World War 2 1939 – 1945
2/1st AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY BATTALION AIF
16th Brigade, 6th Division
1939 – 1945
The Colours of the 1st Battalion Royal New South Wales Regiment are emblazoned with the Battle Honours of the 1st Battalions WW1 – WW2
For over 60 years, a group of men have met on the third Friday of every month, to commemorate their shared history and celebrate friendships that have lasted a lifetime. This is the story of the 2/1st Australian Infantry Battalion AIF.
The Prime Minister, Mr. R G Menzies in a radio broadcast on the evening of the 3rd September 1939, addressed the nation.
“It is my melancholy duty to inform you officially that, in consequence of a persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her and that as a result Australia is also at war.”
War was declared on the 3rd September 1939 and the 2/1st was formed at Victoria Barracks in Sydney. There was a feeling of excitement and anticipation as many of the men had served in WW1 and the Militia. There was only one generation since the “War to end all Wars” and a sense of dread filled homes across the country.
The 16th Brigade (2/1st – 2/2nd – 2/3rd battalions) marched through the streets of Sydney on the 4th January 1940 taking the same route as the 1st Brigade AIF in 1914. After a period of training the battalion embarked aboard the “Orford” and left for Palestine on the 10th January 1940. The battalion Commanding Officer was NX3 Lt Col K W Eather.
The battalion was the first Australian Infantry Battalion to be committed to battle and the first to cross the start line at Bardia on 3rd January 1941. The township was finally taken on the 5th with a cost to the 6th Division of 130 killed and 326 wounded. Thousands of prisoners and large quantities of equipment were captured. They then took part in the attack and capture of Tobruk on the 21st/22nd January and took many more Italian soldiers prisoners.
Cpl. G.W. Whiteman ( left )…and Pte. H. Aspinall ( died as P.O.W. )
Cpl G W Whiteman NX11640 started a diary 1st Jan 1941 and kept it going in one form or another until the end of the war. He fought in North Africa, Greece and Crete where he was captured after the battle at Reythmnon. He was interned in German POW camps but managed to keep records even though it meant certain death if found out.
Diary Starts; Wed. 1 st Jan. 1941.
With 16th Australia Infantry Brigade in posistion outside Bardia (Libya) waiting for orders to attack. Have been in position since about 20th Dec. Spent Xmas lying in the desert, weather conditions mostly one dust storm after another and nights very cold. Got a Lord Mayor’s Xmas hamper on Boxing Day, which brighten our lines considerably. Rations have been poor and scarce of late, water also scarce.
Fri. 3rd Jan.
Attack on Bardia began at dawn this morning. Brigade (1st, 2nd and 3rd Bn’s) assisted by 17th Bde.(Sth, 6th and 7th) Bn’s
1st Bn. formed a spear-head for 16th Bde. D.Coy achieved its objective without opposition, due to intense artillery barrage having silenced posts.
Thousands of prisoners were taken. Whole attack successful in initial penetration of wire. Supporting artillery was two thirds Australian. Whole show is practically 100% Australian.
Sat 4th Jan.
Battle continues. Italians are showing little opposition.
Our casualties are slight. German artillery being the cause of most casualties. We have not had much rest since yesterday morning and have to carry a tremendous load of battle gear.
Sun. 5th Jan.
Battle still on this morning. We are covering ground fast and advancing all the time. Prisoners coming on in thousands. Some amazing sights have been witnessed since we started. At noon today Bardia itself fell to our troops and so the battle ends. We retired to our original point of entry and were told that we are to rest for a couple of days. We badly need it, as we are just about done in after three days fast advancing under heavy loads and trying conditions.
Mon 6th Jan.
Resting, an Aircraft came over our position last night and bombed us, but without success. Boys got onto some cognac last night and had merry party. Fair amount of looted rations about and so have had some big eat-ups after a fairly lean period.
Tue. 7th Jan.
Still resting, have had a good clean up and a bath in what water is available, also feel a bit more human than for a long time. Matt Thynne and Cpl. O’Brien and Eddie Mortell have left the Section. Tom Barton is now section leader, I am 2 i.c. and Joe Rolleston is Bren Gunner.
Wed 8th Jan.
Still in same position. May move at any moment to Tobruk.
Thur. 9th Jan.
