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Where did the term "Digger" come from and 50 other questions.

There are 4 theories about where the term "Digger" came from. Any one may be correct. Any one may be wrong.
  • 1. The blokes who enlisted from Western Australia (and some other places) were gold miners or tin miners. They were 'diggers' and the name traveled with them to Gallipoli.
    • (The people who support this theory point to the Eureka Stockade and the fact that the name "diggers" was used there).
  • 2. On Gallipoli if you wanted to live you dug a hole. Many holes joined with other holes to become trenches. Trenches needed to be constantly re-dug. So the blokes who survived were 'the diggers'. 
    • Another version of this is that when there was talk of withdrawing the troops on the first day and the decision was made that it was impossible, Birdwood ordered the troops to "dig in". 
  • He did so after Sir Ian Hamilton the overall commander said "P.S. You have got through the difficult business, now you have only to dig, dig, dig, until you are safe."
    • 1 and 2 are both unlikely as the term was not used in any written material at or about Gallipoli and was not in common usage until 1917 although it was probably being used in some areas in 1916. At Gallipoli blokes were "Cobbers", "Trooper Redgum" or "Billjims". 
    • In Egypt and in Gallipoli the Australians were often referred to as "Kangaroos" or "Tommy Kangaroos" or "Johnny Kangaroos" ( refer the Anzac Book).
  • 3. In his book "The Maori Battalion in the First World War" the respected NZ historian Chris Pugsley claims (page 55 August 1916) "the New Zealand Pioneers work in building the communications trenches - ................... - would earn them the sobriquet "the diggers". The British units they served coined the term on account of the Pioneers exploits as the "Digging Battalion". "Digger" was adopted by the rest of the New Zealand Division in 1916. By 1917 the name has spread from the New Zealand Division to the Australian Division in the the ANZAC Corps (somewhat ironically for the Australians never set a great store by the pick and shovel...........)"

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  • 4. The famed Australian historian C E W Bean claimed that the word started with the professional gum-diggers from New Zealand but he does not set a date for it's first usage, although he indicates that it gained common acceptance during 3rd Ypres (Passchendaele). for details of gum digging
C E W Bean in "Anzac to Amiens":
"The fresh troops for the spearhead of the drive upon the main ridge were the I Anzac Corps. They would attack, if possible, on September 20th. [1917]
The I Anzac Corps - after the Somme, Somme winter, and Bullecourt - had been enjoying perhaps the finest rest ever given to British Empire troops in France. Strangely enough it was at this stage that the Australian soldiers generally began to speak of themselves as "Diggers", a name already fairly general among the New Zealanders, and well satisfying their own conception of their job."
  • Who knows which one is correct? I certainly don't. (No arguments entered into).

The following quote from an article which appeared in the Herald (Melbourne) Tuesday, Evening, August 30 1929.


Words coined at the front.

  • The origin of the term "Digger" as applied to the Australian soldier is still disputed, even after 11 years of peace.

    • "You can take it from me" says Sir John Monash, "that the term arose on Gallipoli after the Australians had been put to digging trenches."

    • Captain Bean, official war historian, says the nickname originated with the New Zealand forces, and was derived from the "gum diggers" i.e., the industrial diggers of kauri gum.

    • In the No. 2 edition of "Aussie," the A.I.F magazine, printed on the field of battle (price 10 centimes), under the date February 16, 1918, appears this explanation by Sergeant R. Traherne:-

      • "About the origin of the word 'Digger.' It is a relic of our gold-mining days. When two men or more were clubbed together on a claim and became each other's diggers, implying, beyond the mere literal meaning of the word, a sense of friendship and trust. I frequently heard the term in my original battalion when we were at Mena. It was revived owing to our digging trenches, and seems rather more appropriate than 'cobber'."

  • Webmaster's note; I personally find it a real pointer to the use of the word if not the origin that it does NOT appear, even once, in the Anzac Book, which was written by and for the men of Anzac in 1915. If the Anzacs did not use the word in their 170 pages of writings in 1915, I doubt that it was in common usage at that time.

  • In Egypt and in Gallipoli the Australians were often referred to as "Kangaroos" or "Tommy Kangaroos" or "Johnny Kangaroos" ( refer the Anzac Book)

Are Australian soldiers the only Diggers?

There is a growing misconception in Australia that the term "Digger" applies only to Australians and that New Zealand soldiers are "Kiwis".

That might be true in the slang of the Vietnam War because in that war for the first time ever troops from both countries were intermingled in small units. (RNZIR Companies in RAR Battalions to create 2 RAR/NZ (ANZAC), for one example)

Before that in WW1 and WW2 although we served side by side we did not have small unit integration.

