Training had two main purposes in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) during its time on the Western Front between 1916 and 1918.
Firstly, a new recruit had to be inducted into military forms of discipline, command and order. This was partially achieved through a program of basic training carried out in Australia, Egypt or England and, in a sense, was maintained for a long as a man was in the service.
It involved marching and drilling with the rifle, cleaning and caring for personal equipment and being supervised and inspected in ways quite different to ordinary civilian life. For example, in May 1917, a memorandum to officers in the 12th Training Battalion from the Commanding Officer drew attention to the following:
‘It was quite evident from the state of the boots in the huts that regular inspections are not made by the Officers and NCOs [non-commissioned officers]. No boots should be allowed to get in a bad state of wear but must be sent to the bootmaker without delay for repair.
Several men were found with hair long and unshaven. This is quite inexcusable.’
Secondly, after basic training there followed the far more serious exercise of turning a man into a fighting soldier at least partially prepared for the kind of warfare he was about to experience in France and Belgium.
The topics and exercises in the syllabus of training for No I training company of the 15th Training Battalion were a world away from their former lives and included daily physical training, entrenching, wiring, firing rifle grenades, firing the Lewis light machine gun, dealing with gas attack, using hand grenades, using the bayonet, and the routines to be followed in the trenches.
This training was then put into practice during what were called ‘Field Days’, when men would practice using the skills they had acquired in mock attacks both by day and by night. How well men had learnt to use their weapons, in cooperation with each other in training, was soon tested in the harsh reality of the front line.