Left position last night per M.T. Had one prisoner in our truck. Travelled all night and arrived in new position outside Tobruk at about 11 am. Had a meal and started to dig in immediately.
Fri. 10th Jan.
Left position again last night and marched about four miles toward enemy. Finally halted about midnight and dug in. Very cold and digging hard. Eric Leitch and I are in the one trench.
Sat 11th Jan.
Only had an hour or two to sleep this morning and spent the day completing weapons pits. Weather is gloriously warm during the day but bitterly cold at night. Rations are a bit better now. We are to make a patrol to the enemy wire tonight.
Sun 12th Jan.
Patrol last night was not very pleasant. Difficult night to march by compass, hence much delay. Finally reached the wire and Lt. Rogers, Tom Barton and Sandy Pearson went forward to scout the enemy post. In doing so they contacted a booby trap, exploding and wounding Pearson in the leg. Lt. Rogers got a small bit of shrapnel in the back. We had to retire and carry Sandy home on make shift stretcher. Arrived back at daylight tired and weary. Rested for day.
Mon. 13th Jan.
Moved forward again last night to within short distance of enemy wire and dug in. Digging very hard, barely able to get down a foot. Have been told there is to be no movement by day, as we are within enemy observation and can expect Artillery activity from them.
Wed. 15th Jan.
This position is at least giving us a rest, which we badly needed. The rations are not so bad and we are appreciating a better spin than before Bardia. Ration parties have to go back every evening about two miles and bring up rations and mail.
Fri. 17th Ian
This life isn’t so bad, despite duststorms and rats. Our new fad is to soak army biscuit in water and add tin milk and sugar. It makes a delicious porridge, so we think any how.
Tue. 21st Jan.
Have been in this position for about a week now and have had a grand rest as we have to lie low all day. Have had some bad duststorms now for several days. We get shelled at regular intervals by enemy artillery but so far no direct hits have been scored. Quite a lot of their shells are duds. They have been using a six inch Navel gun quite a lot.
Patrols have been going out at night, but have not encounted the enemy outside the wire. We are due to go out tonight. Have had some mail here and also parcels which have been like manna from heaven.
Were 22nd Jan.
Patrol last night was only a listening patrol and was without incident. There’s talk of an attack any time now.
Thur. 23 rd Jan.
Moved into position last night and attacked defences of Tobruk at dawn this morning. Went in after heavy barrage from own artillery and met enemy barrage and machine gun fire, but broke through wire without severe casualties. 2/3rd Bn. led the attack. 2/1 Bn. followed and turned right inside the wire and advanced behind tanks for four or five miles, under artillery fire. Wire relieved at post 79 by 2/8 Bn. We then retired until sunset and halted until 11 pm, then moved again in northerly direction. Halted at about 2 in the morning, dug in and slept for an hour or so, with no blankets. Water in water bottles was frozen at dawn.
Moved again across desert and through deserted posts, halted for several hours during midday at Italian R.A.P.
Duststorms sprang up, moved in afternoon to Fort Pilastrino which surrendered.
Pilastrino was in a state of surrendering when we arrived, so we moved through and camped for the night. Scrounged plenty of blankets and so had first comfortable night during battle. Today was a particually trying day, the Battalion having covered 40 miles in two days, in full battle order, and believe me an infantry man these days carries inhuman loads.
Extract from a letter by G W Whiteman to home.
Jan 7th 1941.
To all athome.
Pte G W. Whiteman
“D”Company 2/1Bn. A. I. F Abroad
Just a few lines from Bardia to let you know that I am ok and well. Came through the battle in good order and am in good fettle. We were the spear head of the attack and our company was the forward company of the battalion and our Platoon the forward platoon of the company and so our section was actually the first unit of the AIF to penetrate the enemy wire, which we did in the biting cold of a desert dawn, under cover of a terrific barrage from our artillery behind,which did a marvelous job right through together with the British armoured division once it got into action. After taking our initial objective our company was more or less in reserve and we had little else to do but support here and there. There was not much battle about it once we got through the first defences and the Italians just threw it in in thousands. I don’t know just how many prisoners were.taken but I guess you know more about that part of it than I do.
