Desertion and the death penalty
According to Section 98 of the Commonwealth Defence Act 1903, no member of the Defence Force shall be sentenced to death by any court martial except for four offences: mutiny; desertion to the enemy; or traitorously delivering up to the enemy any garrison, fortress, post, guard, or ship, vessel, or boat, or aircraft; or traitorous correspondence with the enemy. Significantly, this sentence could not be carried out until it was confirmed by the Governor-General.
Whereas approximately 346 soldiers were executed by the British Army during the First World War, this sentence was not carried out by the Australian Army.
After the dreadful bombardments of Pozieres in 1916, absence without leave increased alarmingly. Growing concerns over this issue saw some senior Australian officers urge that Australian soldiers should face the same sanctions that applied in the British Army . However the general feeling, both in Australia and in the services, was steadily against the infliction of a death penalty on men who had volunteered to fight in a cause not primarily their own.
Consequently, the AIF had to rely increasingly on the leadership and example of its officers and NCOs, the tone and esprit de corps of its men and the substitution of other penalties – including, ultimately, the publication of lists of offenders in the Australian newspapers.