South Australian Regiments and Battalions, 1914-18
(Source: SA Parliament Research Library)
The following is an extract from a Research Paper titled “First World War Centenary: A Time Line” prepared by Dr John Weste, Director of the South Australian Parliament Research Library.
This section briefly sets out those regiments and battalions where South Australian volunteers constituted at least a significant minority of servicemen during the 1914-18 conflict. With federation in 1901, defence became a specific Commonwealth concern and the colonial forces and their property became that of Canberra. However, the transfer was not immediate. In part this was due to the fact that at the time of federation, colonial forces were active at two fronts: South Africa and China (including South Australia’s HMCS Protector). Until all had returned to Australia with volunteers discharged, and the permanent, militia and volunteer units re-formed, it was not clear to the Commonwealth what the actual disposition of its newly acquired forces would be.
Secondly, an array of legislative and administrative changes was needed for full control to pass smoothly from the states to the federal government. Colonial naval forces, for example, were administered under the states’ statutes and regulations until March 1904, and then remained under the command of officers imported from Britain until late 1910 when the Australian Navy was formed.
By the outbreak of war in 1914, clearly the Commonwealth had established its preeminent position in military affairs, but recruitment patterns strongly followed state lines with battalions being entirely recruited in one state (or through pooling volunteers in blocks, particularly for those states with smaller populations).
 Bob Nicholls The Colonial Volunteers: The defence forces of the Australian colonies 1836-1901, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1988, pp. 171-72
 P A Howell South Australia and Federation Kent Town: Wakefield Press, 2002, p. 225
3rd Light Horse
The 3rd Light Horse Regiment was raised in Adelaide in August 1914. Of the Regiment’s three squadrons (with 144 men per squadron), two were composed of South Australians and one of Tasmanians. The two components sailed from their respective home ports in October 1914 to arrive in Egypt in mid-December 1914 where they combined with the 1st and 2nd Regiments to form the 1st Light Horse Brigade. The 1st Light Horse was deployed to Gallipoli (without its horses) in May 1915 with the 3rd Light Horse playing a defensive role in the campaign. Upon returning to Egypt in mid-December 1915, the 3rd Light Horse joined the ANZAC Mounted Division and was subsequently involved in operations in the Sinai and the west bank of the River Jordan. The 3rd Light Horse Regiment sailed for Australia on 16 March 1919, again without its horses. During the course of military service, the 1st Light Horse saw 158 men killed and 653 wounded. In total it was awarded battle honours on 19 occasions and received 53 decorations.
9th Light Horse
The 9th Light Horse Regiment was raised in Adelaide and trained in Melbourne between October 1914 and February 1915. Three quarters of its men were South Australians and the remainder Victorian. It reached Egypt in mid-March 1915 as part of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade. The Regiment landed at Gallipoli in May 1915 to suffer fifty per cent casualties in an assault (Hill 60) in late August that year. At that time, a number of the Norfolk Regiment were stationed with the 9th Light Horse whose men were highly amused by the strange dialect of the newcomers; their inability to cook and look after themselves was also a source of wonder. The emu plumes sported by the Australians attracted much attention and were explained to the Englishmen as kangaroo feathers. Upon returning to Egypt, the 9th Light Horse Brigade became part of the ANZAC Mounted Division helping to defend the Suez Canal against Turkish forces. In 1917, it was involved in operations leading to the capture of Gaza and eventually entered Damascus on 1 October 1918. In March 1919, the Regiment was recalled to duty to supress an Egyptian revolt and sailed for Australia only on 10 July 1919. The Regiment steamed into Largs Bay on 10 August to be welcomed by a large crowd headed by Sammy Lunn. The following day the Regiment paraded at the Cheer-Up Hut and the Anzac Arch before marching through the City back to the train station for Keswick for final dismissal. During the course of military service, nearly 4,000 men passed through the 9th Light Horse of whom 190 were killed and 481 wounded. In total it was awarded battle honours on 17 occasions and received 83 decorations.
‘9th Light Horse Regiment’, Australian War Memorial T H Darley (Maj.)
With the Ninth Light Horse in the Great War, Adelaide: The Hassell Press, 1924
11th Light Horse
The formation of the 11th Light Horse Regiment (to be part of the 4th Light Horse Brigade) was announced in February 1915. One of the Regiment’s three squadrons was raised in Adelaide and the remaining two in Queensland. The Regiment was split several times, reunited temporarily in Egypt in July 1915, but was again split up the following August to reinforce other Light Horse regiments already ashore at Gallipoli. The Regiment was not finally reunited until February 1916 in Egypt where, over the 1916-1917 in participated in forays into the Sinai, and later in early 1918 took up position and fought in the Jordan Valley.In March 1919, the Regiment was recalled to duty to supress an Egyptian revolt and sailed for Australia on 20 July 1919. During the course of military service, the 3rd Light Horse saw 95 men killed and 521 wounded. In total it was awarded battle honours on 14 occasions and received 61 decorations.
