History of 14th AIF Battalion to aid mystery war photo search

“As the centuries pass, there will arise a great craving in Australia for exact and positive information as to her participation in the World War, and the marvelous deeds performed therein by her virile sons.” (Wanliss, N 1929, p.17)

Update: 7th June 2016: Click here for MEMBLOG of the men of the 3rd Reinforcements to the 14th Battalion

Another day of research tells me the nominal roll of the 3rd Reinforcements 14th battalion is not enough to help identify a mystery war photo,as after the Australian Infantry Force first arrived at Egypt at the onset of WW1, it’s companys were reformed in alignment with the British Army’s preferred model.

This means my grandmother’s mystery war photo is not necessarily her brother James Booley among his original unit of 156 men of the 3rd reinforcement’s 14th battalion recruited in Victoria.
Instead it suggests the photo could have been taken at Egypt with my great uncle among a newly-formed A.I.F company.
It also means my attempt to confirm the identities of Lieutenant Thomas Ninian Hill and 2nd Lieutenant Norman Kingsley Strack as the officers in the mystery photo has just taken a setback.

A history of the 14th Battalion published by Newton Wanliss in 1929 is fully digitized and available online at the State Library of Victoria, which tells how the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th battalions each formed part of the Australian 4th Brigade, led by Lieutenant-General Sir John Monash who later wrote the foreword for Wanliss’ history:

“It fell to my lot to be accorded the honor and the responsibility of organising and training this Brigade, and of leading it for the first two years of the War.” (Sir J.Monash in Wanliss 1929, p.14)

Sir Monash said that at the outbreak of the Great War volounteers outnumbered the one Division and one Light Horse Brigade offered by Australia’s Commonwealth Government toward the Imperial Armies:

“But the rush to the colors was so prompt, so widespread and so enthusiastic, that the Government speedily took the decision that at least one additional Infantry Brigade and one additional Light Horse Brigade could be furnished at once, from the man-power which became available. Thus was born the 4th Australian Infantry Brigade.” (Monash, ibid).

According to Sir Monash the 4th brigade had the unique distinction of being the only All-Australia unit, in the Imperial Force among all the 15th Infantry Brigades.
All four battalions of the 4th brigade were raised and regularly recruited from all six States of the Commonwealth, throughout the period of WW1.
The 13th Battalion was raised wholly from N.S.W, the 14th from Victoria, the 15th from Queensland and Tasmania and the 16th from South and Western Australia.

The 14th Battalion was originally composed of about 1000 men – “the very flower of the youth of the City of Melbourne,” wrote Monash. “It counted in its ranks many public school men of fine morale and physique, and was officered by splendid men of high character and capacity.”

“Although not privileged to sail with the first convoy of Australian troops, it (the 14th) aspired to rank as an equal beside its three senior Infantry Brigades in all that the fortune of war might bring.”

Reinforcement units like the 3rd/14th maintained the 14th battalion during four years of war and were drawn from the areas of its first enlistment “to the number of several times its original complement”.

‘Civilian soldier’ Lieutenant-Colonel R.E. Courtney VD was chosen by Monash as Commanding Officer (C.O) of the 14th Battalion and set about appointing his regimental staff:

Commanding Officer: Lieutenant-Colonel R.E.Courtney VD
Second in Command: Major J. Adams
Quartermaster: Major H.N.Young VD
Adjutant: Captain C.M.M. Dare
Medical Officer: Captain G.H.Loughran
Regimental Sergeant-major:
Regimental Quartermaster sergeant:

Most of the officers selected at this time for the 14th had served in Australia Militia Forces (AMF) units prior to the onset of war, and were selected from those who volunteered for active service.

“The men chosen were in the main a very fine stamp, for, owing to the large number of recruits in the depots, the officers of the 4th Brigade had a wide choice and could, and did, pick the cream of the recruits, with the result that the 4th Brigade contained a body of men whose physique was rarely equalled even in the A.I F.” (Wanliss, chap.3, p.4).

Temporary headquarters for the 14th Battalion were set up at 178 Collin street Melbourne where preparations began for the enrolment of men to form the personnel of the 14th battalion.

The 1st of October 1914 was the ‘birthday’ of the 14th battalion says Wanliss, and camp lines were laid then for the new battalion at the Broadmeadows training depot where men were organised into companies, half-companies and sections, and acting N.C.O’s.
It is these companies that were later reformed when the 4th brigade reached Egypt.

