Lest we for­get ... 100 years on

North West Telegraph - - Front Page - Mal­colm Quekett

World War I was a ter­ri­ble con­flict with a cat­a­strophic loss of life.

But WA can look back with pride in the way the State ral­lied to the cause when called in 1914.

Dig­gers from WA were front and cen­tre over the four years the war raged, play­ing their part in key the­atres of bat­tle, whether on the rocky hills of Gal­lipoli, the sands of the Mid­dle East or the muddy trenches of West­ern Europe.

Af­ter Ger­man troops en­tered Lux­em­bourg and France on Au­gust 2, prime min­is­ter Joseph Cook said that in the event of war with Ger­many, Aus­tralian ves­sels would be placed un­der the con­trol of the British Ad­mi­ralty, and of­fered an ex­pe­di­tionary force to be placed at Bri­tain’s dis­posal.

On Au­gust 4, Ger­many in­vaded Bel­gium, Bri­tain de­clared war on Ger­many, and the next day Cook told the na­tion that Aus­tralia, too, was at war. On Au­gust 10, vol­un­tary re­cruit­ment for an Aus­tralian Im­pe­rial Force be­gan.

WA his­to­rian Ge­of­frey Bolton, in Land of Vi­sion and Mi­rage, WA since 1826, noted that WA was al­lo­cated a quota of 1400 re­cruits.

“In fact, more than three times that num­ber came for­ward on the first day,” he wrote.

WA’s rate of re­cruit­ment was higher than the rest of Aus­tralia, which Bolton said was due to the State hav­ing more sin­gle males of mil­i­tary age than the Aus­tralian av­er­age, more re­cent British mi­grants and more farm­ers and ru­ral work­ers ex­pe­ri­enc­ing dif­fi­culty be­cause of a se­vere drought in 1914.

Al­most 10 per cent of the State’s to­tal pop­u­la­tion — 32,231 in all — were to en­list dur­ing World War I.

WA sent men mainly into the 10th Light Horse, and the 11th, 12th, 16th, 28th, 44th and 51st bat­tal­ions of the AIF and part of the 32nd and 48th.

As the last stop for most troop ships be­fore they sailed for the war, Al­bany played a key role in the Anzac story.

The WA-raised 11th Bat­tal­ion carved out a spe­cial place in the State’s his­tory when it was part of the first group to land at Gal­lipoli on April 25, 1915.

The 10th Light Horse Reg­i­ment was prom­i­nent in de­feat­ing the Turk­ish forces, en­ter­ing Da­m­as­cus in Oc­to­ber 1918, just be­fore Turkey sur­ren­dered.

And WA bat­tal­ions were heav­ily in­volved in the great Al­lied of­fen­sive launched on the West­ern Front in Au­gust 1918, which pushed Ger­many to­wards sign­ing the Ar­mistice on Novem­ber 11 that year.

Aus­tralia’s of­fi­cial his­to­rian of the war, Charles Bean, wrote: “Tak­ing the record over the whole war, Aus­tralian lead­ers would prob­a­bly give first place to cer­tain units from WA and Queens­land, States that were colonies of colonies, largely pop­u­lated by en­er­getic el­e­ments from the other States.

“Dur­ing four years in which nearly the whole world was so tested, the peo­ple in Aus­tralia looked on from afar at 300,000 of their own na­tion strug­gling amongst mil­lions from the strong­est and most pro­gres­sive peo­ples of Europe and Amer­ica.

“They saw their own men — those who had dwelt in the same street or been daily trav­ellers in the same rail­way trains — flash across the world’s con­scious­ness like a shoot­ing star.”

Bean wrote that the Dig­gers had set a tra­di­tion that “may work for cen­turies — in things seen daily from that first morn­ing un­til the strug­gle ended, on­look­ers had recog­nised in these men qual­i­ties al­ways vi­tal to the hu­man race”.

“Aus­tralians watched the name of their coun­try rise high in the es­teem of the world’s old­est and great­est na­tions.

“Ev­ery Aus­tralian bears that name proudly abroad to­day — and by the daily do­ings, great and small . . . the Aus­tralian na­tion came to know it­self.”

Pic­ture: State Li­brary of WA

The 11th Bat­tal­ion head­ing to Gal­lipoli.

Pic­ture: Aus­tralian War Memo­rial

Orig­i­nal mem­bers of the 3rd Aus­tralian Field Am­bu­lance at Black­boy Hill Camp.

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