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Today is Australia Day, a national public holiday for our friends down under commemorating the founding of New South Wales on 26 January 1788.  It is a celebration of everything that is great about Australia and being Australian, and here at Osprey we thought we’d chip in with a bit of Australian military history.

Please use the navigational links at the bottom of the page to progress through our Australia Day blogs.

Europe’s descent into World War I in 1914 saw Australian troops march into battle once more. Initially the plan was for Australia to send 12,000 men to the war effort, but news that Canada was about to volunteer 30,000 troops encouraged Australian Prime Minister Sir Joseph Cook to offer a larger force, sending word to London that Australia would commit 20,000 men.

Over the course of the war Australians would fight across Europe and the Middle East. By the time the conflict came to an end over 330,000 Australians had served overseas, suffering no fewer than 210,000 casualties, 61,519 of whom were killed or died of their wounds.

 

Artwork by Graham Turner

Extract from Warrior 155: ANZAC Infantryman 1914-15 by Ian Sumner

The Australian Soldier

A man kitted out exactly as the quartermaster would wish to see him. The jacket was a pattern designed especially for the AIF, using experience gained from the ‘military shirt’ of the Citizen Military Forces. The new jacket was based on British patterns, but the sleeves were made much roomier, and were buttoned at the cuff. The trousers were identical in style to the pre-war dismounted-pattern breeches. Standard equipment was the 1908 webbing set. The men carried the SMLE rifle.

No allowance was made for battalion badges. All members of the AIF wore a shoulder title bearing the single word ‘Australia’, while their headgear carried either the sunburst badge or the badge of the Royal Australian Artillery. However, while the AIF was in Egypt in 1915, a system of cloth badges was introduced. The shape identified the division, and the colour identified the battalion within the division and its state of origin. The badges were usually worn on the upper sleeve. However, John Monash, the commanding officer of 4th Infantry Brigade, instructed his men to wear their badges on their hats. The patches illustrated are those of 25th Battalion (a diamond for 2nd Division and blue for Queensland), 2nd Battalion (a rectangle for 1st Division and green for New South Wales) and 1st Light Horse.

Many weapons had to be improvised on the beachhead itself. Grenades were a prime example, among them the ‘jam-tin grenade’ (officially, the Double Cylinder No. 8 or No. 9, depending on its size and composition) and the ‘butterpat grenade’ (officially, the No. 12). These were later supplemented by the ‘cricket-ball’ or ‘Malta’ grenade. This was manufactured in quantity and adopted as the No. 15 grenade. It was rather too large to use easily, and the case fragmented into pieces that were deemed too small. Some use was also made of rifle grenades, including the 1915 No. 3 Mk. I. This was, however, time-consuming to manufacture, and difficult to use with any degree of accuracy.

 

Previous: Australian Soldiers in South Africa
Next: Australian Soldiers in World War II

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