1st Infantry Battalion (NSW) 1st Brigade, 1st Division, AIF

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About This Unit

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The 1st Battalion was exactly that - the 1st Battalion of the 1st Brigade in the 1st Division. The colour patch indicates the structure;  the rectangle signifies the First Division.  The green lower portion indicates the first brigade in the Division and the black upper the first battalion.  An  'A' was added after ANZAC to indicate formations and units that served there. It was raised at Liverpool in Sydney's south west in August 1914.

 Battle/Campaign/ Involvement

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

August Offensive (/explore/campaigns/3) - 10 August 1915 to 12 August 1915

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

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

Flers/Gueudecourt (/explore/campaigns/24)- 18 October 1916 to 16 November 1916

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

First Bullecourt (/explore/campaigns/4) - 11 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

Albert 1918 (Chuignes) - 21 August 1918 to 23 August 1918

St Quentin Canal/Hindenburg Line (/explore/campaigns/81) - 28 September 1918 to 5 October 1918 

 

 

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:admin@vwma.org.au)for details on how to contribute.

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Stories

The 1st Infantry Battalion

On August 4 1914 Great Britain declared war on Germany. Australia quickly followed the Mother Land’s call to arms. A rush of volunteers flocked to Victoria Barracks in Paddington Sydney to enlist.

From the city and suburbs clerks laid down their pens, shopkeepers and shop assistants walked out of their shops, solicitors paused with their briefs, workmen downed their picks and shovels and from the countryside bushmen, farmers, graziers, shearers, woodchoppers set out on by horse drawn buggy, by train, by horse and on foot starting their journey to join a new type of army - an all volunteer army - the Australian Imperial Force at Victoria Barracks, Paddington a Sydney inner suburb in NSW.

On 17th August all those that had volunteered and enlisted in the preceding days were called into Victoria Barracks where they were divided into four Battalions.

Thus 1st Battalion came into being alongside the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Battalions forming the 1st Australian Infantry Brigade. The Battalion was then marched to Randwick Racecourse where attestations were completed with the recruits signing on for the duration of the war and four months.

On 29 August the Battalion was moved to Kensington Racecourse to complete equipping and begin training in earnest which continued through September and October with “musketry” training at
the nearby Long Bay Rifle Range being prominent among new skills and disciplines to be learned.

The “Great Adventure” began in earnest on Sunday 18 October 1914 when the 981 Other Ranks and 32 Officers marched along Oxford Street, College Street and Macquarie Street to Circular Quay to be ferried out to the transport ship A19, HMT Afric.

On 25 October the Afric arrived at Albany Western Australia where the first convoy assembled ready for departure on 1 November. The first leg to Colombo was made all the more exciting when on 9 November HMAS Sydney reacting to radio messages hastily left the convoy to engage the German light Cruiser Emden. With her superior speed and weapons the Sydney inflicted heavy damage on the raider forcing her captain to beach the Emden on North Keeling Island part of the Cocos Island group.

The rest of the sea journey was uneventful passing through Colombo (now Sri Lanka), Aden, the Suez Canal, Port Said to arrive at Alexandria, Egypt on 5 December 1914. Island

Following disembarkation the Battalion moved to Mena camp. After further training in Egypt at Mena Camp 1st Battalion entrained for Alexandria on April 3 1915 to embark on HMT Minnewaska bound for Mudros Harbor on Lemnos Island. While at Lemnos Island further training including disembarkation practice took place before taking part in the landing at Gaba Tepe on 25 April 1015.

43 members of 1st Battalion were KIA on 25 April with several more who were WIA subsequently DOW while being evacuated by hospital ships to Egypt most of them were buried at sea.

While in the firing line on 19 May 1915 1st Battalion was involved in the Defence of Anzac which saw the defeat of a major Turkish attack intended to drive the Australian and New Zealanders back into the sea. The Turkish attacked failed with heavy losses on both sides but significantly more so for the Turkish attackers. With the dead and dying left out in No-Man’s land to rot and create a major health problem an armistice was called so that the dead could be recovered and given a decent burial.

The Battalion continued its service at Gallipoli until 29 June when it was taken off Gallipoli for rest on Imbros Island returning to Gallipoli on July 6 1915.

On 6 August it was heavily involved in the 1st Brigade attack on Lone Pine a fiercely defended Turkish stronghold. The Battalion repelled of a number of increasingly ferocious counter-attacks as the bitter, often hand-to-hand battle, continued for five days before the Battalion was relieved by 2nd Battalion. However, it would re-enter the Lone Pine trenches later in August. The Australian attack on Lone Pine was the only “offensive” operation to be successful throughout the whole of the Gallipoli campaign.

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion on 7-8 August in the trenches at Lone Pine, Gallipoli, Lance Corporal Leonard Maurice Keyzor of 1st Battalion was awarded a Victoria Cross.
For most conspicuous bravery at Lone Pine trenches in the Gallipoli Campaign on 9th August 1915, Captain Alfred John Shout MC of 1st Battalion was awarded a Victoria Cross.

On 7th September 1st Battalion was evacuated to Lemnos Island for another period of rest and reinforcement returning to Gallipoli on October 29 where it took over Leane’s Trench until the final Australian evacuation on 19 December 1915. On 27 December 1st Battalion returned to Egypt via Mudros Harbour on Lemnos Island and Alexandria to eventually arrive at Tel-el-Kebir on 28 December 1915.

During the great re-organisation of the AIF in Egypt in February and March 1916 half of 1st Battalion’s survivors of the Gallipoli Campaign, all experienced soldiers, were transferred to its “sister” Battalion the 53rd, along with a large number of reinforcements originally intended for 1st Battalion. During this time 1st Battalion was reinforced back to full strength, re-equipped and after further training on 22 March entrained for Alexandria to embark on HMT Ivirnia for service on the Western Front in France and Belgium.

1st Battalion entered the front line in France for the first time on 19 April 1916 at Laventie in the Fromelles Sector and remained in that sector until July 9. During that time the Battalion was visited and addressed by the Australian Prime Minister, William Morris Hughes on 1 June 1916.

On 10 July the Battalion entrained at Bailleul to travel south via train to Doullens then marched through Vignacourt, Warloy, Albert to enter into the

frontline at Contalmaison.

On 23 July 1916 1st Battalion took part in the fiery cauldron that is now known as the battle of Pozieres where the 1st Australian, 2nd Australian and 4th Australian Divisions would endure seven weeks of the heaviest fighting experienced so far and suffer over 23,000 casualties. Each of the Divisions would enter into the front line hell hole of Pozieres on two occasions with the most savage fighting taking place at Windmill Hill and Mouquet Farm.

Of the location known as Windmill Hill, one of the key objectives capture by the Australians, Official Historian, Captain Charles Bean wrote: “The Windmill site, bought later by the Australian War Memorial Board – with the old mound still there – marks a ridge more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth”.

On the 5th September the 4th Australian Division was withdrawn from Pozieres and the AIF would venture north to Belgium to take part in the defence of Ypres in the fighting in the Hill 60 Sector part of the Ypres Salient. In October the Battalion would begin the return journey south for the second round of fighting in the Somme Valley.

On November 5 1916 1st Battalion would again suffer heavy casualties in the poorly planned and ill supported attacks by 1st Brigade against the heavily fortified German strongholds of Bayonet, Hilt and Lard trenches all part of the overall strong German defences located in Delville Wood. This operation cost the Battalion 73 KIA with nearly double that number being WIA.
During December 1916 and January, February and early March 1917 the Battalion as did all the combatants suffered one of the coldest winters until then ever recorded in Europe. The Battalion experienced some time in the front line but saw little fighting. Surviving the bitter cold was the hardest task of all.

On March 3 1917 burial parties from the Battalion returned to the battlefield of Hilt Trench to locate the bodies of their comrades that had been left behind on the battlefield and to give them a decent burial.

This quiet time continued until 7 April when the Battalion was involved in operations around Doignies and Demicourt up until 9 April with light casualties. The quiet time then resumed until 3 May 1917 when 1st Battalion was called forward into the front line during the second desperate attack against the German stronghold of Bullecourt, a heavily fortified town which was part of the supposedly impregnable Hindenburg Line defences which stretched almost unbroken from the coast of Belgium to the border of Switzerland.

For his gallantry, fearlessness and initiative on 6 May 1917 at Bullecourt, France Sergeant George Julian Howell MM was awarded a Victoria Cross.

Sadly, during this battle the Battalion lost one of its “favourite sons” the gallant Second Lieutenant Richmond Gordon Howell-Price MC who was WIA on 3 May 1917 and DOW at the Vaulx Dressing Station on 4 May 1917. He was just 20 years of age. He was the second of the three sons of the Howell- Price family to be KIA.

The next major move for the Battalion occurred on 26 July 1917 when it entrained and headed north for more training and some time for sports and recreation. This relief from frontline duties ended in September when it moved back into the frontline in Belgium east of Ypres where on 20 September it relieved 11th Battalion at Halfway House.

On October 2 1917 1st Battalion took part in the attack against the German defences on Westhoek Ridge in preparation for a further attack on Broodseinde Ridge, a desperate attack in the most appalling conditions of mud, slush, torrential rain and flooded shell holes.

Remaining in the frontline for six days 1st Battalion suffered over 113 KIA including three officers. A further 10 Other Ranks WIA subsequently DOW over the next two weeks.

One of the officers KIA was Major Philip Llewellyn Howell-Price DSO, MC. Noted as MIA at Broodseinde Ridge, Belgium on 4 October 1917 and after a Court of Enquiry on 28 November 1917 it was confirmed he was KIA on 4 October 1917. He was the third son of the Howell-Price family to make the supreme sacrifice for his country.

From late October through the Autumn and Winter months the Battalion endured another winter during which along with the rest of the AIF it was reinforced, re-equipped and retrained with some time off for sports and concerts.

Reacting to the German Spring offensive the Battalion was entrained at Godewaersvelde on April 6 to travel south again to the Somme Valley where the AIF was being massed to counter the German
approaches to Amiens. On arriving at Amiens on the same day it marched to Allonville.

However, within days the 1st Division was ordered north again to help in the defence of Hazebrouck a vital railway communications centre. The Battalion marched back to Amiens and on 12 April entrained again and headed back north for service in the Lys Valley protecting the eastern approaches to Hazebrouck particularly in the Meteren Sector.

In early August the 1st Division was once again headed south to join the newly formed Australian Corps with all five of the Australian Divisions under the Command of Lieutenant General Sir John Monash in time to participate in the Battle of Amiens which commenced on the 8th August 1918.

On the 8 August 1st Battalion took part in the capture of Morcourt and Chippily and 21 August was involved in the capture of Chuignolles, Chuignes andProyart after which it was taken out of the line for a rest at Morcourt.

Entering the front line again on 17 September the Battalion took part in the operations against the German stronghold at Hagicourt. Called upon to continue the attack on 19th September in company with 3rd Battalion only one member of D Company joined in with the other Companies. The remainder of D Company felt that they had done enough and deserved better treatment.

The Battalion at this stage was well below strength with only 41 members of A company, 18 members of B Company, 19 members of C Company and 1 member of D Company participating in the attack along with more than 21 members of Battalion HQ.

The day had been one of the most momentous in the history of the Battalion. All who belonged and loved the 1st Battalion felt that it had suffered a disgrace: but in spite of it numbers so reduced that the attack must have seemed to those taking part in it a last hope, we had come out with flying colours. Nothing finer had been done before. The Battalion had spent its last day in the line, and for us the war was over.

From page 125 FIRST BATTALION AIF 1914-1919.

The recalcitrant members of D Company who refused duty were subsequently court martialled in October 1918 and after being found guilty of being AWOL (instead of desertion mainly due to the intervention of Lieutenant General Sir John Monash the Australian Corps Commander) were sentenced to imprisonment with hard labour for varying periods of three years and for NCOs up to ten years.

Transferred to civilian prisons in England all their sentences were commuted in April and May in 1919 and the offenders were repatriated back home to Australia and discharged without penalty or loss of war gratuities or service medals.

Finally, the great day arrived. On 11 November 1918 the Armistice was declared and the Great War to end all wars was over. Or was it!.

There would be no “Welcome Home Parades” as those that enlisted in 1914 were already being sent home on “Special Leave” followed by those that enlisted in later years.

The return was a piecemeal effort, heavily influenced by available shipping, as individuals were repatriated back home according to a set of rules including length of service, being WIA and/or for family compassionate reasons.

Compiled by Steve Larkins March 2013

This unit history is an extract of the Royal New South Wales Regiment website (see link to right of this page)



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