Off to the front they must go

Timetable from Commonwealth Military Forces for five trains departing Newmarket, Brisbane, destined for Liverpool, New South Wales

In war, governments face the challenge of having to move large numbers of troops to the battlefield quickly and safely, usually under a shroud of national secrecy. And it was no different when Australian and New Zealand troops entered the First World War.

In this post we consider the information available from our records that relate to the sending of troops to the front.

With the German cruiser Emden prowling the Indian Ocean, the departure of the large contingent of Australian Imperial Forces and New Zealand Expeditionary Forces from Albany in Western Australia was not made public until after the event. The convoy of ships included the A.25 Anglo-Egyptian, A.5 Omrah, A.22 Rangatira and A.15 Star of England (‘A’ referring to the transport number) which had left Pinkenba, Queensland in September 1914. The Queensland ships assembled with transports from Sydney, Melbourne and New Zealand in late October at Princess Royal Harbour and King George Sound. Under a complete media blackout, on 1 November 1914 the convoy with more than 30,000 troops set sail for Egypt and Europe.

In the early years of the war many of the Australian and New Zealand troops – including light horsemen and infantry men- shipped to Egypt and received further training as artillerymen. One of these soldiers was Major-General Chauvel of the Light Horse Brigade, who had previously served with distinction in the Boer War in South Africa, as documented in our Boer War records.

During the First World War suitable sea vessels were often requisitioned for the war effort as a means of reducing the costs of purchasing troop and freight ships. These vessels were ‘fitted out’ for the purpose of conveying tens of thousands of men, horses and supplies to the war, details of which you can find in letters written in 1914 to the Premier of Queensland and to the Chief Secretary’s Office. Of specific ships requisitioned there are also correspondence files with names and numbers of transport vessels.

Excerpt from a letter to Chief Secretary’s Office listing additional sea vessels

After their initial training, many of the men from Queensland caught trains to get to the troop carriers. The following letter records the planned stop at the border town of Wallangarra to ‘dip’ the horses of the 5th Light Horse Regiment.

Timetable from Commonwealth Military Forces for five trains departing Newmarket, Brisbane, destined for Liverpool, New South Wales
Timetable from Commonwealth Military Forces for five trains departing Newmarket, Brisbane, destined for Liverpool, New South Wales

On the QSA website you can find these and a wealth of other records that reflect the government’s response to the outbreak of the First World War, and the ensuing years.

About Queensland State Archives

For more information about Queensland State Archives visit www.archives.qld.gov.au

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