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Our Overseas Forces: The Australians  


LORD KITCHENER visited Australia in 1909, and now 20,000 fully equipped and trained soldiers from the Sunny Commonwealth will arrive shortly in this country, in response to the Empire's call, to participate in the great struggle for the maintenance, as Mr. Asquith has put it, "of the interests vital not only to the British Empire, but of all that is worth having in common civilization, and the future progress of mankind." 

Lord Kitcheners visit was made at the invitation of Australia in order that the young country might have the benefit of the great soldier's advice in preparing a scheme for the defence of the island continent. Australia had already recognised that the provision of a military force adequate to ensure local safety and public confidence at a time of attempted invasion was to her a paramount duty, and had adopted a system by which every male citizen should, with certain exceptions and exemptions, undergo a course of military training.   

It has been truly said that if on a map of the world all the countries stained with the blood of war were marked, Australia would be the only white spot. Australians arrived at the conclusion that the best way to retain this enviable reputation was to be prepared. The total population at the time did not exceed four and one half millions. There were over ten thousand miles of coastline to defend, and a great country of wonderful natural resources and wealth. 

Up to a short time previous to Lord Kitchener's visit the land defence was practically carried out on voluntary and militia lines, and then for the first time in any English‑speaking community compulsory service was adopted. Lord Kitchener inspected the country and the men, and the Government and military authorities were largely guided by his report. This system was fully described in the November 21st issue of the NAVY AND ARMY. 

Today many of the stalwart Australians " Homeward " bound have passed through the course of training laid down by the present War Secretary. With this system in full operation, and with every patriotic young Australian thus directly concerned, it was not surprising that when the Australian Government called for men to make up the Expeditionary Force of 20,000 offered to the Motherland, there should have been a sufficient number of eligible men offering to be included with the first and even a second contingent.   

Australia had already enjoyed the distinction of being the first overseas dependency to offer military aid to the Empire in the time of need. Nearly thirty years ago (in 1885), with the greatest of enthusiasm, but in circumstances vastly different from those obtaining today, Australia equipped and despatched two batteries of artillery and 500 infantry to Soudan. Then, as today, the men who offered their services were far in excess of the number required. A contingent was also despatched in connection with the Boxer rebellion in China. 

Fifteen years ago troopships also took to South Africa many, fine fighters from Australia. It was here that Lord Roberts, Lord Kitchener and others had an opportunity of seeing the rough young Australians in action. The free, open air, rough‑and‑ready life of the colonial settler had made him peculiarly suitable to the conditions in South Africa. 

 The latest practical demonstration of Australian loyalty has been officially named the Australian Imperial Expeditionary Force, and, briefly, its composition has been described as ‑‑‑One Light Horse Brigade and One Division." In making up this force an endeavour was made to select one half of the rank and file from men in their 2oth year or upwards, who were serving with the Australian colours, and the remainder from trained men specially enlisted who had served in the militia, in the Imperial forces, or had seen war service. 

The Light Horse Brigade is made up of three regiments of over 500 men each, field artillery, light horse brigade ammunition column, signal troop, light horse brigade train, field ambulance, army service corps and headquarters staff. The approximate total of the personnel is 104 officers, 2,122 Of other ranks, with 2,315 horses, machine guns, 18-pounder quick firers, carts, wagons, motorcars, bicycles, motorcycles and a field wireless equipment.  

The Division includes about 18,ooo troops of all ranks attached to headquarters, infantry brigades, light horse squadrons, headquarters divisional artillery, field artillery brigades, divisional ammunition column, engineers, field companies, divisional train, field ambulances and an army service corps. The division has also associated with it over 5,000 horses, 18-pounder quick-firers, machine guns, carts, wagons, motor-cars, bicycles, and motor-cycles. The Infantry Brigade is made up of four battalions, field artillery brigade, and three batteries of guns and ammunition wagons, each drawn by six horses. 

In obtaining the staff of officers the system adopted seems to have been for the Expedition Commander (Major-General Bridges) to nominate his personal staff, and the various brigadiers. Brigade commanders then chose their associates and battalion leaders, and these in turn selected their company or squadron chiefs, who were also allowed to nominate their subalterns. All were eventually submitted to the district commandants in their respective capital cities before they were confirmed by the Federal Executive Council. 

The ordinary Australian khaki uniform is being worn, with coloured ribbons on the hat to distinguish the branches. The infantry will have green, artillery scarlet, light horse white, engineers dark blue, signallers Royal blue, army service blue and white, and army medical corps chocolate.   

The units are self-contained in every particular except that they are not bringing tents. The average Australian sleeps comfortably in the open with the starry sky as his canopy, but in a winter campaign on the continent, he would not fare as well. To provide for this, Lady Reid, wife of the High Commissioner for the Australian Commonwealth in London, has been instrumental in forming an Australian War Contingent Association, and already stores are being filled in London with clothing and comforts for the men from the Antipodes should they be asked to face the rigour of a winter campaign on the Continent. 

As part of the great national scheme of naval and military defence the Australian Government has established clothing, saddlery, ammunition and small arms factories where the whole of the work is done under direct Government supervision. These factories have been working at full pressure since war was declared. 

For the transportation of Australia's contingent a fine fleet of vessels was selected from those engaged in the passenger trade and the carriage of mails between the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. These include the new Aberdeen liner, “Euripides," of 15,000 tons, and several 12,000 ton liners of the Orient, P. & O and White Star companies. It is interesting to note that Captain Douglas of the Euripides, who took the fine new vessel to Australia on her maiden trip, has already had experience in the carrying of troops. He transported the New South Wales troops to Soudan, and the New South Wales Naval Brigade to China in connection with the Boxer rebellion.

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Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces