The First Convoy from Australia and New Zealand to the First World War by Gail

Written by AHQ

3 November 2014

Thanks to Gail we have a special post tonight.

The First Convoy from Australia and New Zealand 
to the First World War

When Great Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914, Australia pledged a force of 20,000 to be placed at Britain’s disposal. Prime Minister Andrew Fisher declared that Australia would support Great Britain in the war against Germany “to the last man and the last shilling”.
Within a week, recruitment centres were open to process the many enthusiastic volunteers wanting to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). By the end of 1914 over 50,000 had volunteered. Not all enlisted from a sense of duty or patriotism, many simply wanted an adventure. But for whatever reason they joined, most expected the war to be over quickly.
Over a period of up to 12 weeks, new recruits underwent basic military training and preparation for what they might face in battle. Their accommodation was generally under canvas at makeshift camps often set up on large spaces such as sporting fields.
Meanwhile, the Australian government, through the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board, was requisitioning merchant ships, many of them British, to provide transportation for the men, horses and supplies which would be needed “over there”. These ships were given the title His Majesty’s Australian Transport or HMAT.

The port of Albany, Western Australia, was chosen as the gathering place for the first convoy of ships carrying the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) – those who later became known as the ANZACS.
Merchant ships carrying troops from New Zealand, Queensland, New South Wales, Tasmania and Victoria progressively arrived and anchored in King George Sound during the last week of October 1914.

With German warships patrolling in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific region, it was necessary for the Australian government to insist on secrecy regarding the departures of the ships from the various ports, as well as the departure of the whole convoy from Albany. Because of these security restrictions, it was not until several weeks later that the Australian public were made aware that the troops had left our shores and were on their way to England, via Colombo, Aden and the Suez Canal.

Early on Sunday, 1st November 1914, the flotilla, accompanied by three naval escorts, the cruisers HMAS Sydney, HMAS Melbourne and HMS Minotaur, formed up in four divisions of nine ships each and departed King George Sound in line, watched by many from vantage points along the shore. They were joined at sea two days later by two ships carrying troops from South Australia and Western Australia, along with the Japanese cruiser, HIJMS Ibuki. 
The Perth newspaper The Daily News, on Wednesday, 18 November 1914, carried a lengthy report of events in Albany, which read in part:
A Magnificent Spectacle
The secrecy which attended the transport of the troops from London to the Continent was practically adopted in the despatch of the First Australian Expeditionary Force from Albany
on Sunday, November 1.

The arrival of many ships in King George’s Sound signalised a veritable gathering of the Australian Armada. It was a very proud day for Australia, and a still prouder one for the port
of Albany that she was chosen as the meeting’ ground for such a memorable gathering as
that of the transports carrying Australian and New Zealand troops, who were going to assist
the motherland in the great struggle for supremacy.

               On October 24 the R.M.S Ophir, with the N.S.W. men on board put in an appearance after which troopship after troopship arrived, until Wednesday morning, when the New Zealand fleet put in an appearance.  

Arrangements had been previously made by Commander Jones and Mr. Mutton, S.D.R.O.,
at Albany, for mooring of vessels, and on Wednesday afternoon the whole thirty-six ships
lined up in four divisions; crowded with khaki clad brave young men all in good spirits and eager to get to the front. The spectacle was one which will live long in the minds of all
residents of Albany who did not miss the opportunity of going round the Marine Drive to
witness the armada in King George’s Sound. Everyone was filled with greatest enthusiasm
and the town gave one the appearance of a miniature Portsmouth when the men-of-war were in harbor, and the soldiers and sailors were seen parading the streets of the town in thousands. 

During their stay the town was very busy. Three, and sometimes six ships were at one time
in the harbor taking coal and water, and as soon as one had finished others were ready to take their places until Saturday when all the transports took up anchorage in the Sound ready for departure.  The vessels lined up in four divisions of nine ships each. Despite the fact that rough seas and strong easterly winds were blowing, the work was carried on smoothly. Never in the history of the southern seas had such a fleet been seen in one port. It is doubtful if many ports in the Commonwealth could have accommodated such a number of vessels in so complete formation.  
               During the stay various companies of troops landed and paraded the town with bands playing and men in the best of spirits. The favorite song, “A Long, Long way to Tipperary,”  sung by thousands of voices, was wafted on the breeze for miles. All the officers and men alike appeared to be fit and well.  

The strictest secrecy prevailed as to the time of departure. About 300 people journeyed
round Marine Drive on Sunday morning, in fact, from long before 5 o’clock people walking
and in motor cars could be seen wending their way round the road, eager if possible, to get
a last view of the boys in khaki, who were going to fight for England and Empire. Although attended with much uncertainty, those residents who ventured out so early were not disap-
pointed, as the departure began shortly after 5 o’clock. The first show of any movement was
when two of the warships weighed anchor in the harbor, and moved out into the Sound. As
both vessels steamed out in an easterly direction on the south side of the transports on the
beautiful summer morning, the sight was majestic indeed. The warships passed out in silence, and all the other boats turned their bows to the south, and then in solemn procession started away.

The Orvieto flagship was the first to make a start, and then followed the remainder of the Australian ships in single file, the Euripides being the last to leave. The New Zealand fleet
followed two abreast. By 9.30 a.m. all the vessels disappeared from view having started on
the long journey carrying men filled with eager determination to do their best for the mother
land and the nation.  

               As a whole the spectacle was one of the finest imaginable, and one that will never be forgotten by Albany. It was a solemn sight although majestic.”
The 26 Australian transports and 10 New Zealand transports carried a total of nearly 30,000 men and 8,000 horses. Some recruits had only received a few weeks’ training before embarking.”

This photo shows the Route march along Marine Drive. First convoy anchored in King George Sound in the background.

Although the convoy was initially bound for England, orders were changed and in early December the troops disembarked in Egypt, where they underwent more training before heading to Gallipoli. During the long voyage, many of the men kept diaries which record daily events such as lectures, drills and physical fitness, as well as more exciting events, such as HMAS Sydney leaving the convoy to do battle with the German cruiser Emden. Taking on supplies in Colombo and Aden also gave some variation to the daily routines of life at sea.
Excerpts from one such diary, that of Fred White, can be read in the RSL of WA’s magazine here
And what happened to those young men from the first convoy? According to the Australian War Memorial only one in three of those who sailed in the first convoy returned physically unscathed at the end of the First World War. They had fought at Gallipoli and on the Western Front, but those stories are for others to tell.
This is a painting of the first convoy to leave Australia. The British cruiser HMS Minotaur is in the foreground. (Charles Bryant, First convoy at sea, 1920, oil on canvas, 122.5 cm x 275.3 cm, AWM ART00190)

Other Sources:

Flotilla Australia
Australian Sea Transport 1914

The story of the first convoy to England from Australia and New Zealand

Australian War Memorial

Trove (National Library of Australia)

Want to know more about Anzac Centenary projects? There are lists of some at:

Many thanks Gail.

Till next time…………….keep spreading the word and happy stitching!
Jan-Maree  xx

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1 Comment

  1. Sue Niven

    Words cannot convey how I feel, only that they were very very brave and honourable, I am humbled by the people involved. Thank you for this, Thanks for telling it Gail.


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