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Toowoomba to Torokina : The 25th Battalion in peace and war, 1918-45 - Bob Doneley

A 25th Battalion machine gun crew firing on Japanese snipers during the Bougainville Campaign

3/5 stars

By Nick-D

As is indicated by its title, Toowoomba to Torokina is a history of the Australian Army's 25th Battalion in the years leading up to World War II, and the war itself. The 25th Battalion was a 'militia' (or army reserve) unit made up largely of conscripts whose main claims to fame were its role in the Battle of Milne Bay in 1942 and the Battle of Slater's Knoll in 1945. Prior to and in between these engagements, the battalion spent most of the war training and performing garrison duties. While 'battalion histories' such as this book are a long-standing and reasonably distinguished part of Australian military historiography, this is the first such history I've read: I've tended to avoid them as they have a reputation for being old fashioned and partisan towards their subject.

I found Toowoomba to Torokina's narrative to be rather patchy. Its first chapters covering the inter-war years provide a detailed account of the battalion's routine peacetime activities, and illustrate in ample detail why most histories rush through such periods: this part of the book is essentially a catalogue of annual training camps, sports carnivals and formal dinners and will be of little interest to people without a personal connection to the unit. However, the narrative picks up once World War II begins, and the battalion is partially mobilised; the description of the way in which this reserve battalion essentially served to prepare soldiers for the Australian Imperial Force between 1939 and 1941 is quite interesting. The months after the outbreak of the Pacific War receive surprisingly little coverage (I would have liked to have read more about its deployments to counter the feared Japanese invasion of northern Australia) but the amount of detail on the unit's deployment to New Guinea in mid-1942 and its subsequent role in the Battle of Milne Bay is adequate. The period after this battle, in which the battalion was used in garrison duties throughout the remainder of 1942 and all of 1943 before being withdrawn to Australia for training until late 1944, is covered briefly, but this is OK. The book's final chapters, which describe the 25th Battalion's role in the Bougainville Campaign are excellent and provide an extremely detailed account of how this campaign was fought.

The analytic aspects of Toowoomba to Torokina are also something of a mixed bag. The book presents a rather uncritical account of the battalion's history, and doesn't describe it as having suffered any serious problems, even though it notes that the unit was severely under strength during much of the inter-war years, was at a low level of readiness in 1942 (despite fairly regular training camps since 1939!) and suffered some desertions during its period in Australia in 1944. It would have been interesting had the author discussed the effectiveness of this battalion in comparison to other units in Bougainville (many of which were pretty worn out by the end of the campaign), though this is probably beyond its scope. More positively, a real strength is that Doneley often notes the effects of Army-level policy changes and reorganisations on the 25th Battalion, meaning that the book provides lots of useful examples of the effects of these changes on frontline units.

Overall, I found this to be a reasonably interesting book, and it certainly improved my knowledge of the experiences of Australian militia units during World War II. However, it's a specialised work, and won't be of wide interest.

Publishing details: Doneley, Bob. Toowoomba to Torokina : The 25th Battalion in peace and war, 1918-45. Newport, NSW: Big Sky Publishing. ISBN 9781921941603. 

Recent external book reviews

McDermott, James (2011). British Military Service Tribunals, 1916–18: "A Very Much Abused Body of Men". Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-7190-8477-5. Check |isbn= value (help). 

Sanger, David E. (2012). Confront and Conceal : Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power. New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN 0307718026. 

Sorley, Lewis (2011). Westmoreland: The General who Lost Vietnam. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 0547518269. OCLC 694830152. 

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