Memories of Morphettville (World War 1, 4 August 1914 to 11 November 1918)

About This Campaign

Memories of Morphettville Racecourse

Early days

Throughout the month of August, the hot northerly wind had blown dust clouds across the sun-scorched earth, turning the once white bell-shaped tents a dull and dirty brown. When the long awaited rain finally did come on the first morning of September, it brought with it a refreshing cool change; so cool in fact, that most of the men had to get up during the night and throw on an extra blanket. There wasn’t a lot of rain, but what there was at least washed most of the dust off the tents and out of the grass and in the morning it left a slight, but very pleasant green tinge to the ground.

The camp looked refreshingly clean and as far as the commanding officer was concerned,  Sir Henry Galway, the Governor, could not have picked a better day to motor down the Bay Road to inspect the battalion. Sir Henry was an astute man and realised the commanding officer’s priority would be fitness and training, and so, upon arrival at the tent lines he requested that his visit be of a strictly informal nature and without interruption to the busy training schedule.

The first morning of September began the same as every other morning for the men during their training at Morphettville camp. The bugler, 128 Sergeant Gordon Taylor, sounded reveille at precisely 6 am, causing the still tired and bleary-eyed men to commence their mad morning routine of scrambling between tents to the field latrines and ablution sheds.

The saying ‘first in best dressed’ certainly would have applied at Morphettville as the new recruits quickly learned to queue for everything in the army. Not until the bladder was relieved could a man concentrate on such military matters as tidying up the tent and readying himself for the sergeant’s 7.30 am inspection parade. Wash, shave, fold blankets, clean out the tent, get rid of the rubbish and conduct a quick ‘emu bob’ around the lines to get rid of the ‘bumpers’. It wasn’t long before most, but not all, of the men realised that almost every task could be completed more quickly and with less effort when they worked in pairs or as a team.

By the end of the week, after learning the simple lessons of working together and following a routine they found they could make time for breakfast and if they were really efficient, and with a bit of luck, make it to the head of the breakfast queue. Those fortunate or fast enough to be at the head of the queue would take their meal into the racetrack grand to escape the noise of the mess tent.

The catering sergeant, 5 Sergeant John Parker, ensured all meals were cooked in his pride and joy—the revolutionary new mobile field kitchen. Certainly the food was hot when it came out of the cooker but to the men it seemed to cool the instant the cook dropped it onto their tin plates. The mess tent was a cacophony of loud talking, knives and forks being scraped across tin plates, new leather boots tramping up and down the wooden duckboard floors, and the clattering of pots being washed behind the mess tent by those unfortunate souls detailed to the monotonous and wet job of ‘dixi bashing’. There wasn’t enough time for a relaxed chat during meals, in fact there was barely enough time to eat, wash the ‘fighting irons’ and race back to the tent in time for a quick smoke before the inspection.

At precisely 7.30am, ‘on parade’ was called and another hectic day began. The parade was simple enough; all a man had to do was get there on time, fall in with his mates and line up in three ranks and wait to answer his name.

There was a shortage of most things such as  equipment, food, tents, uniforms and rifles. When it came to drill with arms, there weren’t enough rifles to go around, so broomsticks were issued in lieu. The regimental sergeant major repeatedly told the sergeants how he expected them to ensure their men carried and treated their broomsticks with the same respect and care they would a .303 rifle, and woe betide any man found leaning on or pointing his broomstick at another man’. The efforts of the quartermaster and his team soon began to produce results and it wasn’t long before more and more uniforms, webbing and equipment became available so that soon every soldier was issued with standard kit.

