The Unit Guide – The Australian Army 1939 – 1945 by Graham R McKenzie-Smith – Book Review

This monumental reference work is a labour of love carried out by the author over 35 years. He set himself the task to find all of Australia’s wartime army units. He found there were at least 5 700 separate units and, accounting for changes, under some 13700 unit names): perhaps not surprising considering that there were 726 000 persons serving in the army in the Second World War.

Big Sky Publishing 2018 Paperback 3001pp (6-volume boxed set) RRP: $209.99
Big Sky Publishing 2018
Paperback 3001pp (6-volume boxed set) RRP: $209.99

The author did much more than just list the units. He has categorized them accurately – though a little military experience is needed to understand the esoterics of corps and their seniority, regiments, battalions and the like. He has provided a very comprehensive bibliography of the published history of units – his snapshot of a constantly moving target is the best published so far.

Then each unit has a comprehensive description of its outline history. This includes its name (and name changes), date of raising, locations with applicable dates and date of disbandment – all within the context of the war. The existence of a war diary at the Australian War Memorial is also noted – It is a sad fact that many (chiefly minor) units did not fulfill their obligation to produce this written record. In all, these books make up far more than an order of battle: they encapsulate our army in that war.

Six volumes of several thousand pages in all cover this extensive field. Like a telephone book (I remember them!) I suspect that few will read all of these volumes, but the information within will be invaluable to any researcher, genealogist or historian.

The Chief of Army has written an apt foreword, as befits this pioneering work. He recommends that this set of books should be in every significant historical collection. I can but underline his recommendation.

Reviewed for RUSIV by Mike O’Brien, May 2018

Contact Royal United Services Institute about this article.

Subscribe to our FREE MHHV newsletter here

We are proud to have the support of the following organisations: