By Jordan Beavis
- In June 2019 thirteen international students graduated from the Royal Military College—Duntroon as a part of the Australian Army’s program of liaison and cooperation with Indo-Pacific military partners.
- Facilitating the military education of ‘foreign’ cadets at Duntroon has been an aspect of the institution’s existence since its creation in 1911, when New Zealand cadets were part of the first intake.
- Training New Zealand and Australian cadets together imbued the co-dominion cohort with common terminology, organisational procedures and doctrine that would allow for easy interoperability in peace and war.
- An examination of the New Zealand Army’s association with Duntroon prior to the Second World War will facilitate an improved understanding of how the modern scheme assists the Australian Army in the Indo-Pacific region, both today and in future.
On 25 June 2019, the Canberra based Royal Military College—Duntroon celebrated the graduation of 71 Australian and 13 international officer-cadets. The international cadets from Fiji, Thailand, Qatar, Papua New Guinea and Pakistan will now return to their respective national militaries having received first-class junior officer training. Marking the occasion, Commandant of Duntroon Brigadier Rupert Hoskin AM stated in his address to the cadets that
The interoperability and personal friendships [formed] here will last a lifetime and will help our armies serve together for the common good. 
Outside the defence community it is generally not well known that Duntroon trains foreign cadets from the Indo-Pacific region. It is even less understood that the policy of training the officer cadets of other nations at Duntroon has been the norm since the foundation of the college in 1911, when the first intake of forty-two staff cadets contained ten New Zealanders. In actuality, it has been a rarity since the start of the College for Duntroon to hold no ‘foreign’ students within its corps of cadets. Although New Zealanders would scarcely count as ‘foreign’ prior to the Second World War, due to the close bonds that New Zealand and Australia shared as dominions within the British Empire/Commonwealth, New Zealand cadets nevertheless came to Duntroon from an internationally recognised nation state.
The following article is a brief study of the training of New Zealand cadets at Duntroon prior to the Second World War with an emphasis on the interwar period (1919-1939). For eight of the twenty years of this era, Duntroon had within its classes staff-cadets from its antipodean neighbour. The joint training of the junior permanent officers of the Australian Military Forces (AMF) and the New Zealand Military Forces (NZMF) fostered valuable uniformity in training and the development of close bonds of friendship that enabled easy cooperation and liaison between the two armies in the interwar period and beyond. Although it was Australian military and defence policy that facilitated the placement of New Zealand cadets at Duntroon and determined their treatment while at the college, the decision to send cadets in any given year was taken by the New Zealand government, which often struggled to justify the expense although pressured to do so by the NZMF. This article has been constructed with that understanding in mind and examines both Australian and New Zealand policy decisions to create a narrative of New Zealanders at Duntroon prior to the Second World War. The second part of the article discusses aspects of attendance at the college and its influence in assisting liaison between the two militaries during the interwar period. The article explains why the contemporary Australian Army facilitates and values the training of international cadets, and how doing so lays an important foundation for current and future regional military liaison and cooperation.
New Zealand and Duntroon
In the early twentieth century both Australia and New Zealand faced a series of military threats which neither could deal with independently. Located close to populous Asia, with large landmasses and small populations, there were distinct fears of invasion by growing Asian powers, or of raids and occupation by another European power, such as Germany or France which had colonies in the region. The proximity of these two British colonies, as well as their shared isolation from the imperial powerbase in Britain, naturally led to the conclusion that cooperation in defence was both economical and essential for their continued survival. The premier of New Zealand, Richard John Seddon, had noted at a state banquet in Sydney in January 1901 that “New Zealand would give her heart’s blood in defence of Australia,” and there is no doubt he hoped Australia would reciprocate.
A further impetus for close military cooperation came through the recommendations of Field-Marshal Viscount Horatio Herbert Kitchener. In 1909 Kitchener was invited by Australia and New Zealand to ‘visit and inspect’ the military forces of the two nations, and advise on their latest defence schemes. Kitchener began his seven-week long inspection of Australia on 20 December 1909, which culminated in the submission of a report to the government on 12 February 1910. The report, among other things, advocated for the establishment of an Australian Military College with a structure and syllabus based on West Point Academy in the United States. Kitchener thereafter left for New Zealand where he inspected the NZMF and, following the completion of his tour, supplied the New Zealand government with a copy of his Australian report, noting in a covering letter that:
I do not think that it is necessary to write you a special memorandum on the defence of New Zealand, as from what I have seen during my inspection the necessity for improved training is just as equally marked in this country as it is in Australia.
