Debating Issues Relating to the Nexus of Social and Military History

Our current seminar series is conducted in a webinar format. Each session consists of a 30-minute presentation followed by a question-and-answer session.  

Those who participate (as presenters or audience) are postgraduates and academics from ACT universities, professional historians, early career researchers, independent scholars, Australian Defence Force personnel, and interested individuals.  

Attendance is free but registration is required to receive a zoom webinar link. 

2022 Programme

Seminar 1 – Tuesday 19 April

Seminar 2 – Tuesday 3 May

Seminar 3 - Wednesday 8 June

Seminar 4 - Wednesday 6 July

2021 Programme

Autonomy and independence in German captivity during the First World War

Presenter: Dr Aaron Pegram

This examination of the 4,000 First World War Australian servicemen held prisoner in Germany departs from the usual focus on victimhood and trauma. Although conditions and treatment varied significantly, Dr Aaron Pegram from the Australian War Memorial exposes how Australian prisoners of war frequently took pride in their health and appearance, attended daily parades, and respected the rank of their captors and fellow captives. Prisoners used their few freedoms to create the best possible conditions to improve their chances of survival. Dr Pegram’s most recent book is Surviving the Great War: Australian Prisoners of War on the Western Front, 1916-18 (Cambridge University Press, 2020).

Click here to listen to the recording

About Presenter

Dr Aaron Pegram is a senior historian at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. As well as working on a number of permanent and temporary exhibitions at the Memorial and other cultural institutions, Aaron is the editor, co-author and author of Both Sides of the Wire: the Memoir of an Australian officer Captured on the Western Front (2011), Beyond Surrender: Australian Prisoners of War in the Twentieth Century (with Joan Beaumont and Lachlan Grant, 2015), For Valour: Australians awarded the Victoria Cross (with Craig Blanch, 2018) and Surviving the Great War: Australian Prisoners of War on the Western Front, 1916-18 (2020). He is the recipient of the C.E.W. Bean Prize in Military History (2018), has a BA (Hons) from Charles Sturt University and a PhD from the Australian National University.

Managing First World War Naval Battle Casualties

Presenter: Dr Neil Westphalen

Following the outbreak of the First World War, the British and Australian army medical services on the Western Front faced new types of wounds that had never been seen before. This resulting in a three-year period of what the Australian medical historian, Arthur Graham Butler, called an ‘orgy of human vivisection’. Even so, the practical application of the clinical lessons learned as to how these wounds were best treated would have been far less effective, without the parallel development of an effective casualty evacuation system that pushed medical treatment services as far forward as military circumstances permitted, while restricting casualty evacuation any further rearwards than absolutely necessary.

The aim of this presentation is to fill an important gap in the medical historiography of the First World War, regarding the British Grand Fleet’s North Sea operations. It will examine how wounds sustained during naval actions such as the Dogger Bank in January 1915 and Jutland in May 1916 differed from those sustained in the Western Front, and how the British Admiralty’s casualty evacuation system likewise pushed naval medical treatment services as far forward as possible, while restricting casualty evacuation ashore.

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About Presenter

Dr Neil Westphalen, MBBS, MPH, DAvMed, FRACGP, FACAsM, FAFOEM (RACP), psc, Commander, Royal Australian Navy

Dr Neil Westphalen graduated MBBS from the University of Adelaide in 1985, and joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1987. His postgraduate qualifications include Fellowships of the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (AFOEM), the Australasian College of Aerospace Medicine (ACAsM), and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP). He also has a Diploma of Aviation Medicine and a Master of Public Health, and is a Navy Staff College graduate.

Since transferring to the Reserve in 2016, Neil has performed staff roles for Exercise KAKADU 16, the Director General Navy Safety and Environment Policy Coordination, and the Navy Personnel Career Management Agency, and has an ongoing clinical role as a Duty Fleet Medical Officer. From 2016 to 2020 he was also a member of the Australasian Faculty of Occupational and Environmental Medicine Policy and Advocacy Committee. He is a PhD candidate at UNSW Canberra.

