Enlistment/Embarkation WW1 (World War 1, 4 August 1914 to 11 November 1918)

About This Campaign

Enlistment and Embarkation for WW1


The raising of the AIF and its despatch overseas was an enormous task that exceeded by several orders of magnitude any remotely comparable mobilisation of people and resources in Australia's short history.  

The only thing that came close was the Gold Rush of the 1850s, and that was hardly organised

What is less generally realised is that Australia was not totally unprepared for War.  Australia had a population of less than 5 million on the outbreak of war in 1914.  About 3 million were men.  More than 400,000 men enlisted (or attempted to do so).  More than 330,000 were deployed overseas.  In today's terms these number beggar belief.  The cost and legacy that were to come was beyond belief.

Europe in 1914 has been described as a "dangerous place" because of a complex web of animosity, alliances and suspicion.  German Naval expansion and militarism sat behind most of this mis-trust.  However, it had been so for some time, and a growing awareness of Germany's imperial ambitions had moved Great Britain to begin to prepare for what might come.  

In pre-Federation Australia, defence scares were not new.  The beach side town of Glenelg in South Australia had woken one morning in 1882 to find a Russian Naval Squadron riding at anchor in Holdfast Bay (see Story below).  This scare reinforced the need for the Coastal Artillery forts that lined the coast around capital cities from Brisbane to Adelaide.  The Garrison artillery that manned these forts formed the basis of the future Royal Australian Corps of Artillery.

In 1899, before Australia had even become a nation, each of the Colonies raised multiple contingents to serve in the South African or Boer War (/explore/conflicts/1) and (on a much smaller scale), the Boxer Rebellion (/explore/conflicts/19) in China.  By the end of the Boer War conflict, the Colonial contingents had merged to become one.  The result was that Australia had significant numbers of experienced soldiers, many of whom would go on to serve in the coming conflict and to train and prepare others. 

Field Marshal Lord Kitchener had been charged with the oversight of preparations across the Empire, but particularly in the dominions most likely to provide the most manpower: Canada and Australia.

Universal Military Service and a large network of militia and cadet units were central to this plan.  Tens of thousands of men belonged to rifle clubs.  Australia acquired its own small arms production facility with the establishment of the Small Arms Factory Lithgow in 1907.  Australia had been supplying the Indian Army with horses, the famed 'Walers' which would later similarly equip the Light Horse. 

Soon after the outbreak of War, AIF units began forming from around the middle of August, at camps situated within marching distance of each of the state capitals.  These included:

Randwick Racecourse and Kensington, in New South Wales.
Broadmeadows, in Victoria.
Enoggera, in Queensland.
Blackboy Hill, in Western Australia.
Morphettville Racecourse in South Australia.
and Pontville, in Tasmania.

Related  pages will feature detail of the major camps around Australia where soldiers were enlisted and received their initial 'basic' training prior to embarkation and overseas service:


(c) Steve Larkins Oct 2014



Goodbyeeeee! Embarkation 20th October 1914

From "Silent Voices" by Robert Kearney

Early on the 20 October 1914, the camp at Morphetville was struck for the last time. There was a feeling of regret as the men left their canvas homes of the past two months.

This has been the birthplace of the 10th Battalion, from those early days when over 1000 offers had been received from volunteers from all over the State of South Australia.

There were fruitpickers, schoolteachers, fisherman, blacksmiths, shearers, woodcutters, drovers, accountants, clerks, railway men and labourers to name a few. Some came from prominent families, some were sporting stars, others had more humble beginnings. But they all came and worked together.

One volunteer, Private Arthur Seaforth Blackburn walked in the gates at that time and immediately recognised so many of his previous school mates in the Battalion. Such was the nature of Adelaide life at the time. Mates encouraged mates, how could you not join up? As we know he, like so many others, went on to serve with distinction where nothing seemed impossible when they were with the ‘Fighting Tenth’ as the Battalion came to be known.

Those selected now boarded the train that would change them and the history of our young nation. The adventure was about to begin.

As the train steamed slowly into the station at outer harbour later that day, the men were amazed at the size of the crowd that had gathered to cheer them. The 10th Battalion would soon board His Majesties Australian Transport The Ascanius and sail to Western Australia. There they would rendezvous with the other Australian and New Zealand ships that together would make up the largest convoy ever to leave the Commonwealth of Australia or to cross the Indian Ocean.

