This article will support junior commanders in implementing a PME program to enhance both officer and soldier Australian military history knowledge and instructor skills. A rationale for such an approach will be provided through an outline of recent changes to Australian school's military history curriculum, followed by exploration of effective teaching approaches and suggested topics.

Soldier in Korea

Private LJ Best of Sniper Section, 3rd Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment
147849 / AWM

Changes to Australian military history school curriculum

Recent modifications to the Australian National Curriculum have resulted in a reduced focus on Australian military history within secondary schools in order to accommodate new content. This aligns with a significant shift to develop young Australians as ‘global citizens’ through incorporation of other perspectives and relationships within the Asia-Pacific region.

This is shown in Table 1, which compares the 2003 NSW Syllabus to the current 2014 Australian National Curriculum for Year 9 and 10 history topics.


Table 1: Comparison of history topics

World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War were individual and compulsory topics in the 2003 NSW Syllabus. Within the new 2014 Australian National Curriculum World Wars I and II are now reduced and consolidated and study of later wars is optional.

Consequently, the depth and breadth of Australian military history taught in secondary schools has significantly reduced, and therefore Army can expect to recruit young Australians without the same degree of knowledge as their predecessors. While Army has little influence over what is taught in Australian schools, commanders at all levels have the opportunity to provide exposure to Australian military history through PME.

Teaching military history

An Australian military history PME program has the potential to not only develop officers and soldiers’ understanding of Australian military history, but also provides an avenue to enhance instructor skills.

Military history can provide an insight into past lessons learnt, tactical application and use of battlefield resources, while also fostering unit esprit-de-corps. Instruction must be approached with a clearly defined learning outcome that is relevant to the target audience. This will generally involve making an assessment on a range of factors, including: age, rank, aptitude, attention span, prior education and knowledge.

While the Army blueprint lesson provides an appropriate structure for Army instruction, an Australian military history PME program should not be limited to this approach. This structure can be adapted to meet and enhance the learning outcome. For example, gaining an appreciation of the steep geography of Gallipoli can be achieved, arguably in a more successful manner, through the use of a mud model.

Landing at ANZAC Cove in 1915

Landing at ANZAC Cove, 1915 / Archives New Zealand

There are a number of suggested approaches to teaching Australian military history.

In a generalist approach, topics are allocated to different personnel within the same team. Example topics include:

  • the tactics used by the Japanese and Australian armies during the battle of the Kokoda Track
  • how the Australians were able to defend Tobruk during 1941
  • the progression of combined arms from World War I to World War II
  • an overview of the battle of Mont St. Quentin, 1918
  • the use and effects of gas in World War 1.

Alternatively, greater relevance can be achieved through a focus on unit or corps history. Example topics include:

  • 1 Armd Regt – the Battle of Cambrai and employment of tanks during World War I.
  • 3 RAR – the Battle of Kapyong.
  • 6 RAR – the Battle of Long Tan.
  • RA Sigs: the progression of communicating messages on the battlefield from WWI–Vietnam.
  • Arms corps: the importance of using combined arms in the modern battlespace.

Furthermore, members may be allocated historical events closely related to their role, for example:

  • PTE – events for which PTE Bruce Kingsbury was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
  • CPL – events for which CPL Leslie “Bull” Allan was awarded the Silver Star and Military Medal.
  • CPL – events for which CPL Daniel Keighran was awarded the Victoria Cross.

British Mark IV Tank in 1917

Wikimedia Commons / British Mark IV Tank, 1917

While changes to the Australian National Curriculum have resulted in a reduced focus on Australian military history, its history remains as relevant today as it ever has. Passing on the lessons learnt through hard fought battles provides an effective means of PME, has potential to develop instructor skills as well as foster esprit-de-corps. Thus, where possible, commanders should consider incorporating it into their unit training program.