“During the month of October training began in earnest. Little bodies of men clad in blue suits of dungarees and white linen hats were busy learning squad and company drill under their officers, whilst attention was given to route marching, field training, skirmishing, signalling, first aid, physical drill and rifle practice at the butts at Williamstown. Classes of instruction for non-commissioned officers were formed, and an examination took place at the completion of the class, after which the first substantive promotions were made. After rifles, equipment and clothing had been issued (including the famous felt hats afterwards so well known in France) the men began to feel like soldiers.”

When the 1st Division left Australia in October for Egypt the 14th battalion moved up into the 2nd Brigade camping ground, where it was joined by its sister battalions the 13th, 15th and 16th,“…the intention being that the units of the brigade should concentrate in Melbourne for brigade training prior to embarkation abroad” (Wanliss chap.1, p.4)

“A pleasant interlude to the training took place on Sunday, December 13, when the citizens of St. Kilda presented the battalion with regimental and King’s colours. The ceremony entailed a battalion entrainment from Broadmeadows to the St. Kilda railway station and a march to the St. Kilda Cricket Ground, where the men were entertained by the citizens at lunch. A march was then made to the esplanade where all formed up in line to receive the Governor-General Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson. After the colours had been uncased and consecrated by the regimental chaplain (Padre Gillison) they were presented by the Governor-General to Lieutenants W. H. Hamilton and B. Combes. At the conclusion of the ceremony the battalion marched back to the city. The colours were subsequently placed in St. George’s Presbyterian Church, St. Kilda, for safe keeping.”

By the time the 4th brigade’s embarkation date neared the men had been hardened by exercise and its confidence strengthened by discipline wrote Wanliss, and by this time the unit held “as fine a body of men as ever left Australia’.

On December 17 the brigade, in marching order, marched through the streets of Melbourne, setting out from Broadmeadows at 7 a. m. All traffic was stopped in Melbourne for the occasion and the road-way was fenced off by barriers. The city was crowded; everyone knew that the brigade was on the eve of embarkation, and the public turned out in thousands to give it a farewell. The Governor-General and State. Governor took their stand at the saluting base near Parliament House and watched the march past.
Each battalion was preceded by its pioneers and followed by its transport waggons. Preceded by Colonel Monash and his staff, company after company of the various battalions (the 13th leading) swept through the streets “their gleaming bayonets forming a sparkling crest to the khaki river “. The scene was stirring and impressive to a degree. The men marched magnificently and their bearing was that of veterans.
The spectators felt proud of the brigade and were convinced that the honour of Australia was safe in its hands. “(Wanliss chap.1, p.6)

Regimental Staff of the 14th Battalion who embarked at Melbourne 1915 for Egypt:
Commanding Officer: Lieutenant-Colonel R.E.Courtney VD
Second in Command: Major J. Adams
Quartermaster: Major H.N.Young VD
Adjutant: Captain C.M.M. Dare
Medical Officer: Captain G.H.Loughran

14th Battalion Company Commanders:

A Company- Major R.RANKINE, Lt. J.G.T HANBY, 2nd Lt. K.G.W.CRABBE
B Company – Captain W. R. HOGGART, Lt.H.N.BOYLE, 2nd Lt. H.R.HARRIS
C Company – Captain T.H.STEEL, 2nd lt. W.E.GROOME, 2nd lt. V.C. Cumberland
D Company – Captain C.E. CONNELLY, Lt. W.H.HAMILTON, 2nd Lt. D.L.K.RICHARDSON
E Company – Captain F.H.WRIGHt, 2nd Lt. G.L. GILES, 2nd Lt. A.R.COX
F Company – Captain W.C.N.BALDOCK, Lt. B. COMBES, 2nd Lt. L.E.BALL
H Company – Lt. A HENRY, 2nd Lt. R.W.GRAHAM, 2nd Lt. O.C.W.FUHRMANN

On December 22 1914 the 14th Battalion entrained at Broadmeadows for Port Melbourne, and then marched down the Town Pier and embarked aboard the HMAT “Ulysses’, the flagship of the departing convoy and which also carried the 4th Brigade Headquarters and the 13th battalion.

