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  As winter approached so plans for an evacuation were put in place and the ANZAC troops were withdrawn in perhaps the most successful phase of the entire campaign in the most difficult phase of war.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.

1918

Then in late March the Somme front erupted as the Germans unleashed their make or break Spring Offensive , intended to dislocate the French British front and cut Paris off from the Channel Ports to give the Germans the best possible position from which to sue for peace on their terms before the arrival of US forces in large numbers.  The AIF was despatched piecemeal by the British High Command to block gaps in the crumbling British 5th Army front.

The 2nd Division spent most of this period in an arc south of Villers-Bretonneux north to Molancourt, under command of the British 3rd Army and had relieved the 4th Division after it had fought the Germans to a standstill near Dernancourt. .  The 5th Brigade was detached under command of the British 4th Army and was deployed around Hangard Wood / Villers Bretonneux.

In May the Australian Corps was at last formed and General John Monash appointed as its commander, although not without a lot of opposition and thinly veiled anti-Semitism by people, including correspondents Bean and Packer trying to influence Australian PM Billy Hughes who himself was wavering.  They were proven wrong by subsequent events.

The Division and its Battalions were active in the period known as ‘Peaceful Penetration’, advancing the line by limited but coordinated attacks on German defensive outposts.

Le Hamel was the first test of the new Corps structure, but most importantly the tactis that Monash had been advocating;  each Division had at least a token representation in the Order of Battle.  It was a set-piece demonstration of the application of Combined Arms theory and it worked perfectly.  The 2nd Division contribution comprised elements of the 6th and 7th Brigades, including the 21st 23rd and 25th Battalions on the southern flank of the attack.  It was all over in 93 minutes, and Monash’s position as Corps Commander was secure.

A month later and it was time for the main event as the Battalion took its place in the Australian for the Great Allied offensive, the "Last Hundred Days" campaign beginning on the 8th August 1918 with the Battle of Amiens.  British III Corps north of the Somme, then the Australian and Canadian Corps side by side south of the Somme coordinated with the French Army further south.

The 2nd Division started the Amiens offensive on the right hand flank, leading ‘two-up’ with the 3rd Division on the left.    The 4th and 5th Divisions followed respectively with the 1st Division as Reserve.  Surprise, synchronised artillery that had achieved registration of targets using data from new sound-ranging techniques, and the shock action imparted by use of tanks on a scale hitherto not seen led to spectacular gains as Monash had forecast at Le Hamel and initial objectives were achieved within three hours.

The 2nd Division’s ‘finest hour’ was the attack on Mont St Quentin from 30 August to 2nd September in concert with the 5th Division which cleared the town of Peronne after a risky river crossing of the Somme.  The 6th Brigade’s consolidation of the heights of the Mont was the turning point of the battle.

After the 2nd Division attack on the Beaurevoir Line at Montbrehain on the 5th October, the AIF was withdrawn from the line to reinforce and refit following the accumulated losses it had sustained since 8th August.

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 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. 

Commanding Officers

Dollman, Walter
Slane, James Charles Francis
Chalmers, Frederick Royden

Decorations

1 CMG; 5 DSO; 20 MC, 2 bars; 14 DCM; 69 MM, 2 bars; 5 MSM; 21 MID; 6 foreign awards

Battle /Campaign/ Involvement 

ANZAC - Gallipoli (/explore/campaigns/1) 25 April 1915 to 19 December 1915

Pozieres (/explore/campaigns/5) 23 July 1916 to 4 September 1916

Mouquet Farm (/explore/campaigns/103) 8 August 1916 to 5 September 1916

German Withdrawal to Hindenburg Line and Outpost Villages (/explore/campaigns/21) 15 February 1917 to 3 April 1917

Lagnicourt 15 April 1917

Second Bullecourt (/explore/campaigns/6) 3 May 1917 to 17 May 1917

Menin Road (/explore/campaigns/26) 20 September 1917 to 25 September 1917

Broodseinde (/explore/campaigns/18) 4 October 1917 to 5 October 1917

Battle of Poelcappelle (/explore/campaigns/27)9 October 1918

Amiens (/explore/campaigns/14) 8 August 1918 to 11 August 1918

Mont St Quentin (/explore/campaigns/15) - 30 August -2 September 1918

Beaurevoir / Montbrehain (/explore/campaigns/128) - 5 October 1918

References

W. Dollman and H.M. Skinner, The blue and brown diamond: History of the 27th Battalion (A.I.F.) on active service, (Adelaide: Lonnen & Cope, 1921)
AWM4/23/44/1-23/44/45

Official History of Australia in the Great War Vols III, IV & V, VI C.E.W. Bean

Compiled by Steve Larkins April 2013 updated Dec 20-Jan 21

We would particularly like to encourage individual historians researchers or members of unit associations to contribute to the development of a more detailed history and photographs pertaining to this unit and its members.

Please contact admin@vwma.org.au (mailto:%20admin@vwma.org.au) for details on how to contribute.

 

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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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Interpreting AIF Colour Patches

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

The shape of a colour patch indicated the division or service -
1st Division - horizontal rectangle split horizontally
2nd Division - diamond shape split horizontally
3rd Division - horizontal ellipse
4th Division - circle split horizontally
5th Division - vertical rectangle split vertically.

The lower colour denoted the brigade's sequence in the Division. Usually (but not always!) these colours were:
Green - first brigade in the division
Red - second
Light Blue - third

The 4th Brigade, originally in the 1st Division , had a dark Blue lower half. Its reallocation to the 4th Division after Gallipoli threw both the brigade / battalion numbering sequence (the most logical at any time in the history of the ADF) and the colour patch structure into disarray!

In the first AIF there were four infantry battalions to each brigade, and the upper section (or LHS in the case of the 5th Division) of the colour patch identified each one. Usually (but not always!) these colours were:
Black - first
Purple - second
Brown - third
White - fourth

Thus every battalion had a unique colour patch.

Other Arms and Service Corps had variations but those attached to the five divisions generally incorporated the shape of their parent Ddvision.

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.

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