2nd/1st Infantry Battalion 16th Brigade, 6th Division, 2nd AIF

About This Unit

Extract from the 1/19th Battalion Royal New South Wales Regiment Home page (see link)


The 2nd/1st Australian Infantry Battalion was raised at Victoria Barracks, Sydney, on 16 October 1939 as part of the 16th Brigade of the 6th Australian Division.

It drew its lineage direct from the 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade 1st Division of the AIF in WW1 as is evident from its colour patch , reflecting 2nd AIF practice of embedding the antedent unit's AIF colour patch on a background of light grey.

The 2nd/1st Battalion was one of the first Infantry Battalions raised as part of the all- volunteer Australian Imperial Force [often referred to as the Second Australian Imperial Force] at the start of World War II. The Battalion's first Commanding Officer was Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Eather, a former Militia officer.

After formation, a brief period of basic training was undertaken at Ingleburn, New South Wales, before the Battalion embarked for overseas service aboard the SS Orford on 10 January 1940.

After sailing via the Suez Canal, the 2nd/1st Battalion arrived in Egypt on 13 February 1940 and then moved to Palestine where it concentrated with the rest of the 16th Brigade at Julis near Gaza.

In August 1940 16th Brigade moved to Egypt for active service with 6th Australian Division.  

North Africa 

2nd/1st Battalion's first campaign of World War II was the advance from Egypt into eastern Libya in January and February 1941. On 3 January 1941, 2nd/1st Battalion took part in the first Australian ground action of the war, spearheading the 6th Division's attack to capture the Italian held stronghold of Bardia.

Striking from the west, the 16th Brigade attacked just after dawn supported by artillery, armour and aircraft. Breaching the wire defences in front of the Italian positions the 2nd/1st Battalion quickly established a bridgehead for the remainder of 16th Brigade to exploit.

Later in the month, 2nd/1st Battalion was once again in the vanguard when the 16th Brigade led the 6th Division's assault on the Italian-held port of Tobruk. Following its capture, 2nd/1st Battalion was left to garrison Tobruk as the Allied advance continued. 


2nd/1st Battalion left Tobruk on 7 March, ultimately bound for Greece with the rest of 6th Australian Division, amidst concerns of a German invasion.  The 2nd/1st Battalion arrived in Greece on 22 March and was quickly deployed to the north of the country to resist the anticipated German attack. The Battalion took up positions at Veria on 7 April but, the Allied forces were quickly overwhelmed and were forced to withdraw south on 12 April, eventually being evacuated by sea from Megara on 25 April.

Instead of returning to Egypt, the 2nd/1st Battalion was landed on the island of Crete, arriving on the 26 April where with the 2nd/11th Battalion it was tasked with the defence of the airfield at Retimo, On 20 May, the Germans launched an air-borne invasion of Crete. Two Battalions of German parachute troops attacked the airfield and the 2nd/1st Battalion, now commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Ian Campbell, was heavily engaged as they put up a strong defence during the Battle of Retimo.

Against increasing and overwhelming German forces the Allied evacuation of Crete began on 28 May, but the message to withdraw did not get through to 2nd/1st and 2/11th Battalions holding the airfield, and they continued to hold until 30 May. At that point, though, they were overcome as the Germans, having been victorious elsewhere on the island, were able to bring in reinforcements – including armour and artillery – and concentrate their efforts against the two Australian Battalions holding Retimo. As food and ammunition ran out, the two Battalions were forced to surrender. Most of the survivors became prisoners of war.

The fighting on Crete cost 2nd/1st Battalion heavily, with 43 killed, 64 wounded and 511 captured. The losses on Crete represented the vast majority of the Battalion's personnel, but by June there were about 70 men from the 2nd/1st in Palestine, some of whom had managed to escape after the fall of Crete and some who had been brought back there after the evacuation from Greece instead of landing on Crete.

The decision was subsequently made to re-form the Battalion, rather than disband it. This was done by transferring 200 experienced men from the 16th Brigade's other two Battalions - the 2/2nd and 2/3rd Battalions – and bringing in 500 newly arrived reinforcements. In October 1941, after 2nd/1st Battalion had been reformed, it was allocated to garrison duties, taking up defensive positions in northern Syria, which had been captured from the Vichy French during the Syria–Lebanon Campaign that had been fought earlier in the year.

