Unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Services 

 Search  &  Help Recruits Military History Hall of Heroes Indigenous Slouch hat + ARMY Today Uniforms Badges

 Colours & Flags Weapons Food Equipment Assorted Medals Armour Navy Air Power 

Nurses - Medical Tributes Poetry - Music Posters & Signs Leaders The Enemy Humour Links Killing Anzac

Click to escape. Subject to Crown Copyright
Category: Assorted

Click to go up one level

Mutiny, madness or something simpler?

Mutinies in the 1st AIF

from the AWM

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 at 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.

The Spirit of the Forty-Second

Chapter 7


Attempts to extinguish the 42nd Battalion, 1918

A Terrible Blow for the Forty-Second

It was decreed that a serious calamity should fall upon our Battalion. It was threatened with extinction.

Firstly, the news was heralded by "furphies" (the Digger term for rumours). These rumours gradually grew into certainties, until finally, orders were received that the 42nd Battalion was to be broken up forthwith.

Utterances of disgust and disapproval were heard on all sides, whilst consternation surged through our ranks.

We were, all of us, set and determined that no matter what the consequences might be to ourselves as individuals, the breaking up of our splendid unit would be resisted to the uttermost. To us, it was inconceivable that the military authorities could possibly imagine that we 42nd men would calmly submit to the destruction of our Battalion; a Battalion which had covered itself with glory and distinction; a Battalion which had won unstinted praise for its trustworthiness and unflinching devotion to duty; an association which had been the means of cementing bonds of brotherly love and comradeship such as had never been exceeded in the annals of time. That we should be smashed up was unthinkable. It could not be. It must not be.


Secret meetings were held. King's Regulations were studied. A resolute spirit to stick together at all costs permeated the ranks of the Battalion.

Non-Commissioned officers, and others versed in military law, drew up a plan which in due course was confided to every member of the rank and file. Secret training in this direction went on for days and nights until each of us felt strong and ready to test the power of the military machine to crush us out of existence.

It was on September 20th that the anticipated blow fell. Instructions were received that the 42nd Battalion of the 11th Infantry Brigade of the A.I.F. be disbanded and its members transferred as reinforcements to the other three Battalions of the Brigade.

September 21st was the date of the momentous parade when our Commanding Officer, who was in charge of the parade, addressed us. He expressed the utmost regret at having to carry out the decision of the High Command, and asked us to realise that the position had been created by the demands of urgent necessity.

The following commands were given and unhesitatingly obeyed: "Attention. Slope Arms. Form Fours. Right."

Upon the order to "March" being given, none but officers moved. The men stood firm as a rock.

The parade was dismissed. Routine training under NCO's was continued during the next few days. Every order issued was strictly obeyed and carried out with alacrity.

The second effort to break up the Battalion occurred on September 25th. When we paraded on this occasion it was noticed that two officers of the 41st Battalion along with the band of that unit were in attendance, evidently to escort us.

Our Commanding Officer again addressed us and exhorted us to obey orders, and to understand that it was lack of reinforcements that had rendered the breaking up of the 42nd Battalion inevitable.

Every order he gave us was promptly obeyed until we were commanded to "March." Again officers responded but not one of the rank and file made the slightest attempt to move. The officers of the 41st Battalion, along with their band, then returned to their quarters.

The following day the 42nd Battalion was reorganised. Instead of its original establishment of four companies of four platoons of sixty men, the companies were reconstructed by having only three platoons each, and the platoons consisted of only twenty-one men. We were then equipped and made ready to fight again as "The Forty-second Battalion," in the forthcoming battle, when it was intended to take and hold the supposedly impregnable "Hindenburg Line."

To remark upon the enthusiasm with which the Battalion as a whole welcomed the decision, might seem superfluous' It was perhaps in the transport lines where it was hailed with the wildest delight. The joy of the drivers knew no bounds.

The horses attached to our transport had, by order of the 11th Brigade Authorities, been taken away and in their stead had been left some very sorry representatives of the equine species.