This book, dated 1940, shows that New Zealanders (NZ'ers, Enzeders, Kiwis) considered themselves to be Diggers.

We Shall Remember Them : Tales of the Diggers old and new by John J. Glennon,  Waimate, N.Z.

Poems and occasional prose from the Great War, 1914-1918. 

This is written by a NZ Digger for fellow Diggers and really is a moving testament to the sacrifices made by so many in the Great War. 

Has been out of print for decades and is virtually unobtainable.

Frequently asked questions 1 to 50

  1. How do find a particular military unit ?
  2. Where can I find details of a relative who served in the military ?
  3. Why doesn't your site have details on  the subject that interests me ?
  4. Who is Australia's most respected soldier ?
  5. What is a choco or chokko ?
  6. When is OK to wear my relatives medals ?
  7. Why is a parade ground considered sacred?
  8. What is a Dead Man's Penny?
  9. What has rosemary got to do with soldiers?
  10. How do I find out about Great Grand-dad's medal entitlement?
  11. Which is on top Army Navy or Air Force
  12. My relative was killed. Where is he buried?
  13. Where is Flanders and what are Flanders Fields?
  14. What were "deep thinkers" and/or "fair dinkums"?
  15. Why was 3 Division the 'baby' Division?
  16. Uncle Fred was a private. I have a photo of him in an officers cap. Why?
  17. When was khaki introduced into the Australian Army as a uniform colour?
  18. Did the horses of the Light Horse or the Boer War come home?
  19. What is a Trooper, a Craftsman, a Sapper? What is a Bombardier?
  20. Where can I get a full list of the different ranks?
  21. What are the sticks that the senior blokes carry?
  22. How long did soldiers join up for?
  23. I've heard about a new WW2 web site. What is it?
  24. What is a King's (or Queen's) Crown?
  25. What is an Ensign?
  26. What is a hexamine stove?
  27. What is Beating The Retreat?
  28. What is meant by the term 'Total war'?
  29. Just what was the work of a "Pioneer Battalion"?  
  30. What is a Sam Browne belt?
  31. What is Blanco?
  32. What is a Short Arm Inspection?
  33. What does spit polish mean?
  34. What's the difference between Warrant Officers & Commissioned Officers?
  35. What is a mess?
  36. What is olive drab? What is khaki?
  37. What is ADFA?
  38. Where are Officers trained?
  39. Why are Officers saluted?
  40. What is 'friendly fire'?
  41. What is napalm?
  42. My Uncle was a WO2. Now I am told he was a CSM. How can he be both?
  43. What is an OR and /or what are ORs?
  44. Where is the Snakes Pit and what is the Pigs Pen?
  45. What is "the Ode" all about?
  46. What does RHIP mean?
  47. Can a Air Force bloke give orders to an Army soldier?
  48. What about the poppy. Why is it significant?
  49. Where can I find the words to the poppy poem?
  50. I see things like KIA, MIA and others . What do they mean?

for more FAQ

How do I find a particular military unit ?

The quickest way to locate a unit is to do a Site Search and just put in the number of the unit. Do not search for 12th Battalion as the results will list every 12th AND every Battalion. Just search 12th. Read the Search Tips on the page for a better understanding of how the search engine works.

In the case of a WW2 unit also look at the Order of Battle page and Who was there and the page Battle Honours.

In the case of Viet Nam look at All units SVN

Where can I find details of a relative who served in the military ?

Many of the details are available on the web from the Australian War Memorial or the Australian Archives. Otherwise you may have to pay a fee of $16.20 to get a photocopied history of your particular service person. Details are on the page called Find a soldier and on Official Enquiries.

Why doesn't your site have details  on the subject that interests me ?

This site was planned for about 2 years and work on the site started in early 2001. It has taken full time work to get it to this stage. (We went live on 11-11-2002). More stages are planned. As to why it was made live before everything is on it is this. It is an old axiom in the building industry that goes,

  • "No matter how simple or complex the project, there comes a time when you just have to shoot the planning engineer and start work". 

If there is a particular subject you would like to see covered please use the Guestbook and let me know or just email me.

Who is Australia's most respected soldier ?

Although Australia has produced many fine soldiers and many VC winners the one that stands out from the crowd is a Jewish engineer of Polish/Prussian stock, the man who played a big part in the Monier Concrete business, the man who organised to bring our boys home after WW1, a bloke who worked his way up from the bottom using nothing but his own ability and who served at Gallipoli and in France and Flanders, leading a Brigade, a Division and eventually the entire ANZAC Corps. He was of course, John Monash

What is a choco or chokko ?

