Search the Collection
Advanced Search
Image Not Available

The little war Australia won

Date: 14 August 1964
Overall: 380 x 300 mm
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Gift from Ian Hamilton
Object Name: Newspaper clipping
Object No: 00004151
Place Manufactured:Sydney

User Terms

    An article from the Daily Telegraph newspaper, 14 August 1964. Written by Wallace Crouch it is titled 'The little war Australia won' The article interviews Mr. John Martin who served in the first naval and military expeditionary force (AN&MEF) in World War I.
    1,000 soldiers and 500 naval reservists sailed on the BERRIMA (a converted P&O steamer) on 19 August 1914 to German New Guinea to take over Rabaul for the Allies. After a brief action the Union Jack was hoisted on 13 September, 1914 in Proclamation Square, Rabaul.
    SignificanceThe operations undertaken by Australia in the Pacific in 1914 represented the first military action by Australia in World War 1. The interview in the article provides a very personal account of the events and a soldier’s interpretation of what took place.
    History'No more 'um Kaiser God save 'um King'
    The little war Australia won by Wallace Crouch.

    Without fuss or ceremony, City council workmen this weekend will affix to a cliff face in lower Macquarie Street, a bronze plaque commemorating a scarcely remembered "sideshow" in Australia's military history.
    Fifty years ago next Wednesday 1500 Australian soldiers and sailors sailed out of Sydney Harbor to wrest from the Kaiser's Imperial Germany its possessions in the South Pacific.
    Theirs was a campaign involving only a few days sporadic fighting and a handful of casualties and was later eclipsed by the tremendous Australian sacrifices at Gallipoli and in the mud of France.
    But there are still men alive - like Mr. John W. Martin, of Neutral Bay - who vividly recall the expedition, its brief jungle clashes, its quick victories, its humour, and then its long days of occupation boredom.
    Mr Martin is 71 and a TPI war pensioner. He was wounded not in New Guinea, but in the later, terrible fighting with the first AIP's 30th Battalion at Fromelles in France.
    Yet clearest in his memory is the Pacific campaign of World War 1 - the "little war" which was won eight months before the name Anzac was bloodily etched out on Gallipoli's beaches.
    The day after Australia joined the declaration of war on Germany on Sunday August 14, 1914, the British Government asked the Commonwealth authorities to seize and destroy a chain of vital German wireless stations in the South Pacific.
    Whitehall feared these wireless posts would become a rallying point for German resistance in the Pacific, as well as a means of directing the operations of German sea raiders.
    Germany at the time held the northern half of eastern New Guinea, New Britain, and a scattering of other islands north of Australia.
    Besides raising a volunteer force to fight in Europe, the Australian Government decided to create more rapidly a second and smaller force vaguely destined for 'the tropics'.
    It was called the First Naval and Military Expeditionary Force, and Brigadier - Colonel William Holmes, D.S.O., V.D., who had fought bravely in the Boer War, was given command.
    Mr. Martin says "There was no lack of volunteers. Queues formed outside Victoria Barracks.
    "Twenty of us from the Mosman area enlisted - all young, eager for adventure, and raring to go.
    "Our officers had only 11 days in which to lick us into some sort of shape as soldiers - to equip us, drill us, and give us some insight into the basic fundamentals of soldiering.
    "At the same time workmen at Cockatoo Island were hectically converting the P. & O. Company’s steamer BERRIMA into a troopship.
    "There were 1000 of us soldiers, and 500 naval reservists who were also to fight as infantrymen.
    "Only some of the officers had previous battle experiences.
    "For Colonel Holmes, it was a family affair - his son, Lieutenant Basil Holmes, was his ADC, and his on-in-law, Captain R.J.A. Travers, his intelligence officer.
    "On August 19, most of Sydney turned out to watch us embark. We marched through crowded streets to Fort Macquarie, and ferries took us out to BERRIMA."


