27th Infantry Battalion (SA) "Unley's Own" 7th Brigade, 2nd Division, AIF

Normal 150508 27th battalion and light horse

About This Unit

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The 27th Battalion was the second of the predominantly South Australian Battalions to be raised in WW 1.  It was allocated to the 7th  Brigade in the Second Division.  Some 8 000 volunteers served in the Battalion during the war; 1169 of all ranks died on active service. 

The following information has been compiled with thanks to Professor Claire Woods and Dr Paul Skrebels for their contribution

Main photo - the 27th Battalion and a Light Horse detachment marching along Unley Road near the Town Hall in May 1915.  Photo courtesy Guy Dollman

 

The 27th Battalion AIF was raised in March 1915. Lieutenant Colonel Walter Dollman VD (who had formerly served in the forerunner volunteer militia unit,  the 74th Infantry) was appointed Commanding Officer. The Battalion marched into the newly established Mitcham Camp south of the city of Adelaide, on 16 April 1915.

The 27th Battalion AIF was known as "Unley's Own", as many of the men who first enlisted in World War 1 were from the district. Lt Col Dollman had served as Mayor of Unley, and it was down Unley Road that the troops marched to be greeted and celebrated at the Town Hall prior to their embarkation for Egypt, Gallipoli and then ultimately to  the Western Front.

After weeks of intensive training, route marches, farewell parades in front of enthusiastic crowds, and rousing speeches by the Governor of the day and other dignitaries, the Battalion embarked on the HMAT Geelong on 31 May 1915, bound for Egypt where further training was undergone.

In September the Battalion landed at Gallipoli where it remained until the evacuation in December.  In addition to enemy action, by this late stage of the campaign, poor hygiene and sanitation had begun to take its toll in the form of quite serious disease such as enteric fever (typhoid) and other maladies resulting in many evacuations, some right back to Australia.  Casualties included the CO, Lieutenant Colonel Dollman.  As winter approached so plans for an evacuation were put in place and the ANZAC troops were withdrawn in perhaps the most successful phase of the entire campaign in the most difficult phase of war.  Effecting a clean break without detection and exploitation by the Turks was achieved masterfully.

During the re-consolidation and "Doubling of the AIF" which took place in Egypt, many 27th Battalion men and reinforcements were posted to a range of Brigade Divisional and other units as the new organisation took shape, and new drafts of reinforcements arrived.

The Second Division embarked for Marseilles in April aboard a range of ships.  From Marseilles they entrained for a journey to the very northern extremity of France near the Belgian border around the Armentieres sector, known colloquially as "The Nursery".  It was here that troops new to the Front were conditioned to Trench Warfare, albeit in a relatively quiet sector of the Front.

Thereafter the Battalion fought with distinction throughout the Western Front, first entering the battlefield of Somme in April 1916. Along with the 28th Battalion, the 27th were the first Australian troops in the front line on the Somme.

The 27th Battalion was committed to the fighting near Pozieres as part of the Second Division AIF, along with the First and Fourth Divisions.  On the 4th August 1916, the 27th Battalion was on the left flank of the 2nd Division attack aimed at capturing the heights above Pozieres.   The 27th Battalion's axis of advance took it through the Windmill, or rather the ruins of the 17th Century windmill, which had the dominant view of the surrounding area.  They captured it, and held it in the face of unrelenting artillery fire and counter attacks.

The Second Division was relieved in place by the Fourth Division, two nights later. By coincidence, the 27th Battalion was relieved by the 48th, drawn from South Australia and Western Australia.  When the 48th took over from the 27th they reported that there was no one left alive in the forward positions.  The 48th suffered similarly high casualties and indeed the area around the windmill is said to contain more South Australian DNA than any other piece of ground anywhere in the world save for metropolitan cemeteries in South Australia itself.

The 27th had a short respite for reinforcement and rest and was then committed to combat again in the second phase of the battle near Mouquet Farm.

Until the 9th September the 27th moved from from one camp to another, generally on foot.  They finished up in France at Steenvorde (France). The battalion remained at Steenvorde until the 5th October when they entrained with the rest of the Brigade for Ypres where they relieved the 19th Battalion in the Salient and became the right battalion on the Brigade front. Here they remained until relieved by the 25th Battalion on the 12th October, whereupon they moved into barracks at Ypres. 

They returned to the Somme from the 16th October when they entrained for St Lawrence Camp. Again they were on the march; occasionally they managed to stay two nights in one place. Eventually, on the 27th October, they arrived at Dernancourt, where they engaged in consolidation and training before heading to the Front near Le Barque, where they relieved the 53rd Battlion.

In early November the 7th Brigade was involved in a major action at Flers, just to the south east of Pozieres. The first Flers attack was launched on 5 November with the 1st Brigade advancing against trenches north of Gueudecourt, and the 7th against a complex of trenches known as "the Maze". Both attacks managed to capture some of their objectives, The first Flers attack was launched on 5 November with the 1st Brigade advancing against trenches north of Gueudecourt, and the 7th against a complex of trenches known as "the Maze".  The 27ths role was an attack on the enemy position in Bayonet Trench. While they held on there were no reinforcements available and they lacked secure flanks.

Both attacks managed to capture some of their objectives, but were eventually forced to withdraw. Another attack was launched against the Maze by the 5th and 7th Brigades on the morning of 17 November, it also succeeded in capturing a portion of the German trenches, but a surprise attack two days later returned this to the enemy.

The 27th Battalion lost 5 Officers and 72 Other Ranks killed. A further 5 Officers and 136 Other Ranks were wounded. 75 were listed as missing in action. Many have no known grave.

Mid-November marked the end of Field Marshal Haigh’s Somme offensive, the cost of which was hideous in the extreme.

The Second Division endured winter quarters near Guedecourt, not far from Pozieres. It was a bitterly cold winter, the worst in living memory, and the conditions there took their toll; more than 20,000 casualties across the Australian Divisions.  Logistics were a nightmare made worse by the mud, which had come to characterise the battlefield.

 

More to follow....................

In 1921, the unit history, The Blue and Brown Diamond, was published. It was designed to be a memorial for the men who had served, and for those it had lost. Copies of the book are now yellowing, crumbling and rarely sighted. A .pdf version will be made available through the RSL Virtual War Memorial on subscription.

Most recently in 2014, a hitherto un-published account of a soldier of the 27th Battalion has been released having lain in the vaults of the Australian War Memorial since 1933.  “There and Back with a Dinkum” catalogues the story of Russell Colman, a young man who enlisted as soon as he turned 18 as a Private soldier.  He went on to be commissioned as an officer and was decorated for bravery.  The book provides an insight into many of the less well-documented aspects of soldiering in the Great War. 

 

Steve Larkins April 2013

 

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Stories

Reinforcement Drafts of the 27th Battalion

• 27th Battalion AIF (South Australia) [7th Infantry Brigade]
Formed South Australia 1 April 1915. Departed Adelaide Geelong 31 May 1915.
o 1st Reinforcements departed Adelaide Geelong 31 May 1915,
o 2nd Reinforcements departed Adelaide Kanowna 24 June 1915,
o 3rd Reinforcements departed Adelaide Morea 26 August 1915,
o 4th Reinforcements departed Adelaide Star of England 21 September 1915,
o 5th Reinforcements departed Fremantle Themistocles 13 October 1915,
o 6th Reinforcements departed Adelaide Benalla 27 October 1915,
o 7th Reinforcements departed Adelaide Medic 12 January 1916,
o 8th Reinforcements departed Adelaide Borda 11 January 1916,
o 9th Reinforcements departed Adelaide Miltiades 7 February 1916,
o 10th Reinforcements departed Adelaide Mongolia 9 March 1916,
o 11th Reinforcements departed Adelaide Shropshire 25 March 1916,
o 12th Reinforcements departed Adelaide Aeneas 11 April 1916 and Bulla 24 June 1916,
o 13th Reinforcements departed Melbourne Barambah 27 June 1916,
o 14th Reinforcements departed Adelaide Ballarat 12 August 1916,
o 15th Reinforcements departed Adelaide Anchises 28 August 1916,
o 16th Reinforcements departed Fremantle Port Melbourne 30 October 1916,
o 17th Reinforcements departed Adelaide Afric 7 November 1916,
o 18th Reinforcements departed Adelaide Berrima 23 December 1916,
o 19th Reinforcements departed Adelaide Miltiades 24 January 1917,
o 20th Reinforcements departed Melbourne Aeneas 30 October 1917,

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Origin of the Colour Patch

The colour patches which identified units in the First AIF were designed to show what division or service they belonged to, and also, in the case of infantry units, their brigade.

The shape of a colour patch indicated the division or service - the diamond shape was allotted to the Second Division. The lower colour denoted the brigade; the light blue in this case showed that 27th Battalion was one of the battalions of 7 Brigade.

In the first AIF there were four infantry battalions to each brigade, and the upper section of the colour patch identified each one. Usually these colours were:
Black - first
Purple - second
Brown - third
White - fourth
Consequently, the brown and blue diamond colour patch in the First AIF identified 27th Battalion as the third battalion of 7 Brigade, Second Division.

Source: Text taken from The 27th Battalion Centenary: The Historical Record of the 27th Battalions 13th August 1877-1977 and Programme of Centenary Celebrations, Unley SA, 1977

Notes:
1. Strictly speaking there was no such thing as the 'First AIF'. The term is often used unofficially to distinguish the Australian Imperial Force of the First World War from the Second AIF raised to fight in World War 2.

2. The colour patch scheme was first introduced into the AIF in March 1915, just in time for the initial Gallipoli landings. The 2nd Division received its patches in August 1915, and gradually the scheme was expanded to include the whole AIF.

3. The brown and blue diamond patch in one form or another was worn continuously from 1915 to 1946 by 27th Bn AIF and its successor units, 27th Bn (South Australian Regiment), 27th Bn (South Australian Scottish Regiment), 27th Australian Infantry Bn and 2/27th Bn AIF.

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