Diggers and Doughboys
Australian and American Troop Interaction
on the Western Front, 1918
Last century Australia fought in four major wars: the First World War, the Second World War, Korea and Vietnam. A constant ally in those conflicts was the United States. For both nations, sizeable portions of their adult male populations participated in military operations. As a consequence, the perceptions of different generations of Australians and Americans toward one another have been shaped and transmitted within the extraordinary parameters of war.
The First World War saw a largely positive interaction between Australian and American soldiers. Although thrown together for only a short time, the two forces left an indelible mark on each other. The fleeting nature of this marriage, and the fact that the union occurred on neutral political and geographical ground, undoubtedly contributed to the goodwill exhibited by the respective armies. There were, however, other determinants at work that allowed for the bonding of the “diggers” and “doughboys.” Both nations celebrated a “frontier” tradition that advanced distinct and robust masculine traditions. Both had been British colonies, though the road to nationhood had followed quite different routes. Nevertheless, of vital importance to the relationship was a shared antipathy toward the British, one heightened by a respect forged in the fire of the front line during the latter part of 1918. It is the nature of those factors that this article strives to identify.
The American declaration of war on 6 April 1917 arguably shifted the Great War's status from a European war to a World War. Nevertheless it would be twelve months before American mobilisation allowed sufficient numbers of U.S. soldiers to arrive in Europe and significantly bolster the Allied armies. Most Australians were thankful of the American decision to enter the war, as they saw it as an obvious source of relief for themselves. An Australian Imperial Force gunner stated the case plainly: “Of course as more Yanks come in then more Aussies should be able to get away.” Above all, American manpower offered real hope for bringing the war to a decisive conclusion.
The first significant contacts between diggers and doughboys occurred in June of 1918. This came after the British commander-in-chief Douglas Haig made a request to his American counterpart, General John Pershing, for U.S. troops to be used in a defensive role in the event of an emergency. The American 27th and 33rd Divisions, and