Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Origins of foot soldiers and Diggers

Footmen (foot soldiers) or infantry are soldiers who fight with small arms on the ground and are transported to the battlefield. The etymology of ‘infantry” is thought to derive from the same Latin root as 'infant', either via Italian, where it referred to young men who accompanied knights on foot, or via Spanish, where the infantes (royal princes but not heirs to the throne) commanded the footmen, hence known as infanteria.

From antiquity armies have been built around a core of infantry and relied on their feet for operational movements (transportation behind the lines, especially in the pre-industrial era) and tactical movement (movement in battle). At first foot soldiers fought in loosely organized groups under the commanded of individuals within ear shot who would call out orders. The Greeks preferred heavily-armed formations of infantry which fought in rigid formation but by the time of the Romans, legions were lightly-armed and mobile, capable of relocating on the battlefield to exploit advantage.

By the early Middle Ages, combat preference was given to knights (on horseback). Foot soldiers were armed with long spears to counter the long reach of lances used by the cavalry. About 1350 when personal armoury became too heavy to be practical ground fighting was reintroduced and the importance of the archer became apparent. Eventually the bow was replaced by the musketeer as guns became more accurate and require less skill to use.

The introduction of the bayonet marked the beginning of modern infantry and as time progressed and communications and weaponry improved, infantry formations were trained to carry out pre-arranged tactical (silent) manoeuvres in the heat of battle.

By the First World War I (1914-1918), it was recognized the ability of infantry to manoeuvre in constricted terrain unseen was extremely effective. Modern warfare reinforced the importance of protecting the soldiers and saw the development of mechanized infantry in armored vehicles and air assaults. Infantry units are now used to patrol, escort and pursue moving unseen in areas of possible enemy activity to discern enemy deployments and ambush enemy patrols.

Foot soldiers rely on their equipment, weaponry and clothing and that includes their boots. Each theatre of war demands clothing and footwear suitable to the geographical and climatic conditions and foot soldiers' boots have evolved to become some of the most sophisticated footwear on Earth.

The term Digger came to refer to Australian military personnel since the Australian and New Zealand involvement in the Vietnam War (1962-1973) but was previously recorded as being used to describe both Australian and New Zealand soldiers. No one is really sure of the origins of ‘digger’ but some authorities’ think it may have been a nickname given to new recruits from mining areas which they took to the Battle of Gallipoli (1916). There is no written evidence to support this and Australian troops were more commonly known as Kangaroos, or Tommy Kangaroo and sometimes Johnny Kangaroos at this time. Other nicknames included Cobblers, Trooper Redgum and Billjims.

Certainly survival at Gallipoli was dependent on finding suitable cover and fox holes were life saving. Many linked to communicating trenches so the survivors of the nightmare landing may have earned the title because they survived by digging in. Diggers was used as a term of endearment by the British Tommy’s’ in 1916, when they referred to Maori battalions who dug out communicating trenches. After the Battle of the Somme (1916), Australian soldiers generally referred to themselves with pride as "Diggers." By 1917 the name had spread from the New Zealand Division to the Australian Division in the ANZAC Corps and gained general acceptance. The sobriquet 'digger' was commonly used in World War II (1939-1945) to refer to Australian and New Zealand troops who fought side by side but in separate battalions. By the Vietnam War, Australian and New Zealand troops formed combined units and the term Kiwi was used to refer to New Zealanders and the Australians were called diggers.

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