During a recent visit to the Franco Australian Museum which details the role of Australian troops during World War One at Villers-Brettoneux (a place where the Australian and British army stopped the German advance in 1918) in the Somme region of France I took the following photo of a poster. I took immense national pride in seeing this poster and got me to thinking about Australia’s involvement in defending the right to freedom around the world over the past 170 years.
As a country Australia has only existed since 1901 (our year of federation); and as a British colony since 1788. Our Colonial troops fought beside the British in the Maori Wars in New Zealand in the 1840’s and 1860’s, the Crimean War in the 1850’s, the Sudan War in 1885, the Boer War 1899-1901 and the Chinese Boxer Rebellion 1900-1901. These wars were more about maintaining colonial power but given the times and the required duty to the British Empire the colonial troops travelled far and wide for King and country.
Then after 1901 as Australians our troops have served in many capacities from a strong fighting force to providing peacekeepers in war-torn countries and places of civil unrest:
- World War One 1914-1918 (Pacific, Middle East and the Western Front)
- Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1919 (serving with British Armed forces)
- Egyptian Revolution 1919
- World War Two 1939-1945 (Europe, Middle East, North Africa, South East Asia and the Pacific)
- The occupation of Japan 1946-51
- UN peacekeeping Dutch East Indies 1947
- Berlin Airlift 1948-49
- UN military observers India/Pakistan 1950-1985
- Korean War 1950-1953 (our Airforce were some of the first units there as they were in Japan at the time)
- Malaya Emergency 1950-1960 a Commonwealth action against communist insurgents
- UN Peacekeeping in the Middle East 1950 – present
- Vietnam War 1962-1972
- Indonesia Confrontation 1963-66 which was an undeclared war between Indonesia and Malaysia that ended up involving Australian, New Zealand and British forces under British command
- Commonwealth Monitoring Force in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) 1979-80
- Commonwealth Military Training Team in Uganda 1982-84
- UN Observers during the Iran Iraq War 1988-90
- UN transition group Namibia 1989-90
- Gulf War 1990-91
- UN Transitional Authority Cambodia 1991-93 (UNTAC) following years of civil war and fighting with the Khmer Rouge
- Unified Task Force (UN) Somalia 1992-93 (the “Technicals” will not forget their run in with the Aussie SAS)
- United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda 1994 (UNAMIR)
- Peacekeeping force on Bougainville (Papua New Guinea) 1997-present
- International Force for East Timor (INTERFET) / UN Peacekeeping in East Timor 1999-present (initially to stop the killing during civil unrest of the East Timorese who had gained independence from Indonesia)
- Afghanistan 2001-present
- The Second Iraq War 2003 – 2009
- Peacekeeping in the Solomon Islands2003-present
Along with these official missions who knows what “unofficial” or “secret” missions were undertaken during the Cold War (along with Australian troops on exchange with British and US forces). One such mission I do know of was the Australian Navy involvement in spying on Soviet/Russian shipping between 1978 and 1992. All of this is on top of humanitarian aid missions that Australia has been involved in throughout the years along with the deployment of Australian Federal Police in numerous Pacific nations and East Timor to assist in providing law and order.
Australia is a relatively young nation with a small population (by 1918 the population was 5 million people, by 1945 it was 7.5 million and even with significant growth the population is only 22 million today). Despite its remoteness and small population Australia can stand with pride with its contribution in keeping the world a safer and better place. The ANZAC legend lives on stronger than ever.
For more information there is plenty to read on the Australian War Memorial website.