This was a derogatory term given to the partly volunteer partly conscripted Militia by the all volunteer AIF in WW2. It was from the term 'Chocolate Soldier' which was to indicate a soldier with a 'pretty' uniform but no intention of doing any real soldiering. It was unfair, in many cases untrue and was hated by the men of the CMF, many of whom were unable to join the AIF for age or enlistment standards reasons but who were able to volunteer for or get conscripted into the CMF. Many CMF soldiers transferred to the AIF when age allowed them to, but they stayed with their existing unit. If the required percentage of men in a CMF unit volunteered for the AIF that unit was allowed to become an AIF unit.

You could not join the AIF until you were 20, but you could be conscripted at age 18.

While the whole thing might sound a bit petty looking back from 2002 in 1942 it was the cause of many a stoush.

When is OK to wear my relatives medals ?

War medals and service decorations of any sort may be worn only by the person upon whom they were conferred, and in no case does the right to wear war or service medals, or their ribbons, devolve upon a widow, parent, son, daughter or any relative when the recipient is dead. Modifications of the above rule are permitted in connection with Remembrance Day and Anzac Day ceremonies, when relatives who desire to avail themselves, on those days only, of the distinction of wearing the decoration and medals of deceased relatives, may do so, wearing them ON THE RIGHT BREAST. Medal Protocol

Why is a parade ground considered sacred?

This goes back to the traditions of the British Army. After a battle, when the bugle call 'Retreat' was sounded and the unit had reassembled to call the roll and count the dead, a hollow square was formed on the parade ground, whether it was a grandiose affair or just a dirty, dusty bit of ground.

The dead were placed within the square and no-one used the area as a thoroughfare. Today, the parade ground represents this square and hence, a unit’s dead. It is deemed to be hallowed ground, soaked with the blood of our fallen and the area is respected as such by all.

To this day the troops call the parade ground  "the square" and close order drill is called "square bashing".

What is a Dead Man's Penny?

A Dead Man's Penny was a term given to the Memorial Plaque that was given to some (not all) families who lost a relative on active service during WW1. Details and photos are on WW1 Memorial

What has rosemary got to do with soldiers?

Rosemary is considered the herb of remembrance. Details on Reference 1

How do I find out about Great Grand-dad's medal entitlement?

For details of who to contact go to  Official Enquiries

Which service is on top, Army Navy or Air Force?

The RAN is the senior service, followed by Army and then RAAF.

My relative was killed during the war. Where is he buried?

Go to the CWGC (Commonwealth War Graves Commission) site. The details are on Official Enquiries.

Where is Flanders and what are Flanders Fields?

Flanders is a region of Belgium. Belgium was attacked by Germany in WW1 as a means of getting to France which Germany considered to be the "real enemy". Flanders Fields is a term picked up from the poetry of the time to refer to the countryside over which the armies fought.

What were "deep thinkers" and/or "fair dinkums"?

At Gallipoli and for a short time after men who had not joined in 1914 or early 1915 were referred to by the 'old diggers' as "Deep Thinkers" as they took so long to think about joining. This kept up for a while but was eventually replaced by the term "Fair Dinkums" as it was realized that anyone who joined after reading the casualty lists from Gallipoli and the early battles in France/Flanders must be "fair dinkum". 

It did not stop the 4 'fighting' Divisions having a shot at the 3rd Division for being 'slow off the mark', until of course, Messines and Passchendaele and a dozen other battles including that terrible time on the Somme when the British Fifth Army crumbled and the 3rd Division was all that stood between the onrushing victory flushed German Army and almost certain defeat. At places like Morlancourt and Villers Bretonneux they stopped them, they turned them and they led the Allies to Victory, soon after. Sounds a bit like "The Man from Snowy River" in a different context. . .

So , with apologies to Banjo Paterson for pinching part of the second last verse of his famous poem,

  • Our blokes fought them single handed on that blood soaked Flanders loam

    • They fought 'em till they stopped 'em in their track

    • Till they halted, cowed and beaten; till they turned their heads for home

    • and alone and unassisted,  sent 'em back.

Why was 3 Division the 'baby' Division?

 The question is often asked, "If 3 Division were last into the Line they must have been formed after 4th & 5th Divisions. Why form 4 and 5 if 3 was not yet formed?". The answer is simple. 3 Division WAS formed before 4th & 5th Divisions but it was formed in Australia of brand new recruits. 4th & 5th Divvies were formed in Egypt from experienced men from 1st & 2nd Divisions and trained but inexperienced reinforcements that had been sent to those Gallipoli Divisions. 3 Div was formed very early in 1916. 4th & 5th were formed later in the same year.

