Fremantle Departure Service
At the outbreak of World War One, Australian prime minister Joseph Cook declared ‘Whatever the difficulty and whatever the cost, we must be steadfast in our determination. Our resources are great, and the British spirit is not dead. We owe it to those who have gone before to preserve the great fabric of British freedom and hand it on to our children. Our ancestral home is the repository of great liberties, great traditions, and great piety, and we must cherish them. Our duty is quite clear, namely, to gird up our loins and remember that we are Britons.’
West Australian, 6 August 1914, p.7.
When war broke out in 1914, Australians enthusiastically supported Britain and its Empire. Australia then had a population of less than five million people (not including Aborigines, who at that time were not yet counted in the nation’s Census) and yet sent more than 416,000 volunteer troops. Of these, more than half were killed, wounded, gassed or taken prisoner. See http://www.awm.gov.au/atwar/ww1/ for more information.
As a major port of embarkation, Fremantle witnessed the departure of thousands of AIF soldiers, sailors and nurses.
The first of these departures occurred on Saturday 31 October 1914 - and so it was fitting that on 31 October 2014 thousands of Western Australians crowded the Fremantle port to commemorate this historic moment in time and pay tribute to the men who departed 100 years ago, many never to return.
31 October 1914
The events of 31 October 1914 were reported in the West Australian ('Western Australia. To the Front. The First Contingent. Departure of the Troops.', 18 November 1914, p.7) and are featured below.
The 1,500 odd men who comprised the 11th Battalion, and the two companies of the 12th Battalion were trained to such perfection in their mess drill, that in less than half an hour the whole of them could be formed up in their respective messes ready to march on board the transport when they landed at Fremantle.
When it was reported on Friday 30 October, that the troops would depart the following morning, the lines of the first contingent resembled the abode of a vast assemblage of overgrown schoolboys. The orders were given that each officer and man had to have his hair close cropped. The hairdressers in camp did a roaring trade, and in due course the towselled-headed tommies disappeared, and a crowd of bullet-headed, fearsome looking individuals took their place.
The passage of the troop-trains from Helena Vale [now Midland] to Fremantle was accomplished with a minimum amount of delay. From every house or street passed, from every workshop or factory, people waved their farewells and gave an encouraging shout to the delighted troops. No farewell was more cordial than that shouted by the recruits of the Light Horse regiment then in camp at Claremont. The blast of engine whistles was heard whenever they passed at the various assembly yards, and each station had its own knots of cheering people. It was only as the trains drew near Fremantle that the men forgot their laughter and by-play in their desire to catch a glimpse of the boats which were to be their homes for many a long day. The first sign of the big ocean liners with the warships in port was the signal for vociferous cheers, which were taken up by the crowds along the lines at Fremantle and renewed as the train drew slowly in alongside the goods sheds and came to a standstill.
The troops behaved splendidly while detraining and waiting to march aboard. No time was lost in falling in on their messes and in checking their numbers. As soon as everything was reported as "all correct" they were marched out of the shed across the wharf and up the gangways and on to the troopship to which they belonged. The public were not allowed near the vessels, and sentries, with loaded rifles and bayonets fixed paced up and down to keep the wharves clear. The Ascanius was the first to move, and with her decks a mass of khaki clad humanity, with soldiers up the rigging or clinging to perilous positions on various coigns of vantage, she pulled out from the wharf to the accompaniment of cheers from the distant crowds and the songs of the troops. The inevitable latecomers were seen dashing along the quay, and some only gained access to the decks of the transport by being hauled up by ropes. The liner swung gracefully in the river, and then setting her head towards the river-mouth, steamed slowly out to the Roads. The departure of the Medic was delayed somewhat, and when all had been placed on board the order was given to remove the barriers, and the public were allowed to come right up to the troopship’s side and bid farewell to their friends aboard. Then the Medic, too, hauled out from the wharf and slowly made her way out to anchor alongside her sister troopships. There they remained until the early hours of Monday morning, when...they steamed away to their rendezvous with the convoy from Albany.
The heritage train
Kelmscott Pinjarra 10th Light Horse Memorial Troop
Flag bearers representing Australia's Navy, Army and Air Force
The 11th Battalion Living History Unit marching and later posing for a picture
The cadets marching into the ports from the Fremantle Train Station
The crowds following them
George Ashley Cooper in the centre