The 2/1st Battalion was raised at
Victoria Barracks, Sydney, on 16 October 1939 as part of the 16th
Brigade of the 6th Australian Division. It relocated to the newly-opened
Ingleburn Camp on 2 November and, after conducting basic training there,
embarked for overseas service on 10 January 1940.
Disembarking in Egypt on 13 February
1940, the 2/1st moved to Palestine, where it was concentrated with the
rest of the 16th Brigade at Julis near Gaza. The brigade trained in
Palestine until the end of August, when it moved to Egypt to carry out
its final preparations for active service with the 6th Division.
The 2/1st Battalion’s first campaign
of the Second World War was the advance from Egypt into eastern Libya in
January and February 1941. The battalion was involved in the attacks to
capture Bardia (3–5 January) and Tobruk (21–22 January), and was
left to garrison Tobruk as the advance continued. It left Tobruk on 7
March, ultimately bound for Greece with the rest of the 6th Division.
The 2/1st Battalion arrived in Greece
on 22 March and was soon deployed north to resist the anticipated German
invasion. The battalion occupied positions at Veria on 7 April but, in
the face of superior German force, it began a long withdrawal south on
12 April and was evacuated by sea from Megara on 25 April. The battalion
landed on Crete the next day and was subsequently deployed with the
2/11th Battalion to defend the critical airfield at Retimo. The German
airborne invasion of Crete began on 20 May but a tenacious defence
denied them Retimo airfield until 30 May. German victories elsewhere on
Crete, however, allowed them to concentrate overwhelming force against
Retimo and, short of rations and ammunition, the 2/1st surrendered and
became prisoners of war.
The battalion was rebuilt in Palestine
and subsequently manned defences in northern Syria between October 1941
and January 1942. It left the Middle East, heading for the war against
Japan, on 10 March 1942. The 16th and 17th Brigades, however, were
diverted on the voyage home. Between 26 March and 13 July they defended
Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) from possible Japanese attack. The 2/1st
finally disembarked in Australia, at Melbourne, on 7 August 1942; less
than 100 of the men who had originally sailed with it in January 1940
remained with the battalion.
In the South-West Pacific theatre the
2/1st Battalion fought in two campaigns – the advance along the Kokoda
Trail to the Japanese beachheads between September 1942 and January
1943, and the drive to clear the Japanese from the Aitape–Wewak region
of New Guinea between December 1944 and August 1945. The period in
between was occupied with training in northern Queensland. The Kokoda
Trail fighting, involving major battles at Eora Creek (20 –29
October), Gorari (9–12 November 1942) and Sanananda (20–21 November)
was particularly costly, with over two-thirds of the battalion killed,
wounded, or evacuated sick.
The 2/1st Battalion disbanded in
December 1945. Text from AWM