100 years since Ballarat answered the call

In 1911 Compulsory Military Training was instituted in Australia for all boys born in 1894, unless they had been given an exemption from training. The following year all boys aged 12 to 17 began their Compulsory Military Training. The aim for this training was to have a militia strength of 80,000 men by 1916. In mid-1912 the militia was reformed with Ballarat East being allocated the 70th Infantry and Ballarat West being allocated the 71st Infantry.

By 1914 the 70th was known as the 70th Infantry (Ballarat Regiment) and had depots spreading from Ballarat to Williamston to Queenscliff. The 71st was then known as the 71st (City of Ballarat) Infantry with its depots reaching as far as Warrnambool.

War was declared in Australia early on 5th August 1914. On 7th August Ballarat East’s 70th Infantry under command of Lieutenant Colonel William Bolton, was mobilised and was sent to Fort Queenscliff for fourteen days for guard duties and training.

On 14th August 1914, Bolton went to Victoria Barracks in Melbourne and sat in the office of Colonel James Whiteside McCay (Deputy Chief Censor) the newly appointed Commander 2nd Brigade AIF, along with Lieutenant Colonels David Sydney Wanliss, 52nd Infantry (Victorian Scottish Regiment), James Semmens, Australian Instructional Corps, and Harold ‘Pompey’ Elliott,58th Infantry (Essendon Rifles).

Wanliss and Elliott were both schooled at Ballarat College, while Bolton was an Inspector of Works in the Victorian Public Works Department and was based in Ballarat.

Bolton’s memoirs state:

 ‘I am not sure of the date it must have been about 14 August when I received instructions to report at Headquarters Melbourne 10am. There I found that three other Lt Cols had assembled i.e. Wanliss, Semmens, Elliott, and presently we four were interviewed by Col J. W. McCay who informed us we were appointed to command of 5, 6, 7, 8 Battalions respectively to form what would be known as the 2nd Brigade AIF and that he himself was to be Brigadier. My instructions were to establish a recruiting office at Ballarat Orderly Room, and to recruit from the Western Dist of Victoria, the battalion to be of 8 Companies about 110 strong with a compliment on non-coms.’

The 7th and 8th Battalion War Diaries were commenced on 14th August 1914, consequently that date is the accepted date of the raising of the 7th and 8th Battalions.

The 8th Battalion was raised from Ballarat and western Victoria and the Melbourne suburb of Surrey Hills. After nine weeks in Broadmeadows on the 19th October the battalion had been partly trained and equipped and had embarked on the Troopships A24 Benalla ready to sail to what they thought was the European war. The 8th Battalion was a Bolton family affair. William’s oldest son, Jack, was in the Battalion’s Headquarters, while his youngest son, Hunter, was a Private with the battalion but soon found himself promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. William’s other son Hammesley, also known as Garfield, served with the Canadian Army while a daughter Ethel was a nurse in the Australian Army.

After a brief stop in Albany in WA, the battalion proceeded to Egypt, arriving on 2 December. The Battalion took part in the ANZAC landing on 25 April 1915, as part of the second wave. Ten days after the landing, the 2nd Brigade was transferred from ANZAC to Cape Helles to help in the attack on the village of Krithia. The attack captured little ground but cost the Bde almost a third of its strength. The Victorian battalions returned to ANZAC to help defend the beachhead, and in August the 2nd Brigade fought at the battle of Lone Pine. The battalion served at ANZAC until the evacuation in December.

After the withdrawal from Gallipoli, the battalion returned to Egypt. In February the battalion was split into two and provided the basis of the 60th Battalion, 15th Brigade, 5th Division. In March 1916, it sailed for France and the Western Front. From then until 1918 the battalion was heavily involved in operations against the German Army.

The Battalion’s first major action in France was at Pozières in the Somme Valley in July 1916. Private Thomas Cooke, one of 81 members of the battalion killed at Pozières, earned a posthumous Victoria Cross during the action. After Pozières, the Battalion fought at Ypres, in Flanders, returning to the Somme for winter. In 1917, the battalion participated in the operations that followed-up the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line, and then returned to Belgium to join the great offensive launched to the east of Ypres.

In March and April 1918 the Battalion helped to stop the German spring offensive. The Battalion subsequently participated in the allies’ own offensive, launched near Amiens on 8 August 1918. The advance by British and Empire troops was the greatest success in a single day on the Western Front, one that German General Erich Ludendorff described as, “the black day of the German Army in this war”. The next day near Rosieres, Private Robert Beatham earned a Victoria Cross by rushing four separate machine guns. He was killed in action two days later.

A fortnight later Lieutenant William Donovan Joynt was awarded a Victoria Cross for his actions against the Germans near Herleville where he broke up the defenders who had held up the attach..

The battalion continued operations to late September 1918 and was ‘out of the line’ and resting when the Armistice was declared on 11th November 1918. The last entry in the 8th Battalion War Diary was made on 30 April 1919 with the statement ‘rain continued all day.’ Over 6100 men enlisted into the 8th Battalion, many from Western Victoria. Of those, 877 were killed and 2410 were wounded or gassed.

Unveiling the Centenary Plaque

A plaque commemorating the centenary of the raising of the 8th Battalion was unveiled on Saturday 9th August at the Ballarat Ranger Military Museum at Ranger Barracks in Ballarat. The MC for the simple ceremony was the manager of the museum, Neil Leckie. He introduced the ceremony with the playing of the 8/7 RVR quick march ‘I’m 95’ and talked about the words related to the music.

The MC then introduced the Commanding Officer of 8/7 RVR, Lieutenant Colonel Tom Biedermann, who spoke about how current soldiers need to look at and learn from history and about current and future battalion operations.

The MC then spoke about the selection of the date for the centenary before introducing the Executive Officer of 8/7 RVR, Major Cliff Gowers, who spoke of the wartime history of the 8th Battalion AIF and its successor the 8th Battalion (City of Ballarat Regiment) that was formed between the wars and fought in WW2.

The unveiling of the plaque was then carried out by Ballarat’s Mr Rodney Bolton (Great Grandson of William Bolton) and Mr Joshua Bolton (Great Great Grandson of William Bolton) then Joshua responded on behalf of the Bolton family and spoke about William Bolton.

Over 100 people attended the ceremony, including 14 members of Lieutenant Colonel Bolton’s family and two members of the family of Captain Percy Lay from Ballan, one of the most highly decorated members of the 8th Battalion.

The day finished with a good afternoon tea put on by the Catering Platoon of 8/7 RVR and a visit to the museum. Visits to the museum can be arranged through Neil Leckie on 0400 573 802 of John Coull 0457 159 430.

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