Opinion | Yesterday Today

MEN IN UNIFORM: The commanding officer and officers of the 54th Battalion at Wallgrove Camp in May 1940 (taken by W.A. Shearon, photographer, Sydney).
MEN IN UNIFORM: The commanding officer and officers of the 54th Battalion at Wallgrove Camp in May 1940 (taken by W.A. Shearon, photographer, Sydney).

OUR photo this week shows the commanding officer and other officers of the 54th Battalion at Wallgrove Army Camp in May 1940. 

The Wallgrove Army Camp was established at Wallgrove, though the area is now called Eastern Creek. Basically, the military operated the camp as a staging and training area during the Second World War.

The names mentioned on the back of this photo include B. Bestwick, McLeod, Hunter, Stewart, McCaddum, Upfold, O’Connell, Giles, Dawson, Fowler, Ben Simpson, Willman, McGee, Kilby, MacDonald, Burns, Paul Jacks, Riorden, Douglas, Bill Clarron, Alfie Hind, Middenway, Herbie Boyle, McKibbin, King, Peaterson, Browning, O’Neill, Hunt and more.

The various companies in Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo had been informed in early May to attend a compulsory parade to enable the issue of equipment for Wallgrove Camp. The members of B Company, 54th Battalion, Dubbo were notified that their parade would be held in their drill hall to issue kit bags and for the marking of all webbing equipment with the company insignia.

The men were informed that the use of suitcases was prohibited and that all members of the various companies should make sure that they were issued with the regulation kit bags.

All companies were to leave for three months’ camp at Wallgrove on Thursday, May 9, with the parade taking place at 7am. Any universal trainees who had not been notified of the time of the parade were requested to make inquiries at the local drill hall as soon as possible. The 54th Battalion was the part-time volunteer military force called the “Militia”. Little did most of these men know that their lives would change dramatically with a couple of months.

On arrival, a number volunteered to do special service. One Bathurst man was deployed to Newcastle where he “guarded the beaches on the quiet”. More men joined him later when Japan declared war and invaded Malaya.

Most of the men in camp in May were aware that there would be no more “day boys”, though it wasn’t officially announced until August when this system was suspended. The “day-boy” system of A.I.F. training in Sydney would end, at least temporarily, when those who had not yet been selected for Eighth Division units would be transferred to Wallgrove Camp for training, probably as reinforcements.

The day-boy system was regarded by military authorities as a stop-gap, but proved useful when recruiting applications overwhelmed the available camp accommodation. It had been recognised for some weeks, however, that it would be undesirable to continue training men on local recreation areas after they had got beyond the elementary stage of recruit training. In recent weeks, day boys had been doing increasingly strenuous training, including reasonably long marches, and the militia men were subjected to these long route marches.

At this time, 850 men were taking part in the A.I.F. march from Ingleburn Army Camp to Bathurst and were due to arrive at the Bathurst military camp the following day. The Seventh Division Engineers were bivouacked at Walang, just seven miles from their destination. The final unit on the march, including Brigade Headquarters troops, and the Anti-Tank Company, were billeted at Wallerawang and were expected to march into camp two days later. After these men arrived, they decided to send the two field artillery regiments of 650 men each to Bathurst from Ingleburn by motor transport the following month, bringing the total number in the Bathurst Army Camp to nearly 5000.

The men learnt how to read a map, clean and maintain a .303 rifle, and do parade drills and manoeuvres. They had long marches over assorted types of terrain. Sometimes 300 or more men could be in a group. Other men underwent truck driving and maintaining their vehicle.

- Alan McRae is with the Bathurst District Historical Society