“All were in great spirits and the departure of the boat was an inspiring spectacle, last farewells to friends being waved, and the battalion band which had been formed at Broadmeadows playing inspiriting airs, including “Tipperary,” “Australia Will Be There” and the 14th Battalion regimental march, that famous southern folk-song “The Swannee River.”” (Wanliss, chap.2, p.3)

At King George Sound 18 men were discharged: half as medically unfit the other half for disobedience of orders re compulsory inoculation. When the convoy later touched at Colombo more men were left behind and 3 corporals reduced in rank.

On the last day of 1914 a convoy of nineteen transports carrying Australian and New Zealand troops steamed out from Albany in single file for overseas. Outside the harbour the vessels formed up in three lines, the “Ulysses” as flagship leading in the centre, the “Ceramic” the port and the “Themistocles” the starboard division. The Australian convoy consisted of 16 vessels carrying 318 officers and 10.030 men, the New Zealand convoy three vessels with 66 officers and 1962 men. The convoy had only one escort – the Australian submarine AE 2 which was later lost at the Dardanelles.

“On January 28 anchor was cast off Suez, and for the first time the propinquity of hostilities was realised. Information came to hand that Turkish snipers were firing at passing vessels, and a barricade of flour bags was built on the bridge to protect the wheel house from bullets. Alexandria, on the Mediterranean coast, was reached on the morning of January 31. The long sea journey was now over, ” (Wanliss chap.2, p.5).

The troops disembarked at Alexandria. Thee 14th Battalion was conveyed by train to a new camping ground named ‘Aerodrome Camp’, on the desert’s fringe of the southern suburb of Cairo named Heliopolis.
It was here the 14th was reformed into a four or double-company system (as opposed to the 8-company system it operated under when formed in Australia).

This new organisation was adopted in all Australian infantry units, wrote Wanliss (chap.p.1). “The double company organisation was adopted to bring the AIF. Units into line with the organisation of the British Army which had adopted this system some time previously. The half-companies were called platoons, four of which went to the company.”

New Four-Company System Commanders:
A Company (formed from co A & co E): Officer-in-command Major Rankine, 2IC – Captain F.H.Wright.
B Company (originally Co B & Co F): OC – Captain Baldock, 2IC – Captain W.R.Hoggart
C Company (originally Co C & Co G): OC – Major Steel, 2IC – Captain Hutton
D Company (originally Co D & Co H): OC – Captain Connelly, 2IC – Captain A Henry.

Under the command of Sir Alexander Godley the 4th Brigade itself next became a portion of the newly formed New Zealand and Australian Division,  which formed up in the desert on March 23rd 1914 for inspection by the High Commissioner of Egypt.

It was also whilst the troops were in Egypt that it was decided all Australian units should wear distinctive colours. The colours were always duplicated and worn continuously, and were to be worn on both arms according to Wanliss. The lower colours were to represent the brigade, the upper colors the battalion.
The 4th brigade color was chosen by Colonel Monash as dark navy blue, and the 14th colour as gold.
Accordingly all members of the 14th Battalion wore small horizontal stripes of gold and dark navy blue.

As a Franco-British military and naval expedition was planned for the purpose of forcing the Dardanelles and capturing Constantinople the Australian Division and the New Zealand and Australian Division were included in the troops to be employed for that purpose.

On April 11th 1914 tents were struck, kits packed and the 14th battalion marched from Heliopolis to Helmia railway station for Lemnos, 40 miles from the mouth of the Dardenelles and the rendezvous of the British Expeditionary Forces.

The 14th battalion embarked aboard the S.S. Sean Choon along with the Brigade’s Headquarters, and sailed from Alexandra on the 13th April, reaching Lemnos on the 15th.

On April 22 1914 detailed orders were received for operations for landing on the Peninsula, the expedition to be led by General Sir Ian Hamilton, and the Anzac divisions under Lieutenant-General Birdwood.

The plan consisted of an attack near Cape Helles at the entrance to the Dardenelles with the 29th Division, along with Anzacs being sent ashore near Gabe Tepe while feints were made at Bulair and Kum Kale in Asia (as a distraction to the Turks and to prevent reinforcements being sent to the vital attacks).

The theory was for the army to open a road for the fleet to enter the Dardanelles, and force its way to Constantinople

The first Australian attack was to be initiated by the 1st Australian Division with the 4th as a reserve brigade and the 14th battalion to be reserve to the 4th.
“C” Company (with my great uncle James Booley amongst it) was to the be reserve for the 14th Battalion.

The Australian attack commenced before dawn on April 25, but the Sean Choon hadn’t left Mudros Harbur at Lemnos till breakfast, so the 14th battalion was not among the dawn attack.
Church Parade was held on board the Sean Choon by Padre Gillison, but it didn’t save any of the men from a hellish sight as their vessel sailed into the entrance of the Dardenelles.
“The whole pensinsula was like an inferno”, wrote Wanliss, ” with the terrific naval bombardment on the coast and heroic tragedy of the 29th Division’s landing witnessed by those on board.”

The 14th received orders to remain on board till the next day and the ship’s deck was cleared and as a makeshift hospital began taking in wounded men, the decks soon soaked in blood from operations and amputations.

The men of the 14th began plying the wounded with questions and heard the dreadful story of the landing.

A beach party of 2nd reinforcement’s 14th battalion aboard the Sean Choon were sent on shore earlier in the morning of the 25th, and were officially the first of the 14th battalion ashore at Gallipolli.

Despite orders to not come ashore till the following day, Colonel Courtney instructed Captain Wright to take 2 platoons of A company to go ashore. No 2 platoon (led by Lt Crabbe) and no 3 platoon (Lt A.R.Cox) transhipped into a heavy lighter and were towed ashore.

A party of these men went northward along the beach and dug in till the 27th April, when they re-joined the 14th battalion which had landed, and the unit then began the march to Schrapnel Gully, casting the battalion headlong into war.

From Wanliss’ publication I know the 3rd reinforcements14th battalion didn’t arrive until the 6th of May 1915, and that the 14th had rare opportunity to return to Alexandria.
From the Red Cross search for James Booley, I know that he was in C Company, so if the mystery war photo is James Booley’s unit, and if taken in Egypt, then theoretically the officers in the middle should be CMajor Steel and with his 2IC Captain Hutton.  Provided they weren’t among those left at King George Sound, Albany or Colombo.

When James Booley went missing in August in the carnage of a useless charge near Hill 971, both Sergeant Major  ‘Albert’ Jacka and Sergeant Edmonson of “C” Co. 14th battalion verified James Booley had been in C company.

James Booley had followed his older brother Stanley Booley into war service. Stan went into the 14th Battalion but unlike James, Stan is mentioned in Wanliss’ publication, when he received a commission in the field the following year.

Sir John Monash spoke glowingly of the 4th Brigade’s accomplishments:

“No other Infantry Brigade of the A.I F dare challenge the reputation of the 4th for its first rank
soldierly prowess and performance, or for its brilliant record of battle honors,” wrote Monash (p.15).
“It bore, throughout its history, its full share of the labors, the hardships, the sacrifices, the fighting record and the honors which made up the story of the 4th Brigade.”
“In the hectic days that followed the landing, the 4th Brigade held the key position on the Peninsula, and valiantly defended it against many imperious assaults. It led the advance to San Bair of August, 1915, and it had the distinction of being the only Australian Brigade which gained extensive ground during the Dardanelles campaign. Its subsequent services—in the defence of the Canal zone in Egypt, on the Sinai desert; in its successful occupation and active defence of the Armentieres sector in France in the first battle of the Somme, at Pozieres; at Bullecourt, at the operations of Messines and of Passchendaele: at the defence of Hebuterne; in the great victories of Hamel, Amiens and Hargicourt—are one long record of glorious and successful endeavour.”

But however well Wanliss writes of the successes of the 14th battalion and 4th Brigade, a reader can be left heavy-hearted by the sum of a campaign with such dreadful loss of life and the cruel wounding and injuring of so many men.

But at least from Wanliss work I can guess that my grandmother’s mystery photo is potentially the ‘C” company of the 14th Battalion, probably taken in Egypt prior to the battalion set off to Gallipoli.

The only problem is, there are three officers in the photo and Wanliss only names Major Steel and Captain Hutton as two commanding officers of “C” company, so more research now needs to be done on the actualy company.

Jenny Fawcett 6th Jan 2015

Source: SLV: The history of the Fourteenth Battalion, A.I.F. : being the story of the vicissitudes of an Australian unit during the Great War / by Newton Wanliss (1929)