    "We sailed under sealed orders. But the Harbor foreshores were crowded with cheering well-wishers and small craft bobbed around the ship until we cleared the Heads.
    “We were the rawest bunch of footsloggers ever to leave Australia, but there was something very special about our force.
    "For the first time Australian troops were to do their own job under their own Government's orders.
    "Australians had earlier fought in the Sudan, in South Africa, and at the Boxer Rebellion in China.
    "But always before they had been part of a large force under the direct orders of British commanders.”
    On the way up the coast BERRIMA ran into heavy seas. Seasick sailors littered its decks, and little training was done.
    "We couldn't go into action as inexperienced as we were, " says Mr.Martin, "so BERRIMA anchored off Palm Island, in north Queensland, and we went shore for a few days to learn the arts of soldiering.
    "For many of us it was the first time we fired our 303 rifles."
    As BERRIMA ploughed northwards, a strong detachment from the British-commanded Australian fleet joined it as escorts.
    The warships included the cruisers AUSTRALIA, SYDNEY and ENCOUNTER, Australia's two submarines AE1 and AE2.
    "We were glad to have the warships along," recalls Mr. Martin, "because there were strong rumours that the big German cruisers GNEISENAU and SCHARNHORST were lurking the waters of Rabaul."
    On September 11 BERRIMA sailed into Blanche Bay at the northern tip of New Britain, which the Germans called New Pomerania.
    "But the main fighting didn't take place at the new settlement called Rabaul,” Mr. Martin explains.
    "It was all a bit confused, but what happened was that two small detachments which had earlier landed at Kabakaul and Herbertshohe to capture the wireless station at Bitapaka had met with stiff opposition.
    "All throughout the South Pacific the Germans had been getting ready for Der Tag - The Day - and the German planters were in fact Army reservists who had pressed into service about 800 natives as snipers.
    "The history books give all the details on the fighting, but for my money for the short time it lasted it was vicious and nasty.
    "The natives were hidden up in the coconut palms sniping away with Mausers - like the Japs did in the second war.
    "The heat was terrific, the jungle frightening, and the place lousy with malaria and dysentery."
    Six Australians were killed and five wounded in the battle for the Bitapaka wireless station. Enemy deaths were one German NCO and about 30 native troops.
    Mr. Martin continues, "After this, it was all over bar the shouting.
    "We chased the German Governor Dr. Haber, 20 or so miles inland to Toma where he had his seat of government.
    "At first he refused to surrender the colony but after a few shells from ENCOUNTER on to the mountain ridges near the town and a little foraging by our boys, the old chap came out of the jungle and turned it in.
    "I remember for the benefit of the natives the Australian military occupation proclamation was also read in pidgin English, and ended with the words, "No more 'um Kaiser, God save 'um King.'"


    "From then on we were on easy street. Some of our boys sailed in BERRIMA to Frederich-Wilhelmshaften, the chief German outpost in New Guinea proper, and it smartly surrendered.
    "For the next month or so small parties of us cruised in small boats to other islands, Bougainville on New Ireland, Keita in the Solomons, hauling down the German flag, raising our own and rounding up prisoners."
    Silencing of the Bitapaka station was followed by the Allied destruction of the other German wireless centres in the Pacific.
    The station at Yap Island was destroyed by a British cruiser HAMPSHIRE, a landing party from the cruiser HMAS MELBOURNE put out of action the one on Nauru Island, and the Germans themselves destroyed the third on Samoa when they heard New Zealand troops had landed.
    But the walk over victory in the islands was overshadowed by tragedy. The submarine AE1 sailed out of Rabul and was never seen again. It is believed to have struck a coral reef.
    Mr. Martin recalls that a dispute - which was to have repercussions for many years to follow - arose out of the Australian expedition to the islands.
    This stemmed from Colonel Holmes wanting to push on and occupy the German islands north of the Equator, which Dr.Haber ha also surrendered.
    He was blocked by the British naval officer in charge of the fleet detachment, Rear-Admiral Sir George Patey, who refused to escort BERRIMA into those seas.
    "Of course, what happened was that the Japanese, who by this time had joined the Allies, occupied these islands, the Carolines, the Marshalls and the Marianas.
    "It was from these islands that the Japanese were able to lash out at us when the Pacific War began in 1941." Mr. Matin pointed out.
    For six months - the period its volunteers had signed on for - the Australian Expeditionary Force stayed on in the islands, fighting disease and boredom.


    Mr. Martin says, "Luckily, I had little waste time on my hands - in civvy street I'd been a hairdresser, so the C.O. let me build a hut and run a regimental barber's shop.
    "Eventually an older bunch of men came up in the ships EASTERN and NAVUA and we went back to Sydney.
    "But of the men who sailed in BERRIMA 90 per cent of us re-enlisted in the 1st AIF.
    We went to France, Egypt, or as reinforcements at Gallipoli. Many didn't get back.
    "One of them was my old chief, Colonel Holmes. He became a major-general and commanded the last troops to evacuate Gallipoli.
    "He was killed in July 1917, while showing the N.S.W. Premier (Mr Holman) over a French battlefield.
    "Shrapnel from a freak shell got him."

    Related People

    Discuss this Object


    Please log in to add a comment.