Uncle Fred was a private but I have a photo of him in an officers cap. Why?

Initially all WW1 troops were issued with a peaked cap similar to the officers cap. Details on Reference 1

When was khaki introduced into the Australian Army as a uniform colour?

Even the very first troops that went overseas as Australians wore khaki. There are eye witness accounts of dyeing white uniforms to khaki with tobacco juice on the way to the Sudan. Australians who went to New Zealand were with British units and so probably would have worn blue serge field dress but from Sudan until New Guinea, and even afterward, khaki was our colour of choice for Army field dress. In that respect we led the world.

Did the horses of the Light Horse or the Boer War contingents come home?

Sadly, no. The estimated 25,000 horses sent overseas could not be returned to Australia for quarantine reasons. The ones left in South Africa could look forward to a reasonably normal life. In North Africa and Egypt many Light Horsemen (supposedly) shot their beloved horses to save them a terrible life. The ones that were left were often abused by the locals but an English noblewoman set up charity with the aim of protecting them that was relatively successful and lasted for many years.

  • More information

The total loss in horses (Boer War) on the British side was 326,000. Australian horses contributed 37,245 to this number. Not one horse from Australia is known to have returned.
The toll on horses in World War 1 was horrific. A monument in Sturt Street, Ballarat, commemorates the 958,600 killed "including 196.000 that left these shores and never returned".

What is a Trooper, a Craftsman, a Sapper? What is a Bombardier?

A Trooper is  a private soldier in the Mounted or Armoured units. A craftsman is a private in the Electrical & Mechanical Engineers. A sapper is a private in the Engineers. A Bombardier is the rank equivalent to Corporal in the Artillery.

What are the sticks that the senior blokes carry?

  • There are several different ones. 

    • Some Officers carry a leather or cane swagger stick. 

    • The RSM of a Unit carries a ' PACE STICK' which originated in the Artillery as a "Gunner's Stick" and was used to measure the distance between guns. It was soon adapted to measure the length of the pace taken by soldiers to get them all pacing the same. The Pace Stick is actually two sticks, hinged at the top and able to be set to a particular distance, something like the compass set you used at school.

    • CSMs carry a smaller stick, usually timber tipped with a shell casing at the head and an imitation bullet at the tail. It is merely an indication of rank.

The Swagger Cane: Swagger Sticks were introduced as an item of commissioned rank equipment at the time of King Charles I, but were used for a much more serious purpose than they are today. At the time of Charles I all junior officers were empowered to inflict punishment on the spot for minor offences. Old manuscripts record that such misdemeanors as “sneezing in the ranks, spitting or scratching the head” earned immediate punishment to the tune of 12 strokes across the back with the swagger stick.

How long did soldiers join up for?

In the first and second AIF the period of enlistment was "The duration of the war plus 4 months".  Colonial and pre WW1 units had varying periods of enlistment. When the Australian Regular Army was started after WW2 the period was 6 years. As soon as the Korean War made demands for many trained men it was realised that many of the older blokes that had seen service in WW2 were put off by a 6 year term so a 3 year term was introduced as well.

Periods of conscription varied from 94 days full time to be followed by 3 years part time that was the rule in the 1950s to the 2 years full time that was mandated in the 1960s to send troops to Viet Nam.

I've heard about a new WW2 web site. What is it?

The new site allows you to check the service details of any service person from WW2 and print out a copy of their service record. It is at National Archives World War Two Nominal Roll website 

What is a King's (or Queen's) Crown? images & some text by T F Mills

State Crown

(Queen Victoria's Crown)

Tudor Crown 

(King's Crown)

Imperial Crown )

(Imp C)

St Edward's Crown

(Queen's Crown)

