Most histories of Australia’s Great War rush their readers into the trenches. This history is very different. For the first time, it examines events closely, even hour-by-hour, in both Britain and Australia during the last days of peace in July–August 1914.
London’s choice for war was a very close-run thing. At the height of the diplomatic crisis leading to war, it looked very much like Britain would choose neutrality. Only very late in the evening of Tuesday 4 August did a small clique in the British cabinet finally engineer a declaration of war against Germany.
Meanwhile, Australia’s political leaders, deep in the throes of a federal election campaign, competed with each other in a love-of-empire auction. They leapt ahead of events in London. At the height of the diplomatic crisis, they offered to transfer the brand-new Royal Australian Navy to the British Admiralty. Most importantly, on Monday 3 August, an inner group of the Australian cabinet, egged on by the governor-general, offered an expeditionary force of 20,000 men, to serve anywhere, for any objective, under British command, and with the whole cost to be borne by Australia — some forty hours before the British cabinet made up its mind.
Australia’s leaders thereby lost the chance to set limits, to weigh objectives, or to insist upon consultation. They needlessly exposed Australian soldiers and their families to the full horror of the mechanised slaughter that was to come. They were hell-bent — and they got there.
'[Newton's] finely wrought narrative re-creates the drama and tension of the six weeks prior to the outbreak of war [and] powerfully conveys the depth of post-Federation Australia’s longing for blooding in battle … indispensable'
The Saturday Paper
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'An original and disturbing account of the role of imperial manipulation and the connivance of Australian political leaders in the nation’s premature leap into war. In a crowded historical field, Douglas Newton’s attention to the political dimensions of Australia’s (and Britain’s) military commitment stands out. Meticulously researched and engagingly written, Hell-Bent highlights the dire logic of Australia’s condition as a self-governing colonial dependency and the profound cost of the burden of empire.'
Marilyn Lake, Professor in History and ARC Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne; President of the Australian Historical Association
'Douglas Newton's Hell-Bent is by far the best ever account of Australia's participation in the world's catastrophic plunge into war in 1914. The product of meticulous research, Newton's book superbly captures the drama, brinksmanship, naivety, and tragedy of those times, reminding us of citizens' vulnerability — then and now — to political manipulation and deception in matters of war and peace.'
Frank Bongiorno, Associate Professor of History at the Australian National University and co-editor of History Australia, the Australian Historical Association's journal
'A wonderful book … indeed an instant classic of Australian historical literature that stands out in the flood of titles about our national history of warfare. The indispensable text about Australia's tragic involvement in the Great War.'
'[A]n engaging and thought-provoking book and a welcome addition to the ever-expanding library of WWI books, many of which focus instead on entrenching further the already well-advanced heroic Anzac mythology.'
Australian Defence Magazine
'[L]ively and beautifully crafted … functions as a cautionary tale for contemporary times about the potent and dangerous mixture of politics and war.'
Carolyn Holbrook, Australian Book Review
'[A] fascinating look at a complex time, shining a light into all sorts of dark corners … easy to read [and] an important addition to Australian history.'
Nick Goldie, Cooma-Monaro Express
'This book is a fascinating, detailed and refreshing account of Australia’s entry into the First World War … One of the strengths of the book is the way in which it juxtaposes events in Australia with those in Britain, thereby providing the "full-picture" … Newton reminds us that Australia’s "hell-bent" leap into the First World War had far-reaching long-term consequences as it set a dangerous precedent for future wars to come.'
Jatinder Mann (Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alberta), Australian Historical Studies