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The Rock-itt : April 2011
by Simon Lyon The War that was to be named, THE WAR TO END ALL WARS, or the Great War, started in August 1914 after a series of seemingly unrelated events in central Europe. With the major powers at that time all bristling with arms and confident of winning any encounter due to the size and mobility of their massive armies, it seemed that the war would be confined to Europe. The main armies were those from Russia, France, Austria Hungary and Germany (Central Powers); Britain had a sm all standing army of around 250,000 regulars which was considered “contem ptible” by Germany’s aggressive leader and Kaiser (King) Wilhelm, although the mighty fleet of the British still “ruled the waves”. Ultimately it was the aggression of Germany’s leadership that was to propel its peacetime professional army of 840,000 (which at the outbreak of the war would grow to over 4,000,000 soldiers) against the main enemy, France, in a plan that had been worked on since the Franco Prussian War of 1870. Once France had been overrun by a lightning mass movement of troops, it would turn its attention to assisting the Austrian Hungarian armies subdue the massive Russian forces in the East. Whilst Great Britain and its Empire looked on with concern, it wasn’t until Germany marched into neutral Belgium, that Britain, entered the war, thanks to a series of “treaties” that had been entered into decades earlier. With Australia only becoming a Federation in 1901, the former colony still looked to Britain with some fondness, as would a younger sibling to his older brother. In addition there existed in the country a large population of English and British born men who wanted to serve the “mother country” in times like this. It was no surprise to recruiting parties that the call to arms in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada was substantial. Men travelled for mile around to sign up; many of them wanted to seek adventure, many of them wanted a chance to get home and many more of them were desperate to “fight against the Germans” in France at the earliest opportunity. As with most young men, a sense of adventure and of proving oneself to your mates or parents was probably uppermost in their minds. The call to arms poster But once sign up papers had been done, training had begun, and Regim ents and Battalion assembled, there was to be a shock for these young men, eager to teach the Hun a lesson. The Australian Prime Minister Joseph Cook, offered to support Britain “to the last man and to the last shilling” and it was announced to the nation that an expeditionary force (to be named the A.I .F – Australian Imperial Force) of not less than 20,000 men and the ships of the Royal Australian Navy would set sail in 6 weeks. While this was under way, New Zealand also offered to send 8,000 of its troops plus some ships of its own Navy to assist. As German cruisers were reported to be in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, it was decided that a convoy of troopships be accompanied and defended by Navies from England, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. This convoy assembled in the safe harbour of Albany in W estern Australia and finally set sail for the Suez Canal (via Ceylon and Aden) and after constant postponements from the 21 st September onwards the massive fleet set sail on 1 st November, its final destination unknown. In the m eantime, the BEF (British Expeditionary force) had been severely repulsed at various towns in Belgium and North Eastern France; AIF troops gathered at the Sphinx in Cairo in early 1915