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More myths of the AIF examined and debunked

Authors: Graham Wilson
Rated 4.25 out of 5 based on 4 customer ratings
(4 customer reviews)
155mm x 230mm

The late Graham Wilson delighted in his self-appointed role as the AIF’s myth buster. In this, his second and final volume of Bully Beef and Balderdash, he tackles another eight popularly accepted myths, exposing the ‘Water Wizard’ of Gallipoli who saved an army, dismissing the old adage that the ‘lions of the AIF’ were led by British ‘donkeys’, debunking the Gallipoli legends of the lost sword of Eureka and ‘Abdul the Terrible’, the Sultan’s champion marksman sent to dispose of AIF sniper Billy Sing, and unravelling a series of other long-standing fictions. Finally, he turns his formidable forensic mind to the ‘lost’ seven minutes at The Nek, the early cessation of the artillery barrage which led to the slaughter of the Light Horsemen immortalised in Peter Weir’s Gallipoli.

Wilson’s crusade to debunk such celebrated fictions was born of the conviction that these myths do very real damage to the history of the AIF. To demythologise this nation’s Great War military history, he argues, is to encourage Australians to view the AIF’s record on its own merits. Such are these merits that they do not require any form of embellishment to shine for all time. This book is a tribute to Graham Wilson’s extraordinary passion for truth and fact and his drive to set the historical record straight.

Graham Wilson

Graham Wilson

Graham Wilson was passionate about myth-busting. While the author of Bully Beef & Balderdash and Dust, Delusions & Donkeys passed away on 17 April 2016, his last work, the second volume of Bully Beef & Balderdash, has been published posthumously and, in true Wilson style, launches itself bodily at another collection of famous myths of […]

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4 reviews for Bully Beef & Balderdash Vol II

  1. Rated 4 out of 5

    THE Anzac legend is deeply embedded in our national psyche for good reason. It was the grand entrance of the Aussie Digger, a bronzed bushman and natural soldier who had been shooting and riding since he was a kid, to the world stage. He existed on a ration of bully beef, hard biscuits and black tea, hated discipline and could raise hell when on the booze. It’s stirring stuff, writes military historian Graham Wilson, but it’s more myth than reality. There were some tough bushies in the Australian Imperial Force in World War I, but the majority of Diggers were city types and many of those from the country were townsfolk with trades. Their rations included a diversity of foods including bread, cheddar and onions. Wilson admits that some myths, which came from yarns spun by soldiers and embellished by historians such as Charles Bean, are harmless but, he argues, the real story is inspiring enough without the tall stories. What’s more, some myths are harmful, such as the “Battle of the Wazzir” of April 1915, when a mob of Diggers are reputed to have “cleansed” the red-light district of Cairo by burning it to the ground. In fact it was little more than a few small fires quickly extinguished. At 600 pages, this is a comprehensive and painstaking work but Wilson has a lively style and keeps the narrative moving nicely. It is handsomely illustrated with photos from the Australian War Memorial. VERDICT: FACT AND FICTION ABOUT OUR ANZACS

  2. Rated 4 out of 5

    This is a book for serious scholars of the AIF rather than decriers and demeaners who belittle the AIF in the cause of contemporary politics or blaggards and boosters peddling simplistic stories of impossible chievements for their own reasons… Wilson is intent on setting the record straight on what he considers the great myths of the war. He destroys a myth I certainly had never heard of: that the corpse of Lieutenant Alfred Gaby was exhumed after he won the VC, dressed in uniform and propped up for an official photograph. Some better known ones are demolished in such detail that there is now no excuse for their ever appearing again. For example C.E.W. Bean’s founding legend of the Digger as a natural warrior blessed with the shooting and survival skills of the bushman is destroyed by a detailed analysis of the enlistment records and training performance of recruits…. Regardless of the importance of the issue or otherwise, Wilson is scrupulous in making his case and generous to a fault in sharing his obviously enormous knowledge of the AIF…Perhaps Wilson has a second volume in mind. I hope so. The record of Australia in WWI, especially on the Western Front, is too important to be left to the dramamerchants.

  3. Rated 4 out of 5

    …Wilson knows his way around the archives and he is interested in what the First AIF was and what it did – not the subsequent stories. Thus, he shows that its members were not, could not have been, all crack shots from the bush. He explains why the Gallipoli campaign was not doomed by inept intelligence, and he makes it clear that the AIF was not all teeth and no tail, that not every Australian on the Western Front was an assault infantryman. Wilson also knocks over many other legends of varying obscurity, presenting evidence that borders on the obsessive. Think the Light Horse delivered the world’s last cavalry charge at Beersheba in 1917? Think again, it was Italian cavalry fighting the Soviets in 1942 and Wilson includes their order of battle to prove it! [xi] Not that he wants to diminish a record, in no need of embellishment with bullshit: The AIF’s record is so superb in its own right that it does not need myth to bolster it. All that mythologists, those who create the myths and those who perpetuate them do, is to conceal under a layer of falsehood and misinformation the true story of a remarkable army. [xii] Which is where we should be this week, getting into the detail of what actually occurred. The reason WWI and all the fights that followed are worth studying today is not because they can providence evidence for contemporary political arguments but because they are battles Australians fought. People are always interested in family history – but we generally want to know the whole story – the bad bits and the good – so we can understand not judge.

  4. Rated 5 out of 5

    Thanks to the selective writings of Australia’s World War I official war correspondent, Charles Bean, generations of Australians have grown up on tales of the natural warriors from the bush who possessed the martial virtues of courage, duty, honour and self-sacrifice and who were, almost invariably, triumphant in battle. They were, supposedly, resourceful, irreverent, and disdainful of authority and they existed on bully beef and mateship. In a nation starved of military heroes these half-truths and outright lies were quickly accepted and the AIF’s immortality was guaranteed. Despite the fact that, in the past 30 years or so, many Australian historians have published revised histories of Australia’s participation in the Great War, Australians have clung to their legends and myths have become accepted fact. With a strong belief that unsubstantiated history is merely mythology, Graham Wilson decided to test the truth of many of the legends which surround the AIF. His stated aim in writing this book is to debunk a number of myths, big and small, well known and lesser know, connected with the AIF and to set the historical record straight. The result is a book of over 500 pages which will test the resolve of readers who hold dear many legends which have become accepted as Australian military history. In meticulous detail, Wilson casts a critical eye on subjects such as the Battle of the Wazzir, the Australian Light Horse and the shooting of their horses, the AIF’s volunteer status in the war and the diet of the fighting men, to name a few. His intent in doing so is not to debase or insult the memory of the AIF but to rescue its historical reputation. Graham Wilson’s credentials are well established. He was a member of the Australian Regular Army for 26 years and civilian employee of the Department of Defence for 15 years; 10 of which were spent with the Directorate of Honours and Awards where he conducted historical research. After retiring from the Public Service, he continued working as an historian and has become a prolific author. Sandra Lambkin

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