Labour History

Job Skill, Manliness and Working Relationships in the Australian Imperial Force during World War I

Labour History (2014), 106, (1), 99–122.


Historical analyses of soldiers in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) during World War I have focused overwhelmingly on combat experiences, the environment of the trenches, and the sense of “mateship” that developed between soldiers. In recent years, labour and cultural historians have begun to approach this environment in new ways, and their work is uncovering a hitherto unseen side of the Australian experience of war. This article continues this recent trend by considering the army as a workplace, and exploring the link between job skill, perceptions of manliness, and workplace relationships in the AIF during World War I. In particular, it will explore two common beliefs that linked work and manliness together in different ways, and consider how those beliefs contributed towards tension and conflict between soldiers of the AIF during World War I.

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11.This is explored in more detail inWise, “A Working Man’s Hell,” 48–50. Google Scholar

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14.Tosh argued that public affirmation was central to masculine status.John Tosh, “What Should Historians do with Masculinity? Reflections on Nineteenth-Century Britain,” History Workshop, no. 38 (1994):184. Google Scholar

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29. Ibid., see diary entries dated 5 March 1917 and 24 November 1917. Google Scholar

30. Ibid., see diary entry dated 18 September 1917. Google Scholar

32. Ibid., diary entries as dated. The RHA was the Royal Horse Artillery, and the RFA was the Royal Field Artillery. Google Scholar

33. Ibid., diary entries as dated. Google Scholar

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56. Ibid., diary entry dated 1 November 1915. Google Scholar

57.Frances, The Politics of Work, 2. Google Scholar

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63.Bruce, diary entries as dated. Google Scholar

64.There were exceptions, particularly in the latter months of 1918 when the German Army was on the verge of collapse. See for exampleWise, “‘In Military Parlance,” 167–71. Google Scholar

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69.An example of this was at The Nek on 7 August 1915, where it has been argued that the artillery fire stopped too early, giving the Turkish defenders ample time to man the parapets and suitably prepare for the defence of the trenches, at a minimum only 20 metres away from the Australian lines, at a maximum only 65 metres away. See for example,John Hamilton, Goodbye Cobber, God Bless You: The Fatal Charge of the Light Horse, Gallipoli, August 7th 1915(:Macmillan Press, 2004), 270–76. Google Scholar

70.Bill Gammage, The Broken Years: Australian Soldiers in the Great War(:Penguin Books, 1987), 214. In the more organised cases of “Peaceful Penetration” tanks and artillery support were used. The purpose of this, as Bean records, was sometimes to destroy specific enemy posts, and at other times to distract the enemy or to drown out the noise from a raid in some other section of the line. For an example of artillery support seeBean, Official History: Volume 6, 46, and for evidence of the use of tanks in the larger raids seeibid., 338–64. Google Scholar

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73.Bean, Official History: Volume 6, 39. Google Scholar

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76.Fox andLake, Australians at Work, 11. Google Scholar

77.Bean, Official History: Volume 6, 45. Google Scholar

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Author details

Wise, Nathan