The 10th Battalion was amongst the first infantry units raised for the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in August 1914. Of the 1,027 original recruits, 615 were born in South Australia, 202 in the British Isles, 172 in other Australian states with remainder from abroad. Recruited in South Australia it formed part of the 3rd Brigade which provided the covering force for the ANZAC landing on 25 April 1915, thus making the 10th the first South Australian regiment in action in the Great War (and almost inevitably, the first reported South Australian AIF casualty). In December 1915, the Battalion withdrew from Gallipoli to Egypt and then sailed to for France and the Western Front where it fought until September 1918. The final detachment of the 10th Battalion returned to Adelaide a year later on 5 September 1919.The Battalion was the first to call the Morphetville camp site its own from where it regularly marched to St Leonards, Glenelg, for bathing purposes. It was also the first all-South Australian battalion to march through the City where, along Bay Road, Mr Tolley of the Half-Way House provided free beer brought out in tubs and buckets, and ladled into dixies.The tenth Victoria Cross (VC) awarded to the AIF was to Lieutenant Arthur Seaforth Blackburn, who was the first to be awarded a VC in a South Australian. In total, the 10th Battalion received three Victoria Crosses and was awarded 310 honours and rewards for service in the field. During the course of military service, 1,005 men of the Battalion were killed in action, died of wounds, sickness or injuries.
‘10th Battalion’, Australian War Memorial
Cecil B L Lock, The Fighting 10th: A South Australian Centenary Souvenir of the 10th Battalion, AIF, 1914-19, Adelaide: Webb & Son, 1936
The 12th Battalion was amongst the first infantry units raised for the AIF during World War One and formed part of the 3rd Brigade. One quarter of the Battalion was recruited in South Australia (largely comprised of Port Pirie miners), half in Tasmania and the remaining quarter in Western Australia. As part of the 3rd Brigade, the Battalion was amongst the first ashore at Gallipoli and its commander was killed within hours of landing. After withdrawal from Gallipoli in December 1915, the Battalion served at the Western Front and participated in the third battle of Ypres. Operations finished in late September 1918.In total, the 12th Battalion was awarded 247 honours and rewards for service in the field. During the course of military service, 1,135 men of the Battalion were killed in action and 2,422 wounded.
‘12th Battalion’, Australian War Memorial
L M Newton, The Story of the Twelfth: A Record of the 12th Battalion, AIF, during the Great War of 1914-1918, Hobart: J Walch & Sons, 1925
The 16th Battalion was raised from September 1914 with one quarter of the men coming from South Australia and three quarters from Western Australia. With the 13th, 14th and 15th battalions it formed the 4th Brigade under the command of Colonel John Monash. The 4th Brigade landed at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 and went into combat the following week. In 1916, as part of the 4th Australian Division, the 16th Battalion served on the Western Front. The Battalion continued operations until late September 1918. In total, 1,127 men of the Battalion were killed in action and 1,955 were wounded.
Reference: ‘16th Battalion’, Australian War Memorial
The 27th Battalion was raised in South Australia in March 1915 with many of the recruits coming from suburban Adelaide and, with the 25th, 26th and 28th Battalions formed the 7th Brigade. The Battalion saw time at Gallipoli and in early 1916 proceeded to the Western Front in Europe where it was involved in several major attacks during 1917. The Battalions last actions were in early October 1918 and it disbanded in June 1919.In total, 762 men of the Battalion were killed in action and 2,155 were wounded.
Reference: ‘27th Battalion’, Australian War Memorial
The 32nd Battalion was raised in South Australia in August 1915 though in fact half the recruits came from South Australia and the remaining half from Western Australia. Two South Australian Aborigines are known to have served in the Battalion. The men were encamped at Mitcham, the Morphettvile Racecourse, the Cheltenham Racecourse and what became the University of Adelaide oval. The Battalion sailed from Adelaide on 18 November 1915 for Western Europe. As had become established practice, Port Adelaide’s Vincent St was decorated with bunting to farewell the departing Battalion. The troopship pulled out of Outer Harbor to anchor off-shore for several hours while tugboats filled with friends and family circled the vessel.The Regiment fought its first major battle in July 1916 at Fromelles and suffered 718 casualties which was nearly 90 per cent of the Battalion’s actual fighting strength. In March 1919, after the on-going repatriation of men to Australia, the remnants of the 32nd Battalion were merged with the 30th Battalion. In total, 613 men of the Battalion were killed in action and 1,466 were wounded.
