The Hunter Region in The Great War
©2017 Greg and Sylvia Ray
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic
or mechanical, and including photocopying, recording or by information storage and retrieval systems,
without the written permission of the copyright owner.
Printed by NCP Printing, Steel River, Newcastle
Published by Greg and Sylvia Ray
Special thanks to Chad Watson, Ken Fayle,
Julie Baird, Dulcie Hartley and David Dial
Geoffrey Boyle, for providing the late Harry Boyle’s bound volumes of The Sydney Mail
Christine Bramble, for information about nurses in the Great War
Ann Campbell and Robyn Wickham, for excerpts from Maitland’s Gallipoli Campaign
Margaret A. Clark, and Manning Valley Historical Society, for use of excerpts from their publications, especially
the photos and letters of Bob Gibson.
Keith Cockburn, Maitland and District Historical Society, for use of photographs
Warren and Lynne Dalton, for use of James Dalton’s letters and photographs
The Diemar family, and Tomaree Family History Group, for excerpts from Anzacs of the Tomaree Peninsula
David Downing, for excerpts from To the Last Ridge, by Walter H. Downing
Penny Ferguson, for use of Ben Champion’s photographs, diaries and letters
Authors John Gillam and Yvonne Fletcher, for use of material from Their Story
Robert Gummow, Christ Church Cathedral
Anne Hudson, for use of photographs by William Fraser
Author and historian Jonathan King, for use of photograph and letter from Basil Helmore
Guy Littler, for information about his ancestors
Steve Martin, step-grandson of Joseph Maxwell VC, and Harper Collins publishing, for help with excerpts from
Hell’s Bells and Mademoiselles
Roland Millbank, for sharing his research on the Great War treasures of Newcastle Christ Church Cathedral
John Ramsland, for information from his books on Joe Maxwell and on Cooks Hill Surf Life Saving Club
Moira Sanderson, and Raymond Terrace Historical Society, for use of material from their book Echoes of War
Pen and Sword Publishing (UK), for excerpts from With the German Guns, by Herbert Sulzbach.
Ed Tonks, for sharing his research and photographs
Kenneth Tyrrell, for information about his musical ancestor
Robert Unicomb, and the Pauls family, for use of the diary and albums of Ernest Pauls
Patrick Wilson, for excerpts from So Far from Home, the remarkable diaries of Eric Evans
Chris Young, for cards and memorabilia from the estate of Ruby Billett
Frontispiece photo: Farewelling Hunter troops from Broadmeadow Railway Station, circa 1916
Photo: Newcastle Regional Museum
Cover illustration: Newcastle’s Anzac Memorial Walk, opened in 2015 to mark the centenary of the
Gallipoli landing and the centenary of steelmaking in Newcastle.
Photo: Sylvia Ray
The Hunter Region in The Great War
1914 - 1918
Incorporating a brief centenary history of
the City of Newcastle Sub-branch of the Returned and Services League,
A joint project of Greg and Sylvia Ray,
and Newcastle RSL Sub-branch
Introduction: The Hunter’s Great War, a century after___________________6
Why was World War I allowed to begin?_____________________________8
Why did Australians go to war for Britain? _________________________10
Newcastle and the Hunter go to war_______________________________12
“Trooper Bluegum”; Voice from the Hunter_________________________16
First Action: Australia takes New Guinea___________________________18
The Great Adventure begins at last________________________________20
The long sea voyage into the unknown_____________________________22
Great Uncle Jack Allsopp goes to war _____________________________24
Where in the world is Constantinople?_____________________________26
The Allied landings at the Gallipoli Peninsula (map)__________________32
Gallipoli: birth of a bloody legend_________________________________34
BHP’s steelworks: a case of perfect timing__________________________48
The first of the wounded return home______________________________50
Famous donkey-man’s link to two Newcastles________________________52
Grim reality of the Dardanelles campaign___________________________54
Lonesome Pine memorial’s Hunter link ____________________________67
Hunter claims for first on and last off beach _________________________68
Private Albert Stewart’s unlucky first______________________________70
Drumming up volunteers for the trenches___________________________72
Maud Butler, the girl who wanted to fight___________________________76
Photographs on the home front___________________________________80
Goodbye Gallipoli, hello Western Front____________________________88
Fromelles: Welcome to the slaughterhouse__________________________94
The Gardner Memorial: tribute to the dead__________________________98
Wartime Australia Day began in July 1915_________________________101
Courage and compassion: volunteer nurses_________________________102
Pozieres: a hell on earth under shellfire____________________________104
The public says “No” to conscription_____________________________114
Fighting for King and Empire in Palestine_________________________116
Worst winter in 40 years: France 1917_____________________________118
Bullecourt: yet another deadly diversion___________________________120
Learning the horrors of poison gas warfare_________________________123
Meanwhile back at home in the Hunter____________________________124
Indigenous diggers made their mark______________________________134
Beneath Hill 60: the victory at Messines___________________________136
Industrial disputes back on the home front_________________________142
Women’s many roles in the war effort_____________________________144
Passchendaele: a name written in blood____________________________146
Jeffries and Bruce: the bravest of the brave_________________________154
William Currey VC___________________________________________155
March 1918: Miracle at Villers Bretonneux_________________________156
Lake sanitary inspector’s efficiency behind the lines__________________163
Monash at Hamel: a pattern for victory____________________________164
Amiens to Montbrehain: last battles_______________________________166
Hard times for prisoners of the Germans___________________________171
Homecoming at last, for those left alive____________________________172
Influenza epidemic killed more people than the war__________________174
Joe Maxwell, VC, MC (and bar), DCM____________________________177
Behind the lines: postcards from all sides__________________________178
Winning the war with music and song_____________________________184
Great War relics of Newcastle Cathedral___________________________188
Newcastle, the spiritual home of Toc H____________________________190
The city’s returned men form a league_____________________________193
Park to beach: Anzac Day in Newcastle____________________________201
The fighting, flying, writing Prince family__________________________216
French orphan was smuggled to Boolaroo__________________________220
Good news: your son is now dead after all_________________________221
Epilogue: long shadows of a long hard war_________________________222
David Dial’s decade-long labour of love___________________________224
Nurses with Hunter links_______________________________________287
The Hunter’s Great War, a century after
When thousands of young men and women were embroiled in the tremendous conflict we now refer to
as World War I, some of them might have reflected that a century before the Gallipoli landings the Duke of
Wellington was preparing to defeat Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo. Perhaps some of those
young people in 1915 had great-grandparents who had fought in the Napoleonic Wars. Time marches on, and
to people reading this book in 2017, World War I is just as distant as Waterloo was to the combatants of the
20th Century’s “war to end all wars”.
Just as to many people today Waterloo seems so far off as to have no meaning, perhaps in another
hundred years “the Great War” will seem equally remote. It would be wonderful if, by then, humanity might
finally have given up its dreadful habit of warfare and adopted wiser ways of settling arguments.
Contemplating war seems to lead to speculation. What if, for instance, the European powers in 1914 had
pulled their countries back from conflict? What if Germany had chosen to accept the status quo of global
power as it then stood and tried to expand its influence more slowly and by peaceful means?
And what if, when the war was declared, Australians had declined to take part? Imagine those tens of
thousands of volunteers, so soon to be dead and maimed, instead living fruitful and healthy lives building
their new nation far from European strife. Imagine their children and their children’s children who might
have been born and grown up in a different world and a vastly different Australia.
It didn’t happen, of course. Australia played the part its leaders and the leaders of the Empire to which
it belonged had scripted for it. Few, it seems, imagined the horrors that lay ahead when an electioneering
politician pledged that the nation would fight “to the last man and the last shilling”.
This book, like most books about Australia in World War I, has little scope to ponder what might have
been if only the world had come to its senses in time. But in any narrative of this catastrophic conflict that
great unasked question looms large behind the long lists of the dead and the young faces smiling out of
photograph after photograph. “Lest we forget” is a phrase that sometimes seems to roll too easily from the
tongue, with not enough thought given to what is, or should be, remembered.
At least practically everybody agrees that the sacrifice of those who died in the Great War should not be
forgotten. They died fighting for King and Country at a time when few considered it necessary to ponder
the merits of the cause of the conflict. Most people will agree, given enough time and discussion, that
Australians went to fight for many reasons. Some believed in the rightness of the cause and were ready
to die for it. Others wanted the pay, the adventure and the excitement. Still others went because they felt
pushed into it by propaganda and social attitudes that made cowards of those who stayed at home.
Whatever their reasons, thousands went and thousands died in a war whose horrors shocked a generation
to its core. The Great War was an industrially efficient machine of death that consumed millions of people in
the name of geopolitical and economic considerations.
The Hunter, like most other regions of Australia, was tremendously affected by the war. Whole towns
were practically stripped of their young men. The public mood ebbed and flowed from euphoria over
reported successes on the field, to appalled communal mourning when grim battles were followed by long
lists of casualties in the newspaper columns.
Hardly a family was untouched by this immense war, and the effects lasted for generations.
This book is an attempt to offer a glimpse of Newcastle and the Hunter during the unfolding drama of the
Great War. It attempts to show aspects of the war through the eyes of ordinary people, writing in everyday
language about the extraordinary things they were seeing and feeling. The compelling eye-witness accounts
of those who went to war, fought, suffered, and in many cases died, lend immediacy to the narrative.
The concept had its origin in 1995 when former Newcastle Herald Editor Chris Watson asked me to
write a magazine supplement on the Hunter’s experience of Gallipoli. This proved to be a memorable and
successful project.Years later another Herald Editor, Chad Watson (no relation), suggested the concept
should be expanded into a fully-fledged book taking in much more of the Great War, particularly the
experiences of Hunter people on the Western Front.
This project, tackled with relatively light-hearted optimism, has proven to be far more demanding than it
appeared at first likely to be. It was begun while I was still working at the newspaper, and continued after I
left paid employment.
Fortuitously, the City of Newcastle Sub-branch of the RSL approached me in the midst of the task to
discuss a short history of its own organisation, with a deadline to match the sub-branch’s centenary dinner in
March 2017. The idea of combining the two projects was raised, and accepted.
Some time during the year the opportunity arose to buy a near-complete run of Great War-era Sydney
Mails, in bound volume form. The content of these volumes includes a large amount of material relevant
to Hunter readers – particularly the melancholy and tragically numerous portraits of the fallen. These have
proven to be a valuable resource for our book, providing many of the illustrations it contains.
Many people have helped us in a number of ways.
David Dial patiently adapted his now-famous roll of Hunter Region Great War enlistees to fit the book’s
format, and generously provided his index of Digger letters in Hunter newspapers, greatly simplifying the
job of seeking primary source material. David also permitted the use of excerpts from his books.
Newcastle Region Public Library obtained scarce publications and charged reduced fees for the use of
some valuable images, as did the Australian War Memorial. Newcastle Regional Museum kindly allowed
the use of photographs and documents from its important World War I collections, as did the unfailingly
generous Archives of the University of Newcastle.
The family of Hunter VC winner Joe Maxwell helped us negotiate a reduced fee for the use of quotations
from their illustrious forebear’s fine book, Hell’s Bells and Mademoiselles.
The publishers of many other books – including several excellent titles produced by various Hunter local
history and family history organisations – have been exceedingly kind in allowing us free use of material
they gathered between the covers of their own works. For this we are immensely grateful, and details of
those books can be found in the bibliography at the end of this volume.
As always, I thank my wife, Sylvia, for the extraordinary efforts she has applied to this publication,
particularly in the extremely time-consuming task of placing the lists of names and the large number of
portraits that accompany them.
The Great War is such a vast and varied topic that this book inevitably leaves out much that could – and
perhaps should – have been included. Choosing what to leave in, what to take out; what to pursue and what
to leave alone: these are decisions that will always be open to question.
Pre-emptively I apologise for the shortcomings of this publication, and for its errors which are mine
alone. Those things aside, however, I hope the book will bring readers some new insights.
I hope it will help people who have never had to endure the dreadful experiences the book describes to
consider some of the privations and suffering that war inevitably brings.
These things are unpleasant, but vitally important to contemplate.
Lest we forget.
Ships from many countries, including Germany, in Newcastle Harbour before the war.
Why was World War I allowed to begin?
The lamps are going out all over Europe.
We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.
Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary
It may seem hard to understand, a century after it happened, why the “civilised” nations of Europe
willingly embraced a war that many had already realised would inevitably cost the lives of millions. But at
the time the war seemed an inevitable showdown and many people in the major antagonist nations reacted to
news of its declaration with celebration and excitement. The world was changing rapidly in the early years
of the 20th century, and some European military minds – particularly in Germany – saw war as a way of
positioning their own countries to make the most of the economic opportunities they anticipated.
In the early 20th century the British Empire was perhaps at the peak of its power, with early signs of
approaching decline. Britain’s long dominance in world affairs was being challenged by the rising United
States, with its vast untapped resources, and by Germany, which was trying to build an empire of its own.
By the time World War I was ready to erupt, Germany had only been a nation for four decades. The
unification of the previously independent German states had – as in the case of America – ushered in a
period of strong economic growth. German forces had fought and beaten France in 1870, annexing the
previously French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine and leaving a legacy of French bitterness and anger.
Mostly, Germany’s expansion since its 1870 victory had been careful, but the coronation of the brash
Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1888 brought a new and noisy nationalism. Germany accelerated its empire-building,
and that inevitably caused friction. Germany’s chest-beating and aggression made its near neighbours on
continental Europe nervous, and a flurry of treaties were signed by nations either seeking security against the
rising force or looking for opportunities to influence other people’s territories.
Russia wanted to extend its influence in the Balkan states, but so did Austria-Hungary – at that time a
powerful but declining force in Europe. Germany had let its old alliance with Russia lapse, and Russia allied
itself with Germany’s arch-rival France instead. Germany and Austria-Hungary joined forces, recruiting
Turkey to their side to help keep Russia under pressure.
For many years both Germany and France, in particular, had been arming themselves in readiness for war.
Germany had been building a great navy in an attempt to project power beyond its shores. It was no secret
across Europe that the Germans had a plan – the so-called Schlieffen Plan – to fight a war on two fronts
against France in the west and Russia in the east.
As the early years of the 20th century passed, German military thinkers saw their prospects for victory
in such a war becoming more remote, partly because the nation’s only really big ally, Austria-Hungary, was
visibly fading in power as its subject peoples strove for their own independence. The independent kingdom
of Serbia – backed by Russia – was a particular irritant to Austria-Hungary, seeking to expand its own
influence at the empire’s expense. A showdown between Austria-Hungary and upstart Serbia was looming.
A clash between Serbia and Austria-Hungary suited pro-war activists in Germany as the perfect trigger to
allow it to implement its aggressive Schlieffen Plan and assert its dominance over continental Europe.
Germany knew that if Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia, Russia would be bound to attack Austria-
Hungary in turn. That would open the door for Germany to strike, and as long as Britain stayed out of the
fight, German strategists believed they had a good chance of success.
When the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated along
with his wife Sophie in Sarajevo, Bosnia, in 1914 by a group of Bosnian Serbs, the kingdom of Serbia was
blamed for backing the assassins. Germany counselled Austria-Hungary to draft an ultimatum to Serbia so
harsh it would be bound to be rejected. Germany pushed for Austria-Hungary to act quickly to avoid the
possibility of external mediation, and the war began in earnest when Austria-Hungary – confident of the full
backing of heavily armed Germany – declared war on July 28, 1914, and started to bombard Belgrade.
Russia mobilised as expected, but Germany received bad news from British foreign secretary Sir Edward
Grey that Britain would only stand aside if the conflict were confined to Russia and Austria-Hungary.
Grey privately warned his German counterpart that if Germany and France became involved it would
almost certainly bring a declaration of war by Britain. “If war breaks out it will be the greatest catastrophe
that the world has ever seen,” said Grey. And so it proved to be.
Germany put its long-incubated battle plans into action against Russia and France, marching across
neutral Belgium in a bid to land a quick knockout blow to the French. Britain used the German violation of
Belgian neutrality as the pretext to declare war on Germany on August 4 and the Great War began in earnest.
By September Germany had drawn up a “war aims program”, detailing for government insiders what
it hoped to achieve from the conflict. This included: “Security of the German Reich in West and East for
imaginable time. For this purpose France must be weakened to such an extent that she cannot rise again as a
Great Power. Russia must be driven, if possible, away from the German border, and her power over the non-
Russian tributary peoples must be broken”.
Germany hoped to demolish French fortifications, conquer France’s iron ore fields in Briey and take over
the coastal strip from Dunkirk to Boulogne. If it won, Germany proposed demanding war compensation
from France at so high a level that the French would be unable to “expend high amounts on armaments for
the next 18 to 20 years”. A victorious Germany would also force France to become “our export country” and
demand German businesses be given “financial and industrial freedom to move in France”.
The list of war aims went on, spelling out an ambition to economically dominate Europe and to expand
colonial interests overseas. None of this would have been tolerable to Britain, which had no desire to let
Germany threaten its dominance of global trade.
Germany’s presumption was to be punished and its ambition suppressed, but it would take four years and
cost 18 million lives for its opponents to achieve this goal.
As Britain scrambled to land the first of its troops – the British Expeditionary Force – in France, Sir
Edward Grey uttered his famous words: “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit
again in our lifetime.”
The heir to the throne of the empire of Austria-Hungary, Franz-Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie, at Sarajevo,
Bosnia, on June 28, 1914. The couple was murdered by a Bosnian Serb student, sparking World War I.
Why did Australians go to war for Britain?
If there is to be a war, you and I shall be in it.
If the old country is at war, so are we.
Joseph Cook, Australian Prime Minister
To understand why Australia, a nation just over a decade old in 1914, decided to send what would
ultimately amount to hundreds of thousands of men to war on the other side of the world takes a leap of
imagination and some historical background.
A hundred years after the event many people assume that Australia somehow automatically went to war
because it was still inherently “British”, and was bound to do whatever Britain wanted, even if it meant the
death of more than 60,000 Australians and would become what remains the nation’s greatest catastrophe.
That may be true, more or less, but it’s a fact that many Australians didn’t want any part of Britain’s wars.
It took a lot of politicking by the British to guarantee that Australia and the other British dominions of New
Zealand and Canada would offer up their men for sacrifice as and when required.
Even before Federation in 1901, when Australia finally became a single nation, some colonial politicians
had loudly urged their countrymen not to allow themselves to be dragged into Britain’s wars.
In 1885, when Britain sent an expedition to
the Sudan, Newcastle parliamentarian James
Can anyone say
where this sending of
our men to fight in a
foreign land will end,
or what the expense
Fletcher (left) – founder of The Newcastle
Morning Herald – worried about the precedent
if New South Wales sent troops to fight.
“Can anyone say where this sending of
our men to fight in a foreign land will end, or
what the expense may be?” Fletcher asked. By
sending troops to the Sudan, the colony had
“published to the world that New South Wales
is prepared to assist in fighting the battles of
England whether England is in the right or in
Another MP, A.J. Gould, said the problem was that “we have laid down the principle that we are now
prepared to enter into England’s wars, and to assist her with troops. Having done it now we shall be expected
to do it again in the future”.
But others argued that NSW needed Britain’s navy to defend it, and that sending troops to fight wars for
England was part of the price of that protection. The troops went, and they went again, after very similar
debates, to the Boer War in 1899. At that time many Australian politicians tried to point out that Britain’s
moral case against the Boers in South Africa was weak at best, but most agreed with the nation’s founding
prime minister, Edmund Barton, that Australia’s duty was to unquestioningly back the empire in all cases.
An Australian national army (The Commonwealth Military Forces) came into existence in 1903, formed
from the amalgamation of former state forces. In 1911 – with war drums already beating in Europe –
Australia introduced compulsory military service on the advice of Britain’s Lord Kitchener, who visited in
1909 and recommended a “Universal Training Scheme”. Under this scheme young men served as cadets for
two years, followed by another four years of part-time service.
Britain wanted Australia and the other dominions to establish their own military forces to be at Britain’s
beck and call. British diplomats were clever enough not to say this publicly, saying instead that Australia
needed a strong military to guard its own shores. In 1914, with World War I imminent, Britain sent its
Inspector-General of Overseas Forces, General Sir Ian Hamilton, to Australia to make sure the dominion was
setting up its military as expected.
While in Australia, Hamilton wrote a remarkable letter to the British government, noting that he had
abandoned earlier plans to call for a part of Australia’s military to be set aside for Britain’s overseas wars.
Play the tune an Australian army for Australia and they dance to any extent. Australia – not empire – is
then the string we must harp on. That is to say we must encourage them to do what they will do willingly
and lavishly, namely pay up for safeguarding a white Australia from the accursed Jap. Then, when the time
comes, and we are fighting for our lives in India or elsewhere, I for one am confident that the whole military
force of Australia will be freely at our disposal.
England knew there would be more wars, and it worked hard to ensure its dominions would send soldiers
whenever they were needed. After years of steadily mounting tension and diplomatic chess-playing, when
Britain declared war on Germany on August 4, 1914, it knew it could count on its former colonies.
(It should be noted that conscripted members of the CMF were able to be deployed on Australian soil
only, and could not be sent overseas. When the war broke out a new volunteer force, the AIF, was created
and the two armies functioned side-by-side throughout the war.)
Despite dissident voices, the majority of Australians – in parliaments and on the street – were in favour
of joining the war. The outbreak of war came while Australia was in the midst of a federal election, and both
the conservatives and the Labor Party vied with each other in jingoism and patriotic support for Britain.
Prime Minister Joseph Cook told the public: “If there is to be a war, you and I shall be in it. If the old
country is at war, so are we”.
Labor Opposition leader Andrew Fisher (soon to be Prime Minister) said Australia would fight “to the last
man and the last shilling”. So eager was the Government that it had already notified Britain by telegram, the
day before Britain declared war on Germany, that:
In the event of war Commonwealth of Australia prepared to place vessels of Australian Navy under control
of British Admiralty when desired. Further prepared to despatch expeditionary force 20,000 men of any
suggested composition to any destination desired by Home Government. Force to be at complete disposal Home
Government. Cost of despatch and maintenance would be borne by this Government. Australian press notified
The British “protected cruiser” HMS Challenger in Newcastle Harbour in May 1912. Launched in 1902,
the vessel was paid off a few months after its Newcastle visit, but pressed back into service when the war
broke out. The Royal Navy maintained a presence on its “Australia station”, flying the flag for the empire.
Photo:Maitland and District Historical Society
Newcastle and the Hunter go to war
The war will become one of the greatest on record, a cataclysm of horrors.
The onlooking world will . . . fail to see in the causes which have led to the
present situation a sufficient reason for plunging the great nations into the
horrors of warfare.
The Newcastle Morning Herald, August 3, 1914
In the years leading up to the outbreak of armed conflict in Europe, Newcastle and the Hunter Region
were undergoing a profound transformation. Since the turn of the century Newcastle had been sliding into
recession and many believed the best years of the city were behind it. The coalmines that had formed the
backbone of its prosperity for many years were being worked out or becoming uneconomic. The massive
reserves of high-quality coal outside the city area, in the Lower Hunter, were drawing huge numbers of
workers from Newcastle to the rising new mines. It wasn’t quite clear what was going to replace the lost
coalmines in Newcastle, with some backing tourism and others staking a claim on manufacturing industries.
In 1910 NSW elected its first Labor government under Premier J.S.T. McGowen, and a huge public
works program was begun. Newcastle, which had given the Government four seats and helped it to a narrow
majority, benefited from investment in such facilities as hospitals, abattoirs, tramways and a state dockyard,
complete with floating dock. Government plans for a remake of the city as an industrial powerhouse were
aided by the decision by BHP to build a steelworks, work on which began in January 1913.
It was clear there would be money to be made from rising domestic demand for steel, and the government
had planned a publicly owned steelworks to take advantage of the city’s port and nearby coal supplies.
But when the Broken Hill Proprietary Company expressed interest in setting up its own steelworks in
Newcastle, the government was happy to avoid the expenditure on its own account and threw its weight
instead behind the private company’s plan.
These local developments were taking place against a much bigger canvas of world events in which the
very young nation of Australia was a minor player.
Easter 1908: Members of Australian citizens’ military contingents gathered at Newcastle’s Fort Scratchley.
Australia’s former colonies had only become federated into a Commonwealth in 1901 and the national
capital, Canberra, was no more than a twinkle in the eyes of planners. National politics were characterised
by inter-state rivalry and by an over-arching sense of loyalty to, and dependence on, the British Empire.
People watched, mesmerised, as the long-simmering tensions in Europe came to the boil and the crisis
between Serbia and Austria-Hungary threatened to engulf the Continent in war. Australians crowded around
newspaper offices, waiting for the latest news. In Newcastle, word of the Commonwealth Government’s
offer to help Britain was announced from the stage of the Victoria Theatre, prompting the audience to cheer
while the orchestra played God Save the King. Newcastle’s Anglican Cathedral offered prayers for guidance.
German ships quickly slipped out of Newcastle Harbour, making their escape while they still had time.
The Port of Newcastle was placed under Defence Department control and naval reserves were put in charge.
Local military engineers, under Major James (Monty) Corlette, were detailed for duty. The 34-year-old
Corlette, an engineer with the Hunter District Water Board, was destined soon to travel to Gallipoli.
News of Britain’s declaration of war against Germany was displayed in Newcastle outside the Bolton
Street office of The Newcastle Morning Herald on Tuesday August 4, 1914, after that day’s paper had
already been printed. Hundreds of people gathered there to read “the most thrilling announcement yet made
in the history of Australia”. With remarkable prescience the Herald’s editorial on August 3 had observed
the declaration of war by Germany against Russia, noted that France would be bound to join and concluded
that if England followed suit, the resulting war would be “one of the greatest on record, a cataclysm of
horrors”. War seemed inevitable. The question was how big the conflict would be. “The best hope that can
be entertained is that the contest, if it must be played on a gigantic scale, will be short and sharp,” said the
Herald, commenting also that “the onlooking world will . . . fail to see in the causes which have led to the
present situation a sufficient reason for plunging the great nations into the horrors of warfare”.
The Herald was sad too, that Australians of different ethnic backgrounds would find their respective
countries of origin at war. “Australia numbers many Germans and not a few Italians among its citizens.
Germans are to be found in every city of Australia who are held in high esteem, and are personally liked.
That the two home countries should be at war, will come as a terrible shock,” the paper remarked. “That
there will be enormous losses of life on both sides, both on land and sea, seems undoubted. But all hopes of
compromise are apparently now exhausted,” wrote the Herald on August 4.
According to the Herald on August 6, “the momentous news that war had been declared by Great Britain
against Germany was received at Newcastle without any demonstration”. “The gravity of the news and its
sobering effect were fully recognised as was shown by the earnest demeanour of the people and although,
as has been remarked, there was an absence of ostentatious demonstration, the spirit of ardent patriotism
was amply in evidence and on every hand were heard from many able-bodied young men, and older ones,
expressions of a willingness and desire to take part in assisting the motherland.”
Across Australia the atmosphere was euphoric. Recruiting for the promised 20,000 men was hardly
needed, especially since the six-shilling-a-day volunteers’ pay compared favourably to many civilian jobs.
News of war had immediate consequences. Australians rushed their banks, fearing for their savings.
Coal companies, foreseeing disruption to trade, cut their workforces suddenly, with little compunction.
Work on the new BHP steelworks was stopped overnight, throwing 1000 men out of work, albeit
temporarily. One of the first effects of war’s declaration was the disruption of supplies of European steel. As
a result – after a fortnight-long closure of the building site – BHP increased the size of its planned Newcastle
works to capitalise on the coming opportunity.
Two days after the declaration of war Newcastle’s Agricultural, Horticultural and Industrial Association
offered its showground to the military for training and mobilisation of soldiers. A small reserve of the
then 16th Infantry Regiment (which had been largely formed from the old Newcastle-based 4th Australian
Infantry Regiment) was immediately mobilised and by mid-August it was training with muskets and rifles at
the city’s racecourse. Artillerymen mobilised at Fort Scratchley and people with motor vehicles were asked
to place them at the disposal of the military to help in the city’s defence.
At the national level, within four days of the declaration of war, plans were drawn up for an Australian
Imperial Force (AIF) that would consist of an infantry division and a light horse brigade. Recruiting
officially began on August 10, but so many volunteers flooded in – many of them experienced horsemen –
that second and third light horse brigades were formed, followed by a fourth brigade of infantry.
From a country with a population of just five million this was a
huge contribution, and feeding, clothing and equipping these “six
bob a day tourists” was an immense job. The men were sent to
camps to train, while the government scoured the nation for ships
to carry the force to Europe, where it was expected it would fight.
In Newcastle, Mayor John Reid invited able-bodied men to
the Chamber of Commerce to enlist in the AIF. Recruits had to be
between 19 and 39, at least 5ft 4in and have a chest measuring no
less than 34 inches. Preference was given to single men. Of the 36
first Newcastle volunteers, 31 were accepted and some of these
were immediately sent by train to camp in Sydney. By August 14,
84 men had enrolled in Newcastle.
At Maitland in late August the first contingent of 23 of that
district’s volunteers was farewelled. Reports of the function stated
that even with “a pretty stiff charge” being made for admission,
hundreds of well-wishers were still unable to gain admittance.
There was a concert, speeches and the presentation of extra
kit bags with clothing and gifts as the citizens said farewell to
“Captain Scobie and our noble soldiers who have offered their
services to the Empire”.
Captain Robert Scobie (who was to become one of the Hunter’s
most senior officers on Gallipoli), said he and the other men knew
what they were doing in volunteering for the front. With some
prescience he predicted the likely need for a second and possibly
a third contingent. Noting that there were plenty of men in the
district, Captain Scobie said that initial recruiting had declined to
accept untrained or married men, but that policy had been altered
“during the past fortnight” to ensure the full quota.
The Maitland farewell function was preceded by a torchlight
procession through High Street and thousands of people assembled
from the Courthouse to the Town Hall. When the concert ended
just before 11pm a crowd accompanied the volunteers to the
railway station to see them off at about 3am Sunday.
Recruits from the Hunter continued to make their way into
camp throughout 1914 and early 1915. But The Newcastle
Morning Herald of the time portrays a detached interest in the
distant European conflict, with perhaps the most obvious war news
being the “War Sales” being advertised by major city retailers.
Department store Winn’s of Newcastle was offering a “Special War Outfit as required for use in Military-
Hospital (The outfit may be seen displayed in our No.4 Hunter St window)”. For 25 shillings and sixpence
the buyer got two suits of pyjamas, three flannel shirts, two handkerchiefs, two pairs of socks, two reels of
cotton, a packet of needles, two pencils, a letter pad, three packets of envelopes, a pen and nibs: all in a bag
that doubled as a pillow case.
Scott’s had a rival offer at a similar price which left out the pen and pencils but thoughtfully substituted
six bandages and a couple of towels. Breckenridge’s, on the other hand, advertised some skeins of wool
“suitable for knitting socks for the soldiers” and for those less handy or a little better off, “a very fine range
of knitted socks “so suitable for a present to those who are leaving for the seat of war”.
Some city retailers did their
best to make something positive
from the bad news of war.
Newcastle Morning Herald
advertisements for Scott’s (right)
and Winn’s (previous page)
offered to outfit soldiers for the
Troops of the 16th Infantry Regiment marching from National Park Street into Hunter Street, circa 1914.
Photo: State Library of NSW
“Trooper Bluegum”: voice from the Hunter
It was September 1914 – September and springtime, when the Australian bush decks herself in all
The Hunter Valley, garden of sunny New South Wales, lay like a fairer Garden of Eden between the
The old river ran like a trail of silver laughter past the happy homesteads. Magpies carolled merrily,
all the feathered songsters joined in the bushland melody. Golden wattle bloomed in rich profusion
from the watershed to the Pacific, and filled the balmy air with the scent of honeydew.
On the rich river flats, and in amongst the foot-hills, hares and paddymelons fed unmolested, while
higher up the mountain rocks wallabies hopped hither and thither undisturbed by the hunters.
Even the foxes and dingoes in their lairs enjoyed a period of peace, for the bush boys were already
wending their way to the metropolis to embark on the great adventure. Every little farm, every
homestead, every sheep and cattle station sent its quota.
Sturdy youths from the town and valleys casually remarked that they would go on a walking tour
to Berlin, took train to Sydney, and enlisted in the 1st Infantry Brigade. Station lads mounted their
favourite hacks, and with a cheery “So long” took the long trail eastward to the Light Horse camp.
And the heroic Australian mothers and sisters choked back their tears and bade them go.
“Trooper Bluegum” (Oliver Hogue), from The Cameliers
Oliver Hogue, born in Sydney in 1880, had deep roots in the Hunter
Valley, with family at Clarence Town. The son of a former NSW
Education Minister, Hogue worked as a journalist with The Sydney
Morning Herald. When war broke out he applied to become Australia’s
official war correspondent but failed in his bid and instead enlisted as
a trooper with the 6th Light Horse Regiment, leaving Sydney on the
transport ship HMAT Suevic in December 1914.
Hogue served on Gallipoli for five months before being evacuated
ill to England. He returned to his unit in the Middle East in early 1916
and became well-known and liked as an officer and a writer whose
articles usually appeared under the pen-name “Trooper Bluegum”. His
contributions to the Sydney Morning Herald were published in book
form. After the battle of Romani in August 1916 Hogue was transferred
to the Imperial Camel Corps and fought in the battles of Magdhaba, Rafa,
and Gaza in 1917.
In July 1918 Hogue was transferred to the 14th Light Horse Regiment, was promoted to the rank of
major and went through the whole campaign of the Desert Mounted Corps.
He died of influenza at the 3rd London General Hospital on March 3, 1919, a victim of the pandemic that
swept the world at that time. He was buried in Brookwood cemetery in Surrey.
The excerpts from his writing on these pages illustrate his ties to the Hunter Valley. His reference to “dear
old Erringhi” relates to Clarence Town. Erringhi was the original name of that settlement, and is believed
to be an Aboriginal word meaning “place of wild ducks”. The name was changed in 1832 in honour of
England’s Duke of Clarence. Hogue never again saw his “dear old Erringhi”.
Then when our spell in the trenches was over, and we sought the seclusion of our dug-outs, there came
visions that are not vignettes of war. I saw the old homestead in the Hunter Valley.
Hard by Erringhi it stands, where the Williams River meanders through the encircling hills and flows
on towards Coalopolis.
There are roses ‘neath the old-fashioned windows, and in the fields the scent of lucerne ripe for the
scythe. Magpies yodel in the big trees, and the wattle-gold is showing down the river.
I wonder will I ever see dear old Erringhi again?
From Trooper Bluegum at the Dardanelles
Young men from the Singleton district, among the first to enlist in the new light horse regiments in 1914.
A mounted trooper at Raymond Terrace, circa 1913.
Photo: Maitland and District Historical Society.
First action: Australia takes New Guinea
When the call went out in Newcastle, in August 1914, for men with previous military experience to join a
combined navy and army force to fight for the British Empire, it didn’t take long for Hunter men to respond.
Five men signed up on August 11 – apparently the first Hunter men to enlist for overseas duty – and soon all
were on their way north as part of an expedition to capture potentially dangerous German wireless facilities
in New Guinea. The Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force of about 2000 men was sent to seize
and destroy the wireless stations. The mission was successful, although allegedly not well organised.
Though the Germans had not been expected to put up much of a fight, they built some fortifications
and fought, along with Melanesians, against the Australian invaders. They were forced to surrender by the
middle of September. Australia lost seven men in the fighting, while one German and 30 Melanesians were
killed. The Australian submarine AE1 was also lost while on patrol off Rabaul, with the loss of 35 crew.
In 2014 a collection of glass plate negatives was unearthed in Newcastle that shed valuable new light
on the short and successful campaign. Some of the photographs were taken by
Thomas James Rodoni, himself a member of the volunteer force, who was in New
Guinea for five months following the takeover.
Rodoni (pictured at left) was a trained toolmaker, born in Victoria in 1882. He
worked in the government small arms factory at Lithgow in 1915 to 1916 and
was recorded as having worked in Newcastle’s state dockyard (Walsh Island) in
1919. He worked as a general engineer in Newcastle after the war, and was killed
in a car accident in 1956. The Rodoni glass plate negatives – including some that
appear to have been looted from Germans in New Guinea – are preserved in the
archives of the University of Newcastle.
Members of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (ANMEF) in New Guinea in 1914.
The photographs were taken by Thomas Rodoni.
Photos: Newcastle University Archives
The “Great Adventure” begins at last
One of the big lures the war held out to me was the six shillings
a day paid to the Diggers.
Joseph Maxwell VC, DCM, MC and bar
The creation of the first AIF took a remarkably short time. Within a few months of the outbreak of the
war an entire army was equipped and ready to sail with its New Zealand counterpart from the rallying point
of Albany, Western Australia, to anywhere Britain needed men.
The chief architect of the AIF, Scottish-born General Sir William Throsby Bridges, was responsible for
the fact that the Australian soldiers were not simply absorbed into the ranks of the British Army. He insisted
the AIF would be a national army. Bridges, 54, was later mortally wounded by a sniper at Gallipoli. His last
reported words were: “Anyhow, I have commanded an Australian Division for nine months”.
Large numbers of the original AIF men were drawn from the voluntary Citizen Army that already existed
in Australia. Compulsory military training had been in place for some time. Other volunteers were veterans
with Australian or other armed forces who had seen service in the South African Boer War or elsewhere.
The original units had a strong regional identity. NSW initially contributed the 1st Infantry Brigade,
which consisted of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Battalions, all 1023 strong. The 2nd Battalion included many
Newcastle and Hunter men drawn from the former 4th Infantry Regiment (later the 16th Regiment). Many
Hunter men also served in the 13th Battalion.
The Light Horse, (which fought as infantry without their horses at Gallipoli) was made up of three
brigades with men from every state. (The 1st, 14th, 15th and 16th Light Horse Regiments had a strong
The artillery, engineers and medical corps were also comprised of men from all over Australia.
In Newcastle and the Hunter a steady stream of farewell functions was kept up. Clubs and hotels were
the usual venues and small groups of volunteers were sent off with martial music, patriotic speeches by local
leaders and with useful gifts such as binoculars and cigarette cases.
Soldier Joseph Palmer, of Raymond Terrace (a later enlistee) described his time at camp and his farewell:
Life in camp was uneventful and tiresome, doing the various formations of squad drill, platoon drill etc,
however it was all necessary to fit us for the task ahead of us. No-one knew, of course, what part of the
theatre of war we would be sent to and when we would sail, however the time arrived when every man was
granted final leave. This was the time I realised fully what I had done, however I remained cheerful among
the tears and goodbyes from all relatives. Four of us, all local boys, were given a hurried send-off in the
dining room of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, Raymond Terrace, each presented with a cheap wristlet watch,
listened to a few words of praise etc from a few of the local patriots, drank a few beers, shook hands and
departed in good spirits to Rutherford again.
Mr W. Morriss farewelled his son, Norman (picture at left courtesy of the
Morriss family), telling an audience that it was “a hard heart-tug” but he was
willing to let his boy go to fight and to “let them see in the homeland that
Australian boys could also bear themselves as young English gentlemen”.
Money was a driving factor for many volunteers. Young apprentice Joe
Maxwell, for example (later to win a Victoria Cross on the Western Front) lost his
eight-shilling-a-week job with J&A Brown’s Reliance Engineering at Hexham
when the owners shut the factory in a panic when the war broke out. In his postwar
book, Hell’s Bells and Mademoiselles, Maxwell wrote:
Behind all the glamour and the hysteria of those days one of the big lures the war held out to me was the six
shillings a day paid to the Diggers. I confess candidly that this pay, which to my youthful mind represented
‘the wealth of the Indies,’ prompted me a little more than motives of patriotism.
When he hit Liverpool camp in February 1915, Maxwell found himself sharing a tent with “a group that
seemed to include all the dead-beats, out-of-works and hard citizens of Sydney”. It was a shock at first,
but “that crowded tent, ghastly then, became in later experience a boudoir of silk and plush to the varied
burrows and nooks and crannies in which we were to seek sleep up and down the line in merciless winters”.
Some of the Hunter’s old soldiers, like Maitland’s decorated Captain Robert (Bob) Scobie, were keen to
reprise their South African Boer War experiences. The 43-year-old Scobie became a popular leader, but lost
his life at Gallipoli.
Others, like the 56-year-old Dungog-born Novocastrian wine merchant, Lieutenant-Colonel Granville
John Burnage, were initially rejected as too old. It didn’t take long, however, before the recruiting office
got less fussy. Seeing off a group of volunteers in 1914, Lt-Col Burnage declared that if he had a dozen
sons he would be willing to let them go. He hoped the Newcastle lads would come back well-trained men,
and in good health. He sympathised with parents who were losing their boys for the time being, but when
they came back they would be better men. Not many months were to pass before Lt-Col Burnage, finally
allowed to command a battalion at Gallipoli, discovered to his cost that war had changed dramatically since
the campaign against the Boers. He was badly injured at the Dardanelles, but for his bravery was made a
Companion of the Order of the Bath.
The 1st AIF, aboard a fleet of 38 transport ships, left Albany, Western Australia, on November 1. The
convoy was strung out over seven miles of ocean and was escorted by four warships, including a Japanese
cruiser, the Ibuki. (A second convoy containing – among other forces – Colonel Burnage’s 13th Battalion,
sailed from the same port a month later).
There had been fears for the safety of the first, vital convoy, with secrecy and delays surrounding its
departure. This was because German raiders were known to be in the southern oceans. If these got among
the convoy the loss of life could have been tremendous. As it was there was excitement on the voyage when
HMAS Sydney left the convoy to sink the German raider Emden at the Cocos Islands. This was Australia’s
first significant naval victory and became a cause for great celebration aboard the ships of the convoy.
A Sydney Mail photograph of troops departing Sydney, with a big crowd assembled to help see them off.
The long sea voyage into the unknown
It is grand to see the ships ploughing their way across the
ocean. There are 40 transports and three cruisers . . .
Private Arthur Keppie, Paterson
For many members of the AIF, the sea voyage to the battlefronts was the first real travel experience of
their lives. The first convoy of troop transports was an especially momentous matter for the individuals
involved but also for Australia. Sydneysider Eric Evans gave a vivid account of his departure in his diary:
At 7am all was completed and the crowd waiting outside was allowed on the wharf. To the tune of the
Liverpool band the mob hungrily rushed to the edge of the wharf, some hysterical, some laughing, some
crying, shouting, singing and calling ‘Good Luck’ and other such well wishes. Paper ribbon streamers were
eagerly bought from men on the wharf and soon myriads of coloured streamers were connected from friends
on the wharf to boys on the transport. It was a pretty sight to see, but a terribly depressing one also.
At 7.15am we slowly drew away from the wharf. People shouted and the paper ribbons tightened. One by
one the ribbons broke and they were pulled ashore and devoured by the crowds as souvenirs.
Slowly the boat drew away amid the shouts and gestures of our friends. Their voices gradually became
indistinct and an eerie silence descended among us. This didn’t last long as within minutes some launches
filled with people began sailing round and round the ship in a bid to catch a last glimpse of their loved ones.
After about quarter
of an hour a Manly
boat whistled ‘cocka-doodle-do’
ships in the vicinity
took the cue. The
played on us as we
went out. It was a
Private Arthur Keppie, of Paterson, (pictured above, left) had spent three years in the Militia before the
war and went to Sydney to sign up shortly after war broke out in 1914. He was killed on April 26, 1915, at
Gallipoli, but left some interesting letters describing his voyage from Western Australia to Egypt aboard the
The first extract is dated November 5 (see bibliography for details of his diary):
It is grand to see the ships ploughing their way across the ocean. There are 40 transports and three cruisers,
I think. That’s all we can see, though there are more out of sight. The boats are in two lines, about 20 in
each, one behind the other, with the Euripides leading one line and the Orvieto the other. The battleship
Minotaur, from China squadron, is directly in front with a cruiser on either side of the lines.
On Monday last we were told of England declaring war on Turkey and on Wednesday we were informed
that word had been received by wireless that the German warship Emden would be likely to pay us a visit
in a few days. So we may see something exciting before we arrive in port. At present everything is calm and
peaceful. The band is playing on the deck and the men are boxing, wrestling and card-playing.
Tonight the Osterley, mail boat, homeward-bound passed us quite close. It was about 7 o’clock and she
looked lovely as she steamed past us with all her lights. The troops cheered and so did the passengers on the
November 8: I witnessed a very sad scene this morning and the first of its kind up to date - a burial at sea
- a young chap named Kendall, Third Battalion, died on Saturday night from pneumonia. It was a most
impressive scene, the vessel steered off course and slowed down, several of the other boats passed us.
The service was read and the body slid into the ocean. It was very sad so I will not dwell on it. In 20 minutes
we were steaming ahead again past the other vessels to take up our place in front.
On Monday 9th November we had a little excitement at about 7 o’clock. The cruiser Sydney, which was on
our left, steamed out of sight shortly after the Melbourne, which was in front at the time, steamed around
and took the Sydney’s place. We began to think there was something doing, especially as we were expecting
to meet the Emden. Then, the Japanese boat Ibuki, on our right, steamed across with all her guns out and
the smoke belching from her three funnels. She looked a picture. It was grand.
We heard then that the Sydney was engaged with the Emden. We saw nothing of it but got word by wireless
about 9 o’clock.
On Monday afternoon we buried another poor fellow at sea. It is not unusual to see a boat steer a little out
of her course in the line and slow down - we know what that means.
On Monday night as a precaution we had to sleep at our posts on deck, all hands. No lights were allowed
and all watertight doors and portholes closed. We were packed like sardines. If you lay on one side it was
almost impossible to turn over.
At present we are pleasing ourselves and arguing the point with others about where we sleep. It is a case of
getting in early. Most of us sleep on deck at night so as soon as tea is over we get our hammocks on deck
and swing them, if possible, and then we watch that no-one jumps our claim. You cannot walk about the deck
once it gets dark as the men are lying about all over the place.
They’ll shake everything here; some chap took a pair of my pants yesterday. I wasn’t wearing them at the
time. But I’ll have a pair by this time tomorrow, sure enough.
A Sydney Mail illustration showing typical scenes aboard an Australian troop transport leaving Sydney.
Great Uncle Jack Allsopp goes to war
My great uncle, Private John William Allsopp, service number 1053, of the 33rd Battalion, was an
ever-present figure in my grandmother’s house, even though he died on the Western Front in 1917. My
grandmother, Lily Jane, was the youngest in a big family, and Jack was her favourite brother. All her life she
remembered the day he left for the war: how he asked her to go to the shop to buy some Vaseline. Though
she ran all the way to the shop and back, he’d already left by the time she got home. All she saw, I think, was
the taxi disappearing down the street.
Lily treasured Jack’s letters and cards, and hoped she would see him come safely home. It was not to be.
His last letter to his mother, dated October 8, 1917, read:
Well dear I have to go through another big battle very shortly and this will be my last letter to you before
entering in. So cheer up dear, if I don’t come through I will wait for you for a little while.
It was the only one of Jack’s surviving letters to be signed with a kiss: nine kisses, in fact.
The battle was the bloodbath of Passchendaele, and on October
16 a telegram arrived for Lily’s mother. Lily told me that a chicken
was cooking in the oven when the telegram came. Her mother read
the words: “Died sixteenth October gunshot wounds No. 1053 John
William Allsopp”. He had been wounded some days earlier. Then she
sat on the front step and cried while the chicken burned in the oven.
Jack was a stretcher bearer. What little I know of him inclines
me to feel that he may not have been too keen on killing and might
have preferred saving lives instead. He had been a farm labourer
near Tamworth before the war, and his family was living at Maitland
when news of his death came through.
Jack was immortalised, in a small way, by the great Australian
writer Ion Idriess, who mentioned him in his book Lightning Ridge.
Idriess and Great Uncle Jack were childhood friends in Tamworth
Jack Allsopp and his English girlfriend, Ada,
photographed on October 3, 1917, shortly
before he was killed. The patch on his
shoulder signifies his chosen role as stretcher
bearer. Jack is buried near Rouen, France.
Jack Allsopp (above) and a piece
of verse he wrote, describing his
feelings about his voyage to the
war as part of the 33rd Battalion..
between 1897 and 1901, before Idriess moved with his family to
“It nearly broke my heart to part with Johnny Allsopp,” Idriess
wrote. “Johnny was my mate. Alas, I was never to see Johnny again.
He was killed in France.”
Above: the Marathon, on which Jack Allsopp sailed to war. Below: Jack wrote a letter on
his birthday, put it in a bottle and threw it overboard. It was found by a woman in Albany,
W.A., who sent it to Jack’s mother, with her own covering letter, pictured and transcribed.
Sandford Rd, Albany, 14/5/1916
My Husbourne [sic] picked up a bottle this morning with a letter in from a young man named Jack Allsopp.
He ask me to write, he wrote it on the 13th of May which he said was his Birthday & was 28 years of age.
He gave me your address & told me to write to you should the bottle not be found for some time but I
thought there would be no harm to write a few lines to let you know he was well & will not write much now.
I will be glad to know how that young man gets along for I feel for them. I have 5 boys of my own the eldest
16 years come August. I would be proud of him if he was fighting though it would break my heart to part
with him. I have two nephews gone from Vic & my sister is very much cut up. It is very hard for mothers but
I hope we will see a great number of them come back - it is no use saying all for we cannot hope for that.
Someone has to go & I think it is the single ones first. My youngest sister’s husbourne has gone & left her
with 4 children under six but her’s is not the worst case by a long way. I think I had better close now with
Where in the world is Constantinople?
They say the name of the Colonial Troop is to be changed.
. . . Now the name is to be the Australian and New
Zealand Army Corps.
Gunner James Dalton, Salt Ash
As far as the men on the crowded ships knew, they were headed for the battlefields of France. They were
aware of the shocking death toll on that theatre of war and expected to have their share of it.
But even as they were steaming on, via Colombo and Aden, the escalating conflict between Turkey and
Russia was leading some military and political minds to consider action against Turkey on the Dardanelles.
Those aboard the transports assumed they were bound for England as a staging point for other places.
But for a range of reasons the Australian and New Zealand forces were instead disembarked at Egypt, the
importance of which was the Suez Canal, the famous shipping shortcut through the Mediterranean.
