Peter Stanley

Bad Characters

Australian Imperial Force 

One of what governed Peter Stanley’s professional career is a group photograph sent to the Senior Military Police Officer (Military Provost Marshal) by 10 Australian deserters in 1917 at Le Havre. This was a typical example of nose thumbing. These deserters bluntly dared the military authority to come get them. As Far as Peter could tell, these people went scot-free. 

That photograph then became what played on Peter’s imagination for years to come. Every now and then, he would look at the faces of these deserters and would not be able to help but imagine why they had done what they did. Then, he ponders unendingly on who these people really are.

When the AIF court files on Martial law was released eventually, he decided to make the haughty Anzacs what to write about. This was partly because this matter has been oddly ignored over the years and partly to quench his knowledge thirst. For someone that was a student at the War Memorial College, this was so hard to take in.

Why would well trained and disciplined soldiers just decide to desert the army? That was even easier to answer. They might see a reason to flee for their lives. An army itself retreats sometimes. Do they not? What bothered him more was why they were ignored by the Military Authority. 

Quite a number of books that contain theses on discipline have been written but none has ever been written on the discipline of the AIF. Writing on a delicate and sensitive topic as the Anzacs’ would surely come to him as tasking. This is because Australians have been solemnised with the bravado of the Anzacs from the time they were kids and as expected, it can be rather hard to easily get rid of such early established ideas in them. 

In other words, Australians hold the Anzac heroes with great regard. And it would be a dangerous adventure to castigate such people. So, it was of vital importance for him to get his tone of language perfectly right. Fortunately, he had Diana Hill of Murdoch Books ready to take the risk. 

A lot of research was made before this work came into place and this research was very intensive. The end of a line of research swung open the door to begin another line of it and on and on it between 2008 and 2009. And as this went on, the more he realised the justifiability and feasibility of his book. In the process of his research, he realized the shortcomings of the AIF’s disciplinary shortcomings which had been candidly owned up to by the AIF men. 

The need to get the tone right guided the whole book. This was because the story had largely not been written before and it had to sound sympathetic to the dead young men who had suffered in circumstances those of us in the present day did not get to experience. If he sounded too sympathetic, he condones reprehensible conducts. Too critical and he alienates readers. As a result, what made the book’s epigram were the words of Madame de Stael who said: ‘to know all is to forgive all’.