Murdoch University Research Repository

Welcome to the Murdoch University Research Repository

The Murdoch University Research Repository is an open access digital collection of research
created by Murdoch University staff, researchers and postgraduate students.

Learn more

Crime and punishment on the Western Front: the Australian Imperial Force and British Army discipline

Garstang, Edward John (2009) Crime and punishment on the Western Front: the Australian Imperial Force and British Army discipline. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

PDF - Front Pages
Download (133kB)
PDF - Whole Thesis
Download (5MB)


The Australian Imperial Force in the First World War had a deserved reputation as an effective fighting force, and at the same had the worst disciplinary record away from the frontline when compared with other Dominion forces and the rest of the British Army. Australian indiscipline is a subject that has been largely ignored, or when dealt with as in the Official History by C. E. W. Bean, has had to pass through the filter of the Australian Legend. This study examines the link between Australian indiscipline and the privileged position they held of being the only force immune from the death penalty, except for mutiny, desertion to the enemy and traitorous activity. This simple fact would have a major influence on the relatively high numbers of absentees and desertions within Australian ranks. General Headquarters in France (GHQ) saw these high levels of indiscipline as a direct result of Australian authorities not allowing their soldiers to be placed under the Army Act in full. Further differences surfaced between the British and Australians when it came to punishment, with Australian courts criticised by British Army authorities for not using the powers they possessed to impose penalties that would act as a deterrent, as well as their reluctance to impose Field Punishment No. 1. This study examines these general differences as well as dealing with a specific case of an Australian soldier charged with the murder of a French civilian, a case that attracted the attention of senior political and military figures when it transpired Australians were immune from the death penalty for murder. Maintaining discipline was a constant struggle for the authorities when faced with those determined to avoid frontline duty either by committing military crime or through self-maiming. In this context the high venereal disease rate is discussed and evidence presented that this could be considered as a self-inflicted wound. The mutiny in the 1st Battalion of September 1918 is examined as well as a mutiny in a military prison in France in 1919. It is not the purpose of this study to tarnish the reputation of the many thousands of brave men who fought in the AIF, rather it is an attempt to understand the high levels of indiscipline within the context of the war on the Western Front and the disciplinary code under which they operated.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences and Humanities
Supervisor(s): Durey, Michael
Item Control Page Item Control Page


Downloads per month over past year