Kitchener subsequently recommended that the Australian and New Zealand forces adopt “homogeneous military systems” to ensure their forces could efficiently take the field together in a crisis. To this end, Kitchener recommended to the New Zealand government that they send ten officer cadets per year to the proposed “Australian West Point College” about to be established.
Kitchener’s recommendation was readily adopted as it reinforced earlier plans to send New Zealand officer cadets to an Australian college. By 1910, when Kitchener submitted his advice, the pressing need for extensively trained junior officers in the NZMF had been felt for some years. In November 1908, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Sir Joseph Ward, had enquired of the Australian prime minister, Andrew Fisher, whether Australia had taken any steps towards establishing a ‘Military College’ or if it was in contemplation. Fisher was forced to respond in the negative to Ward but in response to the enquiry he forwarded to his counterpart a copy of a memorandum on the subject penned by the Australian Chief of Intelligence, Colonel William Bridges (later Duntroon’s first Commandant). It was realised even before Kitchener’s inspection that New Zealand would be better served by sending cadets to an Australian military college instead of creating its own; the small number of junior officers required annually by the NZMF combined with the cost of creating such an institution precluded the creation of a New Zealand college. The prospect of New Zealand cadets at an Australian institution provided impetus and encouragement for the Australian government as it was realised that some of the cost of establishing the college could be defrayed by New Zealand contributions. Accordingly, when the Australian government agreed to take New Zealand cadets at Duntroon, it ensured that New Zealand would pay £200 per capita per annum to cover costs. It was subsequently enshrined into the college’s regulations that entry was restricted to British subjects, but that they were not required to be permanent residents of Australia (which theoretically permitted enrolment not only of New Zealanders, but also of cadets from the British Isles, Canada and British born-South Africans).
Duntroon Early Years (1911-1918)
When the first intake of forty-two staff-cadets assembled at Duntroon in Canberra in June 1911, they had in their midst ten New Zealanders. A remarkable picture remains of the official opening of the college in 1911 by the Governor-General Lord Derby where the cadets are assembled and lined up as one entity—not divided into national contingents. This set a precedent for the college; from its inception, Australians and New Zealanders would not be treated differently as they were all cadets, ‘British-subjects,’ and under the same discipline and regulations. Hereafter, New Zealand maintained annual intakes of six in 1912, three in 1913 and nine in 1914. In 1912 the college was inspected by the General Officer Commanding (G.O.C.) of the NZMF, Major-General Sir Alexander Godley, under whom many Duntroon graduates would serve in the First World War. Godley was impressed at the standard being adhered to and on his return to New Zealand advocated strongly to maintain the flow of cadets.
By the beginning of the First World War in August 1914, there were some twenty-six New Zealanders enrolled at Duntroon (two had been discharged in 1911). The pressing need for trained junior officers in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) during the war years saw the four-year course abbreviated, with civil subjects such as mathematics and physics neglected so that focus could be given to military subjects. As a result, some contingents of New Zealanders and Australians were graduated early but this truncation only applied to the New Zealanders already at Duntroon in August 1914 and not the thirty-five that entered the college during the war years. In total, some twenty-five New Zealanders (representing the pre-war intakes) graduated from Duntroon for service abroad between August 1914 and November 1918.
Duntroon-trained junior officers were invaluable during the First World War, as they would be in the Second. They provided to their units and in their duties a degree of professionalism and expertise unrivalled (except in a few very talented individuals) in the part-time citizen officers who joined the AIF, many of whom would admittedly become excellent officers through experience. As commander of the New Zealand and Australian Division, Godley wrote to the Commandant of Duntroon in 1915 that graduates had “all done extraordinarily well and have most thoroughly justified their training and the system of the college”. The invaluable nature of Duntroon and its graduates to commanders like Godley during the war seemed to bode well for its post-war future and to a continuing association of New Zealand cadets with the college.
Early Post-War and Recall (1919-1921)
The armistice in November 1918 was a cause for raucous celebrations at Duntroon with cadets and some teaching staff partaking in a giant pillow fight on the parade ground to mark the occasion. Many of the cadets celebrating did not realise at that moment the extent to which the newfound peace would negatively affect their career prospects. Both Australia and New Zealand had spent heavily in the war and accumulated large debts, while simultaneously mobilising large portions of their military-age manpower. While thousands of Australians and New Zealanders were casualties of the war, cooperative junior officer training at Duntroon was a casualty of the peace.