Below the Radar: The secret war in South-East Asia 1942-45

Presenter: Kate Reid-Smith

In December 1941, World War Two came to Southeast Asia. The speed of Imperial Japan's occupation of British Malaya caught the Allies off-guard. Facing a numerically and technologically superior fighting force and without any substantial intelligence assets at hand, the Allies found themselves severely wanting in both. So much so that by June 1942, the Allied Intelligence Bureau (AIB) was formed to combat Allied intelligence shortfalls. 

Although most historical examination of the AIB has focused on military affairs such as behind-enemy-lines, propaganda and coast watching operations, competitive politicking between British and American wartime spheres of influence also influenced AIB outcomes. This paper contends that one of them, MI6’s representative in the Australian AIB's Section B (known as Secret Intelligence Australia), while ostensibly participating in the Allied war effort, may have had another mandate. This organisation may have been more focused on the provision of secret intelligence for later purposes and to assist Britain's post-war policy planning. Potential threats (if any) to Imperial or Commonwealth cohesion in the aftermath of war were identified; as were means of combatting any threatened growth of American presence or the replacement of British dominance in the region.

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About Presenter

Kate Reid-Smith is an independent scholar specialising in intelligence history. Her current research focus is on Allied secret intelligence operations in World War Two Southeast Asia. A former military intelligence officer and graduate of the Australian Defence Force School of Languages, she is fluent in Mandarin and has a working knowledge of other regional languages. Kate is an interdisciplinary researcher combining her academic qualifications in diverse fields from Oxford, ANU, Monash, CDU and Deakin, with extensive practical experience living and working across the region. She first became interested in intelligence history while completing a masters thesis on maritime piracy in Southeast Asia. 

Can we Predict Genocide?

Presenter: Dr Deborah Mayersen

The ability to predict genocide is an important component of attempts to prevent it. In recent years, there has been an increasing number of risk assessment lists that identify and rank countries at risk of genocide, mass killing and/or mass atrocities. This paper offers a critical examination of these risk assessment lists. How accurately do they predict genocide and other mass atrocities? Based on a comprehensive analysis of risk lists, I suggest that they have a good ability to identify countries at the very highest risk levels, and countries in which risk is rapidly rising. They can therefore be a useful tool for practitioners and policymakers in some respects. Their predictive capacity, however, is limited by issues of overprediction, imprecision and inconsistency. This places serious limitations on their current forecasting capacity. At present, therefore, risk assessment lists should be used carefully and critically, and alongside qualitative assessments, when assessing risk of genocide and/or mass atrocities.

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About Presenter

Dr Deborah Mayersen is a Senior Lecturer in International and Political Studies at UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy. Deborah's research expertise is in the field of genocide studies, including the Armenian genocide, the Rwandan genocide and genocide prevention. Her publications include On the Path to Genocide: Armenia and Rwanda Reexamined (Berghahn Books, 2014), and the edited volumes A Cultural History of Genocide in the Modern World (Bloomsbury, in-press), The United Nations and Genocide (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016) and Genocide and Mass Atrocities in Asia: Legacies and Prevention (with Annie Pohlman, Routledge, 2013). 

Furthering the liaison and spirit of co-operation throughout the Forces of the Empire’: Regimental Alliances and the interwar Australian Military Forces (1919-1939)

Presenter: Jordan Beavis

Regimental alliances linked the pre-Second World War militaries of the British Empire together in important ways. A connection based on sentiment, camaraderie, race-patriotism, and a shared commander-in-chief (the King), regimental alliances were a mechanism that demonstrated the interconnectivity of the empire’s armies while also having practical applications by increasing inter-army communication, providing opportunities for liaison, and establishing inter-unit fraternity. Initially used to bind a ‘junior’ Dominion regiment to a ‘senior’ regiment of the British Army and thereby enhance esprit de corps within the former, by the late 1920s direct regimental alliances were being established between Dominion formations. An understudied mechanism, this paper uses deep archival research on four continents to trace the interwar Australian Military Forces’ (AMF) use of regimental alliances to enhance its ties to the military forces of Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa. It reviews the theoretical basis for regimental alliances, their pre-First World War establishment, post-war revival, and perceived value. By illuminating the AMF’s use of regimental alliances this paper demolishes any conception of the interwar Australian Army as an isolated and parochial institution – instead revealing it as a networked force with a privileged place within the military structure of the British Empire. 