Morphettville Camp was an exiting and interesting place. Every night a different group of men would be detailed for the security piquet to patrol the camp perimeter, in an effort to keep the men in, and the grog, women and larrikins out. To break the boredom of the patrol the men would stop frequently to listen to the sounds coming from within the camp. There were muffled voices and raucous laughter coming from the hundreds of tents within the camp and occasionally a strong baritone with a fine voice would burst into a sad song that instantly created within each young man a flood of strange and mixed emotions. The flickering lamps inside the tents cast long, crooked shadows along the ground, causing the silhouettes of those inside to dance crazily upon the tent flaps. Often music could be heard—the melodious strains of a violin cleverly fingered by a gifted violinist, or a mournful tune of farewell played on a harmonica or tin whistle. Large numbers of men gathered inside the huge YMCA marquee, each there for his own reason, some just to listen to the very capable musicians playing classical music, others to make use of the good lighting, tables and chairs. Men busily wrote letters home to parents, sisters, brothers, wives, sweethearts and friends. Occasionally, the band would alter the mood of the men entirely by changing the tune to ragtime in the hope that someone who knew the words might have the courage to get up and sing.

Training Begins

Most of the early training revolved around fitness. Physical training  required very little if any equipment and until the quartermaster could overcome the equipment shortages the instructors had to make do with whatever was readily available. Physical training was easy to plan and conduct and also served to demonstrate to those men who’d worked in sedentary positions prior to enlistment just how unfit they really were. It was during the physical training sessions that the officers emphasised the importance of every soldier in the battalion maintaining the highest level of fitness.

In combat, when a soldier’s muscles ache and his lungs are demanding more and more air, his body tries to convince his mind that it can’t go on. An effective soldier is aware of this deception between body and mind and trains his mind to argue back; telling his body it must go on. The alternatives can come down to being taken prisoner, maimed for life, or killed. The officers at Morphettville, particularly those who’d seen action in the South African War, knew about mental toughness. To help their men break throught the pain barrier, they conducted activities that included long route marches, cross country runs in full kit, obstacle crossing drills, bayonet fighting, rope climbing, stretcher carrying and crawling along the ground under low barbed wire.

Battalion training officially commenced on 3 September and the syllabus would certainly have included most, if not all, of the following topics:

Instruction in barracks and duties

Cleanliness and care of the feet

Infantry Tactics



Musketry training including (care of arms and ammunition, theory of rifle fire)

Physical fitness

Night and day visual training

Judging distance

Movement at night

Noise at night

Guards and outposts

Field craft

Construction of field defences and obstacles

Use of the entrenching implement and tools

Bayonet fighting.[1]

Often, as an additional physical activity, and for bathing purposes, the men would be marched at a brisk pace down the Bay Road to the Glenelg beach, a round trip of approximately 13 kilometres.

The signallers in the battalion had for the most part, previously served in either the British Army or Navy, or had demonstrated an enthusiasm for the work during their training under the Universal Training Scheme. Captain Sydney Raymond Hall was the first Signals Officer and worked hard to mould and train the signallers into one of the most effective sub-units within the battalion. Every day, on the ridgelines of the hills surrounding the camp, signallers flashed messages to the camp with their heliographs. The flag-signallers could also be seen dispatching and receiving messages between the camp and the ridgelines, and most days even after dark they continued to communicate by flashing Morse code messages using lamps. The signals sergeant was 6 Sgt Walker Leonard Reid and although very efficient at dealing with the platoon administration and general organisation, he preferred to spend much of his time training the men in the skills of field sketching.

Captain Hill  of the Australian Army Medical Corps frequently lectured the men on the importance of camp sanitation, care of the feet, basic first aid, venereal disease and field hygiene.

The commanding officer requested all company commanders to ensure the recently issued drums were used at every opportunity in an effort to train the men to march well. The majority of soldiers actually despised the close order drill, but when it came to marching with a band (especially in front of a crowd), they usually threw out their chests, swung their arms and did everything possible to stay in step with the base drummer.

 The first official parade  on the Morphettville racecourse was held on 4 September and the troops were inspected by the Governor-General Sir Ronald Crauford Munro-Ferguson, and the commander of the 1st Division, Major-General Sir William Throsby Bridges.

The actual breakdown of the parade state being:

Headquarters, 36;

3rd Light Horse, 38;

Ammunition Supply Column, 85;

10th Battalion, 1064;

12th Battalion, 71;

AS Divisional Train, 84;

AS Supply Column, 79;

3rd Field Ambulance, 85.

The number of men on parade, included 68 officers and 1744 other ranks, making a total of 1885 men in the 3rd Brigade.[2]


On 13 September, a party of nurses from the Adelaide Hospital visited the camp scorted by the 10th Battalion's adjutant,  Captain Francis Lorenzo appeared to thoroughly enjoy the task but when some of the nurses smiled politely and occasionally waved at a man he soon realised what an enormous distraction from training they were.

During September it was rumoured the battalion might be leaving Australia much earlier than originally anticipated, so all men were granted embarkation leave for three days, with free railway passes to their home destinations. As it turned out, they didn’t move early and as soon as they returned to camp the training recommenced. Route marches were lengthened, and each company conducted regular skirmishing activities as well as range practices in the sandhills south of Glenelg.

A large part of the training was conducted along the Glenelg and Brighton beach foreshores with much of the shooting instruction and practice taking place in the scrubby hills along the coast within close proximity to the Adelaide Hills. The officers and NCOs would often emphasise the value of realism during training but could not possibly have guessed at how similar their training area actually was to the scrub-covered, craggy hills and slopes upon which they would soon fight and where so many of them would lose their lives.

In the early hours of the morning on 14 September, the battalion departed camp with scouts extended and marched along Tapley’s Hill Road to the remount depot at O’Halloran Hill. Along the route they conducted skirmishing and tactical exercises. Two days later, an outbreak of influenza made it necessary for the camp to be temporarily struck, to allow sunlight onto the ground for a few hours each day in the hope that it might sterilise the tent sites. All tents were struck each day before the first parade and not re-erected until after the last parade in the late afternoon.

At 10 am on Friday, 19 September 1914, the Governor handed over a saxe blue and gold coloured flag. The  regimental flag made by Mrs Jury and her small volunteer committee of patriotic ladies was 1.2 metres square, with the magpie (piping shrike) and laurel, and ‘Australia’ emblazoned in the centre.

On 29 September, the battalion suffered its first loss when Private William Poole Poole of H Company died of pneumonia; a firing party comprising a number of Poole’s comrades were present for his funeral at the West Terrace Cemetery.

The Adventure Begins—October 1914

October was another dry and dusty month and rifles and equipment required constant cleaning and attention. The hot northerly wind continued to blow, bringing even more of the gritty red dust from the severely drought-affected farming areas between Port Augusta and Adelaide.

On 5 October, in an attempt to beat the demoralising dusty conditions, orders were issued to move the camp about a kilometre and a half south along the Morphettville Road towards Oaklands and closer to Ascot Park. A fatigue party from ‘B’ Company equipped with mallets and pegs visited the new site in the paddock of Mr Andrew Tennant, but before they could drive in the first peg they were ordered to pack up and return to Morphettville. The 10th Battalion was certainly moving but not to Ascot Park—they were to leave Australia within a fortnight.

On 20 October the camp was struck for the last time and the 10th Battalion entrained at Morphettville Railway Station bound for their ship HMAT A11 Ascanius waiting at Outer Harbour.

As the train steamed away from the station, the engine driver blew the train whistle long and frequently. The men waved and whistled from the windows of every carriage. The citizens along the route turned out in their thousands to cheer and proudly wave flags, handkerchiefs, scarves, and streamers. Some just stood, quietly weeping and waving as the crowded train filled with waving soldiers, clattered and rattled as it passed. Soon all that remained was the weeping crowd, transfixed and staring at the shimmering steel lines along which their men, the men of South Australia’s own battalion, had raced to their appointment with destiny.

[1] General Staff, Infantry Training 1914, War Office London

[2] Lock CBL, The Fighting 10th, Webb & Son, Adelaide, 1936, p. 310


Bob Kearney (author of "Silent Voices" stories of the 10th Battalion)   October 2014

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