AUSTRALIANS AT WAR

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Deaths as a result of service with Australian units

There are a number of sources from which casualty statistics can be drawn. The figures below, the number of deaths as a result of service with Australian units, are derived from the Roll of Honour. Questions of eligibility for the Roll of Honour are determined solely by the Memorial’s Council, and have been considered many times over the years by Council and before it by the Memorial’s Board. When a name has been approved by Council as eligible for addition to the Roll of Honour, that name is added on Remembrance Day each year. Dates for inclusion on the Roll of Honour for the First World War are 4 August 1914 to 31 March 1921. For the Second World War they are 3 September 1939 to 30 June 1947. In all other cases, the dates for inclusion are the same as the date of the conflict.

Conflict Dates of conflict[1] Number of deaths
New Zealand 1860–61 Nil
Sudan 1885 9
South Africa 11 October 1899 – 31 May 1902 589
China 6 August 1900 – 25 April 1901 6
First World War 4 August 1914 – 31 March 1921 61,519
Second World War 3 September 1939 – 30 June 1947 39,668
Malayan Emergency 16 June 1948 – 31 July 1960 39
Korean War 27 June 1950 – 27 July 1953 340
Indonesian Confrontation 24 December 1962– 11 August 1966 16
Malay Peninsula 19 February 1964 – 11 August 1966 2
Vietnam War 3 August 1962 – 29 April 1975 521
Thailand 25 June 1965 – 31 August 1968 2
Somalia 20 October 1992 – 30 November 1994 1
East Timor 16 September 1999 – 18 August 2003 2
Afghanistan 11 October 2001 – present 32[2]
Iraq 16 July 2003 – present 2
Total 102,748

Colonial period, 1788–1901

British settlement of Australia began as a penal colony governed by a captain of the Royal Navy. Until the 1850s, when local forces began to be recruited, British regular troops garrisoned the colonies with little local assistance. From 1788 marines guarded English settlements at Sydney Cove and Norfolk Island; they were relieved in 1790 by a unit specifically recruited for colonial service, and in 1810 the 73rd Regiment of Foot became the first line regiment to serve in Australia. From then until 1870, 25 British infantry regiments and several smaller artillery and engineer units were stationed in the colonies. One role of the troops was to guard Australia against external attack, but their main job was to maintain civil order, particularly against the threat of convict uprisings, and to suppress the resistance of the Aboriginal population to British settlement.

AWM 300007Starboard side representation of the brig sloop HMS Pelorus, which was based at Sydney from 1838 to 1839. With the end of convict transportation to New South Wales in 1840, the need for military forces diminished and troop strength began to decline, particularly as British troops were required in the first Anglo–Maori wars in New Zealand and as colonial police forces were formed. After the last British regiment left in 1870 the colonies were obliged to assume responsibility for their own defence. Only rarely during their time in Australia did British troops fire upon fellow Europeans. In March 1804 British regulars suppressed a convict rebellion near Castle Hill and in 1829 soldiers were involved in putting down the “Ribbon Gang” outbreak near Bathurst. In an incident that took place after transportation had ended, British troops, along with police, battled insurgent miners at the Eureka Stockade, on the Ballarat goldfields, on 4 December 1854. British soldiers based in Australia who did partake in military operations were more likely to have fought across the Tasman in the Anglo–Maori wars of the 1840s and 1860s. Resulting from the continuing expansion of European settlers onto Maori land and the colonial government’s determination to crush native independence, the first war took place in 1845–6. With insufficient troops in New Zealand to meet the threat, the 58th Regiment of Foot, then based in Australia, was dispatched in February 1845, soon to be followed by further troops. Fighting died down after 1846 but flared again in 1860 before a truce was declared and peace returned.

Map of North Island of New Zealand

By 1863 hostilities had reignited, and New Zealand’s colonial authorities requested further assistance from Australia. A contingent of British troops was dispatched, along with the Victorian Colonial steam corvette, Victoria. In July 1863 British troops invaded the Waikato area and news of the continuing campaign spread through the Australian colonies. Some 2,500 volunteers offered their services on the promise of settlement on confiscated Maori land by New Zealand recruiters; most joined the Waikato Militia regiments, others became scouts and bush guerrillas in the Company of Forest Rangers. Few of these volunteers were involved in major battles, and fewer than 20 were killed. Despite the preponderance of British troops in the Australian colonies, colonial military forces were maintained from as early as December 1788, when the commandant of Norfolk Island, Phillip Gidley King, ordered his free male settlers (numbering six) to practise musketry on Saturdays. The first military unit raised on the Australian mainland appeared in September 1800, when Governor Hunter asked 100 free male settlers in Sydney and Parramatta to form Loyal Associations (English volunteer units raised to put down civil unrest) and practice military drill in case the Irish convicts rebelled. Six years later Governor King recruited six ex-convicts as the nucleus of a military bodyguard, creating the first full-time military unit to be raised in Australia. Both these groups joined British regulars in suppressing the Castle Hill uprising.

 A04590
An officer of the 50th Regiment of Foot who was stationed at Victoria Barracks, Sydney, between 1866 to 1869, following service in the New Zealand wars. Insignia on cuff and collar indicates the rank of captain and the medals are for service in the Crimean War. Not until 1854 were volunteer corps and militia again formed in the Australian colonies, but news of war between Britain and Russia in the Crimea led to the establishment of volunteer corps in some colonies and the formation of informal rifle clubs in others. When the Crimean War ended in 1856 volunteer units faded, to be revived in 1859 when it appeared that Napoleon III was preparing to invade England. By early 1860 most suburbs and towns in Australia supported a volunteer unit, usually a rifle corps.

A04784
An informal group photograph of spectators and competitors taken during a rifle shooting competition between ten men of the Hobart Town Volunteers Artillery and ten men from the First Rifles. The men are all holding pattern 1853 .577 inch Enfield rifles. Tasmania, 17 October 1863. For the rest of the century volunteer corps became more organised, with instruction duties placed in the hands of professional soldiers. In the early 1890s several thousand citizen soldiers were mobilised in eastern Australia to assist regulars and police to maintain order during the maritime and shearing strikes of the early 1890s. In 1899 trained citizen soldiers were given the opportunity to test their skills in the Boer War, to which the colonial governments, and later the Commonwealth, sent contingents. The administration of colonial military forces passed to the Commonwealth on 1 March 1901, following Federation.

Although much of the military training undertaken by volunteers in the colonies was aimed at meeting external threats, European settlement was accompanied by a protracted and undeclared war against Australia’s Indigenous inhabitants. Fighting was localised and sporadic, following the frontiers of European settlement across the continent and continuing in remote areas of central and Western Australia until the 1930s. British soldiers (as distinct from armed police and civilians) became involved only rarely, notably during the period of martial law in Tasmania between 1828 and 1832, and in New South Wales in the mid-1820s and late 1830s. Military authorities did not usually regard Aborigines as posing sufficient threat to warrant the expense of committing military forces to pursue them, and most of the fighting was conducted by the settlers, assisted by police. The conflict between Europeans and Aboriginal Australians followed a broadly similar pattern. At first, the Aborigines tolerated the settlers and sometimes welcomed them. But when it became apparent that the settlers and their livestock had come to stay, competition for access to the land developed and friction between the two ways of life became inevitable. As the settlers’ behaviour became unacceptable to the Indigenous population, individuals were killed over specific grievances; these killings were then met with reprisals from the settlers, often on a scale out of all proportion to the original incident. Occasionally Aborigines attacked Europeans in open country, resulting in encounters somewhat akin to conventional battles, usually won by the Europeans. Resistance was more successful when Aboriginies employed stealth and ambush in rugged country. In addition to guerrilla tactics, Aboriginies also engaged in a form of economic warfare, killing livestock, burning property, attacking drays which carried supplies, and, in Western Australia in the 1890s, destroying telegraph lines. It is estimated that some 2,500 European settlers and police died in this conflict. For the Aboriginal inhabitants the cost was far higher: about 20,000 are believed to have been killed in the wars of the frontier, while many thousands more perished from disease and other unintended consequences of settlement. Aboriginal Australians were unable to restrain – though in places they did delay – the tide of European settlement; although resistance in one form or another never ceased, the conflict ended in their dispossession.

A03855Three officers of the South Australian Company, c. 1899, wearing full dress. The helmet with feather hackle was worn in India and Australia in place of the traditional feather bonnet, as a concession to the climate. In the centre is Lieutenant James Stevenson-Black. The uniform he is wearing is held by the Memorial.
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Sudan (New South Wales Contingent) March-June 1885

In the early 1880s the British-backed Egyptian regime in the Sudan was threatened by an indigenous rebellion under the leadership of Muhammed Ahmed, known to his followers as the Mahdi. In 1883 the Egyptian government, with British acquiescence, sent an army south to crush the revolt. Instead of destroying the Mahdi’s forces, the Egyptians were soundly defeated, leaving their government with the problem of extricating the survivors. The difficulties of evacuating their forces in the face of a hostile enemy quickly became apparent, and the British were persuaded to send General Charles Gordon, already a figure of heroic proportions in England, to consider the means by which the Egyptian troops could be safely withdrawn. Disregarding his instructions, Gordon sought instead to delay the evacuation and defeat the Mahdi; like the Egyptians, Gordon failed and found himself besieged in Khartoum. The popular general’s predicament stirred public opinion in England, leading to demands for an expeditionary force to be dispatched to his rescue. The relief force was sent from Cairo in September 1884, but it was still fighting its way up the Nile when Gordon was killed in late January the following year. Gordon’s exploits were well known throughout the British Empire, and when the telegraph brought word of his death to New South Wales in February 1885 it was met with recriminations against the Liberal government led by William Gladstone for having failed to act in time.

 A05137Volunteers for the NSW Infantry Contingent for the Sudan at Victoria Barracks, Sydney, shortly before the contingent’s departure on 3 March 1885. With news of Gordon’s death and the Canadian government’s offer of troops for the Sudan, the NSW government cabled London with its own offer. To make its proposal more attractive, it offered to meet the contingent’s expenses; London accepted but stipulated that the contingent would be under British command. Similar offers from the other Australian colonies were declined. The British government’s acceptance of the contingent was received with enthusiasm by the NSW government and members of the armed forces; it was seen as a historic occasion, marking the first time that soldiers in the pay of a self-governing Australian colony were to fight in an imperial war.

A05215
Sydney, 3 March 1885. Departure of the NSW Contingent for the Sudan. The contingent, an infantry battalion of 522 men and 24 officers and an artillery battery of 212 men, was ready to sail on 3 March 1885. It left Sydney amid much public fanfare, generated in part by the holiday declared to farewell the troops; the send-off was described as the most festive occasion in the colony’s history. Support was not, however, universal, and many viewed the proceedings with indifference or even hostility. The nationalist Bulletin ridiculed the contingent both before and after its return. Meetings intended to launch a patriotic fund and endorse the government’s action were poorly attended in many working-class suburbs, and many of those who turned up voted against the fund. In some country centres there was a significant anti-war response, while miners in rural districts were said to be in “fierce opposition”. The NSW contingent anchored at Suakin, Sudan’s Red Sea port, on 29 March 1885 and were attached to a brigade composed of Scots, Grenadiers and Coldstream Guards. Shortly after their arrival they marched as part of a large “square” formation – on this occasion made up of 10,000 men – for Tamai, a village some 30 kilometres inland. Although the march was marked only by minor skirmishing, the men saw something of the reality of war as they halted among the dead from a battle which had taken place eleven days before. Further minor skirmishing took place on the next day’s march, but the Australians, now at the rear of the square, sustained only three casualties, none fatal. The infantry reached Tamai, burned whatever huts were standing and returned to Suakin.

P00441.001Suakin, Sudan, 1885: grave of Robert Weir, the first Australian to die on active duty in the Sudan. After Tamai, the greater part of the NSW contingent worked on the railway line which was being laid across the desert towards the inland town of Berber on the Nile, half-way between Suakin and Khartoum. Far from the excitement they had imagined, the Australians suffered mostly from the enforced idleness of guard duties. When a camel corps was raised, fifty men volunteered immediately. On 6 May they rode on a reconnaissance to Takdul, 28 kilometres from Suakin, again hoping for an encounter with the Sudanese, but the only action that day involved two newspaper correspondents who had accompanied the patrol before leaving the cameleers to file their stories in Suakin. They soon found themselves surrounded by enemy forces, and one was wounded as they fled. The camel corps made only one more sortie – on 15 May, to bury the bodies of men killed in fighting the previous March. The artillery saw even less action than the infantry. They were posted to Handoub where, having no enemy close enough to engage, they drilled for a month. On 15 May they rejoined the camp at Suakin. Not having participated in any battles, Australian casualties were few: those who died fell to disease rather than enemy action. By May 1885 the British government had decided to abandon the campaign and left only a garrison in Suakin. The Australian contingent sailed for home on 17 May 1885. The contingent arrived in Sydney on 19 June. They were expecting to land at Port Jackson and were surprised to disembark at the quarantine station on North Head near Manly as a precaution against disease. One man died of typhoid there before the contingent was released. Five days after their arrival in Sydney the contingent, dressed in their khaki uniforms, marched through the city to a reception at Victoria Barracks where they stood in pouring rain as a number of public figures, including the Governor, Lord Loftus, the Premier, and the commandant of the contingent, Colonel Richardson, gave speeches. It was generally agreed at the time that, no matter how small the military significance of the Australian contribution to the adventure, it marked an important stage in the development of colonial self-confidence and was proof of the enduring link with Britain.

A05526Sydney, NSW, 1885: infantrymen of the NSW Contingent to the Sudan, after their return to Australia. They are wearing khaki uniform issued for active service, and are equipped with Martini-Henry rifles.
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Australia and the Boer War, 1899–1902

Map of South Africa

From soon after its acquisition by Britain during the Napoleonic wars, the southern tip of Africa had been shared between British colonies and independent republics of Dutch–Afrikaner settlers, known as Boers. In order to escape British rule many Boers had moved north and east from the Cape to settle on new lands which eventually became the Boer republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. The relationship between the British and the Boers was an uneasy one, with Britain extending its control by annexing Natal in 1845, though London did recognise the two republics in two treaties in the 1850s. Throughout the nineteenth century tensions were often high, and in 1880–81 the two sides fought a war in which the Boers inflicted several costly defeats on the British army. Coupled with the advent of a new government in London reluctant to fight the war, this ensured that the Transvaal was able effectively to maintain its independence. The discovery of gold and diamonds in the Boer republics in the 1880s further intensified the rivalry, particularly as British subjects flooded into the Boer territories in search of wealth. The rights of British subjects in Boer territory, British imperial ambition, and the Boer desire for to stay outside the British Empire all caused more friction, which in 1899 provoked the Boers to attack in order to forestall what they saw as an impending British conquest. As part of the British Empire, the Australian colonies offered troops for the war in South Africa. Australians served in contingents raised by the six colonies or, from 1901, by the new Australian Commonwealth. For a variety of reasons many Australians also joined British or South African colonial units in South Africa: some were already in South Africa when the war broke out; others either made their own way to the Cape or joined local units after their enlistment in an Australian contingent ended. Recruiting was also done in Australia for units which already existed in South Africa, such as the Scottish Horse. Australians served mostly in mounted units formed in each colony before despatch, or in South Africa itself. The Australian contribution took the form of five “waves”. The first were the contingents raised by the Australian colonies in response to the outbreak of war in 1899, which often drew heavily on the men in the militia of the colonial forces. The second were the “bushmen” contingents, which were recruited from more diverse sources and paid for by public subscription or the military philanthropy of wealthy individuals. The third were the “imperial bushmen” contingents, which were raised in ways similar to the preceding contingents, but paid for by the imperial government in London. Then were then the “draft contingents”, which were raised by the state governments after Federation on behalf of the new Commonwealth government, which was as yet unable to do so. Finally, after Federation, and close to the end of the war, the Australian Commonwealth Horse contingents were raised by the new Federal government. These contingents fought in both the British counter-offensive of 1900, which resulted in the capture of the Boer capitals, and in the long, weary guerrilla phases of the war which lasted until 1902. Colonial troops were valued for their ability to “shoot and ride”, and in many ways performed well in the open war on the veldt. There were significant problems, however, with the relatively poor training of Australian officers, with contingents generally arriving without having undergone much training and being sent on campaign immediately. These and other problems faced many of the hastily raised contingents sent from around the empire, however, and were by no means restricted to those from Australia. The Australians at home initially supported the war, but became disenchanted as the conflict dragged on, especially as the effects on Boer civilians became known.

AWM P00220.001Men from the 2nd South Australian (Mounted Rifles) Contingent, who fought in the Boer War. Third from left is Trooper Harry “The Breaker” Morant. South Africa, c. 1900. The conflict in South Africa is generally divided into three phases: The early phase, from October to December 1899, when the British armies, mainly infantry, were defeated or besieged by highly mobile Boer mounted troops. The second phase, from December 1899 until September 1900, which involved a British counter-offensive, resulting in the capture of most of the major towns and cities of South Africa. The third and longest phase, from September 1900 to May 1902, when the war was mainly a guerrilla conflict between British mounted troops and Boer irregulars. The outbreak of war had long been expected in both Britain and Australia. Believing that conflict was imminent, Queensland had offered troops in July, and the same month Britain had requested the participation of New South Wales and Victoria. Each of the colonies ultimately sent between four and six contingents. The first groups arrived in South Africa between November 1899 and March 1900; the second between December 1899 and February 1900; the third between April and May 1900; and the fourth between May and June 1900. The 4th Tasmanian, 6th Queensland, South Australian, and Western Australian contingents did not reach South Africa until March–April 1901. A further three contingents were raised by the new Commonwealth in 1901, but as they did not embark until 1902, most arrived too late for any action; indeed, some were still at sea when the war ended on 31 May 1902. The first Australian troops arrived in South Africa in December 1899, too late to become involved in the serious British defeats of “black week” (10–17 December), when 2,300 men were killed or wounded by the Boers in three separate engagements. Five hundred members of the Queensland Mounted Infantry and the NSW Lancers took part in the relief of Kimberley in February 1900, and men of the NSW Mounted Rifles played a minor part in the last major battle of the war, at Paardeberg, in the same month. After a series of defeats in 1900 the Boer armies became fragmented, forming groups of highly mobile commandos which harassed British troop movements and lines of supply. Faced with this type of warfare, the British commanders became increasingly reliant on mounted troops from Britain and the colonies. Conditions for both soldiers and horses were harsh. Without time to acclimatise to the severe environment and in an army with a greatly over-strained logistic system, the horses fared badly. Many died, not just in battle but of disease, while others succumbed to exhaustion and starvation on the long treks across the veld. Quarantine regulations in Australia ensured that even those which did survive could not return home. In the early stages of the war Australian soldier losses were so high through illness that components of the first and second contingents ceased to exist as viable units after a few months of service.

AWM A04298In the NSW Imperial Bushmen camp, South Africa, 1900. In the second phase of the war, when the British forces captured the major South African towns, over-extended supply lines and inadequate food caused problems. Looting was widespread, and did not stop at the acquisition of bare essentials for men and their horses. Disease and epidemics also took a heavy toll. In early 1900 water contaminated by corpses and human waste infected the army during a period of rest in the captured town of Bloemfontein; 1,000 deaths resulted, mostly from typhoid. After September 1900, by which time the war had become mainly a guerrilla conflict, Australian troops were deployed in sweeping the countryside and enforcing the British policy of cutting the Boer guerrillas off from the support of their farms and families. This meant the destruction of Boer farms, the confiscation of horses, cattle and wagons, and the rounding up of the inhabitants, usually women and children. These civilian captives were taken to concentration camps where, weakened by malnutrition, thousands died of contagious diseases. By mid-1901 the war for the Australians was characterised by long rides, often at night, followed by an attack on a Boer farmhouse or encampment (laager) at dawn. The skirmishes were often minor, involving small Boer forces quickly overwhelmed by superior numbers. There were occasional fights between the Australians and larger Boer forces, but encounters with Boer commandos were rare. The experience of the NSW Mounted Rifles in the last five months of 1901 was said to be typical: they trekked almost 3,000 kilometres and were involved in 13 skirmishes for the loss of five dead and 19 wounded. They reported killing 27 Boers, wounding 15 and capturing 196. The men spent long periods in the saddle with few opportunities to bathe or change their clothes; lice were a constant problem. Temperatures on the veld ranged from relentless heat during the day to freezing cold at night.

P01866.006Members of E Company, 5th Contingent, Victorian Mounted Rifles, in action against the Boers in front of the Pongola Bosch, October 1901. It is generally thought that about 16,000 Australians fought in the Boer War. This figure includes those who enlisted in an Australian unit, as well as the many raised locally, but it does not allow for double-counting of those who served in two contingents. A small number of Australians are known to have fought on the Boer side. The nature of the conditions under which the war was fought can be deduced from the fact that in the Australian contingents, 282 died in action or from wounds sustained in battle, while 286 died from disease and another 38 died of accident or other unknown causes. Six Australians received the Victoria Cross in South Africa, and many others received other decorations.

ART29246William Dargie, The incident for which Captain Howse was awarded the VC in Vredefort, July 1900
(1968, oil on paper on board, 25.5 x 35.5 cm)
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China (Boxer Rebellion), 1900–01

During the nineteenth century the major European powers compelled the reluctant Chinese Empire to start trading with them. There was little the Chinese government wanted from the West at the time but there was a strong demand for opium among the population. In the Opium Wars of 1839-1842 and 1856-1860, the British forced the Chinese to accept the import of opium in return for Chinese goods, and trading centres were established at major ports. The largest of these was Shanghai, where French, German, British, and American merchants demanded large tracts of land in which they asserted “extra-territorial” rights, meaning they were subject to the laws of their own country not China. In Shanghai a legendary sign in a park near one of the European compounds read: “No dogs or Chinamen.”. The Chinese government’s failure to resist inroads on its sovereignty and withstand further demands from the Europeans, such as the right to build railways and other concessions, caused much resentment among large sections of the population. This eventually led to the Chinese revolution of 1911 which toppled the imperial dynasty.

By the end of the nineteenth century the balance of the lucrative trade between China and merchants from America and Europe, particularly Britain, lay almost entirely in the West’s favour. As Western influence increased anti-European secret societies began to form. Among the most violent and popular was the I-ho-ch’uan (the Righteous and Harmonious Fists). Dubbed the “Boxers” by western correspondents, the society gave the Boxer Rebellion its name.

Throughout 1899 the I-ho-ch’uan and other militant societies combined in a campaign against westerners and westernised Chinese. Missionaries and other civilians were killed, women were raped, and European property was destroyed. By March 1900 the uprising spread beyond the secret societies and western powers decided to intervene, partly to protect their nationals but mainly to counter the threat to their territorial and trade ambitions.

A04490A Boxer gun structure on the wall of the Imperial City. By the end of May 1900 Britain, Italy, and the United States had warships anchored off the Chinese coast at Taku, the nearest port to Peking. Armed contingents from France, Germany, Austria, Russia, and Japan were on their way. In June, as a western force marched on Peking, the Dowager Empress T’zu-hsi sent imperial troops to support the Boxers. Further western reinforcements were dispatched to China as the conflict widened. Australian colonies were keen to offer material support to Britain. With the bulk of forces engaged in South Africa, they looked to their naval contingents to provide a pool of professional, full-time crews, as well as reservist-volunteers, including many ex-naval men. The reservists were mustered into naval brigades, in which the training was geared towards coastal defence by sailors capable of ship handling and fighting as soldiers.

A05081
Loading horses for the NSW Citizens Bushman’s Contingent to China on the Alantia, Sydney, 1900. When the first Australian contingents, mostly from New South Wales and Victoria, sailed on 8 August 1900, troops from eight other nations were already engaged in China. On arrival they were quartered in Tientsin and immediately ordered to provide 300 men to help capture the Chinese forts at Pei Tang overlooking the inland rail route. They became part of a force made up of 8,000 troops from Russia, Germany, Austria, British India, and China serving under British officers. The Australians travelled apart from the main body of troops and by the time they arrived at Pei Tang the battle was already over.

AWM A05872British servicemen hold their first Boxer prisoner. The next action in which the Australians (Victorians troops this time) were involved was against the Boxer fortress at Pao-ting Fu, where the Chinese government was believed to have sought refuge when Peking was taken by western forces. The Victorians joined a force of 7,500 on the ten-day march to the fort, only to find the town had already surrendered; the closest enemy contact was guarding prisoners. The international column then marched back to Tientsin, leaving a trail of looted villages behind them. While the Victorians marched to Pao-ting Fu and back, the NSW contingent was undertaking garrison duties in Peking. They arrived on 22 October, after a 12-day march. They remained in Tientsin and Peking over winter, performing police and guard duties and sometimes working as railwaymen and firefighters. Although they saw little combat, the Australian forces helped to restore civil order, which involved shooting (by firing squad) Chinese caught setting fire to buildings or committing other offences against European property or persons. The officers and men of the Australian contingents were dissatisfied with the nature of the duties they were asked to undertake. They had expected martial adventure and the opportunity to distinguish themselves in battle but had arrived too late to take part in significant combat.

P00417.003Two officers of the Australian Naval Brigade in China. The entire naval brigade left China in March 1901. Six Australians died of sickness and injury, and none were killed as a result of enemy action. While they had been away the colonies from which they sailed only nine months before had become a federal commonwealth and Queen Victoria died in England.
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First World War 1914–18

Australian troops in the Turkish Lone Pine trenchesAustralian troops in the Turkish Lone Pine trenches. The First World War began when Britain and Germany went to war in August 1914, and Prime Minister Andrew Fisher’s government pledged full support for Britain. The outbreak of war was greeted in Australia, as in many other places, with great enthusiasm. Australia’s early involvement in the Great War included the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force taking possession of German New Guinea and the neighbouring islands of the Bismarck Archipelago in October 1914. In November 1914 the Royal Australian Navy made a significant contribution when HMAS Sydney destroyed the German raider SMS Emden. On 25 April 1915 members of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) landed at Gallipoli together with troops from New Zealand, Britain, and France. This began a campaign that ended with the evacuation of troops on 19 and 20 December 1915. Following Gallipoli, Australian forces fought campaigns on the Western Front and in the Middle East. Throughout 1916 and 1917 losses on the Western Front were heavy and gains were small. In 1918 the Australians reached the peak of their fighting performance in the battle of Hamel on 4 July. From 8 August they then took part in a series of decisive advances until Germany surrendered on 11 November. The Middle East campaign began in 1916 with Australian troops participating in the defence of the Suez Canal and the allied reconquest of the Sinai peninsula. In the following year Australian and other allied troops advanced into Palestine and captured Gaza and Jerusalem; by 1918 they had occupied Lebanon and Syria. On 30 October 1918 Turkey sued for peace. For Australia, as for many nations, the First World War remains the most costly conflict in terms of deaths and casualties. From a population of fewer than five million, 416,809 men enlisted, of which over 60,000 were killed and 156,000 wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner. The outbreak of war was greeted in Australia, as in many other places, with great public enthusiasm. In response to the overwhelming number of volunteers, the authorities set exacting physical standards for recruits. Yet, most of the men accepted into the army in August 1914 were sent first to Egypt, not Europe, to meet the threat which a new belligerent, the Ottoman Empire (Turkey), posed to British interests in the Middle East and the Suez Canal.

Australian digger uses a periscope in a trench captured during the attack<br /><br /><br />
on Lone Pine An Australian digger uses a periscope in a trench captured during the attack on Lone Pine, Gallipoli, 8 August 1915. After four and a half months of training near Cairo, the Australians departed by ship for the Gallipoli peninsula, with troops from New Zealand, Britain, and France. The Australians landed at what became known as ANZAC Cove on 25 April 1915 and established a tenuous foothold on the steep slopes above the beach. During the early days of the campaign, the allies tried to break through Turkish lines, while the Turks tried to drive the allied troops off the peninsula. Attempts on both sides ended in failure and the ensuing stalemate continued for the remainder of 1915. The most successful operation of the campaign was the evacuation of troops on 19 and 20 December, under cover of a comprehensive deception operation. As a result, the Turks were unable to inflict more than a very few casualties on the retreating forces. After Gallipoli the AIF was reorganised and expanded from two to five infantry divisions, all of which were progressively transferred to France, beginning in March 1916. The AIF mounted division that had served as additional infantry during the campaign remained in the Middle East. When the other AIF divisions arrived in France, the war on the Western Front had long been settled in a stalemate, with the opposing armies facing each other from trench systems that extended across Belgium and north-east France, from the English Channel to the Swiss border. The development of machine-guns and artillery favoured defence over attack and compounded the impasse, which lasted until the final months of the war.

Troops of 53rd Battalion wait to don equipment for the attack at FromellesTroops of 53rd Battalion wait to don equipment for the attack at Fromelles, 19 July 1916. Only three of these men survived.
While the overall hostile stasis continued throughout 1916 and 1917, the Australians and other allied armies repeatedly attacked, preceded by massive artillery bombardments intended to cut barbed wire and destroy enemy defences. After these bombardments, waves of attacking infantry emerged from the trenches into no man’s land and advanced towards enemy positions. The surviving Germans, protected by deep and heavily reinforced bunkers, were usually able to repel the attackers with machine-gun fire and artillery support from the rear. These attacks often resulted in limited territorial gains followed, in turn, by German counter-attacks. Although this style of warfare favoured the defence, both sides sustained heavy losses. In July 1916 Australian infantry were introduced to this type of combat at Fromelles, where they suffered 5,533 casualties in 24 hours. By the end of the year about 40,000 Australians had been killed or wounded on the Western Front. In 1917 a further 76,836 Australians became casualties in battles, such Bullecourt, Messines, and the four-month campaign around Ypres, known as the battle of Passchendaele.

Australian wounded infantrymen at the first battle of PasschendaeleAustralian wounded infantrymen at the first battle of Passchendaele, near Zonnebele railway station.
In March 1918 the German army launched its final offensive of the war, hoping for a decisive victory before the military and industrial strength of the United States could be fully mobilised in support of the allies. The Germans initially met with great success, advancing 64 kilometres past the region of the 1916 Somme battles, before the offensive lost momentum. Between April and November the stalemate of the preceding years began to give way, as the allies combined infantry, artillery, tanks, and aircraft more effectively, demonstrated in the Australian capture of Hamel spur on 4 July 1918. The allied offensive, beginning on 8 August at Amiens, also contributed to Australian successes at Mont St Quentin and Péronne and to the capture of the Hindenburg Line. In early October the Australian divisions withdrew from the front for rest and refitting; they were preparing to return when Germany surrendered on 11 November.

3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment machine-gunners in action at Khurbetha-Ibn-Harith,<br /><br /><br />
near Palestine3rd Australian Light Horse Regiment machine-gunners in action at Khurbetha-Ibn-Harith, near Palestine, 31 December 1917. Unlike their counterparts in France and Belgium, the Australians in the Middle East fought a mobile war against the Ottoman Empire in conditions completely different from the mud and stagnation of the Western Front. The light horsemen and their mounts had to survive extreme heat, harsh terrain, and water shortages. Nevertheless, casualties were comparatively light, with 1,394 Australians killed or wounded in three years of war. This campaign began in 1916 with Australian troops participating in the defence of the Suez Canal and the allied reconquest of the Sinai peninsula. In the following year Australian and other allied troops advanced into Palestine and captured Gaza and Jerusalem; by 1918 they had occupied Lebanon and Syria. On 30 October 1918 Turkey sued for peace. Australians also served at sea and in the newly formed flying corps. The Royal Australian Navy (RAN), under the command of the Royal Navy, made a significant contribution early in the war, when HMAS Sydney destroyed the German raider Emden near the Cocos Islands in November 1914. The Great War was the first armed conflict in which aircraft were used; about 3,000 Australian airmen served in the Middle East and France with the Australian Flying Corps, mainly in observation capacities or providing infantry support.

HMAS Sydney during her encounter with the Emden HMAS Sydney at full speed, ten minutes after the ceasefire was ordered in her battle with the German cruiser Emden. Australian women volunteered for service in auxiliary roles, as cooks, nurses, drivers, interpreters, munitions workers, and skilled farm workers. While the government welcomed the service of nurses, it generally rejected offers from women in other professions to serve overseas. Australian nurses served in Egypt, France, Greece, and India, often in trying conditions or close to the front, where they were exposed to shelling and aerial bombardment. The effect of the war was also felt at home. Families and communities grieved following the loss of so many men, and women increasingly assumed the physical and financial burden of caring for families. Anti-German feeling emerged with the outbreak of the war, and many Germans living in Australia were sent to internment camps. Censorship and surveillance, regarded by many as an excuse to silence political views that had no effect on the outcome of war, increased as the conflict continued. Social division also grew, reaching a climax in the bitterly contested (and unsuccessful) conscription referendums held in 1916 and 1917. When the war ended, thousands of ex-servicemen, many disabled with physical or emotional wounds, had to be re-integrated into a society keen to consign the war to the past and resume normal life.

9th Australian Light Horse bring in Turkish prisoners in the Sinai9th Australian Light Horse bring in Turkish prisoners in the Sinai, 13 April 1916.
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Second World War, 1939–45

Sapper R. A. R Stevenson and Lance-Corporal R. C. Mace, 2/13 Field Company. 090907Sapper R.A.R. Stevenson and Lance-Corporal R.C. Mace, members of 2/13 Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers, exhausted after the initial attempt to get ashore at Lingkas to blow wire defences, rest in a landing craft vehicle-personnel before a later successful attempt at full tide. On 3 September 1939 Prime Minister Robert Gordon Menzies announced the beginning of Australia’s involvement in the Second World War on every national and commercial radio station in Australia. Almost a million Australians, both men and women, served in the Second World War. They fought in campaigns against Germany and Italy in Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa, as well as against Japan in south-east Asia and other parts of the Pacific. The Australian mainland came under direct attack for the first time, as Japanese aircraft bombed towns in north-west Australia and Japanese midget submarines attacked Sydney harbour. On 7 May 1945 the German High Command authorised the signing of an unconditional surrender on all fronts: the war in Europe was over. The surrender was to take effect at midnight on 8–9 May 1945. On 14 August 1945 Japan accepted of the Allied demand for unconditional surrender. For Australia it meant that the Second World War was finally over. The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) participated in operations against Italy after its entry into the war in June 1940. A few Australians flew in the Battle of Britain in August and September, but the Australian army was not engaged in combat until 1941, when the 6th, 7th, and 9th Divisions joined Allied operations in the Mediterranean and North Africa.

P01103.005 At sea off Crete in the Mediterranean, 19 July 1940: Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni under attack from HMAS Sydney near Cape Spada. Following early successes against Italian forces, the Australians suffered defeat with the Allies at the hands of the Germans in Greece, Crete, and North Africa. In June and July 1941 Australians participated in the successful Allied invasion of Syria, a mandate of France and the Vichy government. Up to 14,000 Australians held out against repeated German attacks in the Libyan port of Tobruk, where they were besieged between April and August 1941. After being relieved at Tobruk, the 6th and 7th Divisions departed from the Mediterranean theatre for the war against Japan. The 9th Division remained to play an important role in the Allied victory at El Alamein in October 1942 before it also left for the Pacific. By the end of 1942 the only Australians remaining in the Mediterranean theatre were airmen serving either with 3 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) or in the Royal Air Force (RAF).

AWM 069221North Africa, 6 January 1941: Australian troops advance into Bardia.
Japan entered the war in December 1941 and swiftly achieved a series of victories, resulting in the occupation of most of south-east Asia and large areas of the Pacific by the end of March 1942. Singapore fell in February, with the loss of an entire Australian division. After the bombing of Darwin that same month, all RAN ships in the Mediterranean theatre, as well as the 6th and 7th Divisions, returned to defend Australia. In response to the heightened threat, the Australian government also expanded the army and air force and called for an overhaul of economic, domestic, and industrial policies to give the government special authority to mount a total war effort at home. In March 1942, after the defeat of the Netherlands East Indies, Japan’s southward advance began to lose strength, easing fears of an imminent invasion of Australia. Further relief came when the first AIF veterans of the Mediterranean campaigns began to come home, and when the United States assumed responsibility for the country’s defence, providing reinforcements and equipment. The threat of invasion receded further as the Allies won a series of decisive battles: in the Coral Sea, at Midway, on Imita Ridge and the Kokoda Trail, and at Milne Bay and Buna.

AWM 026629Milne Bay, Papua, September 1942: a Bofors gun position manned by the 2/9th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, Royal Australian Artillery, at Gili-Gili airfield. In the background a Kittyhawk is about to land.
Further Allied victories against the Japanese followed in 1943. Australian troops were mainly engaged in land battles in New Guinea, the defeat of the Japanese at Wau, and clearing Japanese soldiers from the Huon peninsula. This was Australia’s largest and most complex offensive of the war and was not completed until April 1944. The Australian army also began a new series of campaigns in 1944 against isolated Japanese garrisons stretching from Borneo to Bougainville, involving more Australian troops than at any other time in the war. The first of these campaigns was fought on Bougainville and New Britain, and at Aitape, New Guinea. The final series of campaigns were fought in Borneo in 1945. How necessary these final campaigns were for Allied victory remains the subject of continuing debate. Australian troops were still fighting in Borneo when the war ended in August 1945. While Australia’s major effort from 1942 onwards was directed at defeating Japan, thousands of Australians continued to serve with the RAAF in Europe and the Middle East. Athough more Australian airmen fought against the Japanese, losses among those flying against Germany were far higher. Australians were particularly prominent in Bomber Command’s offensive against occupied Europe. Some 3,500 Australians were killed in this campaign, making it the costliest of the war. Over 30,000 Australian servicemen were taken prisoner in the Second World War and 39,000 gave their lives. Two-thirds of those taken prisoner were captured by the Japanese during their advance through south-east Asia in the first weeks of 1942. While those who became prisoners of the Germans had a strong chance of returning home at the end of the war, 36 per cent of prisoners of the Japanese died in captivity.

AWM 117022Singapore Straits Settlements, 19 September 1945: members of 2/18th Australian Infantry Battalion, prisoners of war of the Japanese, in Changi prison. Nurses had gone overseas with the AIF in 1940. However, during the early years of the war women were generally unable to make a significant contribution to the war effort in any official capacity. Labour shortages forced the government to allow women to take a more active role in war work and, in February 1941, the RAAF received cabinet approval to establish the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF). At the same time, the navy also began employing female telegraphists, a breakthrough that eventually led to the establishment of the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) in 1942. The Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) was established in October 1941, with the aim of releasing men from certain military duties in base units in Australia for assignment with fighting units overseas. Outside the armed services, the Women’s Land Army (WLA) was established to encourage women to work in rural industries. Other women in urban areas took up employment in industries, such as munitions production.
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Second World War, 1939–45

Sapper R. A. R Stevenson and Lance-Corporal R. C. Mace, 2/13 Field Company. 090907Sapper R.A.R. Stevenson and Lance-Corporal R.C. Mace, members of 2/13 Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers, exhausted after the initial attempt to get ashore at Lingkas to blow wire defences, rest in a landing craft vehicle-personnel before a later successful attempt at full tide. On 3 September 1939 Prime Minister Robert Gordon Menzies announced the beginning of Australia’s involvement in the Second World War on every national and commercial radio station in Australia. Almost a million Australians, both men and women, served in the Second World War. They fought in campaigns against Germany and Italy in Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa, as well as against Japan in south-east Asia and other parts of the Pacific. The Australian mainland came under direct attack for the first time, as Japanese aircraft bombed towns in north-west Australia and Japanese midget submarines attacked Sydney harbour. On 7 May 1945 the German High Command authorised the signing of an unconditional surrender on all fronts: the war in Europe was over. The surrender was to take effect at midnight on 8–9 May 1945. On 14 August 1945 Japan accepted of the Allied demand for unconditional surrender. For Australia it meant that the Second World War was finally over. The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) participated in operations against Italy after its entry into the war in June 1940. A few Australians flew in the Battle of Britain in August and September, but the Australian army was not engaged in combat until 1941, when the 6th, 7th, and 9th Divisions joined Allied operations in the Mediterranean and North Africa.

P01103.005 At sea off Crete in the Mediterranean, 19 July 1940: Italian cruiser Bartolomeo Colleoni under attack from HMAS Sydney near Cape Spada. Following early successes against Italian forces, the Australians suffered defeat with the Allies at the hands of the Germans in Greece, Crete, and North Africa. In June and July 1941 Australians participated in the successful Allied invasion of Syria, a mandate of France and the Vichy government. Up to 14,000 Australians held out against repeated German attacks in the Libyan port of Tobruk, where they were besieged between April and August 1941. After being relieved at Tobruk, the 6th and 7th Divisions departed from the Mediterranean theatre for the war against Japan. The 9th Division remained to play an important role in the Allied victory at El Alamein in October 1942 before it also left for the Pacific. By the end of 1942 the only Australians remaining in the Mediterranean theatre were airmen serving either with 3 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) or in the Royal Air Force (RAF).

AWM 069221North Africa, 6 January 1941: Australian troops advance into Bardia. Japan entered the war in December 1941 and swiftly achieved a series of victories, resulting in the occupation of most of south-east Asia and large areas of the Pacific by the end of March 1942. Singapore fell in February, with the loss of an entire Australian division. After the bombing of Darwin that same month, all RAN ships in the Mediterranean theatre, as well as the 6th and 7th Divisions, returned to defend Australia. In response to the heightened threat, the Australian government also expanded the army and air force and called for an overhaul of economic, domestic, and industrial policies to give the government special authority to mount a total war effort at home. In March 1942, after the defeat of the Netherlands East Indies, Japan’s southward advance began to lose strength, easing fears of an imminent invasion of Australia. Further relief came when the first AIF veterans of the Mediterranean campaigns began to come home, and when the United States assumed responsibility for the country’s defence, providing reinforcements and equipment. The threat of invasion receded further as the Allies won a series of decisive battles: in the Coral Sea, at Midway, on Imita Ridge and the Kokoda Trail, and at Milne Bay and Buna.

AWM 026629Milne Bay, Papua, September 1942: a Bofors gun position manned by the 2/9th Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, Royal Australian Artillery, at Gili-Gili airfield. In the background a Kittyhawk is about to land.
Further Allied victories against the Japanese followed in 1943. Australian troops were mainly engaged in land battles in New Guinea, the defeat of the Japanese at Wau, and clearing Japanese soldiers from the Huon peninsula. This was Australia’s largest and most complex offensive of the war and was not completed until April 1944. The Australian army also began a new series of campaigns in 1944 against isolated Japanese garrisons stretching from Borneo to Bougainville, involving more Australian troops than at any other time in the war. The first of these campaigns was fought on Bougainville and New Britain, and at Aitape, New Guinea. The final series of campaigns were fought in Borneo in 1945. How necessary these final campaigns were for Allied victory remains the subject of continuing debate. Australian troops were still fighting in Borneo when the war ended in August 1945. While Australia’s major effort from 1942 onwards was directed at defeating Japan, thousands of Australians continued to serve with the RAAF in Europe and the Middle East. Athough more Australian airmen fought against the Japanese, losses among those flying against Germany were far higher. Australians were particularly prominent in Bomber Command’s offensive against occupied Europe. Some 3,500 Australians were killed in this campaign, making it the costliest of the war. Over 30,000 Australian servicemen were taken prisoner in the Second World War and 39,000 gave their lives. Two-thirds of those taken prisoner were captured by the Japanese during their advance through south-east Asia in the first weeks of 1942. While those who became prisoners of the Germans had a strong chance of returning home at the end of the war, 36 per cent of prisoners of the Japanese died in captivity.

AWM 117022Singapore Straits Settlements, 19 September 1945: members of 2/18th Australian Infantry Battalion, prisoners of war of the Japanese, in Changi prison.
AWM 117022

Nurses had gone overseas with the AIF in 1940. However, during the early years of the war women were generally unable to make a significant contribution to the war effort in any official capacity. Labour shortages forced the government to allow women to take a more active role in war work and, in February 1941, the RAAF received cabinet approval to establish the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF). At the same time, the navy also began employing female telegraphists, a breakthrough that eventually led to the establishment of the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) in 1942. The Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) was established in October 1941, with the aim of releasing men from certain military duties in base units in Australia for assignment with fighting units overseas. Outside the armed services, the Women’s Land Army (WLA) was established to encourage women to work in rural industries. Other women in urban areas took up employment in industries, such as munitions production.
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Korean War 1950–53

A soldier of 3 RAR stares into the frozen waters of the Han River, January 1951. AWM P01813.555A soldier of 3 RAR stares into the frozen waters of the Han River, January 1951.P01813_555

The Korean War began on 25 June 1950, when North Korean forces launched an invasion of South Korea. Personnel from the Australian Army, RAAF, and RAN fought as part of the United Nations (UN) multinational force, defending South Korea from the Communist force of North Korea.

The end of the war came with the signing of an armistice on 27 July 1953, three years and one month after the war began. The ending was so sudden that some soldiers had to be convinced it really was over. After the war ended, the presence of Australians in Korea continued with a peacekeeping force until 1957.

The crisis in Korea originated in the closing phases of the Second World War, when control of the Korean peninsula, formerly occupied by Japan, was entrusted to the Allies, and the United States and the Soviet Union divided responsibility for the country between them at the 38th parallel. Over the course of the next few years, the Soviet Union fostered a strong communist regime in the north, while the US supported the government in the south; by mid-1950, tensions between the two zones, each under a different regime, had escalated to the point where two hostile armies were building up along the border. On 25 June a North Korean army finally crossed into the southern zone and advanced towards the capital, Seoul. The city fell in less than a week, and North Korean forces continued their southward drive towards the strategically important port of Pusan.

Within two days, the US had offered air and sea support to South Korea, and the United Nations Security Council asked all its members to assist in repelling the North Korean attack. Twenty-one nations responded by providing troops, ships, aircraft and medical teams. Australia’s contribution included 77 Squadron of the RAAF and the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR), both of which were stationed in Japan at the time as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force.

JK1018Commanding Officer No. 77 Squadron RAAF, Wing Commander Lou Spence straps into the cockpit of P51-D Mustang fighter in Korea
AWM JK1018

When 3 RAR arrived in Pusan on 28 September, the North Korean advance had been halted and their army was in full retreat. The Supreme Commander of the UN forces, General Douglas MacArthur, was given permission to pursue them into North Korea, despite warnings from the Chinese government that it would not countenance any UN troops crossing the border. 3 RAR moved north as part of the invasion force and fought their first major action near the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. As the UN forces continued their advance towards the Yalu River on the border between North Korea and Manchuria, a series of successes led many to believe that the UN forces would soon bring the war to an end.

At the same time, unbeknown to the UN commanders, the Chinese government had made good its threat and moved 18 divisions into North Korea. They struck with overwhelming force against US troops on 1 November and sent them into retreat. By mid-November, despite the continuing Chinese attacks in the harsh winter weather, MacArthur prepared a massive advance to the Yalu River to defeat the North Korean and Chinese forces once and for all. But only one day after the attack commenced the Chinese struck back, inflicting successive defeats on the UN forces and forcing them into retreat towards the 38th parallel.

The Chinese halted their offensive in January 1951, Seoul once again having fallen to the invading forces. At the UN headquarters in New York, efforts were made to conclude a ceasefire with the communist coalition, but negotiations broke down before any progress had been made. By the end of February, Chinese resistance collapsed south of the Han River near Seoul, and the city was recaptured by UN forces in mid-March. UN commanders were then faced with the question of whether to cross the 38th parallel once again. Opinions were divided between those who favoured a cease-fire along the border and those, including MacArthur, who wished to renew the northward advance. On 11 April 1951 MacArthur was dismissed from his command, as it was feared in Washington that his intemperance was likely to escalate the war.

Australian troops participated in two major battles in 1951. On the evening of 22 April, Chinese forces attacked the Kapyong valley and forced South Korean and New Zealand troops into retreat; other UN troops, including Australians, were ordered to halt the attack. After a night of fierce fighting, during which their positions were overrun, the Australians recaptured their positions and stalled the Chinese advance, at a cost of only 32 men killed and 53 wounded. For their contribution to this action, 3 RAR was awarded a US Presidential Citation.

The second major battle for the Australians was Operation Commando, an attack against a Chinese-held salient in a bend of the Imjin, a river running north-south that crosses the 38th parallel just above Seoul. Here the Commonwealth Division, including the Australians, had two key objectives: Hills 355 and 317. The attack began on 3 October, and after five days of heavy fighting the Chinese withdrew. Twenty Australians were killed in the battle and 89 were wounded.

044819HMAS Sydney during Typhoon Ruth, 14 October 1951.
AWM 044819

From 1951 on, both sides found themselves engaged in a war of attrition reminiscent of the Western Front, where men lived in tunnels, redoubts and sandbagged forts behind barbed wire defences. The war was generally fought with artillery and mines and in set-piece battles; at night patrols ventured into no man’s land to raid enemy positions. Between 1951 and the war’s end, 3 RAR occupied trenches at the eastern extremity of the Commonwealth Division’s position in hills north-east of the Imjin River. There they faced heavily fortified Chinese positions across a stretch of no man’s land which ranged from 300 metres to 2 kilometres in width.

As the war settled into stalemate it became apparent that a negotiated truce was the only solution, but military pressure was maintained on the communist forces, the better to extract concessions at the peace talks. As fighting continued, however, many of the UN combatants grew less willing to contribute more ground forces to the conflict. While some countries were keen to extricate their troops from Korea, Australia increased its commitment, and the government sent a second battalion, 1 RAR, which joined the Commonwealth Division on 1 June 1952. The battalion remained in Korea for twelve months, leaving in March 1953 and replaced by 2 RAR in April.

157648Majon’ni, Korea 9 June 1953: men of C Coy 2 RAR in the trenches on The Hook
AWM 157648

After two years and 17 days of negotiations, even as heavy fighting continued at the front, the UN and North Korean leaderships signed an agreement on 27 July 1953. This agreement technically brought the war to an end, but a state of suspended hostilities continued to exist between North and South Korea for many years, and even today the situation remains unresolved. In the three years of fighting 1,263 men of the Commonwealth forces were killed and a further 4,817 were wounded, while the US lost 33,000 men. Australian casualties numbered more than 1,500, of whom 340 were killed. Almost half a million South Koreans died as a result of the war, and an unknown number of North Koreans and Chinese.
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Malayan Emergency, 1950–60

The Malayan Emergency was declared on 18 June 1948, after three estate managers were murdered in Perak, northern Malaya. The men were murdered by guerrillas of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), an outgrowth of the anti-Japanese guerrilla movement which had emerged during the Second World War. Despite never having had more than a few thousand members, the MCP was able to draw on the support of many disaffected Malayan Chinese, who were upset that British promises of an easier path to full Malayan citizenship had not been fulfilled. The harsh post-war economic and social conditions also contributed to the rise of anti-government activity.

The Malayan government was slow to react to the MCP at first and did not appoint a director of operations to counter the insurgency until March 1950. The new director planned to address the underlying economic, social, and political problems facing the Chinese community while, at the same time, bringing government control to the fringe areas where the MCP received much of its support. Before this plan was fully implemented, however, the situation deteriorated further with the assassination of the British High Commissioner in October 1951. The attack galvanised British resolve to meet the threat posed by the MCP; the Malayan government, in turn, stepped up counter-insurgency measures. Prolonged operations were undertaken against the communists in an effort to destroy their base of support in local communities and to drive them into the jungle, where it would be difficult for them to receive supplies from supporters.

Australia’s involvement in the Emergency began in 1950 with the arrival of RAAF aircraft and personnel in Singapore. Dakotas from 38 Squadron were deployed on cargo runs, troop movements, and paratroop and leaflet drops in Malaya, while six Lincoln bombers of
1 Squadron provided the backbone of airl operations. As the capacity of army and police units operating against the communists improved, however, the need for air power decreased, and by 1952 Lincolns were increasingly used as part of combined air-ground assaults against the communists. One of the major military successes of the conflict was one such coordinated operation in July 1954, east of Ipoh, in Perak state. In Operation Termite, as the exercise was known, five RAAF Lincolns and six from a RAF squadron made simultaneous attacks on two communist camps, followed by paratroop drops, a ground attack, and further bombing runs ten days later. The operation destroyed 181 camps and killed 13 communists; one communist surrendered.

P01616.003 Lincoln Bomber A73-33 of No 1 Squadron, RAAF, on a bombing mission over the Malayan jungle. By October 1955, when the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (2RAR), arrived in Penang, the outcome of the Emergency was no longer in doubt, although a lengthy “mopping up” stage followed, largely undertaken by Australian troops. After several false starts 2RAR crossed to the mainland in January 1956 to begin anti-communist operations. Over the next 20 months, as part of 28 Commonwealth Brigade, 2RAR participated in a variety of operations, mainly in Perak, one of the main areas of communist activity. Their work consisted of extensive patrolling, watching for contacts in the rubber plantations, and mounting a perimeter guard on the New Villages, settlements which the government had established to provide infrastructure and services in outlying areas in the hope of denying the guerrillas access to their support base. Contacts were rare, however, and the battalion had a mixed record, killing two communists in an ambush on 25 June 1956 but losing three of its own troops.

2RAR left Malaya in October 1957 and was replaced by 3RAR in the same month. After six weeks of training in jungle warfare 3RAR began driving the insurgents into the jungle in Perak and Kedah, separating them from food and other supplies. Early successes for the battalion confirmed the growing ascendancy of the security forces over the communists and by April 1959 one of the main communist centres, Perak, was declared secure. By late 1959 operations against the communists were in their final phase and many communists had crossed Malaya’s northern border into Thailand. 3RAR left Malaya in October 1959 to be replaced by 1RAR. Although operating in the border region 1RAR made no contact with the enemy and was forbidden to move into Thailand, even when the presence and location of communists was known.

P01306.006 Soldiers of 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR), in the jungle north of Baling, near the Thai border, Malaya, 1960. As the threat continued to dissipate, the Malayan government officially declared the Emergency over on 31 July 1960, though 1RAR remained in Malaya until October the following year, when 2RAR returned for a second tour. In August 1962 the battalion was committed to anti-communist operations in Perlis and Kedah, completing its tour in August 1963.

In addition to air and infantry forces, Australia also provided artillery and engineering support, and an airfield construction squadron built the main runway for the air force base at Butterworth. RAN ships also served in Malayan waters had occasion to fire on suspected communist positions in 1956 and 1957. Australian ground forces in Malaya formed part of Australia’s contribution to the Far East Strategic Reserve, which was set up in April 1955 primarily to deter external communist aggression against countries in south-east Asia, especially Malaya and Singapore.

Lasting 13 years, the Malayan Emergency was the longest continuous military commitment in Australia’s history. Thirty-nine Australian servicemen were killed in Malaya, although only 15 of these deaths occurred as a result of operations, and 27 were wounded, most of whom were in the army.
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Indonesian Confrontation, 1963–66

Map of Asia

Between 1962 and 1966 Indonesia and Malaysia fought a small, undeclared war which came to involve troops from Australia and Britain. The conflict resulted from a belief by Indonesia’s President Sukarno that the creation of the Federation of Malaysia, which became official in September 1963, represented an attempt by Britain to maintain colonial rule behind the cloak of independence granted to its former colonial possessions in south-east Asia.

The term “Confrontation” was coined by Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Dr Subandrio, in January 1963, and it has come to refer to Indonesia’s efforts at that time to destabilise the new federation, with a view to breaking it up. The actual war began when Indonesia launched a series of cross-border raids into Malaysian territory in early 1963.

The antagonism that gave rise to Confrontation was already apparent in December 1962, when a small party of armed insurgents, with Indonesian backing, attempted to seize power in the independent enclave of Brunei, only to be defeated by British troops from Singapore. By early 1963 military activity had increased along the Indonesian side of the border in Borneo, as small parties of armed men began infiltrating Malaysian territory on propaganda and sabotage missions. These cross-border raids, carried out by Indonesian “volunteers”, continued throughout 1963; by 1964 Indonesian regular army units had also become involved.

AWM P01499.003Malaya, 29 October 1964: captured infiltrators emerge from the jungle near Sungei Kesang, South of Terendak. D Coy 3 RAR troops guard them.

Australian units which fought during Confrontation did so as part of a larger British and Commonwealth force under overall British command. Australia’s commitment to operations against Indonesia in Borneo and West Malaysia fell within the context of its membership in the Far East Strategic Reserve.

At first the Australian government kept its troops from becoming involved in Confrontation, not least because of fears that the conflict would spread to the long – and difficult to defend – border between Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Requests from both the British and Malaysian governments in 1963-64 for the deployment of Australian troops in Borneo met with refusal, though the Australian government did agree that its troops could be used for the defence of the Malay peninsula against external attack. In the event, such attacks occurred twice, in September and October 1964, when Indonesia launched paratroop and amphibious raids against Labis and Pontian, on the south-western side of the peninsula. Members of the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (3 RAR) were used in clean-up operations against the invading troops. Although these attacks were easily repelled, they did pose a serious risk of escalating the fighting; the Australian government relented in January 1965 and agreed to the deployment of a battalion in Borneo.

The military situation in Borneo thus far had consisted of company bases located along the border between Indonesia and Malaysia to protect centres of population from enemy incursions. By 1965 the British government had given permission for more aggressive action to be taken, and the security forces now mounted cross-border operations with the purpose of obtaining intelligence and forcing the Indonesians to remain on the defensive on their own side of the border. Uncertain where the Commonwealth forces might strike next, the Indonesians increasingly devoted their resources to protecting their own positions and correspondingly less on offensive operations, although these continued on a much reduced scale.

AWM P01706.003Sarawak, British North Borneo, 1965: soldiers of 3 RAR board a Belvedere helicopter to search for Indonesian infiltrators.

The first Australian battalion, 3 RAR, arrived in Borneo in March 1965 and served in Sarawak until the end of July. During this time the battalion conducted extensive operations on both sides of the border, were engaged in four major contacts with Indonesian units, and twice suffered casualties from land mines. Its replacement, the 28th Brigade, 4 RAR, also served in Sarawak – from April until August 1966. Although it had a less active tour, the 28th Brigade also operated on the Indonesian side of the border and was involved in clashes with Indonesian regulars. Altogether, two squadrons of the Special Air Service, a troop of the Royal Australian Signals , several artillery batteries and parties of the Royal Australian Engineers were involved in Borneo, in addition to the two infantry battalions. Ships of the Royal Australian Navy served in the surrounding waters and several RAAF squadrons were also involved in Confrontation.

AWM P01654.008Member of 4RAR cleaning a Bren gun at a camp near the Sarawak/Kalimantan border, 1966. The marks on his legs are an antiseptic applied to mosquito bites sustained on jungle patrols.

Continuing negotiations between Indonesia and Malaysia ended the conflict, and the two sides signed a peace treaty in Bangkok in August 1966. Twenty-three Australians were killed during Confrontation, seven of them on operations, and eight were wounded. Because of the sensitivity of the cross-border operations, which remained secret at the time, Confrontation received very little coverage in the Australian press.
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Vietnam War 1962–75

EKN/67/0130/VN Iroquois helicopters are landing to take members of 7RAR back to Nui Dat after completion of Operation UlmarraIroquois helicopters land to take members of 7RAR back to Nui Dat after completion of Operation Ulmarra, August 1967. Australia’s military involvement in the Vietnam War was the longest in duration of any war in Australia’s history. The arrival of the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV) in South Vietnam during July and August 1962 was the beginning of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Australia’s participation in the war was formally declared at an end when the Governor-General issued a proclamation on 11 January 1973. The only combat troops remaining in Vietnam were a platoon guarding the Australian embassy in Saigon, which was withdrawn in June 1973.

The Australian commitment consisted predominantly of army personnel, but significant numbers of air force and navy personnel and some civilians also took part.

Overview

From the time of the arrival of the first members of the Team in 1962 almost 60,000 Australians, including ground troops and air force and navy personnel, served in Vietnam; 521 died as a result of the war and over 3,000 were wounded. The war was the cause of the greatest social and political dissent in Australia since the conscription referendums of the First World War. Many draft resisters, conscientious objectors, and protesters were fined or jailed, while soldiers met a hostile reception on their return home.

Australian support for South Vietnam in the early 1960s was in keeping with the policies of other nations, particularly the United States, to stem the spread of communism in Europe and Asia. In 1961 and 1962 Ngo Dinh Diem, leader of the government in South Vietnam, repeatedly requested security assistance from the US and its allies. Australia eventually responded with 30 military advisers, dispatched as the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam (AATTV), also known as “the Team”. Their arrival in South Vietnam during July and August 1962 was the beginning of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. In August 1964 the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) also sent a flight of Caribou transports to the port of Vung Tau.

By early 1965, when it had become clear that South Vietnam could not stave off the communist insurgents and their North Vietnamese comrades for more than a few months, the US commenced a major escalation of the war. By the end of the year it had committed 200,000 troops to the conflict. As part of the build-up, the US government requested further support from friendly countries in the region, including Australia. The Australian government dispatched the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR), in June 1965 to serve alongside the US 173d Airborne Brigade in Bien Hoa province.

P01951.007 Vung Tau, Vietnam: door-gunner from No. 9 Squadron, RAAF, using twin-mounted M60 machine-guns.
AWM P01951.007

The following year the Australian government felt that Australia’s involvement in the conflict should be both strong and identifiable. In March 1966 the government announced the dispatch of a taskforce to replace 1RAR, consisting of two battalions and support services (including a RAAF squadron of Iroquois helicopters), to be based at Nui Dat, Phuoc Tuy province. Unlike 1RAR, the taskforce was assigned its own area of operations and included conscripts who had been called up under the National Service Scheme, introduced in 1964. All nine RAR battalions served in the taskforce at one time or another, before it was withdrawn in 1971; at the height of the Australian involvement it numbered some 8,500 troops. A third RAAF squadron (of Canberra jet bombers) was also committed in 1967, and destroyers of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) joined US patrols off the North Vietnamese coast. The RAN also contributed a clearance diving team and a helicopter detachment that operated with the US Army from October 1967.

In August 1966 a company of 6RAR was engaged in one of Australia’s heaviest actions of the war, in a rubber plantation near Long Tan. The 108 soldiers of D Coy held off an enemy force, estimated at over 2000, for four hours in the middle of a tropical downpour. They were greatly assisted by a timely ammunition resupply by RAAF helicopters, close fire support from Australian artillery, and the arrival of reinforcements in APCs as night fell. The armoured vehicles had been delayed because they had to ‘swim’ across a flooded creek and fight through groups of enemy on the way. When the Viet Cong withdrew at night fall they left behind 245 dead, but carried away many more casualties. Seventeen Australians were killed and 25 wounded, with one dying of wounds several days later.

The year 1968 began with a major offensive by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army, launched during the Vietnamese lunar new year holiday period, known as “Tet”. Not only the timing but the scale of the offensive came as a complete surprise, taking in cities, towns, and military installations throughout South Vietnam. While the “Tet Offensive” ultimately ended in military defeat for the communists, it was propaganda victory. US military planners began to question if a decisive victory could ever be achieved and the offensive stimulated US public opposition to the war. For Australian troops, the effects of the offensive were felt around their base at Nui Dat, where a Viet Cong attack on targets around Ba Ria, the provincial capital, was repulsed with few casualties.

COL/67/0140/VNA wounded digger, hurt in a booby-trap explosion, is evacuated to Vung Tau.
AWM COL/67/0140/VN

By 1969 anti-war protests were gathering momentum in Australia. Opposition to conscription mounted, as more people came to believe the war could not be won. A “Don’t register” campaign to dissuade young men from registering for conscription gained increasing support and some of the protests grew violent. The US government began to implement a policy of “Vietnamisation”, the term coined for a gradual withdrawal of US forces that would leave the war in the hands of the South Vietnamese. With the start of the phased withdrawals, the emphasis of the activities of the Australians in Phuoc Tuy province shifted to the provision of training to the South Vietnamese Regional and Popular Forces.

At the end of April 1970 US and South Vietnamese troops were ordered to cross the border into Cambodia. While the invasion succeeded in capturing large quantities of North Vietnamese arms, destroying bunkers and sanctuaries, and killing enemy soldiers, it ultimately proved disastrous. By bringing combat into Cambodia, the invasion drove many people to join the underground opposition, the Khmer Rouge, irreparably weakening the Cambodian government. When the Khmer Rouge came to power in April 1975, it imposed a cruel and repressive regime that killed several million Cambodians and left the country with internal conflict that continues today. The extension of the war into a sovereign state, formally neutral, inflamed anti-war sentiment in the United States and provided the impetus for further anti-war demonstrations in Australia. In the well-known Moratorium marches of 1970 and 1971, more than 200,000 people gathered to protest against the war, in cities and towns throughout the country.

P01404.028Phuoc Tuy province, South Vietnam, November 1966: 6RAR soldiers follow an armoured personnel carrier (APC) during Operation Ingham, a “search and destroy” mission.
AWM P01404.028

By late 1970 Australia had also begun to wind down its military effort in Vietnam. The 8th Battalion departed in November (and was not replaced), but, to make up for the decrease in troop numbers, the Team’s strength was increased and its efforts became concentrated in Phuoc Tuy province. The withdrawal of troops and all air units continued throughout 1971 – the last battalion left Nui Dat on 7 November, while a handful of advisers belonging to the Team remained in Vietnam the following year. In December 1972 they became the last Australian troops to come home, with their unit having seen continuous service in South Vietnam for ten and a half years. Australia’s participation in the war was formally declared at an end when the Governor-General issued a proclamation on 11 January 1973. The only combat troops remaining in Vietnam were a platoon guarding the Australian embassy in Saigon (this was withdrawn in June 1973).

CUN/66/0161/VNVietnam, 1966: Australians patrol near the village of Tan Phu, near Bien Hoa Air Base.
AWM CUN/66/0161/VN

In early 1975 the communists launched a major offensive in the north of South Vietnam, resulting in the fall of Saigon on 30 April. During April a RAAF detachment of 78 Hercules transports flew humanitarian missions to aid civilian refugees displaced by the fighting and carried out the evacuation of Vietnamese orphans (Operation Babylift), before finally taking out embassy staff on 25 April.

From the time of the arrival of the first members of the Team in 1962 almost 60,000 Australians, including ground troops and air force and navy personnel, served in Vietnam; 521 died as a result of the war and over 3,000 were wounded. The war was the cause of the greatest social and political dissent in Australia since the conscription referendums of the First World War. Many draft resisters, conscientious objectors, and protesters were fined or gaoled, while some soldiers met a hostile reception on their return home.
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First Gulf War, 1990–1991

Iraq invaded its rival oil-exporting neighbour Kuwait on 2 August 1990. The invasion was widely condemned, and four days later the United Nations (UN) Security Council unanimously approved a trade embargo against Iraq. A blockade of Iraq’s access to the sea followed within weeks, as the United States assembled a large multinational task force in the Persian Gulf, while another was formed in Saudi Arabia. By the end of 1990 this force numbered some 40,000 troops from 30 countries, though the United States retained its high profile as the dominant partner in the coalition.

In November 1990 the UN Security Council set 15 January 1991 as the deadline for an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. On 17 January coalition forces began an air bombardment of Iraq that continued without respite until the war ended 43 days later.

On 24 February 1991, after more than a month of air attacks, the coalition’s ground forces moved against Iraqi positions in Kuwait and in Iraq itself. The magnitude and decisiveness of these strikes destroyed what was left of Iraq’s capacity to resist. After two days of strikes Baghdad radio announced that Iraq’s armed forces had been ordered to withdraw from Kuwait to the positions they had occupied before August 1990. Two days after this order, the coalition ceased hostilities and declared victory. Coalition losses amounted to 166, many by “friendly fire”; at least 100,000 Iraqis had been killed.

Gulf of Oman: an Iraqi motor vessel is intercepted by HMAS Darwin.
AWM P01575.006

Australian forces were deployed in the First Gulf War under the auspices of the UN. The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) provided vessels for the multi-national naval force, which formed an interception force in the Persian Gulf to enforce the UN sanctions. The RAN presence included two frigates and the replenishment ship HMAS Success, which, having no air defences of its own, relied on the army’s 16th Air Defence Regiment. In January 1991 the replenishment tanker HMAS Westralia left Fremantle, WA, to relieve Success. Four warships, HMAS Sydney (IV), HMAS Adelaide, HMAS Brisbane, and HMAS Darwin also served tours of duty in the Persian Gulf. During the operational phase of their deployment they formed part of the anti-aircraft screen for the carrier battle groups of the US Navy. A RAN clearance diving team was also dispatched for explosive ordnance and demolition tasks.

In addition to naval units, Australian personnel took part on attachment to various British and American ground formations. A small group of RAAF photo-interpreters was based in Saudi Arabia, together with a detachment from the Defence Intelligence Organisation. Four medical teams were also dispatched at the request of the US. Although the ships and their crews were in danger from mines and possible air attack, Australia’s war was relatively uneventful and there were no casualties. At the war’s end, 75 Australian personnel were sent to northern Iraq to assist the delivery of humanitarian aid to Kurds living in the UN-declared exclusion zone, while ships of the RAN remained on station, at US request, to maintain trade sanctions.

Gulf of Oman: HMAS Darwin (04) is replenished by HMAS Success (304).
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Official History of Peacekeeping, Humanitarian and Post-Cold War Operations

P04111_030 Trooper (Tpr) Jon Church carries an injured Rwandan child who has survived the brutal massacre by soldiers of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) at the UN administered refuge camp at Kibeho in 1995. Tpr Church was one of 18 soldiers killed in a training accident in Townsville on 12 June 1996, when two Blackhawk helicopters crashed. Photo by George Gittoes. With the end of the Second World War, the UN Security Council took responsibility for the collective defence of member states against aggression. However, with conflicts since 1945 being the result of Cold War tensions and internal civil wars, another more practical way was needed to ease conflict. This desire to keep the peace led to the concept of employing a minimally armed force to monitor an emerging peace between two parties recently at war, either opposed nations or internal factions. In turn, this has led to more complex peace-enforcement operations, where force has been authorised to prevent further conflict, and also the need for humanitarian support in the face of man-made or natural disasters. The overriding goal for these operations has been the use of impartial, multi-national forces to bring peace, stability, and rebuilding to areas in crisis.

Since the first peacekeepers left Australia for Djokjakarta (Indonesia) in September 1947, over 30,000 Australians have been involved in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. The Australian Defence Force (ADF) and Australian Federal Police (AFP) have been involved in over a hundred operations (large and small), providing forces and leadership for peace observation and enforcement, weapons destruction, demining, training, and disaster relief all over the world.
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First World War Official Histories

The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918 is a 12-volume series covering Australia’s involvement in the First World War. The series was edited by the official historian Charles Bean, who also wrote six of the volumes, and was published between 1920 and 1942. The books, with their familiar covers, “the colour of dried blood” in the words of one reviewer, rapidly became highly regarded internationally. Bean’s work established the tradition and set the standard for all subsequent Australian official war histories.
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Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918

Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services, 1914–1918

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Second World War Official Histories

The official history of Australia’s involvement in the Second World War represents one of the longest and largest historical endeavours that Australia has ever seen. The enterprise began in January 1943 with the appointment of Gavin Long as General Editor. The 22 volumes, written by 14 authors, were published by the Memorial over a 25-year period between 1952 and 1977.
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Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 1 – Army

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Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 2 – Navy

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Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 3 – Air

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Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 4 – Civil

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Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 5 – Medical

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The 3rd AGH (Australian General Hospital) Lemnos Island, Greece, 1915

The 3rd Australian General Hospital, AIF, was set up in response to a request from the British War Office by Thomas Henry Fiaschi, a well-known Italian surgeon. Fiaschi had had a distinguished career as a military surgeon serving with Australian forces during the Boer War where he was awarded the DSO (Distinguished Service Order) and he was appointed the commanding officer of 3AGH. On 15 May 1915, the new unit sailed from Circular Quay, Sydney, on the Mooltan just one month after its formation had been requested. On board were a number of AANS (Australian Army Nursing Service) nurses. As recalled by Sister Anne Donnell, their uniforms were heavy and the weather on the voyage warm:

We had another full dress parade this a.m. and sweltered in our heavy serge dresses, and wrung the perspiration out of them afterwards. Words fail me while this heat lasts – honestly we haven’t ceased sweating since the third day out from Australia. A Sergeant-Major died suddenly in the small hours this morning – owing to the heat.

[Anne Donnell, Letters of an Australian Army Sister, Sydney, 1920, pp.9-10)

Australian sisters on board S.S Mooltan, 1915Australian sisters on board S.S Mooltan, 1915 [AW Savage, photo album, PXE 698, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales]

The Mooltan arrived in Plymouth, England, on 27 June and the unit travelled to London. There, preparations were made for their service in France at Etaples. However, on 1 July, 3 AGH received orders to proceed to Mudros on the island of Lemnos in the Aegean Sea near Gallipoli. They were advised that a site had been selected for the tent hospital and that it would be provided with huts about six weeks after their arrival in Mudros.

The days before embarkation were spent in organisation. Both the Australian Red Cross and benefactors in Australia had assisted with equipment and donations for the hospital. All of these, as well as further purchases made in London, including a small laundry plant, had to be loaded on the supply ship, Ascot. On 12 July, Colonel Fiaschi and most of the male personnel embarked on the transport, Simla at Devonport. The men arrived at Mudros on 27-28 July, before the arrival of the Ascot.

The nurses, who had remained in London, embarked in two groups, six days after the men. Sailing on the Themistocles and the Huntsgren, they disembarked at Alexandria on 30 July-1 August. Those who arrived first were distributed between other Australian hospitals pending their embarkation for Lemnos.

At 5 pm on 2 August 1915, the nurses sailed for Mudros on the hospital ship, Dunluce Castle. They reached Mudros on 5 August to find that the Ascot still hadn’t arrived:

The officers and men are bivouacking amongst the rocks and stones and thistles of the camp site – there are no tents: no store-ship.

[Lieutenant Colonel J A Dick, ‘3rd Australian General Hospital’, manuscript, MSS 407, Australian War Memorial 224]

Arrival of first detachment of Sisters on Lemnos Island. They marched to the hospital headed by a piper.Arrival of first detachment of Sisters. [AW Savage, photo album, PXE 698, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales]

With no accommodation ashore, the nurses were transferred from the Dunluce to the Simla, anchored in the harbour. Six of the nurses left for 10 days temporary duty on board the hospital ship, Formosa.

By 7 August, after lots of hard work, the hospital site was pegged out and some marquees that had been found in a small ordnance store were erected. At about 7 p.m. on 8 August, forty of the nurses were landed and, accompanied by a piper, were marched into their new tents. The remainder landed at North Pier the next day, the day the hospital opened. [Lieutenant Colonel J A Dick, 3rd Australian General Hospital, manuscript, MSS 407, Australian War Memorial 224]

Before breakfast on 9 August, more than 200 wounded and sick had been admitted to the new hospital. Four days later, there were more than 800 patients:

The officers’ mess and all utensils were given up today for wounded as was the orderly office marquee. Still no store ship and making do … AGH personnel still bivouacking … Sick and wounded on ground on mackintosh sheets and blankets or palliasses on floor of tents

[Lieutenant Colonel J A Dick, 3rd Australian General Hospital, manuscript, MSS 407, Australian War Memorial 224]

The firing after a burial, Lemnos Island

The firing after a burial, Lemnos Island [AW Savage, photo album, PXE 698, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales]

The entries in ‘The Register of Deaths’ of 3AGH showed the different causes of death during the Gallipoli campaign. For example, the four soldiers who died on 9 August – the day the hospital opened – all did so from gunshot wounds. Indeed, between 9 August and 22 August, 32 men died of wounds and only one of disease. These days marked the height of the ‘August Offensive’ on Anzac and thousands of wounded were being brought to all the hospitals on Lemnos. Although it was an Australian unit and the policy was, where possible, to treat Australians in Australian hospitals, the 3AGH admitted large numbers of wounded from all the allied armies. Of the 32 who died of wounds at 3AGH during the ‘August Offensive’ only seven were Australian soldiers. After the end of August 1915, most of the deaths at 3AGH were from disease.

The first entry in the ‘Register’ is for Private Eric Bloom, 2nd Battalion, AIF, who died from a severe gunshot wound. He was actually ‘admitted dead’. It is likely, although not certain, that he received his wound during his battalion’s participation in the Lone Pine battle of 6 to 9 August. Over those three days, 172 men of the 2nd Battalion were either killed or wounded.

The Ascot, carrying all the 3AGH’s main stores, finally arrived at Mudros on 20 August. However, in late October, when Staff Nurse Anne Donnell arrived at Mudros, she wrote that although huts were being prepared for them, the Australian nurses were still in tents, unlike their Canadian and English colleagues who were already living comfortably in huts on the island. The 3rd AGH was not the only hospital on Lemnos. There was also the 2nd Australian Stationary Hospital, the 1st and 3rd Canadian Hospitals, convalescent camps and various English hospitals situated at Mudros and East Mudros. Sister Donnell recalled the miserable autumn at Mudros:

Winter timeWinter time [AW Savage, photo album, PXE 698, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales]

The weather is terrible, bitterly cold, with a high wind and rain. We are nearly frozen, even in our balaclavas, mufflers, mittens, cardigans, raincoats and Wellingtons. It’s a mercy we have ample warm clothing else we should perish. Last night five tents blew down, one ward tent and four Sister’s tents.

[Anne Donnell, Letters of an Australian Army Sister, Sydney, 1920, p.58]

She also lamented their diet: no fruit or vegetables and butter and eggs only once a month.

On 4 November, Colonel Fiaschi, who was seriously ill, was evacuated to London and Lieutenant Colonel Constantine De Crespigny took over as Commanding Officer until the 3rd AGH left Lemnos for Egypt in January 1916. When the 1040 bed hospital closed in Egypt in January 1916, it had treated 7400 patients of whom only 143 had died. The hospital later went from Egypt to Brighton, England, and then to Abbeville, France where it was based until 1919.

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Gallipoli and the Anzacs publication
PDF version of the full publication

Australian Prisoners of War publication
PDF version of the full publication

Australian Women in War
The FULL publication – Australia Women in War ( PDF 23.56 MB)

The FULL publication Australia and the Vietnam War (PDF 6.4 Mb)

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