Combat Colonels

May 19, 2015

David Holloway’s father, over half a century ago, when asked by David who his colonel had been during the War, said ‘we were much too busy to worry about that sort of thing’. Basing his research principally on official records, Holloway, over a six-year period, has assembled a work that encapsulates so much more than its title indicates.

The government planning and actions taken in relation to the AIF before the declaration of war, is the prelude to the text. The book is separated into six parts −similar to the AIF’s organization − the infantry; then cyclist, miner and pioneer battalions; the Light Horse; the Camel Corps; the Australian Artillery; and (although not part of the AIF) the Australian Flying Corps. Although not including engineers, signals, transport, medical and supply units, the list includes many more than the original appointees as transfers, promotions, casualties and leave over the duration of hostilities have been taken into consideration.

Concentrating on the 60 infantry battalions and the units that supported them, the focus is on lieutenant colonels and those majors appointed to be contemporary Commanding Officers (CO), and the campaigns in which the units were involved. Appendix 1 provides a list, by theatre of war; of the actions and battles in which the AIF took part and the time they took place.

Initially the ANZAC Corps, the divisions and brigades have their actions and commanders listed, with their commanders’ biographies following. The battalions are then individually examined with their formation state and brigade listed. Often the date of embarkation, the vessel transporting them to the Middle East and their arrival date is included. The COs are listed chronologically with the dates of their command. Following this is a biography of each CO’s listed occupation, date and place of birth, any existing previous military service, a history of promotion and postings, including who they replaced and where posted on leaving the battalion. Any actions that resulted in decorations, becoming a casualty (and place of burial), subsequent promotions, date of return to Australia, and their destiny/date of death following return where accessible. There are 87 photographs of COs, senior commanders, entire units on parade, camps and battle sites bound en masse in the centre of the volume.

A similar treatment, often with less personal detail, has been applied to the remaining five parts.

Holloway has undertaken considerable analysis of the data he has assembled. These touch on some interesting aspects and facts including those who had served in the Sudan and Boer War, those who were British Army officers, those who were in the Australian permanent forces, the youngest (22) and oldest (58), and those eighteen who enlisted as privates soldiers. Despite the incredible demands of life in the front line, there were 32 COs who lived to 85 to 99 years of age!Of current interest is the topic of stress and shell shock and how the AIF handled it during the War is another worthwhile appendix.

A Roll of Honour lists by theatre the 54 COs who died. The Index of Names lists all of the COs and their first command. A very comprehensive list of sources includes general military histories, biographies and then the battalion unit histories (with the exception of the 20th and 60th Battalions), and the published histories of the other arms and services. With Holloway completing his writing in 2013, this is list is very contemporary.

David Holloway chose the cover and saw the final arrangement of his final work before he passed away in October 2014 at the fine age of 85. This monumental work is a tribute to a fine researchernot prepared to overlook any detail in the obviously myriad of minutiae involved in its compilation.

“The Royal United Services Institute of Victoria Library wishes to thank the publisher for providing a copy for review.”

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