In November 1918 there were still some thirty-five New Zealanders in training at Duntroon, with seven due to graduate the following month. The NZMF was thus faced with a stark problem. It had within its forces abroad and at Duntroon too many junior officers to man its projected peacetime army. Priority for appointments into the New Zealand Staff Corps and Permanent Staff was to be given to officers with wartime service, experience and distinguished records as they would be able to imbue the service with a “high degree of efficiency.” The NZMF was also facing significant budgetary cutbacks as the New Zealand government sought ‘extreme economy’ in defence spending. The need for this frugality was exacerbated by the rising cost of training cadets at Duntroon, which by 1919 was £414 per cadet per annum. The New Zealand Government nevertheless was still getting a good deal as by 1921 the cost of maintaining a cadet was £879 per annum. This discrepancy was debated in the Australian Senate on 7 December 1921, where it was established that the maintenance costs of the college, which were the cause of the difference, remained extant with or without the New Zealand cadets. Senator Edward Millen, Minister of Repatriation and leader of the Government in the Senate, also noted that:
There was a laudable desire also, no doubt, that there should not be created any feeling that the Commonwealth was seeking to make a profit out of the training of New Zealand cadets.
Despite the overstaffing of the NZMF, the New Zealand government believed that continued association with Duntroon was necessary to ensure liaison and cooperation between the two militaries. As such, one New Zealand cadet was sent to the college in 1919, and four more followed in 1920.
The lack of New Zealanders in the 1921 intake into Duntroon was a result of several converging factors. Firstly, in 1921 the New Zealand government undertook a second post-war reorganisation and reduction in the size of the NZMF. This, and the extensive retrenchments among the NZMF officer corps that followed, were caused by a poor economic situation precipitated by a declining international market for New Zealand primary products and changing strategic circumstances in the Pacific. Following the Treaty of Versailles, New Zealand’s strategic outlook was optimistic, with few threats remaining from the pre-war era. Not only had relations between the British Empire and France been improved due to shared sacrifice in the war (thereby removing the threat from France’s Pacific territories), but Germany’s nearby colonies had been occupied and awarded as mandates to Australia and New Zealand. The only strategic threat that remained for New Zealand was Japan, but generally good relations, combined with Britain’s plan to build a naval base at Singapore, seemed to indicate little threat to New Zealand.
Accordingly, at the end of 1921 all New Zealanders were removed from Duntroon. Two hours before their graduation the seven New Zealanders of the 1921 graduating class, were informed that due to financial constraints and retrenchments they no longer had an appointment in the New Zealand Army, but the government would endeavour to obtain for them appointments to the British Army or in the New Zealand public service. Of the seven cadets, one gained a place in the NZMF, three transferred to the Indian Army, two entered the British Army and one entered the New Zealand public service. The other five New Zealand cadets in the junior classes were removed from the college, having not completed their courses.
The Long Hiatus (1922-1933)
Duntroon was hit hard by the withdrawal of the New Zealand cadets and suffered as an institution from 1922-1933. The college survived a series of attempts to have it decommissioned or merged with the Royal Australian Naval College, but was nevertheless affected by severe budget cuts that saw staffing and cadet levels sink. In order to make savings, the institution was moved from Canberra in 1931 and relocated to Victoria Barracks in Paddington, Sydney (where it remained until 1936). During the height of the Great Depression in 1932 the number of cadets dwindled to thirty-one (in contrast to 138 in 1919) and only a skeleton staff remained to instruct the cadets. The lack of New Zealanders at the college was felt by all. Not only did staff mourn the added strength that the New Zealanders had brought to the college’s sporting teams (following their withdrawal in 1921 the college cricket team had to be completely reorganised), but J.E. Lee, an instructor at Duntroon during this period, later noted:
That there were no longer any New Zealand cadets at Duntroon was a matter of very great regret. They were always excellent types, and the early military education, on a common basis, of the officers of the permanent forces of the two great dominions was of inestimable value to both countries.
Through the pages of the Journal of the Royal Military College of Australia the college attempted to keep track of its former New Zealand cadets. The editions for these years are replete with notes on the recent postings and accomplishments of graduates, such as attending the Staff College in England or India. The New Zealand graduates took a keen interest in their alma mater: Douglas ‘Harry’ Maxwel, a graduate of 1920, pledged in the 1922 edition of the journal to keep “New Zealand in touch with the college.”
The changing international situation in the early 1930s and a growing realisation of the need for rearmament saw proposals in 1933 to return New Zealanders to Duntroon. The G.O.C of the NZMF, Major-General William Sinclair-Burgess, understood the dire situation his army was in and argued persuasively to his government for cadets to be sent to Duntroon to rectify a growing lack of expertise and command ability at the junior officer level. Although the previous eleven years had seen the commissioning of some junior officers into the NZMF by sending cadets to the Royal Military College Sandhurst and the Royal Military Academy Woolwich in England, less than ten had been so commissioned. The courses of Sandhurst and Woolwich were scarcely suitable to produce New Zealand officers; as courses of eighteen months they were designed to produce regimental officers of a particular corps (i.e. infantry or cavalry) instead of the more roundly (militarily) educated Duntroon graduates who, despite choosing a specialisation, were instructed in command and staff duties in most corps.