‘32nd Battalion’, Australian War Memorial
R R Freeman Second to None: A Memorial History of the 32nd Battalion AIF 1915-1919, Norwood: Peacock Publications, 2006
The 43rd Battalion was raised in March 1916 and was South Australia’s contribution to the newly formed 3rd Division. The Battalion was housed at the Morphettville Racecourse, firearms practice was held in the sandhills between Glenelg and Henley, and a practice attack against the Hindmarsh Bridge was launched via Montifiore Hill. The Battalion left Australia in June 1916, briefly stopped over in Egypt, and then arrived in England for more training in July 1916 where it suffered a mumps epidemic. In November that year, it embarked for France and spent 1917 in trench warfare in Flanders, taking part in the Third Battle of Ypres. In 1918, the Battalion fought at Villers-Bretonneux and, later, Hamel. In total, 386 men of the Battalion were killed in action and 1,321 were wounded.
The 48th Battalion was raised in Egypt in March 1916 as part of the “doubling” of the AIF. Sixteenth Battalion Gallipoli veterans comprised half its new recruits with the remainder being fresh reinforcements from Australia. Reflecting the 16th, the new recruits came mainly from regional South Australia and Western Australia. The new battalion formed part of the 12th Brigade of the 4th Australian Division. In 1916, the Battalion moved to the Western Front in Europe and was mauled at Passchendaele in 1917. Its final battle took place in September 1918 and the Battalion was disbanded in March 1919.In total, 843 men of the Battalion were killed in action and 1,628 were wounded.
Reference: ‘48th Battalion’, Australian War Memorial
The 50th Battalion was raised in Egypt in March 1916 as part of the “doubling” of the AIF. Veterans of the 10th Battalion comprised half its new recruits with the remainder being fresh reinforcements from Australia. Reflecting the make-up of the 10th Battalion, the new recruits came predominantly from South Australia and thus it became the third purely South Australian infantry battalion abroad (despite being commanded by a Queenslander for much of its existence). Three South Australian Aborigines are known to have served in the Battalion. The Battalion arrived in France in June 1916 and, in 1918, took part in the attack on Villers-Bretonneux. The 50th ceased to exist as a separate entity in March 1919 when it combined with the 51st Battalion.In total, 720 men of the Battalion were killed in action and 1,557 were wounded.
‘50th Battalion’, Australian War Memorial
R R Freeman, Hurcombe’s Hungry Half Hundred: A Memorial History of the 50th Battalion AIF 1916-1919, Norwood: Peacock Publications 1991
The 52nd Battalion was raised in Egypt in March 1916 as part of the “doubling” of the AIF. Veterans of the 12th Battalion comprised half its new recruits with the remainder being fresh reinforcements from Australia. Reflecting the make-up of the 12th Battalion, the new recruits came from South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. The Battalion arrived in France in June 1916 and suffered heavy casualties (50 per cent of its fighting strength) in September that year. Due to casualty numbers and the lack of reinforcements from Australia, several brigades disbanded one of their battalions to strengthen the remainder. The 52nd was one such battalion and ceased to exist as of 16 May 1918.In total, 6500 men of the Battalion were killed in action and 1,438 were wounded. References: ‘52nd Battalion’, Australian War Memorial
Australian Field Artillery
The 18th Battery was the only complete field artillery from South Australia to serve in World War One. The nucleus of the Battery was established at Mitcham in August 1915 and it then moved to Glen Osmond and finally Victoria as part of the 6th Brigade in October 1915. The Battery was subsequently transported to Egypt, arriving in December 1915, and finally France in March 1916 where it remained in action until October 1918. The 18th Battery served a total of 1,227 days outside of Australia, of which 36 days were spent at sea, 468 out of action and 602 (49 per cent) in action. It fired 146,264 shells and was awarded 51 decorations. In total 32 men were killed or died of wounds and other causes, and 111 were wounded; further, it lost 105 horses and a further 64 were wounded.
David Brook (ed) Roundshot to Rapier: Artillery in South Australia, 1840-1984, Hawthorndene: Investigator Press, 1986
Those wishing to identify individual South Australian soldiers, sailors and airmen involved in World War 1 may find the following sites useful:
- Australian War Memorial
- World War I Pictorial Honour Roll of South Australians
- Mapping our Anzacs
- RSL Virtual War Memorial
- World War 1 Battles in which Australians participated