Author(s): Russell Robinson
When Australia entered World War I, volunteers swarmed to enlistment centres in their thousands. But among the recruits were criminals with extensive police records. Some had assumed false names to start lives afresh; others made no secret of their criminal histories. They were hardened criminals, fresh out of jail or on the run from the law, or fleeing family responsibilities or debts. Once in uniform, some became persistent deserters, fleeing the training depots before embarkation. Those who did make it overseas spent much of the time going AWL to avoid being sent to the front. There were some who showed great courage and endeavour while under fire, and were awarded medals and citations. In most cases, however, the encouragement failed to distract them from their misbehaviour. Others used their military training to expand their unlawful enterprises overseas, joining gangs of like-minded desperate diggers. And then there were those who saw the war as a chance to hone their skills for use in the criminal underworld on their return. They were Australia's khaki crims and desperadoes.
Russell Robinson is an award-winning journalist who has worked in Australia, London and Hong Kong. He is the co-author of Shotgun and Standover: The Story of the Painters and Dockers, also published by Pan Macmillan. He lives in Melbourne.