extinguish the 42nd Battalion, 1918
A Terrible Blow for the
It was decreed that a serious calamity
should fall upon our Battalion. It was threatened with extinction.
Firstly, the news was heralded by "furphies"
(the Digger term for rumours). These rumours gradually grew into
certainties, until finally, orders were received that the 42nd
Battalion was to be broken up forthwith.
Utterances of disgust and disapproval were
heard on all sides, whilst consternation surged through our ranks.
We were, all of us, set and determined
that no matter what the consequences might be to ourselves as individuals,
the breaking up of our splendid unit would be resisted to the uttermost. To
us, it was inconceivable that the military authorities could possibly
imagine that we 42nd men would calmly submit to the destruction of our
Battalion; a Battalion which had covered itself with glory and distinction;
a Battalion which had won unstinted praise for its trustworthiness and
unflinching devotion to duty; an association which had been the means of
cementing bonds of brotherly love and comradeship such as had never been
exceeded in the annals of time. That we should be smashed up was
unthinkable. It could not be. It must not be.
PREPARATION FOR RESISTANCE
Secret meetings were held. King's
Regulations were studied. A resolute spirit to stick together at all costs
permeated the ranks of the Battalion.
Non-Commissioned officers, and others
versed in military law, drew up a plan which in due course was confided to
every member of the rank and file. Secret training in this direction went on
for days and nights until each of us felt strong and ready to test the power
of the military machine to crush us out of existence.
It was on September 20th that the
anticipated blow fell. Instructions were received that the 42nd Battalion of
the 11th Infantry Brigade of the A.I.F. be disbanded and its members
transferred as reinforcements to the other three Battalions of the Brigade.
September 21st was the date of the
momentous parade when our Commanding Officer, who was in charge of the
parade, addressed us. He expressed the utmost regret at having to carry out
the decision of the High Command, and asked us to realise that the position
had been created by the demands of urgent necessity.
The following commands were given and
unhesitatingly obeyed: "Attention. Slope Arms. Form Fours. Right."
Upon the order to "March" being
given, none but officers moved. The men stood firm as a rock.
The parade was dismissed. Routine training
under NCO's was continued during the next few days. Every order issued was
strictly obeyed and carried out with alacrity.
The second effort to break up the
Battalion occurred on September 25th. When we paraded on this occasion it
was noticed that two officers of the 41st Battalion along with the band of
that unit were in attendance, evidently to escort us.
Our Commanding Officer again addressed us
and exhorted us to obey orders, and to understand that it was lack of
reinforcements that had rendered the breaking up of the 42nd Battalion
Every order he gave us was promptly obeyed
until we were commanded to "March." Again officers responded but
not one of the rank and file made the slightest attempt to move. The
officers of the 41st Battalion, along with their band, then returned to
The following day the 42nd Battalion was
reorganised. Instead of its original establishment of four companies of four
platoons of sixty men, the companies were reconstructed by having only three
platoons each, and the platoons consisted of only twenty-one men. We were
then equipped and made ready to fight again as "The Forty-second
Battalion," in the forthcoming battle, when it was intended to take and
hold the supposedly impregnable "Hindenburg Line."
To remark upon the enthusiasm with which
the Battalion as a whole welcomed the decision, might seem superfluous' It
was perhaps in the transport lines where it was hailed with the wildest
delight. The joy of the drivers knew no bounds.
The horses attached to our transport had,
by order of the 11th Brigade Authorities, been taken away and in their stead
had been left some very sorry representatives of the equine species.
None but those who witnessed the parting
of the drivers with their faithful companions could realise the anguish that
surrounded those pathetic farewells. Our horses were considered the best in
the Brigade, and every driver was justly proud of his team. In most
instances they had been together since the inception of the Battalion
Transport. Tears welled up in the eyes of the drivers as they said good-bye
to their dumb comrades. It was difficult to keep the drivers interested in
their work until the morning of the 28th September, when their horses
returned to them, and though the condition of the animals was very much
poorer than when taken away, each horse became the recipient of an ovation,
greater than which no Melbourne Cup winner has ever been accorded.
SIR JOHN MONASH'S COMMENTS ON THE
It will now be interesting to quote our
Corps Commander, the late General Sir John Monash, who comments upon the
situation in his book "Australian Victories in France," as
"I have mentioned
that early in 1918 all Brigades of the Imperial Service had, owing to
declining manpower been reduced from four to three Battalions. In this
reduction the Australian Brigades participated only to a small extent.
"Every one of the Australian Battalions had created great traditions.
Regimental esprit and pride of unit were very strong.
The private soldier valued
his Battalion colour patches almost more than any other decoration. "My
predecessor in the Corps Command had directed the abandonment of one
Battalion in each, the 9th, 12th and 13th Brigades. The residue of the
disbanded Battalions were used to replenish the remaining three Battalions.
It was doubtless a measure directed by necessity . . . the flow of
reinforcements was steadily diminishing. "I became fully alive to the
difficulties which would present themselves when the fate of still other
Battalions would have to be decided.
It was a day I wanted to
stave off until the last possible moment. "Towards the middle of
September, 1918, the successful course of the fighting and the moderate rate
of wastage had convinced me there was every hope that the strength of the
remaining Battalions could be maintained at a useful standard to the end of
the campaigning season of that year. "I felt assured that the
disbandment of a number of additional Battalions would seriously impair the
fighting spirit of the whole Australian Corps. "I was prepared to take
the chance of being able to carry on until the end of 1918 with all the
remaining Battalions intact. "But I was not permitted to do so. At
various times from June to August, an unimaginative department kept
harassing me with enquiries . . . . These enquiries were at first ignored,
but early in September the Adjutant General became insistent for a reply . .
. . I urged a postponement of the question . . . Looking back, it seems
scarcely credible these representations should have been ignored.
I procrastinated . . . The
responsible authorities overruled my objections, and on September 19th, I
received peremptory instructions to disband eight additional Battalions.
"I had no option but to comply. , I called my Divisional Commanders
together, and with them, decided which Battalions should suffer extinction .
. . . It created a situation of extreme difficulty . . . . The whole of the
personnel affected raised a very subordinate, but none the less determined,
protest. "One Battalion after another very respectfully, but very
firmly, took the stand that they did not wish to disband, but would prefer
not to fight as dismembered and scattered portions of other Battalions.
"This attitude, perhaps, bordered on insubordination, but it was
conceived for a very worthy purpose.
It was a pathetic effort
and elicited much sympathy from the senior officers and myself. On the eve
of the great operation for the overthrow of the Hindenburg Line, I found
myself threatened with the possibilities of internal disaffection.
"This, to outsiders, who could have no understanding of the situation,
might impair the fair name and prestige of the Australian Army Corps.
"Up to this stage, the Fourth Army Commander had been in no way
concerned in the matter. The pressure came from the War Office and the
Adjutant General's Department. "Lord Rawlinson's interests, however,
now became vitally involved. . . . I pointed out to him how inopportune was
the time for risking trouble of this nature.
The order for disbandment
having been given must stand and obedience must be insisted upon, but a
postponement of further action for fourteen days was desirable . . . .
"Rawlinson accepted my views in their entirety, and used his authority
and influence with the Commander-in-Chief. "A postponement of action
was authorised and all Battalions which had been threatened with extinction,
with one exception, were to remain intact during the remainder of the
It is needless to state that at the time
we performed our "remonstrance" we had not the slightest idea that
such sympathy towards us existed in the minds of our superior officers.
from the book "Spirit of the 42nd"
by Vivian Brahams 1938 for the 42nd Bn Assoc