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Compiled for Darebin Heritage by Brian Membrey

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Introduction


England’s, and as a result Australia’s involvement in the Great War came on 4 August (Northern Hemisphere) when German troops marched into Belgium in an attempt to outflank French forces with which they had been in combat for three days.

The Australian Government immediately offered to place the vessels of the Australin Navy under British Admiralty control for dispersal as required, and to raise a force of 20,000 troops to serve under English authority.  The offer was accepted on 11 August, along with that of the navies of Canada (along with 20,000 troops) and New Zealand (8,000).

Officers were selected from volunteers from the permanent force (which was restricted to service only within Australia) and the existing Militia during the first week and general recruiting offices opened throughout Australia on 11 August 1914, and by 21 August, the first 750 local volunteers were settled in Broadmeadows Camp.


For the early enlistments after the outbreak of war, previous military service, either in the Citizen's Forces, regular army, or during the Boer War was mandatory, but those that would celebrate their eighteenth birthday during 1914 and thus be transferred from the Senior Cadets into the Citizen's Forces were not accepted;   ... "for one reason because they are still in the recruit training stage, and secondly, because they are rather too young to stand the strain of active service".

Under the Compulsory Military Training scheme, boys and men from the Darebin area were allocated to the 54th Infantry, originally based in Abbotsford, but from mid-1913 at a new drill hall in Simpson street, Westgarth.

In the original A.I.F.  there were 12 Infantry Battalions, four from each of N.S.W. (First to Fourth) and Victoria (Fifth to Eighth), one each from Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia, and a combined 12th Infantry comprising Tasmanian and excess South Australians.

Wherever possible, individual battalions were made up from adjoining Military Areas established under the Compulsory Training Scheme - In Darebin's case, this was the 16th Brigade; most of the local men were attached to the 55th Imperial Regiment in Collingwood, they were joined by the 56th, 63rd and 64th Battalions, plus a group from the Melbourne Rifles, all of which were included in the A.I.F. 6th Infantry Battalion which embarked from Melbourne on board HMAT Hororata with 1,053 men.

The original plan was for the first contingent to assemble and sail from Albany in Western Australia in Late September, but the German battleships Gneisenau and Scharnhorst were at large in the Pacific and the light cruiser Emden off the Western Australian coast; the risk of sending unescorted transports around Australia proved prohibitive to the Government and it wasn’t until 1 November that the convoy set forth, initially for England via Suez, but after Turkey’s entry into the war on the German-Austrian side on the very eve of the departure, eventually remaining in Egypt

In June, 1918, the Defence Department announce plans for Preston from July 1 to become a separate area under the Universal Training Scheme with the local headquarters at the Drill Hall in Raglan Street. The Leader applauded the move, suggesting having an officer on hand would be a "great convenience" for parents in saving a trip to Westgarth when they wished to meet with military authorities. The Preston unit used the 1st Preston Scout Hall in Town-hall Avenue and an office at the Shire Hall until a new hall and parade ground was completed in Raglan Street between Plenty Road and High Street in August, 1916.  

The First Casualty

Many will not be aware of the fact, but the first of Australia’s approximately 61,500 deaths during or as a result of the war was a Northcote resident.

William George Vincent Williams was an Able Seaman (no. 294) in the Number 4 Company of the Naval Reserve and had a week left before completing his time in the Reserve when war was declared and he was commanded into full service.    When not at sea, Williams lived with his mother, Mrs Victoria Robinson and sister, Mrs Martha Anthonsen at 36 Beavers Road in Northcote.

Williams was part of a raiding party from H.M.A.S. Berrima that disembarked near Rabaul, New Guinean on September 11, 1914 on a mission to destroy a German radio station operating some five miles inland.   

The advance section came across a group of natives in a coconut plantation on the Bita Paka Road.   Williams covered another sailor, Stoker Kember, who returned with the information that the natives were just gathering coconuts, but after the pair advanced about ten yards, Williams was shot in the stomach by German soldiers hiding in the plantation huts.  The group’s medical officer, Captain Brian Pockley after hearing Williams had been wounded went to his aid, and after applying what first-aid that the conditions allowed, gave his Red Cross armband to Kember to carry Williams to the rear.     

No longer under the nominal protection offered by the Red Cross, Pockley was shot shortly after.   Williams and Pockley were later picked up by a party with an ambulance cart and taken back to the Berrima where they both died on board that afternoon, Williams died about an hour before Pockley, who became the first Australian commissioned officer to die in the conflict.





More on Preston’s Schools

(Top) : A.B. Seaman William George Vincent Williams

(Below) : Captain Brian Pockley

The graves of Able Seaman W G V Williams (left) and Captain Brian Colden Antill Pockley, Australian Army Medical Corps. In the back row, right, is the grave of AB Henry William Street, killed in action on 11 September 1914 (buried on the road where he was killed). The iron railing fence around the grave of Captain Pockley was provided by a family member. The original burial place of Pockley, Williams and Street was at Herbertshohe, removed to another cemetery at Herberthohe around c 1915-1916 and in 1919 they were re interred in the Rabaul military cemetery. Note: Postwar c 1950 these three graves were transferred to Bita Paka War Cemetery.