There have been four basic 'crown shapes' on British (and therefore Australian & New Zealand) military badges, though there are variations within each basic shape.
  • The State Crown (miscalled Queen Victoria's Crown) as made for Queen Victoria (c.1837). This is a square crown. The top is almost flat, with just a suspicion of a dip in the centre. This crown was phased out from 1880 onwards but continued on existing badge designs until about 1902, when it was replaced with 
  • The Tudor Crown has a rounded top. It was introduced by Edward VII in about 1902 and was in use until the accession of Elizabeth II in 1953 when it was replaced by St. Edwards Crown. A Colonial Office Circular Dispatch from 14th June 1901 refers to "Drawings showing Imperial Cyphers as selected by His Majesty." and "H.M. desires that the Tudor Crown may be substituted for any other pattern now in use, as new articles become necessary." Later that year a Circular Despatch of 16th November directed that, in accordance with instructions from the Admiralty, those flag badges based on the seal should not be changed until the seal had first been changed. Both Circulars in PRO Document CO 854/37.
  • Imperial Crown, 1937 The present crown is about the tenth manifestation since the Restoration. It was originally designed and made for Queen Victoria in 1838 and was used at the coronations of Edward VII and George V. It was remade with practically the same stones for George VI in 1937. For the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 the shape of the arches was altered to reduce the height. Although more than 2,800 diamonds are mounted in it, the crown is best known for it's major stones, famous either for their historical interest or their actual value.
  • St Edward's Crown (miscalled the Queen's Crown). This is similar to the first crown above, but with a much more pronounced dip in the centre of the top.  
Unfortunately, Queen Victoria's State Crown was often drawn in a weak, ill-defined style and later illustrators, presumably imagining that it was a badly drawn St Edward's crown, redrew it accordingly. More details at Crowns & Cyphers as used on badges & medals

What is an Ensign?

  • There are two answers to this question, different but both correct.

    • The most junior grade of commissioned officer used to be called Ensign. In the Army the rank is now called  2nd Lieutenant.

    • Ensign also refers to a junior flag. For example the national flag of the UK is the Union Jack (below left and the British Blue Ensign (below right) is an official flag junior to (less important than) the national flag. Until 1951 the Australian flag was an ensign (The Australian Blue Ensign) and therefore junior to the Union Jack. That was legally changed with Royal Assent and Federal Legislation. The Australian Red Ensign is now junior to the Australian National flag.

What is a hexamine stove?

Hexamine is a solid fuel block that burns with a good heat. Most people would know the fire starter blocks that are used in wood fired BBQ's and fireplaces. Hexamine is similar/the same. Troops are issued with a small metal device that holds the hexamine tablet and the cooking container off the ground. It is easily lit, fast acting and very light to carry. Originally the stove was a very light pressed metal hollow cube about 14 cms square and about 5 cms thick that folded out. A packet of 8 hexamine blocks would fit inside the folded stove. In tactical situations 1 packet was considered 1 weeks supply. 1 tablet could cook two brews of tea/coffee and heat one meal. 

More modern hexamine stoves are shown on the page Equipment/Australian 2

What is Beating The Retreat?

Beating the Retreat is not retreating. Retreating in the face of the enemy is a shameful although sometimes necessary thing. Beating the Retreat is an ancient military ceremony indicating the end of hostilities for the day or the period. In the evening the band would march out with the drum beating and the buglers playing the call 'retreat'. The Colours would be there under guard to indicate that the unit was withdrawing as an orderly and controlled body of men who had not given up but were merely ending the killing for that day. The troops would retire to the ale houses and eat and drink until the prescribed time to go to their billets. It is now a Ceremonial Parade performed on specified occasions that includes but is not limited to the end of a Unit such as where 28 Commonwealth Infantry Brigade ceased to exist and by so doing bought into existence ANZUK Brigade.

What is meant by the term 'Total war'

The Theory of Total War was supported and applied by NAZI Germany and Imperial Japan.

The basis of it is that the techniques of modern war must include ALL peoples of the enemy, male civilians, women and children included as well as military personnel. The idea was that you could create panic amongst a civilian population and thereby weaken the enemy's will to continue.

In Europe the technique included bombing and strafing long lines of civilian refugees, carpet bombing civilian targets (London, Coventry) all with the aim of creating terror.

In the area that Japan operated in under Tojo civilians were routinely raped and then butchered in their thousands (Rape of Nanking), prisoners were treated as animals and even hospital ships were considered fair targets (Centaur). In Singapore alone the Japanese murdered 50,000 Chinese civilians during the occupation 1942/45.

It was the end of the idea that war was an occupation of trained men in uniform who would fight bravely but if wounded or surrendered became "non targets" and that if at all possible civilians, women and children were protected regardless of nationality. Naturally some civilians, women and children were killed in wars before WW2 but they were never deliberately targeted.

Hitler and Tojo changed that. It was a return to barbarism unmatched in history.

Just what was the work of a "Pioneer Battalion"?  

A pioneer battalion was organised like an infantry battalion but contained a large number of tradesmen. Although the infantry could dig their own trench lines, the preparation of them was a normal task for the pioneers. They also buried the signal wires.

Prior to the late part of the Second World War most engineering work in the Australian Army was done with hand tools. There was therefore little difference between the engineers and the pioneers. The Australian pioneers liked to carry out tasks which would have been the province of the engineers in the British Army. They built, roads, depots, bridges and railways.
(Ross Mallett)

What is a Sam Browne belt?

