Missing in action

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  • Published 20040903
  • ISBN: 9780733313318
  • Extent: 160 pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm)

IT WAS ASKING a lot of a man that he pursue a military career in Australia between 1918 and 1939. Poor pay, low status, few promotional opportunities and little community esteem were only some of the problems with such a career. Perhaps the high regard Australians had for the Anzacs of Gallipoli and France contributed to the problem for it had become a truism that the volunteer Australian citizen-soldier was ‘good’ at war. As a Labor parliamentarian put it in 1920: ‘If the war proved anything, it proved that young Australians, many of whom had not previously known one end of a rifle from another, were, after training for a month or two, equal to, if not superior, to any other troops.’ If war came again, the shearers and the factory hands, the labourers and brickies, would once more roll up their sleeves, take up rifles and convert themselves into efficient and deadly soldiers. What need of training; what need of an officer class of trainers? It was the spirit of the people that would prevail. A professional army won little public esteem.

Yet some few did seek to make a career in the Australian defence forces. One such was Henry Douglas Wynter, born near Bundaberg in Queensland in 1886. Working first on the family farm after elementary schooling, and later in a butter factory, Wynter started his military career as a part-time soldier before joining the permanent forces in 1911. War service from 1916 saw rapid promotion for Wynter as a staff officer with General Birdwood, who commanded the Australians. Wynter was mentioned in dispatches four times. On return to Australia he remained in the tiny permanent army, attending the Staff College at Camberley, England in 1921–22. Another stint in England at the Imperial Defence College in 1930 sharpened his skills and eventually, by 1935, he was promoted to the rank of temporary colonel as director of military training.

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