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About Presenter

Jordan Beavis is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Newcastle, Australia. His doctoral research examines the military connections and linkages that existed between the Australian Military Forces and the other armies of the British Commonwealth in the interwar period. In July 2021 he submitted his thesis, entitled ‘A Networked Army: The Australian Military Forces and the other Armies of the Interwar British Commonwealth (1919-1939)’, to his examiners. Jordan was the 2018 recipient of the prestigious C. E. W. Bean Prize for his Honours thesis. His research has been supported by the Australian Army History Unit, the Association for Canadian Studies in Australia and New Zealand, the Society for Army Historical Research, and the Society for Military History (joint with UNSW Canberra).

‘He ‘assaulted me at the matrimonial home’: Captivity Trauma and Domestic Abuse’

Presenter: Dr Kristen Alexander

Domestic abuse figured in the post-war lives of some former Australian airmen prisoners of war. This webinar explores the psychological, emotional, and moral dimensions of aggression, violence, and coercive behaviour in the lives of those former POWs and their families. It indicates that, in some cases, physical and emotional abuse were expressions of captivity trauma. It suggests that, in the immediate post-war decades, women did not necessarily present themselves as victims; they demonstrated agency in how they responded to physical and emotional abuse. Former POWs rarely articulated narratives of perpetration. Accordingly, this webinar also explores the evidentiary challenges inherent in women’s testimony, including combative statements from divorce records, veteran-centric accounts from the medical archive, and empathetic composures arising from lived experience.

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About Presenter

Dr Kristen Alexander is a visiting fellow at UNSW Canberra. She is the author of five books including Australia's Few and the Battle of Britain and Taking Flight: Lores Bonney's Extraordinary Flying Career, both of which won ACT Writing and Publishing awards. Kristen was awarded a PhD by UNSW Canberra in 2020 for her thesis ‘Emotions of Captivity: Australian Airmen Prisoners of Stalag Luft III and their Families’. Her research centres on Second World War Australian airmen and prisoners of war. She is particularly interested in their emotional responses to warfare and captivity, as well as the moral dilemmas encountered during their operational and post-war lives.

‘No Saints’: The Anzacs in Malta

Presenter: Diana Sillato

During the First World War, a hospital base was established on the Mediterranean island of Malta, then a British Crown colony. Thousands of sick and wounded Anzacs were treated there during the Gallipoli campaign in one of the 27 hospitals and convalescent homes and camps operated by the Royal Army Medical Corps. The Anzacs’ experience of Malta was largely positive, offering respite from arduous weeks or months on the peninsula and being feted as ‘wounded warriors’ by the British residents and press. However, not all Anzacs endeared themselves to the locals and some were involved in antisocial behaviour and misconduct that saw them become the subject of police reports. In 1916 Australia Hall was opened in an attempt to provide some diversion for the troops and so reduce levels of drunkenness and criminality.

This paper will shed light on this little-known chapter of the Gallipoli campaign and examine the range of experiences of convalescing Anzacs in Malta.

Click here to listen to the recording

About Presenter

Diana Sillato is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Newcastle. Her research examines the Anzac experience in Malta, where thousands of Anzacs were evacuated during the Gallipoli campaign. Diana’s research was supported by a grant from the Australian Army History Unit in 2019. She works as a secondary school teacher and has been teaching Modern History for more than two decades.

Patrolling the Borders of Intimacy’: Censorship in the Letters of Australian Servicemen and their Partners, 1939-1945

Presenter: Emma Carson

For couples who were separated by military service during the Second World War, letters were a vital means of communication that ensured the longevity of many relationships. Exchanging correspondence helped servicemen and their partners deal with practical issues and, more pertinently, construct intimacy. Nonetheless, as Australian military officials enforced strict regulations to prevent the spread of sensitive information, it was rare for personal conversations in letters to be shared exclusively between writers.

