Pages from Hunter Region in the Great War

SteveWilko

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 theWar Sales” being advertised by major city retailers.

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