23 April 2015

Dr Elizabeth Greenhalgh is a research fellow at The University of New South Wales (Australian Defence Force Academy), and is an Australian historian who specialises in the First World War.

She has been awarded ARC Discovery Projects grants to undertake innovative research on the war, and her latest project uses archival material held in France and Germany to uncover the neglected story of the French battles in 1915.

As the nation’s interest in the First World War is heightened in the Centenary year of Gallipoli, Dr Greenhalgh also highlights the importance of understanding the strategic context of the conflict in the Dardanelles.

“It’s important to keep in context that the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp (ANZAC) was part of the British army and the British were in coalition with France.

“Britain and France were the only two powers that saw the entire war through from 1914–1918.

“Coalitions matter in war,” Dr Greenhalgh said.

In her research, Dr Greenhalgh has unearthed a series of reports from a French liaison officer working between the French and British on Gallipoli. This officer visited the ANZACs in Anzac cove and reported on their conditions back to the French military.

“Not many Australian’s know that there was actually a French contingent at Gallipoli.

“This officer was very complimentary about the Australians, so in a sense this research has helped boost the Australian reputation!”

The Centenary of the Gallipoli landing and the pending Anzac Day commemorations are important and significant events; and Dr Greenhalgh believes this also provides an opportunity to embrace the history of World War 1, looking beyond Gallipoli.

“The French army was virtually on its own on the Western front in 1915…however, that period of the war does not contain famous battles like Verdun, Ypres or Gallipoli; it is a neglected area of the First World War, even by the French themselves, despite the unrelentingly severe loss of life in the trenches.”

Dr Greenhalgh’s research can be applied to present wartime scenarios, and our future generation of defence officers are benefiting from her research carried out at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.

She hopes that her research can equip current cadets for difficult decision making during wartime. 

“Studying the first world war teaches you how to think; these students are being taught to think of a situation where lethal force is being contemplated or being used, hence they need to think of what strategies they might apply.

“Any war has lessons for us all. Obviously certain aspects have changed, such as weapons, however the men and women fighting in today’s wars in the Middle East or Afghanistan have still got to cope with being under fire, that doesn’t change from one war to the next.

“It’s important to realise that you can learn from what has already happened. The best way to move forward in your present occupation as a soldier is to understand that people did learn in the past, as they learned through fighting on the Western Front.”

Dr Greenhalgh has been recognised internationally as one of the foremost researchers on the First World War, and her work has added to Australia’s already well respected status in historical military research, hence she understands the importance of funding research in this area.

“The support of research into the history of war is fundamental to our deep understanding of processes intrinsic to all war, such as the role of coalition in wartime, and the difficulties in understanding the mindset of your allies, as well as those you fight against,” she said.

In uncovering new perspectives on the conflict of one hundred years ago, Dr Greenhalgh aims to help us better understand the past, so that we are better equipped for the conflicts of the future.  Whether it is improving troop morale through a better understanding of wartime experiences, or improving relations with coalition allies, or understanding the evolution of wartime strategy.

“It is always a complaint that generals are fighting the last war in their new war. I think the important thing is to learn to adapt to your circumstances. Such adaptation is something we can certainly learn from the Western Front.”

For more information please contact Dr Elizabeth Greenhalgh.

DP150102893—French Fighting Methods in 1915: new light from neglected archives
DP1093924—1918: How the Allies Won the First World War


Image: Propaganda poster from 1917.