In March 1941 the 6th Division was sent to the defence of Greece and arrived on the 22nd March and immediately moved to the north by road, rail and foot. They were to defend Veria Pass, 60 klm west of Salonika and overlooking the Yugoslav border. On 6th April Germany declared war on Greece and the 12th German army attacked immediately and within three days had captured Salonika. The 16th brigade (2/1st -2/2nd -2/3rd battalions) was ordered to withdraw to the Aliakmon River. This meant 60klm over high mountains in deep snow, intense cold and in action against the enemy. The Brallos Pass foothills were reached on the 19th April and the 2/1st occupied the area with the 19th Brigade. Lt Col Campbell (new CO) led a rearguard action up the Brallos Pass (about 2300mtr) and the battalion fought their way to Megara on the coast.
All heavy equipment was destroyed as only personal weapons were taken on board the Navy ships. It was 25th /26th April and everyone was aware it was ANZAC Day. HMS Wryneck landed the most of the 2/1st at Suda Bay in Crete the next day.
From the war diary of NX7682 Private Jack McSweeney:
“April 13th 1941, retreating through the slush, mud and snow from a German pincer movement, we got back as far as Mount Olympus. After crossing over Olympus, which is 9729 feet high (2950mtr) six chaps, including myself got down to the road and were making our way towards Larisa.
Out of the clouds came a Stuka Dive Bomber with machine guns blazing. It got us before we could move. I felt a sharp burning, as I lay on the ground afraid to move. I could hear the bullets whizzing past me, hitting me and the ground all around.
After the Stuka went away I tried to move but found I couldn’t. My right arm was blown off and was lying on the ground about three yards from me and my left hand was badly smashed. I was wounded in both legs and there was shrapnel in my head. By this time the pain was unbearable.
My only mate left was Harry Horne and he had bullet wounds in his legs. He came over and took one of my bootlaces and tied it around my arm to stop the bleeding. The four others were killed. Harry took their identification discs and pay books from them and laid them side-by-side face down to stop the eagles picking out their eyes.
Harry carried me to a truck and got me to a Field Ambulance.” Jack died in 1962.
Under the command of Lt Col Ian Campbell the remnants of the 2/1st battalion 620 all ranks, 2/11th battalion 650 all ranks, 2/7th field ambulance and elements of 2/8th Field Company, 2/1st Machine Gun Battalion, 6th Div Sigs, the 7th Royal Tank, 2/3rd field regiment and Greek / Cretan units were directed to defend the airstrip at Rethymnon/Retimo.
The battalion constructed dummy weapon pits around the airstrip to confuse the enemy reconnaissance planes as wire and other obstacles were put in place. The 20th May saw German planes bombing and strafing the airstrip in preparation for an airborne assault. This came at 1630hrs in the form of 161 transport planes each discharging a full load of paratroopers. The defenders opened fire as one inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy before they could land and reform. “Hit them in the planes, in the air and then on the ground,” was the order. It was not known how many Germans died in the first initial assault but it cost the enemy dearly.
The fighting was brutally fierce that night and over the next few days. At midnight the CO received a signal from Force HQ, “unable to send help – hold on – know you will – good luck.”
The Australians were almost cut off from the rest of the British forces and it was on the 27th May that the main British force was given the order to abandon Crete. The Rethymnon/Retimo force was now very short of rations, medical supplies were non-existent, ammunition low and casualties high. By the 29th May all other radio stations had gone off the air leaving Lt Col Campbell without communications. In fact they were the last fighting force in Crete and were alone. Lt Col Campbell called a briefing in which it was determined that they could hold on for another hour. The CO took the decision to surrender after considering his options, which were to fight on, escape to the hills or save what was left of his magnificent fighting force.
This battle had lasted 10 days in which 530 German prisoners were taken, including their Commander (Oberst AlfredSturm) and over 700 paratroopers were killed and 1200 wounded. The Australian force was now out of rations and ammunition and Lt Col Campbell made the decision to surrender. About 450 men were marched into POW camps for the next 4 years. Because of their huge losses the German army never used assault paratroopers again.
Note: For 20 days before the Battle of Rethymnon the Cretan men with their young sons visited the battalion area on a daily basis bringing fresh fruit and vegetables. They were proud and this was their way of thanking us. Two days after the surrender the Germans selected thirty of these men and boys and made them dig their own graves before murdering them.
