Lest we forget ... 100 years on
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.”
The 11th Battalion heading to Gallipoli.
Original members of the 3rd Australian Field Ambulance at Blackboy Hill Camp.