Defence of AIF from 'lazy bludgers and thieves' claim

Historian Graham Wilson, whose new book has sparked a trans-Tasman row, says Australia's World War I army included its share of bad characters, as did every force, including New Zealand's.

However, the fighting record of the Australian Imperial Force was so well established there had never been a need to embellish that story, he said.

The Canberra author's comments were prompted by a New Zealand journalist, Jock Anderson, who labelled the Australian soldiers as ''lazy bludgers and thieves''.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith dismissed Mr Anderson's comments with ''the disrespect they deserved''.

Mr Anderson made his remarks during a discussion last week about Mr Wilson's new book Bully Beef and Balderdash, in which he examined some of the myths surrounding Australia's WWI volunteer forces.

That included the legend that the AIF was made up of bushmen who transformed into natural warriors on the battlefield.


''The Aussies have been reluctant soldiers at the best of times,'' Anderson said. ''They've been essentially lazy bludgers, some of them - excellent black marketeers, scavengers, poachers and thieves.''

He said they had occasionally been ''quite good'' soldiers, but could not hold a candle to the Kiwis.

Mr Wilson, a former soldier, said he found Anderson's comments objectionable.

''There is no question that the AIF included its leavening of bad characters,'' he said in a statement. ''However, the same can be said of every army involved in the First World War, including the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.''

Mr Wilson said his aim in writing Bully Beef and Balderdash was to rehabilitate the history of the AIF and rescue it from the shroud of myth that had come to surround it.

''I have nothing but the utmost respect for the AIF and its history and that is exactly why I wrote the book,'' he said.

Mr Wilson said his nine years of research proved that while there were myths and legend aligned to the AIF in World War I, misleading embellishments hid the fact that the story of the AIF was extraordinary in its own right.AAP