Second First Australian Infantry Battalion

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Date: 16 Oct 1939 to Dec 1945
Location: Sydney, New South Wales, Australiamap
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Black over Green on Grey colour patch of the 2/1st Battalion
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2/1st Australian Infantry Battalion

The Second World War was declared on 3rd September 1939 following Germany's refusal to cease its invasion of Poland. Australia's Commonwealth Government announced on 15th September a special expeditionary force, the Second Australian Imperial Force (2AIF), of 20,000 troops (one Division) for service at home or overseas as necessary (the Defence Act only permitted the current regular army and militia to serve within Australia). The Second First (2/1st) Australian Infantry Battalion was the first battalion formed and was allocated to the 16th Infantry Brigade, 6th Australian Division (the first fifteen brigades and five divisions were militia formations with ties to the original First World War's AIF). The battalion was raised at Victoria Barracks, Paddington, three kilometres south-east of Sydney's CBD on 16th October 1939; becoming known as the City of Sydney Regiment. [1]

6th Division convoy in the Indian Ocean

After training at the freshly-built camp at Ingleburn, in Greater Sydney's south-west, the battalion embarked for overseas duty on 10th January 1940 aboard HMT Orford U5. The Orford was one of ten transports carrying the 6th Division, accompanied by the British battleship HMS Ramillies, and Australian cruisers HMAS Australia and HMAS Canberra. The battalion saw action in Libya in January 1941 and Greece-Crete in April-May that year. It then garrisoned Syria before re-locating to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) for three months in early 1942. After a brief period of leave at home the battalion deployed to the Kokoda Track and the Buna, Gona and Sanananda beachheads of Papua. Following a lengthy period of further training in North Queensland's Atherton Tablelands, the battalion turned to the northern coast of New Guinea and the Aitape-Wewak Campaign. After the Japanese surrender in August 1945, the battalion gradually returned to Australia and was disbanded in December 1945. [2] The 2/1st Battalion remains a part of The Association of First Infantry Battalions, together with the 1st Infantry Battalion (First World War), 1st Infantry Battalion (Second World War Militia), 1/19th Royal New South Wales Battalion and today's 1st Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR).

During the war, a total of 3,491 men served with the battalion of whom 263 were killed and 418 wounded. More than 500 men were prisoners of war of the Germans. [2] Not only did men come from every Australian State to form the 2/1st Battalion, but also from Papua New Guinea (then two Australian Territories), New Zealand, England, Scotland and Ireland.

During its life, the 2/1st saw four commanding officers, each a Lieutenant Colonel at the time: [2]

  1. (Major General) Kenneth Eather CB CBE DSO 1939-41
  2. (Major General) Ian Ross Campbell CBE DSO & Bar 1941
  3. (Brigadier) Tom Warren White MVO 1942, and
  4. (Major General) Paul Alfred Cullen AC DSO ED 1942-45.

Battle honours

The 2/1st received the following battle honours:

  1. Bardia 1941
  2. Capture of Tobruk
  3. Mount Olympus
  4. Brallos Pass
  5. Retimo
  6. Kokoda Trail
  7. Eora Creek–Templeton's Crossing II
  8. Oivi–Gorari
  9. Buna–Gona
  10. Sanananda Road
  11. Nambut Ridge
  12. But–Dagua
  13. Hawain River


In January 1941 it entered its first campaign; Libya, where it took part in the successful attacks on Bardia (3-5th January) and Tobruk (21-22nd January).

The first battalion members to be killed in action were Privates Albert Prior (Pioneers Platoon) and Cecil O'Neill (15 Platoon), both killed instantly early in the Bardia attack when a Bangalore torpedo detonated following an enemy shell landing nearby. Lance Corporal Doug Evans (Pioneers) died of his wounds from the same incident three weeks later whilst being evacuated to Alexandria by ship. At Bardia nineteen battalion members were killed and 34 wounded. At Tobruk, where the defence was minimal, one was killed in action, one died from wounds and thirty were wounded. Whilst regarded as light casualties, it wasn't so for the families of those involved. The battalion was left to garrison Tobruk as the westward advance continued. Lieutenant Colonel Eather was hospitalised on 17th March with pneumonia, with Major Oram assuming appointment as administrative commander. [2]

On 18th March, the 6th Division embarked at Alexandria for the four-day voyage across the Mediterannean Sea to Greece.


Greece and Crete

Re-deployed with the 6th Division to Greece in March 1941, the battalion attempted to stem the German advance, most notably at Mount Olympus and Brallos Pass. Withdrawals from Servia to Veria, thence Aliakmon River, Katerin, Lamia, Brallos Pass, and finally to Megara, sadly became the 'norm'. Evacuating to Crete from Megara on 25th April aboard HMS Wryneck following the Greek Government's capitulation, the battalion staged a memorable defence of Retimo Airfield from 20th to 30th May until running out of ammunition and rations. Bill Travers was promoted to Captain and appointed officer commanding C Company for the campaign. On 9th April, Major Oram resumed his role as second-in-command when Major Ian Campbell took command of the battalion (posted in from 16th Brigade HQ) and was later promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. The new RMO was Captain Alan Carter. During the Greece-Crete campaign, the 6th Division became part of a specially-formed Australian and New Zealand Army Corps – ANZAC; the only time during the Second World War to which the term applied.

Some 500 battalion members were captured at Retimo on 22nd May and spent the remainder of the war as prisoners of war. [2]

Retimo view

Palestine (Israel) and Syria

The remnant (less than 100 of the original complement) moved back to Julis, Palestine (Israel) to regroup and refit.

2/1st enjoying Ascalon Beach

Reinforced, the 2/1st was sent north to Syria over a freezing and snowy winter to garrison the region against an expected counter-attack by the Germans. The defeated Vichy French were being repatriated and the region came under AIF control with support from the Free French. The 2/1st Battalion came to know the cities of Damascus, the capital, and Beirut, the seaside resort, quite well. The battalion encamped at Sausage Wood, near the village of Qatana and under the shadow of Mount Hermon. They were here when news came through of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

In January 1942 a new commanding officer arrived, Lieutenant Colonel Tom White, a graduate of Royal Military College Duntroon. He had already seen action in France with the British Expeditionary Force and at Tobruk with 9th Division. Warrant Officer Frank Barrett also rejoined the battalion following his escape from a POW camp in Yugoslavia. As his posting had since been filled, he voluntarily reverted to Sergeant so as to stay with the battalion. Lieutenant Frederick Allery MM marched in.

In February the battalion moved south, firstly to Beit Jirga Camp near Haifa. It was here that news arrived of the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse off Singapore, and then of the fall of Singapore and loss of the entire 8th Division. [2]



After being relieved, the 6th Division swiftly shipped back to Australia, but both the 16th and 17th Brigades were diverted for three-months to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). On 10th March at Port Tewfik, 16th Brigade boarded Orontes and 17th Brigade embarked aboard Otranto. Behind the scenes, there had been quite the squabble between the Prime Ministers of Australia and England, the latter wanting the 6th and 7th Divisions sent directly to the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). Australia needed the two divisions home for its own defence (the AIF comprised four divisions, the 9th still based in North Africa, the 8th just entering captivity in Singapore, and the two divisions in the Indian Ocean). Only Militia existed at home. [2]

After disembarking at Colombo on 26th March, they entrained south to Katakuranda, where the 2/1st would defend the aerodrome with the 2/2nd and 2/3rd Battalions in reserve. As early as 5th April some 70 Japanese planes were heard and seen overheard, however, there was no attempt to land troops. Trincomalee, on the north east of the island, was bombed and several British warships sunk and/or damaged. [2]

Lieutenant Colonel White was transferred out mid-year and replaced by the battalion's fourth commanding officer, Major Paul Cullen DSO. Cullen had been awarded the DSO in Libya whilst second-in-command of 2/2nd Battalion. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on 20th June.

The 2/1st finally disembarked in Australia, at Melbourne, on 7th August 1942. [2]



The 6th Division deployed to Papua within weeks of arriving home, departing Brisbane on 13th September 1942 aboard the Anhui, in company with corvette HMAS Lithgow, and docking in Port Moresby on 21st September.

HMAS Lithgow

Lieutenants Francis Duval, Ted Jackson-Hope, Keith Stuart-Wright and Alex Simpson established a rear details detachment; Lieutenants Andrew Murray and Max Long (wounded Oct 1942) were detached to 16th Brigade as liaison officers); Captain Ted Givney and Lieutenant Frederick Allery MM were detached with the Carriers Platoons of 2/2nd and 2/3rd Battalions as 16th Brigade Carriers Company and used in the defence of Port Moresby during the Kokoda Campaign.

The 2/1st stepped onto the Kokoda Track on 28th September 1942. The first evacuation with malaria was Corporal Ken Hammond. The battalion was particularly central in the action around Templeton's Crossing and Eora Creek (19-28th October), and Oivi–Gorari (8-11th November 1942). Progress along the Track was necessarily slow:

  • 2 Oct – Ower's Corner
  • 6 Oct – Uberi
  • 7 Oct – Imita Ridge and Ioribaiwa
  • 8 Oct – Nauro
  • 11 Oct – Menari
  • 14 Oct – Brigade Hill, Mission Ridge and Efogi
  • 15 Oct – Myola
  • 19-28 Oct – Templeton's Crossing, Kokoda Ridge and Eora Creek
  • 5 Nov – Alola, Isurava, Deniki and Kokoda
  • 8-11 Nov – Oivi and Gorari
  • 16 Nov – Wairopi
  • 18 Nov – Awala and Popondetta
  • 20 Nov – Soputa

Arguably, one of the saddest events of the campaign was the loss of brothers, Guy Manusu (23rd October) and Perry Manusu (27th October) at Eora Creek. They had enlisted on the same day as one another and joined the 2/1st Battalion in Palestine (Israel). A third brother, Percy, who had been with the battalion from the start, was subsequently transferred to the training battalion in Australia by the commanding officer to ensure his safety.

Following victory at Kokoda, and then the northern beachheads of Buna, Gona and Sanananda (20-21st November), the 2/1st was once more severely depleted, down to one third of its operational strength: eight officers and 297 other ranks; every one of them suffering from malaria. They were evacuated by air to Port Moresby between 17th and 19th December. They departed by ship for Australia on 2nd January 1943 for rest, recuperation and further training at Wondecla, on North Queensland's Atherton Tableland. [2] Casualties during the campaign were 101 killed in action, 189 wounded in action, eight missing in action and over 250 evacuated with malaria and/or typhus, of whom fifteen died.


New Guinea

Following almost two years based in North Queensland's Atherton Tableland retraining, the 2/1st next saw action from November 1944 to August 1945 in the Aitape-Wewak Campaign along the north coast of New Guinea (Papua and New Guinea were then two separate Australian Territories, being united in 1975 as the independent nation of Papua New Guinea). The battalion was particularly involved at Nambut Ridge, But–Dagua and Hawain River. [2]

Returned from Active Service Badge

Key appointments

Posting Libya 1941 Greece 1941 Syria 1941-42 Ceylon 1942 Kokoda 1942 Aitape 1944-45
Commanding OfficerLieutenant Colonel Ken Eather(Major General) Ian Ross Campbell CBE DSO & Bar (POW)Lieutenant Colonel Tom WhiteLieutenant Colonel Paul Cullen DSOLieutenant Colonel Paul Cullen DSOLieutenant Colonel Paul Cullen DSO (detached)
Second-in-CommandMajor Raymond OramMajor Raymond Oram (POW)Major Jim MillerMajor Jim MillerMajor Jim Miller (posted as CO 2/31st Bn; died of illness Dec 1942)Major Basil Catterns MC (admin commander)
AdjutantCaptain Donald JacksonCaptain Donald Jackson (POW; escaped)Captain Geoffrey CoxCaptain Geoffrey CoxCaptain Geoffrey CoxCaptain Colin Prior
Assistant AdjutantLieutenant Ronald WillmottLieutenant Ronald Willmott (POW)---Lieutenant Brian Garvey
Intelligence OfficerWarrant Officer Class One Walter DelvesWarrant Officer Class One Walter Delves (POW)Lieutenant Mick CarewLieutenant Mick CarewLieutenant Cecil TraiseLieutenant Colin Begg
Medical OfficerCaptain Clive 'Tom' SelbyCaptain Alan Carter (POW)Captain John ConnellCaptain John ConnellCaptain John ConnellCaptain John Connell
Roman Catholic ChaplainCaptain Gerard 'Paddy' YoullCaptain Gerard 'Paddy' YoullCaptain Francis GallagherCaptain Francis GallagherCaptain Charles Cunningham-
Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM)------
Officer CommandingMajor G F Cooper--Major Alan Baines-Major Edward Jackson-Hope
Signals PlatoonLieutenant Harold SealyLieutenant Harold Sealy (POW)-Lieutenant Reginald Powell-Lieutenant Albert Phillips
Mortars PlatoonLieutenant Richard DigbyLieutenant Richard Digby (POW)Lieutenant Frederick Allery MM and Lieutenant Ion ReardonLieutenant Frederick Allery MM and Lieutenant Ion ReardonLieutenant Ion Reardon-
Carriers PlatoonLieutenant Alexander StewartLieutenant Alexander StewartCaptain Ted Givney & Lieutenant Eric FisherCaptain Ted Givney & Lieutenant Eric FisherCaptain Ted Givney & Lieutenant Frederick Allery MM-
Pioneers PlatoonLieutenant Thomas FairbairnLieutenant Thomas Fairbairn (POW)-Lieutenant Gordon LeaneyLieutenant Gordon LeaneyLieutenant Leonard Dingwall DCM
Explosive Ordnance Recognition Officer-----Lieutenant Robert Armstrong
Anti-Aircraft PlatoonLieutenant Basil CatternsLieutenant Basil Catterns- Lieutenant Grant Milbourne MarshLieutenant Grant Milbourne Marsh-
Anti-Tank Platoon-----Lieutenant William Chitts
Medium Machine Gun Platoon----Lieutenant Eric FisherLieutenant K P D Done
QuartermasterCaptain Douglas ChannellCaptain Douglas Channell (POW)-Captain Alexander SandersonCaptain Alexander Sanderson; Lieutenant Laurie HarpleyCaptain Gilbert Millard
Transport PlatoonLieutenant Brian SavageLieutenant Brian Savage (POW)-Lieutenant Francis Duval-Lieutenant Wilfred Cowley
A Company
Officer CommandingCaptain Jim MillerCaptain Jim Miller-Captain Charles GoldingMajor Charles Golding (evac ill); Captain Alexander Sanderson (from mid-Oct; KIA); Lieutenant Gordon Leaney (from late Oct; KIA)Captain John Burrell
Second-in-CommandLieutenant Gwynne MannLieutenant Gwynne Mann (POW)-Lieutenant John Macarthur KingLieutenant John Macarthur King (evac wounded)Lieutenant Keith Campbell
7th PlatoonLieutenant John Macarthur KingLieutenant John Macarthur King-Lieutenant Gilbert 'Mac' NathanSergeant (later Lieutenant) Keith Johnston (KIA)Lieutenant Charles Crowden
8th PlatoonSergeant George WatkinsSergeant George Watkins (POW)-Lieutenant Stewart BlakistonLieutenant Stewart BlakistonLieutenant Charles March
9th PlatoonLieutenant Jack WhittleLieutenant Jack Whittle (POW)-Lieutenant Ronald 'Gusty' WyburnLieutenant Ronald 'Gusty' WyburnLieutenant Hubert Mavay
B Company
Officer CommandingCaptain John HodgeCaptain John Hodge (POW)-Captain Basil CatternsCaptain Basil CatternsCaptain Stanley Percival
Second-in-CommandCaptain Charles Golding--Lieutenant Ted Jackson-HopeLieutenant Colin PriorLieutenant Andrew Murray
10th PlatoonLieutenant Alfred EvaLieutenant Alfred Eva-Lieutenant Edmund Body-Lieutenant Colin Nichols
11th PlatoonLieutenant Earl GerardLieutenant Earl Gerard (evac wounded)-Lieutenant Colin PriorLieutenant Edmund Body (evac wounded)Lieutenant Norman Hayden
12th PlatoonLieutenant Clive Dieppe (POW)Lieutenant Clive Dieppe (POW)-Lieutenant John FrewLieutenant John Frew (evac wounded)Lieutenant Herbert Moran
C Company
Officer CommandingCaptain Walter Dillon (severely wounded at BardiaLieutenant William Travers-Captain Alexander StewartLieutenant Peter Barclay (KIA); Captain Colin Prior; John BurrellCaptain Edwyn Givney
Second-in-CommandLieutenant William Travers--Captain John BurrellLieutenant Mick Carew (evac ill)Lieutenant Gilbert Nathan
13th PlatoonSergeant Richard 'Dooley' BourkeSergeant Richard 'Dooley' Bourke-Lieutenant James McCloyLieutenant James McCloyLieutenant Ronald Wyburn
14th PlatoonLieutenant Kenneth MacPherson (wounded at Bardia)Lieutenant Kenneth MacPherson (KIA)-Lieutenant David 'Bill' PollittLieutenant David 'Bill' Pollitt (evac wounded)Lieutenant Robert J Cotts
15th PlatoonLieutenant Michael KennedyLieutenant Michael Kennedy (POW)-Sergeant Robert Armstrong-Lieutenant Robert Hayden
D Company
Officer CommandingCaptain Boyd MoriartyCaptain Boyd Moriarty (KIA)-Captain Archibald 'Jock' SimpsonCaptain Archibald 'Jock' Simpson (KIA);Lieutenant Harry Wiseman (KIA)Captain Peter Little
Second-in-CommandCaptain Fred EmbreyCaptain Fred Embrey (POW but escaped)-Lieutenant Peter Barclay-Captain Maxwell Long
16th PlatoonLieutenant Bryan Cooke Lieutenant Bryan Cooke (POW)-Lieutenant Harry WisemanLieutenant Lance HollingworthLieutenant Robert Pearce
17th PlatoonLieutenant Thomas James 'Jim' RogersLieutenant Thomas James 'Jim' Rogers (POW)-Lieutenant Lance HollingworthLieutenant Harry WisemanLieutenant Keith Gilleland
18th PlatoonLieutenant Peter BarclayLieutenant Peter Barclay-Keith Stuart-WrightSergeant (later Lieutenant) John Dyer MMLieutenant Lance Schreck

