The Story of the Twenty-First.
Formation and Training.
After the departure of the first Australian Division and the Fourth A.I. Brigade from Australia in 1914, the depots in the different States rapidly assumed unwieldy proportions. More men were offering their services than were needed to reinforce the troops already in the field, and in March 1915 it was decided to form three new Infantry Brigades, the 5th, 6th, 7th, and a Light Horse Brigade, the 4th. The 3rd L.H. Brigade had embarked in February 1915.
The 21st, 22nd, and 23rd Battalions of the 6th Infantry Brigade were at once formed in Victoria. The 24th Battalion was originally composed of South Australians, and was not formed as a Victorian unit until a week before we sailed.
The 21st Battalion was made up of "L" to "S" Companies from the Infantry Depot at Broadmeadows, together with 250 men from the Light Horse Depot. During the last week of March the Brigade was officially handed over to the Brigadier, Col. R. Linton, and went to live in its new camp at the Eastern end of the old depot. The command of the 21st Battalion was entrusted to Lt-Col. J. F. Hutchinson, with Major E. A. Harris as Second in Command, and Capt. F. W. D. Forbes as Adjutant. The Company commanders were; "A" Maj. C. H. Raitt: "B" Maj. W. J. Batemen; "C" Lt. N. F. Wellington; "D" Lt. B. O. C. Duggan. Of these officers Capt Forbes and Lt Duggan later commanded the 21st Battalion, while Maj. Harris was transferred to command the 59th Battalion and Maj. Bateman to command the19th Battalion.
During April the Battalion was organised and trained as a unit; transport, machine gun, and signalling sections were formed, and the troops shook down into the happy family life, which lasted throughout our career. From those early days the 21st was the only unit as far as we were concerned, and the spirit of the original members spread itself through all those who joined us later on. The first week of May was spent in frenzied attempts to equip the Battalion, and to weed out the unfit. Both attempts were successful, and on 8th May, 1915, we left Broadmeadows at midday, to embark on H.M.A.T. "Ulysses" lying at the Town Pier, Port Melbourne.
Embarkation was quietly carried out. There was no fanfare of trumpets, and that night we slipped from the pier down the bay in company with the "Euripides" which carried the 23rd and 24th Battalions. On our boat, besides ourselves, there were Brigade H. Q. and the 22nd Battalion. Troopship life was strenuous. Like the rest of the A.I.F., we lived on troop decks, sleep in hammocks, grumbled at the food, and between time wrote home. Parades were held at 7 am for "jerks", 10 till 12, and 2 till 4 for General Instruction. The groundwork obtained during these parades in musketry and the theoretical part of soldiering enabled us to start work in Egypt in a fairly advanced stage of training.
The sea was smooth throughout the trip. The main incidents were out visit to Colombo, the subsequent trouble over the punishment of absentees, and finally the glorious trip through the Suez Canal in daylight. Here we saw troops on active service for the first time, as the "line" was then right on the Canal bank.
On arrival at Alexandria, at 2 pm on 8th June, most of the troops took French leave for the evening. Next day we entrained for Helmieh Siding, thence we marched to the Aerodrome Camp, Heliopolis, which was our home for the next three months.
Our first stay in Egypt is one of our happiest memories. In spite of the heat and the not too good tucker, we enjoyed our time off thoroughly. Hard training in the early mornings and the evenings kept us very fit. Heliopolis was just next door to our camp, and Cairo 20 minutes by electric train, and the sights, sounds and smells of our new surroundings interested us. We worked through the individual and collective stages of training rapidly, and spent most of July doing Battalion and Brigade exercises on the desert. Junior Officers and senior N.C.Os underwent a course at the Zeitoun School, which had beneficial effects upon our efficiency.
In July, the 5th, 6th, and 7th Brigades were formed into the 2nd Australian Division under Maj.-Gen. Legge, who was bought from Gallipoli to take charge. Engineer companies and signallers were drawn from the Infantry and trained with us. The 13th Light Horse was detached as Divisional Cavalry, but we had no artillery and did not get any until after our return from the Peninsula.
From 12th to 23rd August "C" Company garrisoned the Cairo Citadel, the other three companies, Kasr-el-Nil and Bab-el-Hadid Barracks in the city it self. We were the first Australian troops to act as garrison in Cairo.
On returning to Heliopis we absorbed our 1st and 2nd reinforcements, which brought us to full strength, and on the night of the 29th August entrained at Helmieh Siding once more as a fully trained Australian unit ready to take our place at the side of the 1st Division which had already made its name immortal on Gallipoli.
The 5th Inf Bde had proceeded us by a week and even while we were entraining was taking part in the last effort which was made to cross the Gallipoli Peninsula and open the Dardenelles to our fleet.