Lt Terry Fairbairn
Extract from the diary of Cpl G W Whiteman
Quiet morning, went to well for water after lunch, whilst away several bombers arrived and proceeded to blitz the area. At 4.30 pm large numbers of troop carrying planes arrived and the invasion was on in earnest. Parachute troops began to drop on our A.Coy. area and in the Greek and 11th.Bn area. Planes and decending personnel were heavily engaged with small arms fire with great effect. Several planes seen to crash, others disabled. Our platoon moved in to 16 platoons area and then moved to A.Coy’s area to support them, but were ordered back to 18 platoon’s area for the night. Casualties heavy among the enemy, estimated 1200 dropped in whole area. In our area only machine gun posts were still active on dark.
Wed. 21st May
After quiet night, we left our position at 0400 hrs and moved again to support A.Coy. Went straight in and attacked two M.G. posts but were forced to retire. Eric Leitch was killed in this attack.
After retiring to A.Coy. H.Q. we again attacked under Lt.Gilmore Walsh whilst Lt. Rogers and ….?…. took a platoon each and worked around the right flank. Enemy kept up terrific volume of fire from the guns but under good cover and with out casualties we were able to surround them and forced them to retire to the road and back along the beach. We occupied A.Coy. hill and mopped up area beyond, taking a fair number of prisoners. The scene was something to remember, German and Aust. dead were lying every where. Artillery engaged retiring Germans and drove them into an olive oil factory on road. We returned to our original Coy area.
Our platoon supplied beach patrol last night. Today Capt Moriarty took out a fighting patrol from 16 and 18 Pltns. to engage enemy in oil factory, but had his patrol cut to pieces by enemy machine gun snipers, being killed himself and losing most of the patrol either killed or wounded. Cpl. Crozier was killed. Those who were able waited until darkness and made their way back to our area.
It was a black day for D.Coy. We lost a lot of splendid young chaps, in an unfortunate venture. Had we not supplied beach patrol last night we would have been in it too.
Fri. 23rd May.
Nothing much doing by our Coy. Lt. Digby is now our Coy.Cmdr and is a decent chap and well liked. German bombers are still active over the area. 11th.Bn and Greeks have been attacking an out post of Germans in a village, without success.
Volunteered to go with small party under Lt. Rogers to recover Capt. Moriarty’s body for burial. Enroute we met Col. Campbell taking a section of mortar’s up to the Greek front to engage a house containing Germans. We were grabbed and had to carry mortar ammunition up for the party. Eventually got Capt. Moriarty’s body and brought it back to our burial ground near Artillery Hill where we buried him beside Lt. Stanton. Noticed Eric Leitch’s grave among our lads. Got back to our position about 6pm. and got a few buckshee cigarettes for our troubles.
Nothing doing by our section. A party went out from 16 platoon to bring more dead, Jack Crozier’s body among them. Still bombing going on in the Rethimnon area. Believe the actions at Suda Bay and Maleme to be satisfactory.
This area is now completely under control, except for a few jerries hanging out in 11th.Bn area and they don’t seem to be able to shift them. Our two tanks have been up assisting but have both been put out of action. It is estimated that enemy casualties were 10 to 1 compared to ours. In our Bn area we did splendid work wiping out the area in two days almost. Our casualties have been comparatively light.
Things in our area are quiet now. Our only job is the beach patrol each night. By day we remain concealed and await further orders or another attempt by the jerry to land troops. Troop carriers come over each day and drop supplies to their posts still holding out. This afternoon the 11th.Bn recieved a severe bombing blitz but I don’t know what damage was done.
Wed. 28th. May
My souvenirs from the action were a very fine pair of Binoculars, a Luger Pistol and holster, a Swastika Flag and a German haversack. Our section went into action four men strong and suffered no casualties. Two of our men were A.W.L. in Iraklion during the blitz and turned up again this afternoon.
Thur. 29th, May
Day as usual. Were on beach patrol last night, an RAF plane dropped ammo and an emergency ration of chocolate on the Drome. We collared quite bit of chocolate on our way back from the beach. Tonight the news says that the enemy have now advanced east off Suda. Apparently things are not going to well in that area.
Awoke this morning to find our position surrounded by German mechanised force of tanks, armoured motorcycles and anti Tank guns. Col. Campbell had no option but surrender the Battalion to save useless loss of life in fighting against superior odds, and so at approx. 0800 hrs this morning we became Prisoners of War.
Reinforcements final march at Tamworth on the 4/4/1941. The camp at Manilla Road later became a military hospital.
AUSTRALIA – NEW GUINEA
Lt Col Paul Cullen took command on 20th June 1942 and commanded the battalion through to the end of the war. The troop ship carrying the 2/1st battalion and other units left Ceylon for Australia on 13th July and arrived in Fremantle on the 28th July and Melbourne on the 7th August. There were less than 100 of the original members. Saturday 5th September saw the men of the 2/1st Battalion lead by Lt Col Cullen, march through the streets of Sydney. They were home.
After leave and reinforcement the battalion moved to Greta for training and then by train to Brisbane and embarked for New Guinea. The ship “Anhui” was being loaded but was behind time as the wharf labourers were refusing to load the stores unless they were paid at the rate of “time and a half”. The CO took charge and the men of 14 platoon loaded the ship when the wharfies walked off.
(The wharfies had no case because the country was at war. The battle of Milne Bay had just finished, Darwin and Broome were being bombed, The Americans were in a bloody fight at Guadalcanal and the 21st Brigade with the 39th Battalion was desperately defending Port Moresby from the Japanese and the 2/1st were on their way to help.)
The ship’s crew (all civilians) was in revolt, as they did not want to go into dangerous waters. The convoy called into Townsville where all the deckhands, cooks and stewards walked off leaving the CO with one alternative, man the ship themselves. Volunteers became stokers, cooks and seamen and managed to keep up to the required convoy speed and so the 2/1st Battalion took themselves to the war in the Pacific and to Kokoda.
They arrived at Port Moresby on the 21st September and immediately dyed their uniforms green. The strength was 38 officers and 656 men. On Tuesday 6th October they marched through Ower’s Corner, the beginning of the Kokoda Trail. Battles included Templeton’s Crossing, Eora Creek Area, Gorari, Soputa and many other engagements with a fanatical enemy.
“Eora Creek was the scene of a major battle in the counter-offensive. On October 1942 Brigadier J.E.Lloyd’s 16th Brigade took over the advance from the 25th Brigade at Templeton’s Crossing and by the afternoon of 21 October was approaching Eora Creek. They struck an isolated Japanese position, but next morning found that the Japanese had withdrawn. However, as they entered the village they were hit by enemy machine-gun fire and mortars. It was clear that the main enemy position was on the high ground beyond the two bridges.
Major Basil Catterns MC
Crossings were made during the night or 22 October and next morning the 2/1st Battalion under Lieutenant Colonel Paul Cullen advanced into the teeth of the enemy position taking many casualties; by the end of the day the forward companies were face to face with the enemies’ main positions but could go no further. Meanwhile, the Japanese caused much damage with mortar, artillery and machine-gun fire at the rear Australian positions. On 24 October two companies of the 2/3rd Battalion moved forward to support the 2/1st Battalion but they made little progress. It was not until the morning of 27 October that the 2/3rd Battalion was able to begin a major attack from the left flank. This continued throughout the next day until at last Japanese resistance broke.
The Australians had fought with great courage but the cost had been high. According to the 16th Brigade war diary, the Brigade lost 72 killed and 154 wounded although the battalion war diaries put the figure much higher.
It had been a hard fought battle in very difficult terrain, thick scrub and constant chilling rain. With insufficient supplies (because of lack of carriers), the divisional commander, Major General A.S.Allen, was not able to deploy his whole force at one time. The Allied commander, General Douglas MacArthur, who had never seen the terrain, demanded a quick victory, and as a result of the delay at Eora Creek on 27 October, Major-General Allen was informed that he was to be relieved of his command. Major-General George Vasey arrived on 28 October to take command, but by then the battle was over.”
Kokoda Trail Memorial
The Carrier Platoon became part of the 16th Brigade carrier force and was sent to Wau to defend the air strip and repel the Japanese advance down the Wandumi Track. The air strip was 1100 yards long and one end was 100 yards higher than the other with a steep drop off and was often covered by cloud. The Japanese considered this strip vital to their plans but the Australian forces held and drove the enemy back. The carrier force dug in on the ridges, which gave wide fields of fire and had line of sight to each other and the air strip.
The guns (25 pounders) were flown in and assembled on the strip and were in action almost immediately. At Crystal Creek A Coy 2/6th battalion and elements of the 17th Brigade met a large enemy force and in a 36 hour battle wiped them out. The carrier force continued to patrol and defend the air strip until 14th May 1943 when they rejoined the 2/1st Battalion.
The CO Lt Col Paul Cullen summed up, “The campaign had been a most exacting one, as casualties totaled 8 Officers and 93 Other Ranks killed in action, 9 Officers and 180 Other Ranks wounded and 8 missing. Over 250 had been evacuated sick with typhus and malaria, of which more than 15 died. However, the battalion never failed to carry out any of the tasks given to it and from that point of view was a success. The men of the battalion had proved that they were superior to the Japanese and were full of confidence.”
The 16th Brigade was withdrawn on 19/20th December and this ended the part played by the 2/1st Battalion in the Owen Stanley Campaign of 1942
Extracts from a Legatee Address by Oscar Nagel:
“We were fighting blind most of the time. We lived and fought in a permanent state of nervous tension. Every sound put one on edge never being sure where the Jap lurked.
The Japs were retreating to the coast. All the conditions of fighting, which applied to us applied to them too. No quarter was given and none was expected. It was a campaign without chivalry, a bloody fight to the death. An elemental struggle with only one password ”kill or be killed”.
After a days rest just short of Kokoda, we were ordered to take the track east. Then take a side track to the left (north) just short of the river (?) and capture the bridge over the river on the Motor Road. We passed several side tracks and rivers and then came to what I thought was the correct track, but I had no maps. I was not sure so I left Lt Learney and a platoon at the junction and pressed on for a few miles; then returned to Learney’s corner and met Brig Eather and his 3 battalions. He had just made contact with about 600 Japs a mile up the track and his 3 Battalions had surrounded them. I took 2/1 Bn past them towards Gorari. Eather’s Brigade killed all the Japs in the course of the battle. By late afternoon our leading scout reported that he had reached the Motor Road. We retired about 300 yards and felled a tree across a raging torrent. A platoon crossed under W02 Gosnell and overcame the Jap bridge guard from their rear. I then took the 2/1st up to the Motor Road and established a defensive position astride the road – at the bridge. We were no sooner in position when the Japs started to attack, with the view of retreating to the coast. The 2/2 and 2/3 Bns were pressing them from Kokoda. They had nowhere to go. They attacked at night – unsuccessfully. So they retreated across the roaring torrent. We scored our highest kill. Lt Gen HORII, their Force Commander, was drowned, trying to cross the river. Next day we moved east and destroyed 300 Japs (with one of Eather’s Bn – killed and captured their Food Depot). A great experience. The most gallant and determined action was when 2/1 Bn leading, was held up on an open kunai plain with the Girua River on our right and a jungle/swamp on our left. The Japs had a strong defensive position at the far end with a Mountain Gun – Heavy Mortars and Machine Gun covering our advance up the river and track. So I ordered Capt Basil W. T. Catterns to take 2 Companies on an outflanking movement via the jungle on the left flank. The going was swampy and slow. By dusk his leading scout called him up. He had reached his goal.
To his horror he discovered that it was the main Jap defensive position (later proved to be 1,200 Japs – from their War Diary). He had 75. Their guns were still firing at the Bn trying to advance. The question was to attack or withdraw. The odds 1,200 to 75!!!! There could be no casualty evacuation via the swamp. So Basil lined his men up. The Japs were cooking their evening meal. Their guns were about 200 – 300 yards away. His whole force burst out of the jungle in a single line, firing as they advanced. Complete surprise. They advanced to the guns. They killed hundreds of Japs. The Jap gun, mortars etc stopped firing. The 2/1 Bn, supported by 2/3 Bn, advanced. But Cattern’s force’s casualties were awful – as he knew they would be. But he gained his objective. After an all night battle the Japs withdrew. This was an epic action – written up in the Readers Digest and used at a US Tactical School as a wonderful example of a “Fighting Patrol”!!! In fact half our Battalion Company strength. I recommended Basil for a second Military Cross – NOT AWARDED. Blimey!!
This was a terrible experience. There was no need for this campaign as the Japs had nowhere to go and could have been collected after the war ended. However we were ordered (16 Bde Brig Roy King) to press on and capture Wewak, which we did. Morale and discipline were fantastically high. Casualties every day but no complaints. Then came an extraordinary experience. We were the leading Bn. We succeeded in capturing the crossing at Nambut and also the high ground of the ridge – Mt SHIBURANGI – and drove the Japs back. Everyone very happy with the day’s successes, except the KIA. An order was received to retire BACK from the mountain and the river. So I retired from the mountain but was allowed to hold the river crossing. Next day I was ordered to retake the mountain – which the Japs had reoccupied!!! It took us a week – 2 officers and 16 men KIA and more wounded. We built 400 steps up the Golden Stairway. All journalists and visitors had to carry a box of ammo. or 5 gallons of water if they wanted to go to “the FRONT”!!!
Paul A. Cullen Commanding Officer First Post / 41 2002
The battalion underwent a restructuring and training programme on the Atherton Tableland and on 10th December 1944 embarked on the “Van Heutz” for their next campaign. This was Aitape-Wewak in the north west of New Guinea. The Japanese force was estimated at 30,000 strong and the Australian forces were to drive them back and contain them. A Japanese convoy with supplies and reinforcements had been destroyed leaving this force isolated. And so on the 15th December 1944 the 2/1st battalion went back to war. The CO Lt Col Cullen received orders on the 19th to relieve a battalion of the 19th brigade. At a muster parade he informed the troops of their role and outlined the situation.
NX39009 Frank Shelley in the middle having a drink with other members of the battalion.
Frank was an origional member of the 2/1st battalion and served in the middle east and New Guinea
NX39009 Frank Shelley was wounded in the battle at Eroa Creek (November 1942) and was flown out of the battle area in the Tri Engine Ford aircraft on the left. The next day the aircraft crashed on landing and remained there (Lake Myola) until the RAAF recovered it with two Chinooks. Frank was the forward scout in the battle and was one of the first to be wounded. He recovered and was returned to Australia.
Myola 2, Papua, 1942-10-22. A crowd of Australian soldiers gathers around a Ford tri-motor aircraft which has flipped over in muddy ground at the end of the airstrip while attempting to land at Myola 2. The aircraft was flown by Mr T. O’Dea, an experienced civilian pilot, who was injured in the crash. O’Dea had flown the aircraft into Myola as an experiment to see if it could be used to evacuate patients from the 2/6th Field Ambulance to base hospitals in Port Moresby. All thoughts of evacuating patients by air from Myola were abandoned, however, when this accident was followed by the crash of a Stinson Reliant aircraft on the airstrip later the same day and the crash of another Stinson there on the following morning. (Donor A. Hobson)
The campaign was a long and arduous and involved pushing the enemy back further and further until they were fully contained. On the 7th August the news filtered down that the Americans had dropped a new type of bomb on Japan followed by a second one. Then on the 15th August a signal with the code word “War Ends” was received. At 1125 hrs the order to Cease Fire was given by Major Catterns, the acting battalion commander. The war was over.
It was some weeks before the Japanese government could communicate with all commanders in the field. Maj Gen H C H Robertson GOC 6th Div, took the surrender of the Japanese on the 13th September on a parade at Cape Wom attended by 150 of the men of the 2/1st battalion. On the 14th November 1945 the 2/1st battalion was classed as REDUNDANT.
It should be noted that 38 men of the 2/1st battalion left to join the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan. These men were the FIRST of what is now the Royal Australian Regiment.
Middle East 1941-1944
South-West Pacific 1942-1945
Eora Creek-Templeton’s Crossing ll
Liberation of Australian New Guinea
Capture of Tobruk
Killed – 263
Wounded – 418
3 DSO, 1 BAR
15 – MC
7 – DCM
28 – MM
68 – MID
Source: The First at War (the history of the 2/1st battalion)
The First Post (the journal of the 2/1st Association)
The Australian War Memorial
The Men of the 2/1st Battalion
In 1975 the 2/1st Battalion was awarded the Medal of Retimo / Rethymnon for the sacrifice made by the members of the battalion in the Battle of Crete.
On Monday 25th April 1975, the people of Rethymnon gathered to remember the fallen in the Battle of Crete (20th – 30th May 1941) and those men who, during the battle, courageously and with no thought for themselves defended the high ideals of Freedom and the honour of Greece and especially Crete.
“It has been unanimously decided the following should be awarded the freedom of the town of Rethymnon and should be awarded the Medal of the town of Rethymnon”
Lt Col Ian Ross Campbell, Commander of the Greece and Allied forces, and
2/1st Infantry Battalion of Australia
The Greek National Anthem (English Translation)
“We knew thee of old, oh divinely restored
By the light of thine eyes, and the light of thy sword
From the graves of our slain shall thy valour prevail
As we greet thee. As we greet again, Hail Liberty! Oh hail!
As we greet thee, greet again, Hail Oh, Liberty! Hail!”
The Flowers of Rethymnon
By Lew Lind
“These flowers of Rethymnon grow taller in those places where Australian soldiers died in the Battle of Crete
Their blood is mingled with the sacred soil of Crete
These quiet places have never been ploughed and will never be ploughed
They are sacred to all Cretans forever”
Lest We Forget
The First Post was the journal of the 2/1st Battalion and is still produced today
A portrait of Major General Kenneth Eather of the 2/1st Australian Infantry Battalion, 25th Australian Brigade, 11th Australian Division. Major General Kenneth William ‘Phar Lap’ Eather, CB, CBE, DSO led the Australian Victory Contingent March in 1946 in England.
Major General Ian Ross Campbell DSO & Bar. Commanding Officer 2/1st Australian Infantry Battalion AIF during the Greece and Crete campaign May 1941. He commanded the defence of Retimo where the Germans were denied the airstrip for 10 days.
Lt Col Tom Warren White
Commanding Officer 2/1st Battalion Libya 1941
AWM item 020913
Major General Paul Cullen AC, CBE, DSO and Bar, ED, FCA
Commanding Officer 2/1st Battalion 1942 – 1945
John Robinson was born in Dubbo 1901 and at the age of 16 joined the Army by putting his age up to 18years and 5 months. He was sent to Ingleburn for basic training and allocation to the 20th Australian Infantry Battalion. He embarked for England and France on the 16 July 1917 and after joining the 20th Battalion he was severely wounded in the neck and right arm. After a period of hospitalization he returned to the front line with his 20th Battalion and returned to Australia for discharge on the 22nd July 1919.
John enlisted again on the 16th May 1940 and after training was posted to the 2/1st Australian Infantry Battalion. He had given his date of birth as 26th May 1907, which means he was 10 years old when he was wounded in France. He joined the 2/1st battalion serving in the Middle East, Greece and was taken POW after the Battle of Crete in 1941. He returned to Australia and was discharged on the 21st December 1945.
John worked in building construction after the war and became involved with the Springwood RSL and settled in the Springwood area.
John was invited to be a member of the party of WW 1 diggers who traveled to Gallipoli in 1990 as guests of the government. He died on the 4th November 1996 and he is remembered with honour as a part of the history of the First Battalion Association.
MID 1915 – 439 Private S W Thompson did gallant work in frequently carrying water and ammunition to the firing line under heavy fire across open ground on 25th April and subsequently. (Reported by O. C 1st Battalion.)
Military Medal 1915 – 439 Corporal Samuel Wilfred Thompson. For general gallantry during the operations of the first week at ANZAC. He formed part of the escort to the machine gun section and brought up ammunition when the guns were running short under exceptionally heavy cross fire. (GOC 1st Infantry Brigade.)
Sam was one of the first men to step forward when war was declared and was posted to the 1st Battalion, 1st Brigade of the 1st Division of the AIF. He was wounded and returned to the front line after treatment. He fought through the horror of France and Belgium and returned to Australia.
NX 52561 Staff Sergeant S W THOMPSON, 2/19 Battalion AIF
MID – Throughout the whole of the actions at Bakri and Parit Sulong he continuously set a high example on the Battalion HQ in carrying out his duties in an unruffled manner under heavy enemy fire and aerial attacks and was an inspiration to the younger members in their first hours in action.
His profound sense of duty and responsibility exhibited in his successful efforts in rejoining the Main British forces after the withdrawal from Parit Sulong and his proceeding to Johore Bahru to complete all of the Battalion records of the Muar action speedily, was largely responsible for the exceptional efforts in the Battalion being completely reformed with 650 reinforcements within 3 days.
Sam enlisted again on 19th July 1940 and after training was posted to the 2/19th Battalion AIF. He stated he was born in 1900, which means he was 15 years old when wounded at Gallipoli. Sam became a POW in Singapore but survived to become a founding member of the 2/19 Battalion Association. He returned to Gallipoli in 1990 with a party of WW 1 veterans. He died on 29th October 1990 and is remembered with honour as part of the history of the First Battalion Association.