Honours and Awards

Members of the 2/1st Battalion were awarded four Companions to the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), one with bar; seven Distinguished Conduct Medals (DCM) (both levels replaced in Australia by today's Star of Gallantry); 15 Military Crosses (MC); 28 Military Medals (MM) (both levels replaced in Australia by today's Medal for Gallantry); 68 Mentions in Despatches (replaced in Australia by today's Commendation for Gallantry); two Members of the Order of the British Empire (replaced in Australia by Member of the Order of Australia); and one British Empire Medal (replaced in Australia by the Medal of the order of Australia). [2]


Further reading

  • 2nd 1st Infantry Battalion website; accessed 2 Apr 2024.
  • Australian War Memorial unit record: 2/1st Australian Infantry Battalion; accessed 18 Jan 2020.
  • Baker, Kevin. Paul Cullen: Citizen and Soldier. Rosenberg. Dural, 2005. ISBN 1 877058 28 9.
  • Beevor, Antony. Crete: The Battle and the Resistance. John Murray, London, 1991. ISBN 978-0-71956-831-2.
  • Eather, Steve. Desert Sands, Jungle Lands: a Biography of Major General Ken Eather. Allen and Unwin. Crows Nest, New South Wales, 2003. ISBN 978-1-74114-182-5.
  • Evans, Kenneth. In Defence of Australia: The Story of Herbert Arthur Evans through the 2nd World War. self-published. Beaudesert, 2009.
  • FitzSimons, Peter. Kokoda, updated edition. Hachette Australia, Sydney, 2010. ISBN 978-0-73361-962-5.
  • Givney, Edwyn. The First at War: The Story of the 2/1st Australian Infantry Battalion 1939-45 The City of Sydney Regiment. The Association of First Infantry Battalions. Earlwood, 1987. ISBN 1 86252 965 5.
  • Johnston, Mark. Aitape-Wewak 1944-1945. Department of Veterans' Affairs. Canberra, 2005. ISBN 1 920720 54 5.
  • MacDonald, Callum A. The Lost Battle: Crete 1941. Free Press, New York, 1993. ISBN 978-0-33361-675-8.
  • Smith, Graham J. The Making of Warriors. Rosenberg, Dural, 2020. ISBN 978 0 6484466 6 8.
  • Wikipedia: 2/1st Australian Infantry Battalion; accessed 18 Jan 2020.

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