Like all crime and punishment, military detention in the Australian Army has a long and fraught history. Accommodating The King’s Hard Bargain tells the gritty story of military detention and punishment dating from colonial times with a focus on the system rather than the individual soldier. World War I was Australia’s first experience of a mass army and the detention experience was complex, encompassing short and long-term detention, from punishment in the field to incarceration in British and Australian military detention facilities. The World War II experience was similarly complex, with detention facilities in England, Palestine and Malaya, mainland Australia and New Guinea. Eventually the management of army detention would become the purview of an independent, specialist service. With the end of the war, the army reconsidered detention and, based on lessons learned, established a single ‘corrective establishment’, its emphasis on rehabilitation. As Accommodating The King’s Hard Bargain graphically illustrates, the road from colonial experience to today’s tri-service corrective establishment was long and rocky. Armies are powerful instruments, but also fragile entities, their capability resting on discipline. It is in pursuit of this war-winning intangible that detention facilities are considered necessary — a necessity that continues in the modern army.
Graham Wilson was passionate about myth-busting. While the author of Bully Beef & Balderdash and Dust, Delusions & Donkeys passed away on 17 April 2016, his last work, the second volume of Bully Beef & Balderdash, has been published posthumously and, in true Wilson style, launches itself bodily at another collection of famous myths of the AIF. A childhood spent reading his grandfather’s books on World War I produced a love of military history that gradually shaped Graham Wilson’s life. He never boasted lofty qualifications in military history, asserting instead that his extraordinary knowledge and determination to correct historical inaccuracies were the result of an ability to think critically and question assumptions developed during his lengthy military career. He combined these with an inherent curiosity and a mania for the truth. The business of debunking myths was a source of obvious satisfaction to Graham Wilson and his delight is clearly evident in his last hurrah, his second volume of Bully Beef & Balderdash. However he emphasises from the outset that his aim is not to disparage the AIF. Quite the reverse, in fact, and among the last words he penned was a final salute to the AIF of which he was undoubtedly proud: ‘Finally, I acknowledge with the most profound respect the men and women of the AIF who, from a chaotic beginning, built one of the finest fighting machines of the twentieth century and whose story does not need and never has needed myth to bolster it.’ Vale Graham Wilson to whom Australians owe an enormous debt in returning the men of the AIF from the realms of lesser gods to the ranks of ordinary humans who lived and died in the service of their country.
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