Rare honour for civvy

A MT PLEASANT author and historian has been awarded an extremely rare military honour for his 35-year labour of love researching and writing an account of the Australian Army’s involvement in World War II.

Earlier this month Graham McKenzie-Smith became one of the few civilians ever to receive the army’s Gold Commendation; it’s so prestigious only the Chief of Army is allowed to bestow it.

Mr McKenzie-Smith, who picked up the award at the Army Museum in Fremantle, told the Herald it was an unexpected honour.

“I was working in New Guinea in the late 60s near the site of the Battle of Wau and Salamaua and I knew the 42nd Battalion was involved, and that got me to thinking about what the 43rd and 44th were doing,” Mr McKenzie-Smith said about his interest in military history.

The author eventually expanded his research to look at the details of more than 5700 army units, often dropping in to the Australian Army History Unit to pore over documents.

Eventually someone from the unit tapped him on the shoulder, gave him a modest bursary and told him it was time to put it all together.

The resulting six-volume The Unit Guide – The Australian Army 1939-1945 is considered so comprehensive the current Chief of Army Angus wants it in every Australian high school.

“There is a place for The Unit Guide on the shelves of all secondary school, local and state libraries, RSLs, on genealogists’ and military historians’ shelves, and among the great history collection of this country,” Liet Gen Campbell wrote.

Mr McKenzie-Smith paid tribute to the history unit’s staff, saying his work wouldn’t have been possible without their enthusiasm and assistance.

That enthusiasm has extended to asking Mr McKenzie-Smith to consider a similar book set on Australian Army units in World War I.

by STEVE GRANT

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