Return to Australia

Japan's entry into the war in December 1941 resulted in plans to bring the 6th Division back to Australia to help bolster the country's defences and on 10 March 1942 2nd/1st Battalion embarked for home. During the voyage, the Battalion was diverted to Ceylon to defend it from a possible Japanese invasion. The invasion never came and the Battalion finally arrived in Melbourne on 7 August 1942.

New Guinea

After a period of home leave 2nd/1st Battalion was deployed to New Guinea, arriving there in September 1942. When the Japanese advance was halted at Imita Ridge the tide of the Kokoda Track campaign began to turn back in the favour of the Allies. 2nd/1st Battalion subsequently joined the Allied pursuit of the withdrawing Japanese north towards their beachheads around Buna–Gona, and during the counter-offensive the 2nd/1st Battalion were involved in the battles at Eora Creek, Gorari and Sanananda between October and late November 1942. Heavy casualties were suffered by the Battalion during the campaign, with over 60 percent being killed, wounded or evacuated sick.

Subsequent to the Kokoda campaign, the 2nd/1st Battalion returned to Australia to be reinforced, reequipped and retrained. At this time they received a large batch of reinforcements from the 49th Battalion, a Militia Battalion that had fought around Sanananda before being disbanded. During this time of reorganisation the Battalion was reduced to the jungle warfare establishment, which saw its authorised strength fall from around 900 men to just over 800.

In December 1944, 16th Brigade including 2nd/1st Battalion was sent back to New Guinea to take part in operations against an estimated 35,000 Japanese in the Aitape-Wewak region. The campaign lasted until the war ended and saw the 2nd/1st Battalion join the Allied advance along the coast towards the main Japanese base at Wewak along with the rest of the 16th Brigade.

The Battalion was finally disbanded in December 1945.

Commanding Officers

Eather, Kenneth William

Campbell, Ian Ross

White, Tom Warren

Cullen, Paul Alfred


Members of the Battlion received the following awards during their service with the Battalion: 3 DSO, 1 bar; 15 MC; 7 DCM; 28 MM; 68 MID


1. Royal New South Wales Regiment website 

2. E.C. Givney (ed.), 'The First at War': the story of the 2nd/1st Australian Infantry Battalion, 1939-45, the City of Sydney Regiment  (Earlwood: The Association of First Infantry Battalions, 1987).

3. AWM52/8/3/1: 2nd/1st Battalion war diary


Initially compiled by Steve Larkins Jan 2015.  Updated Dec 2020.

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 [email protected] (mailto:[email protected])  for details on how to contribute.



Letter to a mate

OPEN LETTER TO NX 200630 Pte N B Morton 2/1st Australian Infantry Battalion K.I.A. 25.3.45

Dear Doc,

We survivors were thrilled to read in The First Post (Oct 1995) that the ‘Neville Morton Drive” off Crescent Head Road has been named after you.

Do you remember, the first bad news that day was that the muddy water we had been drinking revealed a dead Jap in it, as the level was lowered. The second bad news was that after you made contact, heavy fire came from the ridge and you wouldn’t answer our many calls to you. “Hec” Bowan came up the track to find you, but was shot next to me, in the arm and leg. Merv Sheen worked his bren well, but Cisco lying behind a tree had the top of his slouch hat shot off. On the order “withdraw”, we all got out without further wounds.

Then the coy commander started to order 100 rounds gunfire from the 25 pounders and told us to retreat further. Sgt Frank Upham jumped to his feet and said to the C.C. – “No man moves past this tree until we find Doc Morton”. In true spirit of the AIF the CC apologized to Frank and ordered us “Go back and find Morton”.

So four of us crawled back and we did find you Doc. We tied a rope around your leg and dragged you out of the line of fire. Your denture fell out and I put it in my pocket, hoping you would need it, but you were gone, so two of us put you on a stretcher and carried you to the rear, where we dug a grave and buried you and you became a map reference high in those jungle hills. We slept near you that night.

Next day, after the artillery fired their 100 round or more we went back up the slope. You never had a chance Doc. The Japs were lined along the ridge, each covering the slope and the track. We even saw some Japs running down the other side. We think one had your hat.

You weren’t the last killed in that needless campaign Doc. Willoughby­ Jackson and 4 others died from Mortars at Karawop, where Snowy Searle had a terrible death from a land mine. Don Carmichael, Eric Bowen and D’arcy McPhillps were also to die. Harry Hughes, Dick Mulholland, Cec Bevan and James each lost his right arm. The 6th Aust Div lost over 600 dead – 443 from battle wounds

Even after the war problems continued with at least 4 suicides. The soldier who accidentally killed Bob Morris laid his head on the railway line at Chatswood.

Doubt you’ll ever get this letter Doc, but we survivors remember: we’ve had fifty more years than you. Cheerio Doc, may meet you soon, your old comrade in arms arms,

Bren No 5535 (2/1 Inf Bn)

What colours we had – Black over Green! What a leader – P.A. Cullen!

From 1RAR Website


2nd/1st Battalion Battle Honours (per 1/19 RNSWR Association)

In 1961 2/1st Australian Infantry Battalion was
awarded the following Battle Honours for its service
during the Second World War:

North Africa
A campaign honour awarded for participation in
operations in North Africa (Egypt, Libya and Tunisia)
against the Axis forces. The beginning and end dates
of the individual honour are amended to denote the
period of service of the unit concerned.

Bardia 1941
Awarded for participation in the capture of Bardia in
the Libyan province of Cyrenacia.

Capture of Tobruk
Awarded for participation in the capture of the port
of Tobruk in the Libyan province of Cyrenacia.

Greece 1941
A campaign honour awarded for involvement in the
operations to defend Greece in 1941.

Mount Olympus
Awarded for participation in operations in the vicinity
of Mount Olympus in northern Greece.

Brallos Pass
Awarded for participation in the rearguard
operations centred on the Brallos Pass in southern

Middle East 1941-1944
A campaign honour awarded to units that served on
operations in various parts of the Middle East, which
was deemed to include Crete, Madagascar, the
Aegean and Adriatic Seas, and the Dodecanese
islands. The beginning and end dates of the
individual honour are amended to denote the period
of service of the unit concerned.

Campaign honour awarded for participation in the
defence of and withdrawal from Crete.

Awarded for participation in the defence of Retimo
airfield on Crete.

South-West Pacific 1942-1945
A campaign honour awarded to units for
participation in operations in the geographic, and
command, area known as the South-West Pacific. It
included the Dutch East Indies, New Guinea, Papua,
New Britain, New Ireland and the northern Solomon

Liberation of Australian New Guinea
Campaign honour awarded for participation in the
operations to clear the Japanese from the
Australian-mandated territory of New Guinea

Kokoda Trail
Awarded for participation in operations in Papua
along the path that ran between Ower's Corner,
outside of Port Moresby, and the village of Wairopi,
on the west bank of the Kumusi River. The honour
encompasses both the retreat from the north coast
of Papua to Imita Ridge (July-September), and the
advance from Imitia Ridge back to Wairopi

Eora Creek-Templeton's Crossing II
Awarded for participation in the fighting to secure
the strongly-defended Japanese rearguard positions
at Templeton's Crossing and Eora Creek during the
Australian advance forward from Imita Ridge.

Awarded for participation in the fighting to secure
the strongly-defended Japanese rearguard positions
at Oivi and Gorari during the Australian advance
forward from Kokoda. These positions were the last
major Japanese strongpoints forward of the Kumusi

Awarded for participation in the operations to
destroy the Japanese 'beachheads' in Papua. This
honour includes the actions at Buna, Gona and

Sanananda Road
Awarded for participation in the operations along the
track between Soputa and Sanananda, known as
both the Sanananda Road and the Sanananda
Track. This was the site of the main Japanese
defences to protect Sanananda and these
operations concluded with their abandonment on 14
January 1943.

Nambut Ridge
Awarded for participation in the operations to secure
Nambut Ridge (also known as Nambut Hill) on the
northern coast of New Guinea, east of Aitape.

Awarded for participation in the operations mounted
to clear the coastal hinterland between the villages
of But and Dagua on the northern coast of New

Hawain River
Awarded for participation in the coastal advance
from the village of Kofi to the village of Hawain, and
the subsequent establishment of a bridgehead
across the Hawain River.

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