Sinclair-Burgess was a staunch advocate of close military ties with the AMF, having served during the First World War as a part of the AIF. When his proposal to send four cadets to Duntroon in 1934 received a favourable reception, he cabled the Chief of the General Staff in Australia, Major-General Julius Bruche. Bruche responded that “we are looking forward to their coming,” and actively supported the return of the New Zealanders as he understood that it would help drive down per capita costs while simultaneously reinforcing the prestige of the college. The return of New Zealanders to Duntroon also had the support of the Minister of Defence Sir George Pearce who recognised that New Zealanders would help to revitalise the moribund institution. As an added incentive to the New Zealand government Pearce ensured that it received a satisfactory financial arrangement regarding the annual cost for each cadet.
The Return (1934-1939)
The return of New Zealand cadets to Duntroon in 1934 was “gladly welcomed” by J.E. Lee, despite that there were only four of them. Brigadier Geoffrey Solomon, who entered the college in 1938, later noted that for many at the time it:
seemed a return to the natural order of things. They had always been a source of strength and their influence continued to be out of proportion to their actual number at any time.
The rapidly deteriorating international situation and the need to rearm saw New Zealand send thirty-nine cadets to Duntroon before September 1939. The 1939 intake included nine cadets with previous military service who entered the college in July 1939 to undertake a six-month long course to qualify them as regimental officers in the NZMF. The growth of the number of New Zealanders at the college was replicated by the re-growth and expansion of the college as rearmament in Australia became a priority. Additional funding allowed Duntroon to return to Canberra in 1937, a move that was greatly appreciated by the staff and students. It was also during these years that for the first time a New Zealander was appointed to Duntroon’s staff (Captain J.L. Brooke, a 1919 graduate), a precedent that has remained to this day with Duntroon currently having on its staff a New Zealand Captain and Warrant Officer Grade II.
By September 1939, 67 of 74 New Zealand Duntroon graduates remained, the rest having been killed during the First World War or as a result of illness or accident. Of this 67, around half remained serving with the NZMF, while six were serving with the British or Indian Armies and one in the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Many others who had left the service during the interwar period due to poor career prospects re-enlisted. A select few, such as 1920 graduate Alex Scholes (who had left the service in 1922), served with the Second Australian Imperial Force. By June 1939, one-third of all permanent officers in the NZMF were Duntroon-trained (total officer strength was 100 officers), and ready and able to work intimately with their Australian counterparts.
Integration and Impacts of Shared Junior Military Education at Duntroon
While at Duntroon the corps of staff cadets, no matter their social or geographical background, adhered to the same regulations and discipline, and shared identical accommodation, dining facilities, classes and instructors. The integration and ‘levelling’ of the cadets while at Duntroon had been written into the regulations from the college’s inception. Unlike the empire’s other military colleges at Sandhurst, Woolwich and Kingston (Canada), a cadet’s education was free with parents only required to send their children a limited amount of pocket money as an allowance. These same conditions applied to the New Zealanders at Duntroon. All cadets were taught in a common method, imbued with common terminology, organisational procedures and doctrine that would allow for easy interoperability in the field and liaison in peace. Prior to 1935, the syllabus for both the Australian and New Zealand cadets was identical, but the appointment of Brooke in 1935 saw a slight divergence with New Zealand cadets being instructed on unique aspects of their military’s ‘peacetime administration.’
It would be going too far to suggest that cadets were longer ‘Australians’ or ‘New Zealanders’ at Duntroon and identified merely as ‘cadets’; there remained an understanding that the New Zealanders would be commissioned into a different military. But national distinctions became less important. The cadets were placed into a hierarchical system whereby senior cadets could exercise command over their juniors, thus New Zealanders could hold higher rank and command Australian cadets and vice versa. In the latter half of the 1930s the ‘Lord and Master’ system was introduced, whereby new cadets were assigned a ‘Lord and Master’ from the class above who became responsible for ensuring that the cadet, in the words of Solomon, knew “what he had to do, and how and when to do it.” The “Lord and Master’ was also responsible for ensuring the passing on of the traditions and history of Duntroon. Solomon recalled that
at meals we had to be prepared to answer questions on the history and traditions of Duntroon and it was the job of our ‘Lord and Master’ to see if we could. If we failed he shared in our disgrace and was much displeased.