The aim of this talk is to explore the effect of field censorship on how writers conveyed intimate thoughts and maintained their relationships. The inability of servicemen to describe distressing experiences prevented them from seeking adequate emotional support from their partners. Furthermore, the knowledge that someone else was reading their letters was often enough to make correspondents on both sides employ self-censorship, which fostered emotional repression. The role of the censor is also examined to see how surveying the letters of other men in the battalion could affect their own writing, as is use of censorship to gain insight on the personal issues men faced. I argue that censorship was not an exclusively negative experience for both the censor and censored, especially as servicemen found often ingenious ways to avoid it. 

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About Presenter

Emma Carson is a PhD candidate in the History Department at the University of Adelaide. She holds a First-Class Honours degree from the University of Adelaide, for which she was awarded both the Lynda Tapp Honours Prize and the Tinline Scholarship. She was also the 2020 recipient of the Hugh Martin Weir Prize and an Australian Historical Association/Copyright Agency Writing Bursary. Her PhD research is looking at the emotional impact of separation and military service on married couples during the Second World War. She is generally interested in twentieth-century conflict, and the histories of emotion, gender, and sexuality.

2020 Programme

The New South Wales contingent to Sudan, 1885: colonial commemoration and commentary

Presenter: Dr Thomas J. Rogers

The colony of New South Wales sent a contingent of about 750 infantrymen and artillerymen to aid the British forces in Sudan in early 1885. The sending of this contingent was the first time a self-governing British colony had sent its own troops overseas in aid of an Imperial expedition. Though the contingent was small even by contemporary standards, and though the men of the contingent saw very little action in Africa, the significance of its deployment is still a topic of historical debate.

In this paper, I want to draw particular attention to the commemoration of the few deaths in the New South Wales contingent, none of which occurred at the hands of the enemy. Commemorative services for these soldiers were occasions for reflections on patriotism, Imperial unity, and the future of the Australian colonies. Close examination of the contingent and the society that sent it can offer insights into how colonists understood the place of the colonies in the larger British Empire. In colonial minds, how had the deployment of colonial troops changed the position of New South Wales in the British Empire?

About Presenter

Dr Thomas J. Rogers is a historian in the Military History Section at the Australian War Memorial. His research interests include colonial Australian and British Empire history, the South African (Boer) War, the First World War, Indigenous history, and frontier violence. Tom is on the editorial committee of Wartime, the Memorial’s history magazine. He is the author of The Civilisation of Port Phillip: Settler Ideology, Violence, and Rhetorical Possession (2018), which considers the early years of British settlement in the state of Victoria, and the relationships between settler rhetoric and frontier violence.

‘I ought to have been killed at the War’: Studying Australian First World War Veterans who Died by Suicide

Presenter: Jessie Lewcock

In February 1945, Dr Sylvester J. Minogue published the findings of his study into suicides by First World War veterans in New South Wales. Tens of thousands of coronial files were analysed, and the study concluded, alarmingly, that First World War veterans were significantly more likely to die by suicide than their civilian counterparts. Minogue drew a clear link between war service and an increased risk of suicide, and made it clear that immediate action was needed to prevent veterans of the then-current war from suffering the same fate upon their return. Yet, in 2020, we find ourselves still in the midst of a veteran suicide crisis.

This paper aims to provide historical context to the issue of veteran suicide. Minogue’s study will be revisited and that data compared with the findings of my own analysis of over twelve thousand police and coronial files in South Australia using the same methodology. It will demonstrate how a large number of First World War veterans who died by suicide struggled enormously with social isolation, substance misuse, and both physical and mental illness prior to their deaths – factors that are still resoundingly echoed by the hardships faced by at-risk veterans today.

About Presenter

Jessie Lewcock is a current PhD candidate in History at the University of Adelaide. Her thesis will examine instances of suicide by South Australian veterans of the First and Second World Wars, review the responses of government and veteran groups to the issue of suicide, and shed light on the experiences of the loved ones left behind. Jessie currently holds a Bachelor of Teaching and a Bachelor of Arts in History with Honours. She has also completed a summer school program at Queen’s University Belfast that specialised in post-Troubles policing and restorative justice. In 2019, she was awarded the Hugh Martin Weir prize by the University of Adelaide Library for the meritorious study of Australia’s participation in conflict. 