None but those who witnessed the parting of the drivers with their faithful companions could realise the anguish that surrounded those pathetic farewells. Our horses were considered the best in the Brigade, and every driver was justly proud of his team. In most instances they had been together since the inception of the Battalion Transport. Tears welled up in the eyes of the drivers as they said good-bye to their dumb comrades. It was difficult to keep the drivers interested in their work until the morning of the 28th September, when their horses returned to them, and though the condition of the animals was very much poorer than when taken away, each horse became the recipient of an ovation, greater than which no Melbourne Cup winner has ever been accorded.


It will now be interesting to quote our Corps Commander, the late General Sir John Monash, who comments upon the situation in his book "Australian Victories in France," as follows:

"I have mentioned that early in 1918 all Brigades of the Imperial Service had, owing to declining manpower been reduced from four to three Battalions. In this reduction the Australian Brigades participated only to a small extent. "Every one of the Australian Battalions had created great traditions. Regimental esprit and pride of unit were very strong. 

The private soldier valued his Battalion colour patches almost more than any other decoration. "My predecessor in the Corps Command had directed the abandonment of one Battalion in each, the 9th, 12th and 13th Brigades. The residue of the disbanded Battalions were used to replenish the remaining three Battalions. It was doubtless a measure directed by necessity . . . the flow of reinforcements was steadily diminishing. "I became fully alive to the difficulties which would present themselves when the fate of still other Battalions would have to be decided. 

It was a day I wanted to stave off until the last possible moment. "Towards the middle of September, 1918, the successful course of the fighting and the moderate rate of wastage had convinced me there was every hope that the strength of the remaining Battalions could be maintained at a useful standard to the end of the campaigning season of that year. "I felt assured that the disbandment of a number of additional Battalions would seriously impair the fighting spirit of the whole Australian Corps. "I was prepared to take the chance of being able to carry on until the end of 1918 with all the remaining Battalions intact. "But I was not permitted to do so. At various times from June to August, an unimaginative department kept harassing me with enquiries . . . . These enquiries were at first ignored, but early in September the Adjutant General became insistent for a reply . . . . I urged a postponement of the question . . . Looking back, it seems scarcely credible these representations should have been ignored. 

I procrastinated . . . The responsible authorities overruled my objections, and on September 19th, I received peremptory instructions to disband eight additional Battalions. "I had no option but to comply. , I called my Divisional Commanders together, and with them, decided which Battalions should suffer extinction . . . . It created a situation of extreme difficulty . . . . The whole of the personnel affected raised a very subordinate, but none the less determined, protest. "One Battalion after another very respectfully, but very firmly, took the stand that they did not wish to disband, but would prefer not to fight as dismembered and scattered portions of other Battalions. "This attitude, perhaps, bordered on insubordination, but it was conceived for a very worthy purpose. 

It was a pathetic effort and elicited much sympathy from the senior officers and myself. On the eve of the great operation for the overthrow of the Hindenburg Line, I found myself threatened with the possibilities of internal disaffection. "This, to outsiders, who could have no understanding of the situation, might impair the fair name and prestige of the Australian Army Corps. "Up to this stage, the Fourth Army Commander had been in no way concerned in the matter. The pressure came from the War Office and the Adjutant General's Department. "Lord Rawlinson's interests, however, now became vitally involved. . . . I pointed out to him how inopportune was the time for risking trouble of this nature. 

The order for disbandment having been given must stand and obedience must be insisted upon, but a postponement of further action for fourteen days was desirable . . . . "Rawlinson accepted my views in their entirety, and used his authority and influence with the Commander-in-Chief. "A postponement of action was authorised and all Battalions which had been threatened with extinction, with one exception, were to remain intact during the remainder of the fighting period."

It is needless to state that at the time we performed our "remonstrance" we had not the slightest idea that such sympathy towards us existed in the minds of our superior officers.

from the book "Spirit of the 42nd" by Vivian Brahams 1938 for the 42nd Bn Assoc


Statistics : Over 35 million page visitors since  11 Nov 2002  



 Search   Help     Guestbook   Get Updates   Last Post    The Ode      FAQ     Digger Forum

Click for news

Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces