Compiled for Darebin Heritage by Brian Membrey

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Introduction : The Great War

FEBRUARY, 2019 : The Tattooed Lady of Milton-street. In some 15 years of research into the men and women from Darebin during the First World War, the story of Mrs Ethel Floence Ivory certainly rates as one of the most unusual.  There have also been a number of additions tp the Casualties page.

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, travelling to Sydney by train to embark.    When not at sea, Williams lived with his mother, Mrs Victoria Robinson and sister, Mrs Martha Anthonsen at 36 Beavers Road in Northcote.

Williams died around an hour before Captain Brian Pockley, the party’s medical officer, who was shot after giving his Red Cross armband to another member of the group who was assigned to carry Williams back to the ship where he subsequently died.

Pockley was the first Australian commissioned officer and first member of the A.I.F. to die in service, four others were killed during the raid, all, like “Billy” Williams, were Naval Reservists

Read the full story Williams, William George Vincent

More on Preston’s Schools

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

(Below) : Captain Brian Pockley