A Sam Browne belt is a sword/pistol belt with a single shoulder strap, worn by Commissioned Officers and Warrant Officers. Details available on the page called Sam Browne.

What is Blanco?

It was a compressed powder used to whiten or colour items of equipment. It looked a bit like thick toothpaste when water was added in the correct amount and it dried very white. Khaki colour was also available and later other colours including brown and olive drab were introduced. It was used on belts, webbing and lanyards and in some cases on gaiters or leggings.   

British made Blanco in yellow khaki.

A block of un-used Blanco. Shade 64 yellow khaki with inner wrapper and outer instruction wrapper. 

Blanco was originally issued in a tin, soldiers then bought replacement blocks in this paper wrapper to refill their tin. 


On the back of the container it has "complies with official colour standard of DEPT. OF ARMY for the renovation of military webbing equipment".

British made Blanco An Australian alternative

"What happened next gave me an idea of what to expect in my next 6 weeks of training. I was shown how to put the Blanco on my kit by some lads who had already done 2 weeks training. This procedure involved wetting the block of Blanco until it became a paste on top, then with a brush or sponge, to cover the kit with it then wait for it to dry."

What is a Short Arm Inspection?

This is a visual and physical inspection of the genitalia of the soldiers,  by a medically qualified person (usually)such as a nurse or medic. It is usually done in the presence of an NCO. It usually involved an inspection of the penis and the lifting of the testicles with a requirement that the soldier cough. It was specifically designed to detect venereal disease which in WW1 and WW2 was a real problem. The availability of modern drugs and the improved medical services available reduced but did not remove the need for this type of inspection.

What does spit polish mean?
It is a method of getting a brilliant and hard shine on the toes and heels of Army boots by applying shoe polish on a soft cloth in small circular rubbing motions and alternating that with some fluid. Water is OK but spit is better. 

It takes hours to get the boots up to parade ground standard but once done it is relatively easy to maintain. These days chemical substitutes are used to get a brilliant high shine.

It originated in times when there was no TV and soldiers were so poorly paid as to not be able to go out more than once a fortnight so they had lots of time on their hands and Officers and NCOs worked at finding time consuming work for them. 

What's the difference between Warrant Officers & Commissioned Officers?

A Commissioned Officer (Second Lieutenant up to Field Marshal) holds the Sovereign's Commission to act as an Officer. It automatically makes him a 'gentleman' and in the peace time Services means that person has undergone specialised training, usually at University level and for a period of years. The drop out rate is very high, as are the entrance standards.

Some Commissions are offered to experienced men in the ranks and their training is for a shorter time but their ability to reach the top levels is severely hampered. In war time men can be commissioned "in the field".

A Warrant Officer (WO1 or WO2) is a senior NCO (Sergeant or Staff Sergeant) who has been offered the Sovereign's Warrant to carry out the duties of the most senior non-commissioned ranks of the Service. Warrant Officers are more highly respected than junior Commissioned Officers because they have "been there, done that" whereas the junior Officer has a lot of book learning but no experience. He is also likely to be 15 years younger than the WO.

Commissioned Officers wear their badges of rank on the shoulder. Warrant Officers wear it on the sleeve. Commissioned Officers are entitled to a salute, Warrant Officers are not. Both wear the Sam Browne belt on ceremonial occasions but only Commissioned Officers wear a sword.

The Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) of a Unit is a Warrant Officer Class 1 (WO1).

In some cases Warrant Officers (particularly if a Q-store expert) are offered a Commission. This is referred to as 'going from being the cream of the shit to being the shit of the cream". 

The Australian Army has never been involved in selling Commissions the way it used to be done in Britain.

from a Warrant Officer. What is the difference between a 'Commissioned Officer' and a 'Warrant Officer'? When you 'commission' a product, you hope it works. When you 'warrant' a product, you guarantee it!

What is a mess?

In civilian terms it might be your teenage son's bedroom but in the military it means where the soldiers food is prepared and served and for Sergeants and Officers it means where they gather for a drink as well as to eat. Troops below the rank of Sergeant cannot drink alcohol with their meal. Sergeants and above can.

The Officers’ Mess: Officers’ Messes were first introduced in the British Army about 1770. The first known writing, using the word "Mess" is found in early writings from a "Military Guide for young Officers", which states,
"… each Field Officer and Captain is to contribute six guineas and each Subaltern and Staff Officer, one day’s pay each towards the purchasing of a dining tent and also to enable a sutler to buy a cart and two horses, table linen, kitchen furniture, etc. Wine, punch, ale, cider etc, being distinct articles must be paid for by those who choose to call for them; and for each strangers dinner sent from the Mess".

