As a young boy, I often sat spellbound by my father’s stories of the Great War; his stay in Egypt, the excursion to Ismailia, the landing at Anzac Cove, the advance at Krithia and life on Gallipoli. Little did I realise that some 30 years after his death in 1965, that I would be writing the history of his beloved 8th Battalion. It was perhaps his stories that kindled my interest in history, and in particular, military history. A frequent visitor to the family home was Ted Charleton, another member of the original 8th Battalion that landed at Anzac. Unlike some veterans who were loathe to speak of their wartime experiences, my father and Ted. seemed to realise that I was an eager audience, willingly to sit quietly and listen spell-bound to their tales.
It is a pity that in 1996, few members of the 8th Battalion have survived the natural ravages of time. 1 can imagine how much more exciting COBBERS IN KHAKI would be, if I had the opportunity to interview many officers and men, as I did when I wrote the history of the 2/15th Battalion. Nonetheless, I have been able to draw on a wide range of primary material made available through the assistance of the Australian War Memorial, families of former members of the battalion, and friends who also have a keen interest in re. searching our military history.
Some people might ask, why bother writing about events that occurred some 80 years ago? The answer is simple; if we do not understand and remember the sacrifice that men willingly made, in many cases for ideas such as God, King and Country, then we as Australians will be bereft of our underlying identity as a nation. In today’s society, some people would regard the notion of men enlisting out of patriotism and a sense of duty, as being anachronistic and politically incorrect. However, a reading of COBBERS IN KHAKI will show that over six thousand young and not so young men, mainly from Ballarat and country Victoria, enlisted to do their duty. An argument commonly advanced is that the soldiers enlisted because there were unemployed or were merely adventurers, and this could be applied to. some members of the original unit. But, when the daily casualty lists appeared in the papers following the landing at Anzac, and the subsequent battles in France, men. still enlisted, despite the very obvious risks. The Au. stralian Army has had a proud tradition of voluntary enli. stment in most of the wars it has fought. Unfortunately, the. se wars have consi. stently killed or maimed the the nation’s elite. Australia’s losses in the Great War of 1914-1918, totalled about 60,000 officers and men. The hardships these losses created for their families and the fledgeling national economy are rarely considered. Yet, the ‘spirit of Anzac’ has endured in the decades following Gallipoli. It is this notion of sacrifice and enduring mateship under adver. se conditions that helped build this country during sub. sequent decades. But, we usually tend to only focus on such issues on Anzac Day or during times of national crisis or anniversaries.
Australia has seen enormous changes since 1945, and it behoves us all to ensure that newcomers to this country are taught. something of the magnificent heritage our forefathers left us. Unfortunately our modern ‘heroes’ are more likely to be TV/pop stars or sportsmen, and I doubt whether many Australians today know of the audacious heroism of Albert Jacka. COBBERS IN KHAKI features true heroes such as Lay, Traill, Mitchell, Goodwin, Robans, Trevena and Scorer. Perhaps it is still not too late to give due recognition to such men, and the thou-.sands of other men who. served in the 8th Battalion, to their families and friends who waited, and in many cases wept when the fateful telegram arrived advising that a dear one had been killed.
The publication of COBBERS IN KHAKI will hopefully en. sure that the. story of the 8th Battalion and the ‘spirit of Anzac’, with all its connotations, will be remembered by current and forthcoming generations of Au. stralians.