21st Battaion History


Last Days in France.


We detrained at St. Roch station, Amiens, on the evening of the 7TH October and marched 10 miles to billets in La Chaussee and Tirancourt. We had passed through many vicissitudes since we arrived at the same station just six months before. Then, with faces set with grim determination we had been hurried out along the road to Albert, the last resource of the British Army. Now we returned, tired, war worn, more veterans than ever as a victorious army, which had shown the world by its final campaign what Australia could do when she was up against it.

At La Chaussee, the battalion could not muster more than one decent sized company for parade and when we were again ordered to sink our identity as the 21st Battalion and join the 24th Battalion as "C" and "D" Companies, we could see the inevitability of the move. Our career as an independent unit ended at 10 am on the 13th October when the C.O. officially handed us over to Major W. H. Ellwood, M.C. of the 24th Battalion.

We continued to live together at Tirancourt Chateau, both Companies being entirely officered from the 21st Battalion. The C.O. 24th Battalion (Lieut.-Col. W.E. James, D.S.O.) was most considerate to us and we made friends with the other companies very quickly. Musketry and football were the chief forms of amusement, our "D" Company only being beaten by a strong H.Q. team for a football cup. Number 10 Platoon of "C" Company under Lieut. B. Besemeres won in succession the Battalion, Brigade and Divisional Championships over a 400-Yard Bullet and Bayonet course. The billets were roomy and amid lovely surroundings, also we were issued with mattresses for the first time on record. On the whole, it was a great spell and we were just thinking of our move back to the line when the news of the Armistice arrived on 11th November. There was no noisy demonstration, such as took place in the cities outside the war zone, the fact was too stunning for us to realise, surrounded as we were with all the usual routine of war.

On the 20th November, the 24th Battalion with its two new companies entrained at Vignacourt for Busigny in the occupied territory, but, owing to a delayed mine blowing up the railway, detrained short of its destination. We put in the night at a neighbouring camp and on successive days marched to Busigny, St. Souplet, and Boulogne-sur-Helpe, when we arrived on the 24th November and stayed for three weeks. The weather was bad and the billets were crowded but we extracted entertainment from football and the stories of the German occupation, which we heard from the inhabitants. While here, was formed the "1915 Company" composed of original members of the unit who were to be sent home first.

On 17th December we marched towards our winter quarters in Belgium, near Charleroi, staging at Solre-le-Chateau (15 miles), Solre-le-Gerv (10 miles), Alcourt (10 miles), to Nalinnes (5 miles) where we arrived with colours flying, giving as good an imitation of the conquering hero as we could in the rain. Our billets here were roomy and clean. The inhabitants showed us every kindness and we enjoyed the Christmas season in spite of the cold weather. Each Company had its own Christmas dinner and all were voted successful. Charleroi was 11kilos away by train and leave was plentiful. Brussels’ leave also became available in January 1919 and a Brigade Club was opened in that city with the profits made by the brigade cinema, which proved a popular form of diversion in out little community.

The first draft for Australia left on the27th December 1918 and the remainder of the original men and nine officers left on 13th January 1919. These were quickly followed by all those who embarked in 1915 after which the Battalion was brigaded under Lieut.-Col. A.R.L. Wiltshire, C.M.G. D.S.O. M.C. 22nd Battalion, first for Gourdinnes and later Marcinelles.

At this stage our story must end. We do not claim that it is pretentious literary achievement, but have aimed at telling the truth at all times. We trust that this short resume will find its way into the hands of every ex-member of the Battalion, and that it may bring back happy memories of the good times, even if a bit hard, which we spent together while engaged on the great adventure.

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