What is olive drab? What is khaki?

Olive drab is a colour used by the Services, particularly Army, for uniforms, vehicles and buildings. It is a non shiny dull olive colour often referred to as 'army green'. Note that the Yanks call it OD and their colour is more green than ours. What we call khaki they call OD. Also be aware that what we call khaki varies from uniform to uniform and from one era to another. Khaki service dress (dull green) from the 1940s was a totally different colour to the khaki summer uniforms (light sand) of the 1950s.
To indicate the difficulty in being precise, the photo shows a khaki hat with a khaki puggaree. However if the hat colour was on on anything else it could be called olive drab.

What is ADFA?  Where are Officers trained?

ADFA is the Australian Defence Force Academy, in Canberra ACT where future Commissioned Officers of all the Services do their military training and gain a university degree at the same time. This was previously done at different venues for each Service, the most famous being Royal Military College Duntroon (RMC)

Why are Officers saluted?

When you salute the National Flag you are not paying respect to a piece of cloth with some stain on it, you are saluting what it symbolises, i.e. Australia. In the same way when a serviceman salutes an Officer he is paying respect to the Sovereign, who as Queen of Australia represents the nation as the 'Crown'. He is saluting the Commission that the Sovereign has bestowed on that Officer to act as his/her representative. He is saluting the rank, not the man. That is of course providing that he salutes. Aussies are not known as great saluters. I have known blokes to walk the long way around to avoid saluting an Officer they did not approve of.

The Origins of Saluting
WOFF Chris Dunne,
Air Force Warrant Officer Disciplinary

There are a number of origins of the military greeting of saluting. In the age of chivalry the knights were all mounted and wore steel armour, which covered the body completely.

When two friendly knights met it was the custom for each to raise the visor and expose his face to the view of the other. This was always done with the right hand, the left being used to hold the reins. It was a significant gesture of friendship and confidence, since it exposed the features and also removed the right hand from the vicinity of a weapon (sword).

Also in ancient times the freemen of Europe were allowed to carry arms: when two freemen met, each would raise his right hand to show that he held no weapons in it and that the meeting was friendly.

The Coldstream Guards appear to have been the first to depart from this practice as a Regimental Order of 1745 reads:

‘The men are ordered not to pull off their hats when the when they pass an officer, or to speak to them, but only to clap up their hands to their hats and bow as they pass them’.

Later, an extract from the Royal Scots Standing Orders of 1762 stated:
‘as nothing disfigures the hats or dirties the lace worn more than taking off the hats, the men for the future are only to raise the back of their hands to them (hats) with a brisk motion when they pass an officer’.

From this beginning, although there was some resistance, saluting, as we now know it developed.

What is 'friendly fire'?

Friendly fire is one of the most dangerous types. It is when friends or allies mistake you for enemy and shoot at you, or when your own or allied artillery make a mistake about location and drop shells on you or when supporting aircraft make a position error and drop napalm or bombs on you. In any event you wind up dead or injured by the actions of your 'friends'. The famous American Civil War General "Stonewall" Jackson was killed by 'friendly fire'. So was the hero of Long Tan, WO2 Jack Kirby. So too were thousands of others in all armies and navies. It happens even in highly trained units like SAS. It is bad. It is wrong. It happens.

  • Friendly fire incidents

    • Confederate General Stonewall Jackson was fatally shot by three of his own troops after the Confederate triumph at Chancellorsville in 1863.

    • In his first engagement during the First World War, Lawrence of Arabia shot his own camel in the back of the head.

    • Over the course of the First World War, up to 75,000 French troops were killed by their own artillery. 

      • General George S Patton said " I would rather have the Germans in front of me than the French behind me".

    • The Germans suffered similar problems, their 49th Artillery Regiment being re-christened 48½th for persistently firing short.

    • Italy’s Marshal Italo Balbo, Mussolini’s commander in Libya, was shot down by his own antiaircraft defences at Tobruk in 1940.

    • The highest ranking American to die in the Second World War was Lt-Gen Lesley McNair, killed by a stray bomb dropped by the US Army Air Corps.

    • In the Invasion of Sicily an American Paratroop Unit was decimated when the planes carrying them were shot down by the US Navy.

    • Following a massive naval bombardment of the Aleutian island of Kiska in June 1943, 35,000 US and Canadian troops stormed ashore. 21 troops were killed in the firefight before it was found there were no Japanese forces on the island.

What is napalm?

