- Halley, George, Comdr., RAN
- None noted
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1989 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
During our Bicentennial celebrations we have read much of the problem of morale in HMA Forces. The subject of resignations continues to provide some of our less informed journalists with data to add to the overall concern for Australians who care for our country. It used to be called patriotism.
The purpose of this paper is to encourage debate on this subject and, it is hoped, provide interest to the Naval Historical Society, on a facet of service life which the media appears to have some difficulty in comprehending.
Lessons from history
There is nothing new in the run down of fighting services. Throughout history politicians, and before them, kings and feudal vassals, have kept their men at arms to the barest minimum, as soon as the threat to national or local security has waned.
In the days of sail this was not too great a problem for the navy. It was easy to pay off ships and place them in reserve. The welfare of the men was not a concern of governments as it is today. Further, for the pressed men, it was probably a joy to be paid off and be given their liberty again.
Ships could easily be recommissioned and the press gang knew where to look for the men. With our highly sophisticated vessels of today, and their weapons and sensors, the same does not apply. Further, the training of personnel necessitates that they be kept current with the state of the art.
Basis for morale
We have read much about the need for new equipment and the concern for material comforts, such as pay and conditions, for our fighting services. Although these subjects are very important and affect morale, there are other aspects of morale to which our politicians and media have paid scant regard in the last few years. They can best be described as worthy objects with supporting goals.
It was manifested in Great Britain during the liberation of the Falklands. It could be argued that it had not been manifested since World War II, or perhaps the Korean War.
Since 1945 most of the emergencies, which have involved Australian forces, have been anti-terrorist operations. There was never quite the same feeling of purpose of achieving a worthy object for a just cause. Indeed, for some, the anti-colonial motive of the terrorists was probably a more just cause.
Our Australian forces in Vietnam had great strain placed on their morale by the press campaign, waged against the task they were performing. The media priority given to the anti-Vietnam war demonstrations added to this problem.
What is morale?
When in command of one of HMA Ships the Captain is enjoined to comment monthly on the health and morale of his ship’s company. It is usually written in the affirmative. But is it really? How often do captains reflect on the exact meaning of morale?
The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines morale as:-
“Moral condition, esp. (of troops) as regards discipline and confidence.” The Macquarie Dictionary defines morale as:-
“Moral or mental condition with respect to cheerfulness, confidence, zeal, etc. the morale of troops.” These two definitions pertinently describe the difference between the British and the Australian fighting services. British forces have always manifested a firmer approach to discipline, whereas we have prided ourselves more on self discipline. We must remember that British forces have had more experience than our forces and have rather a good record in “muddling through”. Moreover, they have always won the last battle of any war for several hundred years. Because so much of what we believe in hails from Britain we could do worse than look at how they have handled the problem of morale in the armed services.
The astute student of war will often state that morale does not always equate directly with success or failure.
When that great leader, Field-Marshal Lord Slim, became the 14th Army Commander in Burma he was faced with adversity. His was the forgotten army. He was the only British general in World War II who was given the chance to lead his troops to victory, after they had been defeated. If we compare our services morale of today with the problems facing the Field-Marshal’s army in 1942/43, our problems are almost nil.