The Australian Imperial Force, first raised in 1914 for overseas war service, became better known by its initials - the "AIF". There was a distinct character to those who enlisted in the earliest months and who were destined to fight on Gallipoli. During the war the AIF took its place among the great armies of the world, on some of history's oldest battlefields. The Australians would attack at the Dardanelles, enter Jerusalem and Damascus, defend Amiens and Ypres, and swagger through the streets of Cairo, Paris, and London, with their distinctive slouch hats and comparative wealth of six shillings per day. However, the legend of the AIF is shrouded in myth and mystery. Was Beersheba the last great cavalry charge in history? Did the AIF storm the red light district of Cairo and burn it to ground while fighting running battles with the military police? Was the AIF the only all-volunteer army of World War I?
Graham Wilson's Bully Beef and Balderdash shines an unforgiving light on these and other well-known myths of the AIF in World War I, arguing that these spectacular legends simply serve to diminish the hard-won reputation of the AIF as a fighting force. Graham Wilson mounts his own campaign to rehabilitate the historical reputation of the force and to demonstrate that misleading and inaccurate embellishment does nothing but hide the true story of Australia's World War I fighting army. Bully Beef and Balderdash deliberately tilts at some well-loved windmills and, for those who cherish the mythical story of the AIF, this will not be comfortable reading. Yet, given the extraordinary truth of the AIF's history, it is certainly compelling reading.
Graham Wilson was passionate about myth-busting. While the author of Bully Beef & Balderdash and Dust, Delusions & Donkeys passed away on 17 April 2016, his last work, the second volume of Bully Beef & Balderdash, has been published posthumously and, in true Wilson style, launches itself bodily at another collection of famous myths of the AIF. A childhood spent reading his grandfather’s books on World War I produced a love of military history that gradually shaped Graham Wilson’s life. He never boasted lofty qualifications in military history, asserting instead that his extraordinary knowledge and determination to correct historical inaccuracies were the result of an ability to think critically and question assumptions developed during his lengthy military career. He combined these with an inherent curiosity and a mania for the truth. The business of debunking myths was a source of obvious satisfaction to Graham Wilson and his delight is clearly evident in his last hurrah, his second volume of Bully Beef & Balderdash. However he emphasises from the outset that his aim is not to disparage the AIF. Quite the reverse, in fact, and among the last words he penned was a final salute to the AIF of which he was undoubtedly proud: ‘Finally, I acknowledge with the most profound respect the men and women of the AIF who, from a chaotic beginning, built one of the finest fighting machines of the twentieth century and whose story does not need and never has needed myth to bolster it.’ Vale Graham Wilson to whom Australians owe an enormous debt in returning the men of the AIF from the realms of lesser gods to the ranks of ordinary humans who lived and died in the service of their country.