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Thursday, 26 March 1942

Senator BRAND (Victoria) .- Recently, a Cabinet Minister expressed the opinion that batmen to military officers should be transferred to a unit and take their places as fighting men.

I should like to draw honorable senators' attention to an article in a London publication, Left News, dated the 1st February, 1941. It recalled that, in the early months of the recent Spanish revolution, the two International Brigades assembled, after the first engagement, to discuss the question of leaders appointed by a men's committee. At that period, the officers so appointed did not Iia ve batmen. The personnel of those brigades were the most deeply political of all of the units in Spain and held reactionary views. They decided that their officers must have a distinguishing uniform, live in separate messes, and each have a batman. For their own personal safety and comfort, the men demanded the utmost professional efficiency from their platoon commanders upwards to brigade commanders. They knew that in a battle a commander must have absolute authority to get things done his way. They realized that an officer who should be arranging for supplies to be brought up, reporting casualties and advising his superior officers on the condition of his men and the tactical possibilities before his unit, should not waste his time in a queue for half an hour, waiting for his issue of mule stew and red-ink wine. The article stated that " sheer self-preservation induced the troops to demand that their respective commanders should not be scrounging around feeding themselves, looking after their equipment, or wasting time endlessly by arguing the reasons for every order given ".

The article went on to say that these tough soldiers of fortune from many foreign countries secured for their officers, before the end of the revolution, a degree of privilege only a little less than that found in the armies of the great powers.

In advocating a distinguishing and recognizable uniform, spokesmen from the ranks pointed out that, in the indescribable muddle of a modern battle, all sorts of commanders of different kinds of units appear and move on again. They said that it was impossible to know by sight all the individuals who, in any given battle, may have to give important orders and that therefore it was essential that officers should have some badge of rank, so that their authority could be seen and understood at a glance. They pointed out that distinguishing uniforms for officers are a practical necessity in battle and not simply a means of bolstering the personal vanity of an individual officer.

In the Australian Army, a batman is on the strength of a unit, and in an emergency takes his place in the battle-line, for lie is a trained soldier. I recall the 18th and the 19th May, 1915, on Gallipoli, when the Turks made a desperate effort to drive the Australian Imperial Force into the sea. Many batmen manned the front-line trenches on that memorable occasion.

A batman helps to prepare and serve his officer's food, looks after his equipment, and generally helps the officer to keep his mind off domestic details, so that he may be free to concentrate on the important matters which the international brigades for their comfort and safety demand that he shall do.

Let there be no more loose talk about batmen not being necessary. Only in respect of captains and higher officers has each officer his own batman. During recent years, I do not think there has been any change in the rule that three junior officers have one batman between them.

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