Lachlan Mead - The Australian Style of Discipline: Military Justice and the 2nd AIF between 1939 and 1943 - 22 September

Observers of the Second Australian Imperial Force (2nd AIF) have often asserted that the Force was subject to an ‘Australian style of discipline’[1] that was necessary to accommodate the distinctive qualities of individualism and informality which are understood to characterise the archetypal Australian soldier in accordance with our ‘Digger’ myth. Australia, like the other dominions, derived its military justice system from the Army Act of the United Kingdom; but, unlike any other dominion, Australia insisted from the outset of Federation that Australian forces would be subject to Australian military justice.

By 1940, the Australian military justice framework that the 2nd AIF took with it to the Middle East had evolved to become self-sustaining and distinct from the British framework. The reason for this was not so much that the Army had to accommodate soldiers who did not like to salute or who did not comport themselves smartly in barracks, but rather to accommodate public expectations as to how a volunteer citizen militia should be treated; and, more importantly, to reinforce Australian control over Australian forces in Imperial coalitions under British command.

Nevertheless, while the 2nd AIF deployed to the Middle East in 1940 with an evolved and Australian military justice framework, it soon discovered that its military justice institutions were not up to the task of dealing with an unanticipated deluge of offending, most commonly involving unlawful absences and desertions, theft of civilian and military property, and assaults on military and civilian persons; but also extending to drug trafficking and use, sexual assault and even murder. Command was compelled to rapidly develop and professionalise the initially modest capabilities of the Force’s military police, courts martial, and detention barracks, so that by 1943 the 2nd AIF’s military justice institutions had became a model for the broader Australian Military Forces following its disengagement from the Middle East theatre and return to Australia.