Saturday, 2 August 2014

NQ Troops Embark for War, 1914

On June 28, 1914, the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo sparked a chain of events that swiftly brought Europe to the brink of war.
Troops marching across Victoria Bridge to the Townsville wharf, before embarking for Thursday Island, August 1914.
Photo:  State Library of Queensland.
Within weeks, Austria declared war on Serbia; Germany declared war on Russia, then France, then Belgium; France and Great Britain declared war on Germany; Austria declared war on Russia; and Serbia declared war on Germany.  Japan soon entered the war as well, declaring war against Germany on August 23.

But it was Great Britain’s declaration of war against Germany, on August 4, 1914, that brought Australia into the war that became World War I.  A few days before war was declared, Labor leader Andrew Fisher, who was at that time leader of the opposition, famously pledged to support Great Britain, “to the last man and last shilling”.

In anticipation of a declaration of war against Germany, Prime Minister Joseph Cook offered to place Australia’s Navy at the complete disposal of the British Admiralty, and pledged to send 20,000 soldiers to any destination that was required, if war was declared.

Charles Bean’s official war history cites a cablegram sent from Australia to Great Britain that highlights the extent of Australia’s determination to support the war effort.

The communication read: “In the event of war the Government (of Australia) is prepared to place the vessels of the Australian Navy under the control of the British Admiralty when desired.  It is further prepared to despatch an expeditionary force of 20,000 men of any suggested composition to any destination desired by the Home Government, the force to be at the complete disposal of the Home Government.”

In Townsville, local and regional troops numbering around a thousand were assembled and sent to garrison Thursday Island as coastal defence.  They embarked on the SS Kanowna, a commercial steamship that had been requisitioned for the purpose and which became a hospital ship later in the war.
Troops embarking SS Kanowna at Townsville,  for Thursday Island, August 1914.
Photo:  State Library of Queensland.
Their departure from Townsville on August 8 attracted a crowd of over 6,000 well wishers.  The soldiers marched through the city, across Victoria Bridge and down to the wharf, where the Mayor, Alderman Swales addressed the assembled crowd.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I hardly know how to address those present, as there are so many regiments represented, so I will call them soldiers of the King and I am sure they will make a name for themselves in Australia,” he said.

“They have our sympathy and good wishes, and during their absence the citizens of the North will look after those who are left behind.”

When the Kanowna cast off at noon the combined bands played “Rule Britannia”, followed by “Onward Christian Soldiers”.  As spectators watched the ship sail away, “God Save the King” was played and a salute was fired from the fort.

The Townsville Daily Bulletin described the scene at the wharf as a “magnificent send-off” and reported that it was a day which would be “remembered in the history of Australia as that on which the first contingent of her new citizen force was sent forth on active service conditions”.

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