The Militia, Conscription and Politics of ‘One Army’, 1939-1945

Presenter: James Morrison

This presentation analyses how conscription and serving in the militia in the Second Word War was a political issue that has relatively limited historical attention.  It will provide a very brief overview of how the debates were influenced by the highly decisive conscription plebiscites of the First World War and a predilection for volunteerism.  The presentation will then examine how the Pacific War challenged the concept of having ‘two armies,’ one conscripted for home defence and a voluntary force for ‘overseas’ service.  It will argue too many accounts underplay the political significance, and importance, of having two armies. The presentation will also argue that, at the same time, the concept of having two armies was often used a rhetorical ploy that has marred a more comprehensive understanding of the respective forces; and while conceptually distinct, the difference between the AIF and the militia by 1944 was largely immaterial in terms of terms of composition of combat effectiveness.  The presentation will also briefly touch on the role of Australian senior military officers and MacArthur in these political debates, suggesting that the role of the latter was more significant despite ongoing concerns at political interference among the former.

About Presenter

James is a serving Army officer based in Canberra who completed history honours at ADFA in 2003 and a Masters of Arts (International Relations) from Deakin University in 2006. He has also completed a Master of Arts (Defence Studies) from Kings College London. James is a PhD student at UNSW (ADFA) and his thesis is on the Australian Army militia during the Second World War.

Internment by Law in First World War Australia: Franz Wallach and Wilhelm Karl Lude

Presenter: Catherine Bond

Although not all persons considered to be ‘alien enemies’ under law were interned during the First World War, nearly 7000 persons spent time in internment camps around Australia during this period. Underpinning this system was a range of repeatedly revised Federal statutes, regulations and policies that dictated every aspect of internment from who should be interned to how many showers individuals in specific camps could take per week.  

This paper examines the legal structure of internment in First World War Australia, using two men as case studies: Franz Wallach, a successful Melbourne businessman, and Wilhelm ‘Karl’ Lude, a butcher based in Loxton, SA, at the outbreak of the war. While both men were born in Germany, at the outbreak of hostilities these men were in significantly different social, economic and legal positions. However, both men would eventually be interned for the larger part of the war – Lude from 1914 and Wallach from 1915. While Karl Lude’s internment was arguably necessary for public safety, Franz Wallach’s internment was arguably a necessity for Attorney-General William Hughes, and this paper interrogates how law, and in some instances wilfully ignoring the rule of law, enabled this regime.

About Presenter

Dr Catherine Bond is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law, UNSW Sydney. She teaches and researches primarily in intellectual property law, with a focus on the intersection of law and history. She has published in  a range of leading Australian and international journals across issues including government ownership of copyright and the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918; plain packaging of tobacco products; and the introduction of a patent system in the Game of Thrones world of Westeros. Her first book, Anzac: The Landing, The Legend, The Law, analysed the regulation of the word ‘Anzac’ in Australia and internationally, from 1916 through to today. Catherine’s second book, Law in War: Freedom and restriction in Australia during the Great War, published by NewSouth Publishing in April 2020, examines the legal experiences of a range of individuals in First World War Australia.

Inventing Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency: The Santal Rebellion of 1855

Presenter: Peter Stanley

In 1855 Lower Bengal was wracked by the second-largest rebellion in nineteenth-century British India when the Santal people rose against exploitative Bengali landlords and money-lenders. A tenth of the Bengal Army was committed to suppress the insurgency; about 10,000 Santals died. Both the Santals and the Bengal Army improvised tactics and strategy. The conflict has been neglected in the history of insurgency and counter-insurgency. Peter Stanley, whose forthcoming book on the rebellion - only the third ever written, and the first to draw on the full lode of the Bengal Army's records - will discuss the relationships between insurgency and Santal culture. In this webinar, he will show how a people with practically no military tradition adopted guerilla tactics and how an army with no counter-insurgency doctrine responded.

About Presenter

Professor Peter Stanley of UNSW Canberra has published over 35 books, including several works on the military-social history of British India. Hul! Hul!: The Santal Rebellion, 1855 is to be published by Hurst, London.