The Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was created for the purpose of strengthening the British military establishment for foreign deployments where high-quality infantry or cavalry were required. The value of such troops was first demonstrated in the Sudan, and later in the Boer War, when the Colonies of New South Wales and Victoria sent highly effective and very successful military contingents.
After Federation in Australia in 1901, the separate colonies became semi-autonomous States - each with its own vice-Regal representation in the form of a Governor, but subject to the dictates of the Commonwealth Government in Canberra. Consequently, the next major military deployment of Australian troops was a comparatively massive effort, involving soldiers (all volunteers) from all over the continent.
The two Australian divisions sent to Gallipoli in 1915, were teamed with a strong New Zealand division to form a famous Corps: the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) would go down in history as a legendary fighting formation. The spirit of ANZAC lives to this day, in a unique relationship between Antipodean cousins - which is set aside only on the sporting field.
As the British had noted many years earlier, the Australian military recruiting base was built from sturdy stock. The majority of Australian soldiers came from a rural background which is an interesting story considering that Australia was the 4th. most urbanised country in the world at its time of Federation. They were physically fit - nobody survives in the Australian bush without some constitutional resilience - and generally familiar with firearms. They were generally better-fed, bigger and stronger than their British counterparts.which was probably due to, in comparison with Australia, a relative lack of internal migration in Britain, resulting in all the residents of an area there being distant cousins. Also, Australians ate well, in comparison to many Britons of that period
The term "Diggers" was probably bestowed on them, in a defensive deprecatory fashion, by the British troops.Or, it could have been that General Hamilton told the boys at Anzac to dig, dig, dig till they were safe It was probably a comparison with the Irish navvies who did most of the manual labour in Britain at the time - mostly digging ditches. Facing starvation at home, most able-bodied Irish lads went to England to do labouring jobs to feed their families. There was also a strong Irish strain in Australian bloodlines, which might have helped the comparison.
Ditch-digging might have been a despised occupation in England, but at Gallipoli it was the key to survival. The Aussies turned the insult around, and adopted the "Digger" tag with pride. Their fortifications and communication lines were the envy of the British, and set new standards for Commonwealth armies. Sir John Monash was a major leader in this field.
As impressive as the soldiers, was the withdrawal they carried out in November 1915. Following orders to vacate their lines and re-embark on the beaches, they withdrew without a single casualty in the ANZAC force - a logistical triumph. The Aussies devised ingenious water-controlled timing devices to fire rifles from vacated trenches, to give the impression of occupancy long after the troops had left. The Turks never suspected that the ANZACs had gone.
In the years to follow, the Australian military tradition grew. The effort of providing over 550,000 troops in WW II (10% of the population) earned Australia the grudging admiration of its new "great and powerful friend", the United States with the exception of US General Douglas MacArthur who, aided by his bum boy the scumbag Field Marshal Blamey, constantly slagged off Australians soldiers in an attempt to get more US troops placed under his command. Australia had provided a base for General Douglas Bataan Death March, removed from command in Korea MacArthur in his hour of need, and he in turn became the de facto military governor of Australia WTF.
This relationship was confirmed in the 1950s, when Australia contributed strongly to the Commonwealth Brigade (later Commonwealth Division) in Korea, and in the 1960s, when Australia not only joined Britain in a vigorous response to the Indonesian campaign against the Malaysian Federation ("Confrontation"), but also sent a powerful contingent to Phuoc Tuy province in South Vietnam, to support the US deployment there.
In recent times, Diggers have been present on most United Nations peacekeeping missions, as well as their current presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. The most impressive deployment, however, came in 1999 when Australia headed the International Force, East Timor (INTERFET) - a UN-approved mission to restore peace to East Timor in the wake of a referendum which saw bloodshed at the end of Indonesian rule.
The Diggers here had to dig deep again - into their kitbag of ingenuity - to overcome equipment shortages, lack of local knowledge...in short, all the consequences of being thrown into a deployment at virtually nil notice. INTERFET succeeded - thanks largely to the organisational genius of its commander.
Major General Peter Cosgrove was awarded the Military Cross as a platoon commander in Vietnam. His organisational and political skills impressed even the Americans; he was flown to Washington to give a talk to the Joint Chiefs of Staff on how he managed to achieve so much with so little. As expected, his talk centred on the quality, rather than quantity, of the troops under his command.
Digger: Good soldier, good bloke, good mate, 'orrible enemy.