Pages from Hunter Region in the Great War

SteveWilko

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.

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