21st Battalion History




Embarkation took place at Alexandria on 30th August, the ship pulling out of the harbour the same day. On board the "Southland" with us were 2nd Division Headquarters, 6th Inf. Bde. H.Q., "B" Coy. 23rd Battn and various details.

The voyage was uneventful until the ship had nearly reached her destination, Mudros Bay, when we had our first test of discipline in the face of enemy action. At this time the regulations for the wearing of lifebelts, submarine guards and the like had not been instituted, so we were very much taken by surprise when the transport was torpedoed off the Island of Stratae, at 9.50 am on the 2nd September 1915. The troops on board were just assembling for 10 o’clock parade, and many including the writer saw the torpedo coming. It struck just forward of the bridge and the ship listed rapidly. There was some confusion among the crew, but the troops quietly put on their life belts and stood by at their boat stations.

By 11 am all the boats, mostly collapsibles were launched and the few troops left on board were taken off by the hospital ship "Neuralia" which together with several other vessels arrived on the scene a little before noon. A volunteer party of eighteen remained on board and under the directions of the ship’s officers got up steam before a salvage crew was put on board from a destroyer. The "Southland" then, under her own power was beached in Mudrus Harbour about 7 pm. All the small boats were picked up by 3.30 pm and the Battalion was reorganised and refitted on board the "Transylvania" at Mudros.

Our casualties were light amounting to only 30 to 40 all told. Among these however was our Brigadier, Col. Linton, who died from results of exposure on the water after his boat had overturned.

In passing it is interesting to note that the commander of the submarine published an account of this episode in a book of his war experiences. This book came into the hands of Capt. A.S. Robertson of this unit whilst a prisoner of war in Germany. The German version is, in main accurate with the exception that the author claims to have sunk the "Southland" and also that he came under heavy shellfire whereas in reality only two shots were fired. The book in question is "U-Boot gegen U-Boot" by Oberleutnant H. von Heimburg.

We transhipped to the transport "Abassieh" on the evening of 6th September and were landed at ANZAC Cove before midnight. Next day we took over the line which was to be our home for 3 1/2 months. Battalion H.Q. was in the terraces behind Scott’s Point. "A" and "B" Company held the line from Wire Gully on the right where we joined the 22nd Battalion. "C" Company occupied Steel’s Post and "D" Company, Courtney’s Post. On our left in Quinn’s Post was the 17th Battalion. The situation was at a deadlock when we arrived and remained so until the evacuation. Our casualties from enemy action were slight but constant work in the front line, short rations and dirt caused much sickness and during our stay we dwindled from 1000 to 650 strong even with the addition of our 3rd Reinforcements who joined us on the 11th October.

On the morning of the 17th October the Turks in front of Quinn’s and Courtney’s fraternised with out troops for about half an hour during which time bully beef was exchanged for tobacco and other trifles. Part of out routine was to supply a Beach Fatigue party of 100 Men. Although casualties with this party were more frequent than in the trenches, there was great competition to be included in it, when it changed monthly on account of the extra freedom of movement out of the line.

At the beginning of November we shortened out front by handing over Steel’s and Courtney’s to the 18th Battalion and taking over a short company front in the Tambour from the 22nd. This enabled us to put 200 men on digging out the extensive tunnel system designed for our winter quarters. During this month the weather which had been perfect turned cold and on the night of the 26th we experienced a blizzard. On the 29th we suffered a heavy bombardment from the Turks, which was specially concentrated on Lone Pine where the 23rd and 24th and 13th Light Horse had heavy casualties.

The 12th December saw us shifting out of the front row for the first time. Two Companies went to the Pine ("A" and "B") and the remainder of the Battalion went to Dead Man’s Gully to do the necessary engineering work preparatory to the evacuation.

The main portion of the Battalion left the Peninsula from Watson’s Pier during the night 18/19 December. The remainder of 6 officers and 214 OR left during the night 19/20th. The last two parties of 6 men each were under Capt. Crowther and Capt. Duggan and left the front trenches at 2.30 am and 2.48 am respectively on the 20th December 1915. The Adjutant, Lt. A M Boothman and the RMO Capt. J p Fogarty also remained and left with the last parties.

We spent Christmas and New Year on Lemnos Island where we camped at West Mudros. While here we received billies from Australia and a very large mail. The villages near the camp were very interesting and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being able to stretch our legs after 3 months continuously cooped up in trenches 2 feet wide and 8 to 10 feet deep.

On the 4 January 1916 we embarked on the "Ascanins" for Egypt and arrived in Alexandria on the 7th January after an uneventful trip.

III  Egypt Again