There were fears that Turkey might attack the canal and deny it to Allied shipping and, although it was
already guarded, some felt the untested colonials might usefully cut their teeth on canal guard duty. Also, the
Australian High Commissioner in London, Sir George Reid, was apparently concerned about what might
happen if thousands of Aussies were put into the cold, miserable camp at Salisbury Plain. So the colonials
went ashore at Alexandria, with the first disembarking on December 5, 1914. They immediately took a train
to Cairo and then had to march the same night to their new home, directly under the Great Pyramids.
The Turks did attack the Suez canal in February 1915, but they were repulsed without need for more than
a handful of the colonials to join the fight.
Gunner James Dalton (excerpts and photo courtesy of the Dalton family) wrote to his brother in Salt Ash:
The Turkish attack on Egypt has proved to be a bit of a farce, hasn’t it? I saw by yesterday’s paper that they
intend to withdraw the Turkish troops to the European side which is a very wise move indeed. The next thing
will be the declaration that Syria and Palestine belong to the Allies. Palestine I fancy will be handed over to
Egypt was hot and dry and the training was very severe. A letter, written by Major Robert Scobie to his
wife in Oakhampton, describes some typical souvenir-hunting and hints at the terrible toll disease was taking
on the Australians. Many men died from disease in Egypt, without ever seeing action.
There is a terrible lot of pneumonia here and men are dying. They say nearly one hundred gone, but so far
we have only lost one named Law who died suddenly yesterday morning.
Yesterday I was in town and bought a few little things to send home, a medal each for the boys, paper
knife for you, also a mummy casket, and a little brooch for wee Jessie. I am also sending along a piece of
alabaster (square) from Mahomed Ali’s tomb and several bits of stone picked up around here in another
parcel. I intend sending along a few beads on a string which one of our sergeants unearthed from an old
tomb yesterday, so they are genuine and may be thousands of years old.
Many Australians and New Zealanders regarded the Egyptians with patronising affection mingled with
distrust or, occasionally, outright hostility. Many Egyptians saw the presence of the troops as an opportunity
to make money by selling goods and services including “antiques”, sweets, drinks, pornography and sex.
With so many young men a long way from home and family – and facing the likely prospect of a severely
foreshortened future – the temptations of the flesh were overwhelming. Venereal disease ran riot. Salt Ash
soldier James Dalton (pictured) told his mother that hundreds of venereal cases were:
. . . in the isolation hospital which is surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled
night and day by an armed guard. The mens’ pay stops from the time they go
in. I have had my eyes opened in many ways since I joined this crowd. I think
I may say the large majority of both officers and men indulge in this way, not
only here but they were doing it in Sydney. The women here are different. They
say most of them are French.
A lot of the fellows have been going the pace and in Cairo they are able to. It
is a veritable hell upon Earth and in one particular quarter. They are not any
more than the English Tommies really, but they can go further because they
have more money. Most of them have a fair cheque on landing being money
that has accumulated during the voyage across.
There were some well-publicised discipline problems when the Australian troops were dazzled by the
bright lights of the Egyptian capital Cairo. Hundreds went absent without leave, there were riots, fights and
finally, a threat that transgressors would be sent home to Australia. Some were. The colonials picked up new
words in Egypt, such as “baksheesh” (bribe or gift), “dinar” (currency), “imshi-yallah” (“go away”), “igri”
(“hurry up”). There were more, and some became part of the Australian slang dialect for decades to come.
Some excerpts and letters from Hunter men encamped in Egypt are revealing. Private John Graham of
Charlestown (who enlisted too late for Gallipoli but saw action in France) describes training in Egypt:
Reveille 5.30. Set out at 6.50 with a 110 pound kit-up. Got very hot on way. A lot of other companies dropped
out. Finished up about 12.30. Issued no water, only tea at tea. Woke up feeling a bit sick. On fatigue. Very
strong windstorm with great clouds of dust swept the camp, blowing a number of tents down. 14th and 15th
marched from Tel El to Moaska. Two thousand dropped out. Two hundred and twenty hospital exhaustion.
Nine died. One blew his head off. Blistered from crotch to calves. Carried pack of about 135lbs.
On quartermaster’s fatigue, putting things straight on one bottle of water. Some of the men wandered into
the desert and died of exhaustion. 112 degrees in the shade.
James Dalton complained about the Australian-made equipment his artillery unit received:
These wagons of ours get on my nerves. They were built by the “Sunshine” people in Victoria. I can’t say
that they deliberately took the government down, but I do say the wagons are proving to be a terribly bad
job. No doubt they were built to specification and the workmanship was all right but the timber was never
seasoned properly. The wheels have shrunk away from the tyres. We got the tyres cut and shrunk on. The
rings on the hubs are coming off now. All one can do is pack them up with sacking and drive them back on.
Treats sent from home didn’t always make it to their intended recipients either:
They seem to be sent along indiscriminately and given to anyone at all, whether they are needed or not – or
they may not be given at all. Just one instance: I have noticed a lot of empty chocolate tins coming out of the
sergeants’ tent for some time. I find now that a large case of these was sent to the 1st Section DAC as a gift
by some lady in Sydney. They reached here safely. The case is in the sergeants’ tent half-empty.
In Egypt the 1st AIF troops were placed under new commanders: Indian Army veteran General William
Birdwood being the most notable. Birdwood (the troops called him “Birdie”) was less straight-laced than
most British officers and was able to tolerate the not-very-disciplined off-duty antics of the colonials.
Birdwood’s new army corps initially consisted of a full division of Australian infantry, a brigade of New
Zealand infantry, a mounted brigade from each country (the Australian Light Horse and the New Zealand
mounted rifles). Another infantry brigade followed, along with two more brigades of light horse.
James Dalton wrote to his mother that:
They say the name of the Colonial Troop is to be changed. . . . Now the name is to be the Australian and New
Zealand Army Corps.
This is when the name ANZAC first began to be used. It was derived from the label “A. & N.Z. Army
Corps” that was stencilled on crates of supplies at Birdwood’s headquarters. The name did not catch on
overnight, however, and many of the men who fought at Gallipoli may never have heard it spoken.
Up until quite late in their stay in Egypt it’s possible that some Anzac troops hadn’t even heard of
Gallipoli. But the longer they trained, the more rumours they heard about their possible destinations.
Early in 1915, the Dardanelles and the Gallipoli peninsula became a new theatre of naval warfare
between Britain and France on one side and Turkey and the Germans on the other.
The eight-month campaign that was soon to begin at Gallipoli was an attempt by the British to find a way
around the deadlock that had formed in France, where huge armies faced each other across fortified trenches.
Britain’s ally Russia was fighting the Germans in the Caucasus, but was hit hard when Turkey allied with
Germany in November 1914. The Turks closed the straits of the Dardanelles to Russian shipping, preventing
the allies from sending supplies to Russia’s Black Sea ports. Russia wanted the Dardanelles re-opened and
when it asked for British help in January 1915, some saw an opportunity to bypass the stalemate on the
western front. Winston Churchill, the 39-year-old First Lord of the Admiralty, agreed to a “demonstration”
of British naval power to intimidate the Turks. But Churchill wanted more than a demonstration.
Camping “beneath the shadow of the pyramids” was an exciting experience for many Australians who had
never ventured far from home. The illustration above, from a French journal, shows Australan troops marching
for Australia’s high commissioner to Britain, George Reid. Below: A soldier’s snapshot of the camp.