Walcha history: Sailing to war

Preparing to leave: Some of the 38 troopships ships that assembled in King George Sound off Albany, Western Australia, in October 1914
Preparing to leave: Some of the 38 troopships ships that assembled in King George Sound off Albany, Western Australia, in October 1914

The first Australian and New Zealand Army Corps convoy steamed out of King George Sound on the morning of November 1, 1914.

The convoy comprised 28 Australian and 10 New Zealand transport ships escorted by the British armoured cruiser HMS Minotaur, together with HMAS Sydney and HMAS Melbourne. They were joined on November 3 by the Japanese battle cruiser Ibuki and a further two Australian transport ships from Fremantle.

As well as carrying thousands of troops the transports also carried horses, arms and munitions, foodstuffs, wool and a variety of other materials needed in Great Britain.

There were several German warships in the Indian and South Pacific oceans when the convoy set sail and one, the German light cruiser Emden, which had earlier sunk or captured 30 Allied warships and merchant vessels, engaged the more powerful HMAS Sydney in the vicinity of the Cocos Islands on November 9, 1914.

You can imagine how we felt on our troopship while the battle was going on. We were expecting a stray shell to strike us at any moment.

Garnet David Victor Jones was one of the Walcha men who were on the first convoy. Jones, who was lost in battle at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, wrote to his parents at St Leonards Creek while in training in Egypt. His letter reads in part:

“We had been at sea for over a week when we were attacked by a German cruiser, but our escort beat them off. The Sydney, one of the Australian cruisers, succeeded in smashing up the Emden. You can imagine how we felt on our troopship while the battle was going on. We were expecting a stray shell to strike us at any moment.

“Our first port of call was Colombo in Ceylon; we had been out of sight of land for over a fortnight. We then called at Aden, just off the coast of Arabia; it was very hot there. On leaving Aden we passed through Hell’s Gates into the Suez Canal, which is a great sight.”

Garnet also described passing through the Suez Canal and seeing Port Said before sailing on to Alexandria where they disembarked and travelled by tram to the training camp. He finished the letter saying: “I have seen some of the world’s famous sights and am writing this in one of the trenches as we are constantly at drill.”

A second escorted convoy sailed from King George Sound on December 14, 1914 with 14 Australian and three New Zealand troopships plus the submarine AE2, which was towed by the troopship Berrima.

More than 330,000 service personnel and 25,000 horses sailed from Australia to serve in the Great War.