It is a jellied petrol product that is used in bombs to create huge and instant heat over a particular area. It is effective even in jungle conditions as it burns through and around the trees and undergrowth. It is like a living hell to be on the edge of a napalm strike. In the middle is OK because you are dead. On the edge you are just terribly badly burnt.

My Uncle was a WO2. Now I am told he was a CSM. How can he be both?

Because WO2 stands for his rank, Warrant Officer Class 2. The CSM stands for his job (appointment), Company Sergeant Major.

What is an OR and /or what are ORs?

OR stands for Other Ranks. It is sometimes used in the context of 'Officers and Other Ranks' but  on many occasions it refers to soldiers below the rank of Sergeant. There are Officers, Warrant Officers, Senior Non Commissioned Officers (Staff Sergeants and Sergeants) and 'Other Ranks' (Corporals, Lance Corporals and privates soldiers). If you want a beer in the Army you will go to the Officers Mess, the Sergeants Mess or the ORs Canteen, depending on your rank.

Where is the Snakes Pit and what is the Pigs Pen?

The Snake Pit is the Diggers name for the Sergeant's Mess. The Pig Pen is the Officer's Mess. See above


What is "the Ode" all about?

The Ode is part of a piece of poetry. It has been chosen and used over many years because it encapsulates in a few moving words the feeling of regret for our loss and a promise to keep faith with the Fallen. In RSL Clubs all around Australia, every night, usually at either 6.00 pm or 9.00pm, everything stops. The Ode is recited, usually to dimmed lights, and everyone faces the "flame" which is a light with a red cover made to look like a flaming torch. The entire audience responds at the end with "Lest We Forget". Click to hear The Ode.  Click to hear Last Post.

What does RHIP mean?

It is the abbreviation for an old Army saying "Rank Has It's Privileges" or "Rank Hath Individual Privileges". It is usually used when someone feels aggrieved that he has missed out on something that other, higher ranks have received and sometimes it is used as an answer to junior ranks protesting that you have received  "special" treatment.

Can a Air Force bloke give orders to an Army soldier?

Short answer is Yes. Any legal military order given by any service person to any junior rank, regardless of Service, must be obeyed.

What about the poppy. Why is it significant?

Long known as the corn poppy because it flourishes as a weed in grain fields, the Flanders poppy as it is now usually called, grew profusely in the trenches and craters of the war zone. Artillery shells and shrapnel stirred up the earth and exposed the seeds to the light they needed to germinate. This same poppy also flowers in Turkey in early spring - as it did in April 1915 when the ANZACs landed at Gallipoli. According to Australia’s official war historian C.E.W.Bean, a valley south of ANZAC beach got its name Poppy Valley "from the field of brilliant red poppies near its mouth".
In the years immediately following World War 1, governments and the whole of society, had not accepted the responsibility for those incapacitated and bereft as a result of war. In Britain, unemployment accentuated the problem. 

Earl Haig, the British Commander-in-Chief, undertook the task of organising the British Legion as a means of coping with the problems of hundreds and thousands of men who had served under him in battle.

In 1921, a group of widows of French ex-servicemen called on him at the British Legion Headquarters. 

They brought with them from France some poppies they had made, and suggested that they might be sold as a means of raising money to aid the distressed among those who were incapacitated as a result of the war. 

The first red poppies to come to Australia, in 1921, were made in France. (See left)

In Australia, single poppies are not usually worn on ANZAC Day - the poppy belongs to Remembrance Day, 11 November. However, wreaths of poppies are traditionally placed at memorials and honour boards on ANZAC Day.

The red Flanders’ poppy was first described as a flower of remembrance by Colonel John McCrea, who was Professor of Medicine at McGill University of Canada before World War One.

Colonel McCrea had served as a gunner in the Boer War, but went to France in World War One as a medical Officer with the first Canadian Contingent. He was KIA. 

A poppy from the post WW1 era, 1 of the first to be imported. The metal plate behind the poppy was to be folded over to slip into a pocket or button-hole.

Where can I find the words to the poppy poem?

The poem and several different replies to the original are all listed on the Page called Tributes in the Poetry section. It is called "In Flanders Fields" .

I see things like KIA, MIA and others . What do they mean?

  • KIA means Killed In Action
  • MIA means Missing in Action
  • WIA means Wounded in Action
  • DoW means Died of Wounds
  • DoI means Died of Illness (WW1 usage)
  • AK means Accidentally Killed.
  • TPI means Totally and Permanently Incapacitated.
  • RTA means Returned to Australia

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Copyright © 2002  Ted Harris. All rights reserved as per Legal page. Revised: February 12, 2013 .


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Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces