Walcha history: 33rd Battalion sails for France

Off to war: The Isle of Man paddlewheel steamer Mona’s Queen tied up at the Port of Douglas before being put into troop transport service during World War I.
Off to war: The Isle of Man paddlewheel steamer Mona’s Queen tied up at the Port of Douglas before being put into troop transport service during World War I.

Following three months of intensive training at Lark Hill, the 33rd Battalion sailed across the English Channel to Le Havre in northern France aboard the Mona’s Queen. For two days and nights they travelled in rail trucks to Bailleu, near the battlefront at Armentieres.

Lieutenant R.H. Blomfield wrote: “We passed single file through the shattered town of Armentieres and, as daylight faded, went straight into a trench to relieve the previous occupants, the Northumberland Fusiliers. They were sturdy little men who had dug the trench to suit themselves but the Aussies’ heads showed over the top with Major Massie’s being at least a foot higher.

“A fusilier sergeant brought me a ‘dixie’ of hot tea and invited me to visit No-Man’s Land. It was quite safe he said, no bombs would drop there! Daylight restored our confidence and we could see the German trenches through our periscopes. Some of our men started taking pot shots at the enemy but a sergeant roared at them to stop, not wanting to stir up a hornets’ nest.”

The 33rd also saw action at Messines, Paschendaele, Villers Bretoneaux, Bray, Bouchavesnes, Mont St Quentin and was part of the final assault on the Hindenberg Line. The 33rd was at Abbeville on November 11, 1918, when the Armistice came into effect. 

Australian forces in World War 1 suffered great numbers of casualties and required constant reinforcements. A battalion at full strength could deploy 1028 soldiers in battle but often had many more members after reinforcements were take into account. The 33rd suffered 2500 casualties which included 451 deaths.

Lt Colonel White, officer commanding the 33rd Battalion, wrote to the Walcha Municipal Council in July 1918 advising that a heavy German machine gun captured by the 33rd at Bouchavesnes was being sent to Walcha in appreciation of the district’s support. It was delayed when the government decided war trophies would not be distributed until after the war.

The gun and a trench mortar were put on display at the Walcha Memorial Park but in 1942 the Australian Army insisted the machine gun be returned to Liverpool.