MP 729/6, File No. 58/401/485. A report, written after April 1943, estimated that 80% of the AMF left school at 14. AAV: MP 742/1, File No. 323/1/990.

39. AAV: MP 729/6, File No. 58/401/485.

40. Quotation and Defence Act: AAV: MP508/1, File No. 275/701/556, letter from the Prime Minister to the Premier of New South Wales, 18 March 1942.

41. Ibid. See also AAV: MP 508/1, Files No. 275/750/699, 275/750/1310. An illuminating comment on an Aborigine who did sign up, and played a heroic role in the Kokoda Campaign was one from George Johnston, who described him in the Argus as establishing a reputation 'as a white man through and through'. Clipping found in La Trobe Library, MS 10894, 'War diary of Pte S.J. Clarke, 2/14 Bn'.

42. AAV:MP 508/1, file 275/750/1310. This file also contains evidence that most of those Aborigines who had already enlisted were retained.

43. Ibid.

44. Two young men: Ibid. This incident brought complaints from a servicemen's fathers association, which presumably was predominantly white in membership. Reject: AAV:MP 508/1, File No. 275/750/699.

45. AAV: MP 729/6, File No. 58/401/485. See also Beaumont, Gull Force, p. 29.

46. CRS P617, 527/1/126, 'Recruiting for AMF - History 1939-45', pp. 17-19.

47. AAV: MP 729/6, File No. 58/401/485.

48. AAV: MP 742/1, File No. 96/2/224. Long, Final campaigns, p. 81. On the definition of front-line soldiers, see my At the front line (Cambridge, 1996), pp. 200-202.

49. Beaumont, Gull Force, p. 29.

50. Diversity: Bennett, Cam, Rough infantry (Brunswick, 1985), pp. 2-3. G H Fearnside (ed.), Bayonets abroad, (Swanbourne, 1993), p. 3; Mant, Gilbert, You'll be sorry (Sydney, 1944), p. 30.

51. AAV: MP 742/1, File No. 275/1/193 (which shows that more than 70% of direct wartime AIF enlistments had no previous military experience). Long, To Benghazi, p. 61. Serle, Second Twenty-Fourth, p. 2. Uren, 1,000 men, p. 18. The pre-war regular army (Permanent Military Forces), comprising some 3,000 men, was dwarfed and largely swallowed by the two huge armies that grew up in wartime (i.e. AIF and CMF). The most distinctive contribution made by its members was that of the regular officers of the Staff Corps, who were indispensable to the technical management and direction of Australia's war at the higher levels. Coulthard-Clark, C.D., Duntroon (Sydney, 1986), p. 150. More than 2, 000 men joined the AIF from the PMF., which strictly speaking came to include the AIF: AA Vic: MP 742/1, file 275/1/193.

52. Hasluck, Paul, The Government and the people 1939-1941 (Canberra, 1952), p. 163.

53. Antipathy: Long, To Benghazi, pp. 11-12. Accepting call-up: Barrett, We were there, pp. 135, 153.

54. Barrett, We were there, pp. 101-3. For one recruiting officer's belief in the importance of financial motives, see AAV: MP 729/7, File No. 68/421/5.

55. Long, To Benghazi, p. 57.

56. Austin, To Kokoda and beyond, p. 21. Bentley, Second Eighth, p. 6. Roland Griffiths-Marsh, The sixpenny soldier (North Ryde, 1990), p. 77.

57. Pte T.L. Murphy, 2/23 Bn, Diary 9 July 1942. Similar: La Trobe Library MS 9800, Spr J.G. Cannam, 2/8 Fd Coy, Letter, 23 March 1941. Butler, Diary, 9 April 1941. Gullett, Not as a duty only , p. 82.

58. Fearnside, G.H., Half to Remember (Sydney, 1975), p. 10. Adventure: Masel, The Second 28th, p. 3; Gullett, Not as a duty only, p. 67. Clift, Ken, The saga of a sig (Randwick, 1972), p. 1.

59. Two or three, depending on which recruiting figures one uses. Compare Hasluck, Government and the people, Appendix 8 and AAV: MP 742/1, file 275/1/193.

60. Long, To Benghazi, p. 87. Long, Greece, Crete and Syria, p. 542. McCarthy, South-West Pacific, p. 12.

61. Seriousness: Gullett, Not as a Duty Only, p. 67; Crooks, William, The footsoldiers (Brookvale, 1971), p. 3; Masel, Second 28th, p. 3. Cause: Gordon Combe, Frank Ligertwood and Tom Gilchrist, The Second 43rd (Adelaide, 1972), p. 3. AAV: MP 742/1, file 275/1/286.

62. WWI: Gammage, Bill, The broken years (Harmondsworth, 1975), pp. 8-9.

63. Long, To Benghazi, p. 57. Mant, You'll be sorry, pp. 52-3. Uren, 1,000 Men, p. 8. Wilmot, Chester, Tobruk 1941 (Sydney, 1945), p. 61.

64. 'One's bit': Pte C.T.H. Bates, 2/30 Bn, letter from Malaya, 19 September 1941. Letter borrowed from Mrs B. Carey. Long, To Benghazi, pp. 57-8. Mant, You'll be sorry, pp. 52-3. Combe, Second 43rd, p. 243. Glenn, J.G., Tobruk to Tarakan (Swanbourne, 1987), p. 1.

65. AWM PR87/194, Captain James Murray, 2/40 Bn, letter, 29 December 1941.

66. Barrett, We were there, p. 135.

67. Pte P.T. Partington, 2/5 Bn, poem 'The Fighting Fifth', in 1940-1 diary, borrowed from Mrs L. Thomson.

68. For example: Share, Mud and blood, pp. 20-1; Combe, Second 43rd, p. 3; Long, To Benghazi, p. 57.

69. AIF men: AAV: MP742/1, File No. 275/1/193. Long, Final campaigns, p. 77n. Hasluck, Government and the people, p. 61n.

70. Hasluck, Government and the people, p. 165. See also my At the front line, pp. 75-8.

71. Diary 27/1/1941.

72. We were there, p. 138. See also Long, To Benghazi, p. 204.

©:Dr Mark Johnston

About the author

Dr Mark Johnston is Head of the History Department at Scotch College, Melbourne, Victoria. He is the author of At the front line: Experiences of Australian soldiers in Wold War Two (Cambridge 1996).