Today, in Australia, the term Choco or Chocks is synonymous with Reservist soldiers and the proud service provided by the part-time soldiers in defence of the nation. The term was commonly used in WW2 to refer to the CMF, or Militia forces and represented the schism between the 2 Army system of the militia and the 2nd AIF, ignoring the fact that in September 1939, the Permanent Military Force comprised just 2,800 soldiers and officers supporting 80,000 Militia, a number that had grown from 35,000 in 1938.
The origin of the term Chocolate Soldier
The term originated from a George Bernard Shaw play, Arms and the Man, which was first produced in 1894. The title comes from the first line of Virgil’s Aeneid. Shaw’s play involves various characters involved in the Serbo-Bulgarian war of 1885. One of the characters who was hidden by a women from Russian and Bulgarian troops admits he is tired of war, and that he uses his ammunition pouches for chocolates. She refers to him as her ‘Chocolate soldier’.
The first Australian Chocks
The first mention of Australian troops being referred to as chocos was the 8th Brigade in WW1. The 8th Brigade was first raised in 1912 as a part of the compulsory training scheme. In February 1916, it was incorporated into the new 5th Division as a part of the Australian Imperial Force. In March it was sent to the Suez Canal to relieve the 1st and 2nd Divisions which were deploying to the Western Front.
The move to the Suez Canal needed to be completed quickly so to hasten the deployment the 8th Brigade, along with the 16th Battalion was sent by train. The rest of the troops moved on foot, which entailed a 3-day march across the desert. The troops were still feeling the effects of recent Typhoid inoculations and had not received much conditioning for the heat in the Middle East. These factors, along with new boots and poor clothing for the conditions ensured that the march became a shambles. On the second day of the march, at the midday break, troops began wandering off in search of water. To stop further absconding, the Divisional Commander, MAJ GEN Irving recommenced the march, but an hour later it was stopped with troops collapsing in complete exhaustion. The temperature was around 38 degrees. Many of the troops suffered from heat illness and many had to be assisted by a New Zealand Division that was in the area. The march was so bad that the commander of the 5th Division, Irving, was relieved of command.
The 8th Brigade, under BRIG Edwin Tivey, having escaped the shambles of the march, was thereafter unfairly referred to as ‘Tivey’s Chocs’ because they looked good, but couldn’t take the heat. The Brigade would go on to see action at Fromelles, First Bullecourt, Third Ypres, and the Hundred Days Offensive. During the Second World War, as a militia Brigade, it fought at Sio, Madang, and the Ramu Valley.
Koala Bears, too!
The Chocos were also sometimes referred to as Koala Bears. This was because they were not to be sent overseas and were not to be shot at. This reference was popularised when Archie Cameron asked a question of the Army Minister in Parliament in October of 1942. The issue was worsened when Army Minister, Frank Forde made only a reply with mild generalities.
The following article appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Sunday the 11th of October, 1942.
With a saturnine grin, Archie Cameron, the major from Kangaroo Island, took an ugly poke at the A.M.F. at question time. He tried to smear the term “Koala bear” onto the militia, as substitute for the fast-dying “chocko.” His thin locks bristled like an aureole of mischief and ill-humor as he asked, with heavy sarcasm: “Does the Army Minister propose to do anything about the nasty-minded people who insist on referring to the A.M.F. as ‘Koala bears,’ because you can’t shoot at ’em and you can’t export ’em?” Army Minister. Forde, although flicked into an unusual fighting mood: on other topics, made a reply in mild generalities, and it was left to Sol Rosevear, with a mordacity that matched the major’s, to slap the smear back on Cameron’s forelocked head.
Rosevear wanted to know, “in view of the long period that Mr. Cameron has. been in uniform without fighting,” whether he should not be graduated himself from the ranks of the “Koala bears” to the fighting forces.
Gavin Long in the Official History, and the question of the Choco:
“The term ‘Chocko’ “, wrote one soldier in 1945, has been changed from a term of opprobrium to a title to be proud of, like the “Rats of Tobruk” or the “Old Contemptibles”. The men call each other “Chocko” as they might say “Mate” or “Digger”. They are determined to remain “Chockos” just to show that here was one matter on which the army couldn’t order them about. Not even the Commander-in-Chief could make them volunteer and they were going to revel in this freedom.”
It was Chockos who fought the first part of the Kokoda campaign. The 39th Battalion’s performance bought them well deserved recognition. The 53rd Battalion’s did not. Much was asked of the militia Battalions on the Kokoda track, much more than they had been trained and prepared for. It was at Kokoda where they were asked to perform the ultimate role of the militia, the defence of the nation in times of national emergency.
Long Tan highlights the courage and value that a different kind of non-Regular service brought to the battlefield – The ‘Nasho’. To augment the small Regular Army, conscription was bought in and it wasn’t long before the National Servicemen found themselves in contact with a well-trained and well-motivated enemy in the jungles of Vietnam. Have a listen to the Long Tan series to see how they were prepared for combat and how well they performed in the rubber plantations of Phuoc Tuy province.