In 1938, Solomon (an Australian) was assigned a New Zealander, Raymond Bay, to be his ‘Lord and Master’. Bay was “a kindly young man firmly in the grip of the system” who was convinced that Solomon should be too.
Australians and New Zealanders also took to the sporting field together as a single RMC side in sports such as cricket, hockey, and rugby. That New Zealanders added prowess the RMC’s sporting sides is attested to by a variety of sources, but one particular incident is interesting to note. In 1938, Canberra put together a combined civilian-military team to play a game of rugby against a visiting New Zealand ‘All Blacks’ team. The Canberra team was roundly defeated 57-5, with Canberra’s only try coming from Robert Dawson, a New Zealand cadet (and later Chief of the General Staff in New Zealand). Such close contact resulted in the formation of life-long friendships that facilitated easy cooperation, contact and liaison between the Australian and New Zealand armies prior-to, during and long after the Second World War.
Impact/Facilitating Interwar Liaison
As early as 1933 proposals and schemes to increase mid-level contact and liaison between the AMF and NZMF incorporated the use of Duntroon graduates. Although a series of officer exchanges between the AMF and NZMF had been undertaken prior to the First World War, the first interwar proposal was not until 1933 when Sinclair-Burgess suggested to Bruche that a New Zealander could observe the Australian militia’s annual training camp. An Australian could do likewise in New Zealand. Sinclair-Burgess noted that he proposed to send Major Norman Weir, a 1914 graduate of Duntroon, to undertake this exchange as he “knows quite a number of your people as he was one of the first ten New Zealand cadets to be sent to Duntroon.” Similar brief exchanges began to take place regularly during the remainder of the 1930s. From 1937, two-year-long exchanges were introduced.
The need for some New Zealand input into the syllabus of Duntroon saw Duntroon’s Director of Military Art, Major Horace Robertson, selected to undertake an exchange to New Zealand in 1936. Robertson held a series of discussions with multiple senior New Zealand officers on the course and syllabus at Duntroon, asking for their views on a possible restructure of the Duntroon syllabus. Through his enquires Robertson found:
that the New Zealand Forces were at least as keen if not keener than Australia on their cadets having the most complete and thorough training. The prestige of graduates is very high in New Zealand and the G.O.C told me that if the College graduates were as good in the future as they had been in the past he would be very satisfied.
Despite the relatively small number of New Zealand cadets at Duntroon at this time (due to their recent return), the views of the New Zealand military on the college’s course were given a surprising amount of weight. Through this the AMF was attempting, as much as possible, to facilitate a continued New Zealand connection with the college by indicating that it had a voice in Duntroon’s future. This was a policy that was reinforced by having a New Zealander on staff from 1935 onwards, an officer who could subsequently vouch for the importance of remaining at the college, and for the generally high standard required for graduation.
The shared junior military education of New Zealanders and Australians at Duntroon prior to the Second World War was a policy of great benefit to both nation’s militaries. Not only did New Zealand receive well-trained staff officers, but individuals who retained lasting connections with their Australian Army counterparts. For the AMF, facilitating positions at Duntroon for New Zealand was a sensible and practical policy. The welcome injection of students who were largely paid for by their own government helped lower the per capita cost of the cadets and heightened the prestige of the institution and its graduates. It also facilitated a close military connection between the AMF and the NZMF, one that would complement imperial and national defence throughout the rest of the twentieth century. Of the nineteen New Zealand Chiefs of the General Staff from 1946 to 2000, fifteen were Duntroon graduates, with five of those having graduated before the Second World War and another (Richard Webb) having entered the college in March 1939. That Duntroon today still maintains a New Zealand Captain and Warrant Officer II on staff is indicative of the continuing connection between the two armies. It is for this reason that Duntroon still trains ‘foreign’ officers; to do so forms continuing connections between the Australian Army and partner militaries in the Indo-Pacific region, which manifest in exchange postings, and combined exercises and operations. Although the benefits to liaison and cooperation between the Australian Army and its Indo-Pacific partners may not be immediately felt, it is a long-term policy and one that will, as in the case of the New Zealand army, pay dividends in the future.
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Jordan Beavis is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Newcastle, Australia. His doctoral research examines the military connections and linkages that existed between the Australian Military Forces and the other armies of the British Commonwealth in the interwar period. Jordan was the 2018 recipient of the C. E. W. Bean Prize for his Honours thesis, and he has received research grants from the Australian Army History Unit and the Association for Canadian Studies in Australia and New Zealand.