As soon as the men got off the train they were ushered aboard the ship, shown their mess decks and ordered to secure and store their kit before being given precious little time to rejoin their anxious friends and family at the gangway. The wharf was awash with men in Khaki and women in ankle length dresses and large, brightly coloured hats; their parasols stood out like wildflowers on an outback landscape.

The Ascanius was a large passenger liner and like most of the other ships that would make up the convoy, it had been charted by the government specifically for the transportation of troops.

Each of the ships had been hurriedly converted from passenger to troop ship by the removal of all luxury items as well as converting lounges, bars, and dining rooms into accommodation areas known as mess decks. Every mess deck was fitted with hammock hooks, stainless steel tables, stowage bins and benches. The benches were multipurpose. By day they were used as seats and at night for sleeping on top of or for stowing unused items of equipment.

Although the refitting of the ships was designed to accommodate as many troops as possible, it was not done without some consideration for the comfort of the men and although crowded it was certainly not unbearably so.

When the brass band on the wharf stopped playing and the musicians tucked their instruments under their arms, the crowd knew the time had come-the time to bid farewell to the men they loved, perhaps forever.

Governor Sir Henry Galway appeared on the promenade deck and after a brief pause the noisy crowd fell silent. Sir Henry commenced his address and, speaking in halting phrases, sincerely thanked the men for volunteering to fight the evil scourge marching across Europe, and made the point of thanking those on the wharf for their sacrifice and ongoing support.

Sir Henry, like so many in the crowd, was at times almost overcome with emotion. Men and women as well as a number of soldiers wept openly as he talked about the uncertainly and sadness of this terrible war and how it would soon touch almost every member of the human race including the many generations to come.

He’d been to war himself so he did not dwell on the horrors that lay ahead for the young enthusiastic soldiers, the country and the world. He wished them all good luck and asked God to protect each of them throughout every endeavour they were about to undertake and above all, he wished them a safe and speedy return.

There were a number of men in the Battalion who, like Sir Henry, understood only too well the consequences of soldiering and the unintended consequences of war.
These men, already veterans, knew that attempting to explain war to the keen young men and boys standing alongside them would simply be a waste of words. Would they listen? Even if they did, would it make any difference? How can you describe the horror, pain and fear of war? What was the point? They were all in it together now, and soon every soldier aboard the ship would be either a veteran or a statistic. Either way, no explanation was necessary.

‘Its time to go’ was whispered among the troops as they were required to join the remainder of the men at the gangway in order to march aboard the ship as a proud and complete unit. Amid the final confusion and desperate hugging and kissing of parents, siblings, wives, girlfriends and friends, each man said his final farewell.

After tearing themselves away from their loved ones they moved to the forming up point at the bottom of the gangway where RSM Whitburn and the officers experienced great difficulty in getting the men to line up. This would be, as many sensed, the last time they’d ever see their love ones and they weren’t about to let pomp and ceremony get in the way of catching a last smile or kiss. After all these years nothing has changed.

From the moment their man walked away, loved ones in the crowd became deeply distraught, even hysterical. Many just stood and searched the moving mass of khaki for a final glimpse of that face so dear. Family groups closed together, supporting each other as they pointed, waved and wept; some completely overcome with grief, tried desperately to push past the young sailors guarding the gangway. A number attempted to board the ship in an effort to once more hug and kiss their soldier boy.

At 4.30 pm the officers on the bridge of the Ascanius sounded two long mournful blasts of the ships foghorn, and with the tremendous shudder the ship pulled away from the wharf. The crowd threw streamers to the men on the deck and as the ship slowly moved further away they began to break.

A young women in an attempt to keep her coloured streamer intact, moved dangerously close to the edge of the wharf, her last link with the man she loved as yet unbroken. To an elderly gentleman nearby, it appeared the woman was unaware of the danger she was in and would soon topple into the water between the ship and the wharf. He grabbed her around the waist and pulled her back from the edge and in doing so caused the streamer to snap. Devastated, she let out the most unforgettable and helpless cry before fainting at her rescuers feet.

The ship moved into the channel and above the music of the brass band playing ‘Auld Land Syne’ could be heard a number of piercing cries of ‘Don’t forget to write’ ‘Goodbye’ ‘I love you’ ‘Come back soon’. It wasn’t long before the men on deck, no longer able to pick out the faces in the crowd on the now distant wharf, looked towards the Mount Lofty Ranges, wiping their eyes, wondering if they’d ever see those hills again.

Lest We Forget.


Fort Largs / Fort Glanville

Forts Largs and Glanville were part of a complex of forts designed by Colonel Scratchley and built around Australia's coastline as a direct result of the Crimean War.

Although originally built to repel a Russian attack, the fort never saw a shot fired in anger.

There was though an almost comical surprise visit from the Russian Navy to the coastline that created quite a panic.

In 1882 the Russians were sailing around the southern end of Australia.

"The good citizens of Glenelg woke up one morning and found a Russian squadron sitting in Holdfast Bay."

A flurry of panic and telegrams followed before it was found that word had been sent of the arrival the night before from Melbourne, but a postal clerk had not passed on the information.

"It was a bit of a stuff up on behalf of the postal authorities, but it certainly made people think very seriously about defence thereafter."

"Cannons in the Sand" ABC Radio http://www.abc.net.au/local/photos/2011/05/26/3227342.htm

(c) Steve Larkins Oct 2014


The South Australian Militia

South Australia Infantry Militia prior to the 1912 Australia Militia conference held in Adelaide, South Australia.

Initially the early South Australian colony's defence force consisted of only locally formed militia units.

November 1854 - General order published directing South Australian Volunteer Militia Forces be organised into two battalions. (Each to consist of six companies with a strength of between 50-60 troops per company)

1st and 2nd Battalions Adelaide Rifles (1854–1856),

Training commenced in late 1854 and after only 36 days part-time service, the trainees, deemed "trained" were free to return to their civilian occupations until called up.

1856 - Battalions disbanded. (No longer the threat of invasion by Russia)

1859 - Volunteer Force re-formed with 14 infantry companies

April 1860 - Adelaide Regiment of Volunteer Rifles raised by amalgamating 20 infantry companies

1866 - Adelaide Regiment of Volunteer Rifles disbanded as a result of the Volunteer Force Act being passed but reformed again the same year

1867- During the Duke of Edinburgh’s visit the title of the Regiment changed to Prince Alfred’s Own Regiment of Rifle Volunteers

1871 - Prince Alfred’s Own Regiment of Rifle Volunteers disbanded. (The raising and disbanding of the defence force often related to the colony’s economic state.)

1875-77 - A renewed interest in the defence of the state with the fear of Russian expansion into Australia during the Russo-Turkish War

1877 - Regiment of Adelaide Rifles formed

1878 - A second battalion of the Regiment of Adelaide Rifles formed - the 1st Battalion was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Lewis G. Madley - the 2nd Battalion was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Frank Makin.

Another battalion was raised in 1889 but was absorbed by the 1st and 2nd Battalions in 1895

1899 -1901 during the war in South Africa, South Australians from various militia units served as volunteers with the Australian contingent.

1901 - Federation brings a major reorganisation of the Armed Forces within Australia

1901 - The Regiment of Adelaide Rifles becomes the 10th Australian Infantry Regiment

1909 -1910 - Field Marshall Kitchener at the request of the Australian government visits the country to advise on Australia’s defence force - (Recommended a compulsory training scheme)

South Australia Infantry Militia units post Defence Act and 1912 Militia conference held in Adelaide, South Australia

74th (Boothby) Infantry Regiment,

76th (Hindmarsh) Infantry Regiment,

77th Infantry Battalion - No Territorial Title,

78th Infantry Battalion (Adelaide Rifles),

79th (Torrens) Infantry Regiment,

80th (Gawler) Infantry Regiment,

81st (Wakefield) Infantry Regiment,

82nd (Barrier) Infantry Regiment.

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Showing 8 people of interest from campaign

WALLACE, Thomas Reginald

Service number 7589
5th Infantry Battalion
Born Oct 1897

STEVENS, William Henry

Service number 2591
48th Infantry Battalion
Born 19 Apr 1885


Service number 3718
1st Pioneer Battalion
Born 1885

VICK, William Henry

Service number 1042
10th Infantry Battalion
Born Jan 1887


Service number 1117
15th Infantry Battalion
Born 1894

ZOLLNER, Allan Edgar

Service number 1474
25th Machine Gun Company
Born 29 Apr 1894

LEY, Cyril Edwin Halse

Service number 6851
11th Infantry Battalion
Born Jan 1881

HOLT, Arthur Ernest

Service number 306
3rd Light Horse Regiment
Born 31 Oct 1893

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