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Thursday, 24 September 1942

Mr POLLARD (BALLAARAT, VICTORIA) - It was an example of bad generalship.

Mr ABBOTT - Bad generals are bad disciplinarians. I understand that the commanding officer has since been relieved of his command, but he should have been dealt with more severely than that.

My next example occurred at an important depot in the country districts of New South Wales, where materials worth millions of pounds were stored. A soldier had robbed a citizen in the streets of the town, and the victim, noticing the colour patches on the man's arm, reported the theft to a military policeman. Together, they went to the depot at night and spent half an hour, unchallenged by sentries, looking for an officer. How can we expect to maintain discipline among the men and junior officers if discipline is not enforced throughout the Army? It is essential to the safety of our men, and the preservation of Australia, to enforce strict discipline.

I am aware that the situation in New Guinea at the present time is too fluid to enable my suggestion to be adopted, but I hope that the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) will take the first opportunity that occurs to pass new battalions and formations through the battle area, so that they will become accustomed to bombing and shelling. This experience is most necessary if a repetition of the disaster that occurred at Loos in the last wax is to be avoided.

American correspondents have declared that the Australian Army does not readily adapt itself to new methods. In ray opinion, we shall have to follow the suggestion of men like Wintringham and arm our troops in tropical jungles with " Woolworth weapons ". One of the saddest stories of all is the history of the Owen gun. The Army was averse to using weapons of light calibre, but the Japanese are using them most effectively in the jungles of New Guinea. The Minister for the Army must personally study the equipment that is issued to Australian troops. He must not accept as gospel every recommendation of his military advisers. He must weigh and sift matters and accept responsibility for them. He must be ruthless, and make decisions. He should not be a rubber stamp. I should like to know what is being done regarding the uniforms issued to our men in New Guinea. Has an expert in the art of camouflage, such as Professor Dakin, been sent to New Guinea to advise upon the most suitable uniform for our men? I doubt it. Perhaps the Minister will answer that question.

I quote the following passage from Generals and Generalship, by General Sir Archibald Wavell -

No method of education, no system of promotion, no amount of common-sense ability, is of value unless the leader has in him the root of the matter - the fighting spirit.

The fighting spirit of our Army must be roused. Another extract from the same book reads -

The pious Greek, when he had set up altars to all the great gods by name, added one more altar " To the Unknown God ". So whenever wc speak and think of the great captains and sot up our military altars to Hannibal and Napoleon and Marlborough and such-like, let us add one more altar, " To the Unknown Leader" - that is, to the good company, platoon, or section leader -who carries forward his men or holds his post, and often falls unknown. It is these who in the end do most to win wars. The British have been a free people and are still a comparatively free people; and though we are not, thank heaven, a military nation, this tradition of freedom gives to our junior leaders in time of war a priceless gift of initiative. So Jong as this initiative is not cramped by too many regulations, by too much formalism, we shall, 1 trust, continue to win our battles - sometimes in spite of our higher commanders.

Platoon leaders, section- leaders and the rank and file are the men who win battles. It behoves us, who sit in comfort in this chamber, to do everything in our power to see that our troops are well disciplined and properly equipped to meet the enemy.

In all military history, victory has gone to -the determined, resolute men who stayed and fought it out. Tamerlane the Great said that ten- men in the proper place at the proper time were worth 10,000 men at another time. Against overwhelming odds, Kemal Pasha held Hill 946 during the great battle of Suvla Bay. When the last British attack against his position broke, he had only seventeen gendarmes. He knew that the enemy was on his flank, but he held on until the attack fell back and he was able to bring, up a couple of brigades of infantry. His stubborn resistance decided the fate of Europe for at least two years, because jio allied troops were able to pass through the Dardanelles. I do not ask the Minister to make scapegoats of Army officers; but if any officer has failed he must be ruthlessly dealt with, whether he be in a department behind the lines, in the ordnance branch, or a battalion commander. The only prize which any soldier should get is the reward of success. No failures can be tolerated.

Our troops are thinking seriously about a number of matters to-day, as the following letter from a member of the Australian Imperial Force who served in Libya, Greece, Crete and Syria shows -

We are still marking time - which, is, of course,, the most trying state of affairs for a real soldier; and then there is the leave question. This unit had seven days' leave on arriving home after just on two years abroad; we have been promised more, to put us on the same footing as others who have received better treatment, but every time the good word has gone the rounds, some red tape has held up the works. On the air we hear the Army Minister (Mr. Forde) talk glibly of 28 days' leave for all troops returned from Overseas, but nobody can take much notice of that, I guess. Our birds are getting a bit fed up, especially as we 11ave the spectacle of Militia who had four or five months in Port Moresby (with no actual fighting) sporting a big "New Guinea" on their shoulders, now on 28 days' home leave; seems as if the Australian Imperial Force is taking over New Guinea, or rather Papua, from these people. By the way, the Views from Papua is Hot so hot; a few days ago (about four) we were repulsing the enemy at Kokoda, and then almost in a matter of hours he is over the Owen Stanley Ra,ige. Very disturbing, what! The whole show up there is not so good - seems to be lack of unified command, also proper equipment and medical supplies. The Yank General Brett says troops were pitifully supplied, which is to say the least a bloody rotten show, when it takes the Yanks to show up our deficiencies in this regard.

In one important way the Minister may assist our troops. The " digger " refers to the manner in which Australian soldiers are treated by the civil population. He writes -

Our point of view is: Collectively, in a march through a city, we are showered with confetti; on leave by myself or with a cobber, J am shunned like a pariah - nobody says " Good day ", even. To be candid, I have found it so myself when on leave in Brisbane, therefore, if you don't know any one, there is nowhere to go except pictures, pubs or races. Most blokes crave a bit of home life or a home away from home when on their short leaves. Facilities for this are lacking sadly in most cities, except for a few canteens run by voluntary women workers and wholly dependent on charity. Well, I guess I've said enough, so good-night.

The Department of Information may be able to bring home to the minds and hearts of the civilian population the fact that there are many lonely soldiers in their midst. It believes civilians to open their homes to the troops and make them feel as if they were once more in the bosoms of their families.

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