The First 33rd is Formed

      In 1914 Australia had a population of about four million. Over 313,000 men volunteered and served in France and Belgium. About 46,000 died, of which about l8,000 have no known graves. Over 2,000 Australians were wounded, many more than once. Australians made up less than 10% of the entire allied forces, yet they captured 23% of the prisoners. 23.5% of enemy guns and 21.5% of ground taken back from the Germans.

       Australia had five divisions in France, initially about l20,000 men. These were divided into 3 brigades to a division. and 4 battalions to a brigade. The 33rd Battalion consisted of about l,000 men.

     In December of 1915 new divisions were being formed in the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F.). Fighting had been in progress for eight months on the Gallipoli peninsula and the 1st and 2nd Divisions, and the 4th Brigade of infantry, with the Light Horse brigades, had had a terrific struggle from the day of landing on April! 25th, to within a short period of the evacuation on December 20th.

       In the main the composition of the 33rd was made up as follows:- Men from Armidale and Tamworth made up the bulk of "A" Company, "B" Company from Walcha, Uralla, Barraba, Bingara and Manilla, "C" Company from Narrabri, Moree and Inverell, while the nucleus of "D" Company was made up of men from Glen Innes, Guyra and Tenterfield.'

       As one writer described the 'Marathon's' departure in the commemorative booklet, Voyage and Souvenir of  'H.M.A.T. Marathon' :
        "It was particularly auspicious. Every soldier on the ship and every person on the shore seemed connected by a rainbow. A thousand strands irradiated in the morning sun. Not content with that, motor launches filled with well-wishers must needs follow her up some distance when under weigh."

      Crammed into the 'Marathon's' confines, apart from her own considerable crew, were some 1,028 officers and men of the 33rd Battalion, and 97 men of the 1st Reinforcements. On board the 'Marathon', men were crammed 200 per deck in a rough sea. So close were the hammocks strung that many of the men chose to sleep on the floor.
      Their original destination, Egypt, was soon changed by radio call. They now found themselves bound direct for England. The ship was not alone of course. With the 'Marathon ' were three other transports, 'Beltana', 'Bellata' and Argyleshire', stopping at Durban and Cape town in South Africa, and Dakar in Senegal on North Africa's west coast. Escorted by a battleship and destroyers, the fleet dashed past Eddystone lighthouse, Nelson's old flagship the 'Victory', and the giant 'Mauritania ', the latter making the 10,000 ton transports look like tug boats."

More troopships of 33rd Battalion reinforcements Ieft from Sydney in fairly quick succession.
These were:

1st Reinforcements departed Sydney H.M.A.T. 'Marathon' 4.5.1916
2nd Reinforcements departed Sydney H.M.A.T. 'Port Sydney' 4.9.1916
3rd Reinforcements departed Sydney H.M.A.T. 'Anchesis' 24.8.1916
4th Reinforcements 2 officers and 150 men on the H.M.A.T. 'Borda' 17.10.1916
5th Reinforcements 2 officers and 150 men on the S.S. 'Port Napier' 17.11.1916
6th Reinforcements 2 officers and 141 men on the H.M.A.T. 'Beltana' 25.11.1916
7th Reinforcements 2 officers and 150 men on the H.M.A.T. 'Anchesis' 24.1.1917
8th Reinforcements 2 officers and 150 men on the H.M.A.T. 'Port Melbourne' 16.7.1917


      The brilliant war record of the 33rd Battalion is not generally known to present day Australians.
Every battalion history is filled with stories of valour, sacrifice and victory. The 33rd however can make some unique claims that place it in the upper bracket. In all its active service the battalion never failed to take a position it attacked, and was never evicted from one it held. Among its greatest achievements was the taking of the whole of the German right flank at the battle of Messines.

Passchendaele Ridge

      It occupied the heights of Passchendaele Ridge after it had been taken by the 36th Battalion, and advanced a further 500 yards, holding the position for six days in small shell holes with both flanks in the air (unprotected). At Villers-Bretonneux, in company with the 34th, it was the first of the allied army to halt the victorious oncoming German army and drive it back. Reinforced by three companies of the 36th Battalion it was in the van of General Monash's magnificent victory of August 8th 1918, and from then on fought successfully at Bray, Bouchavesnes, Mont St Quentin and the Hindenburg Line.
      The Australian 3rd Division. of which the 33rd Battalion was an integral part, has been recognised, even by the British Army, as the best trained unit in the A.I.F., having been in training for the best part of a year before being thrust into action.
      In addition to 21 officers and men mentioned in dispatches, 151 decorations. with seven bars and one double bar, were conferred on men of the battalion. Of the two Victoria Crosses. the first was won by Private John Carroll, a born fighter and wonderful bayonet man, for fiercely attacking and capturing two enemy machine-gun nests. The second was awarded to Private George Cartwright for an act of extreme bravery combined with deadly accuracy with rifle and bomb.
      Many other acts of remarkable merit were never officially recognised. such as the case of Private Sid Witten of Barraba who was wounded no less than three times at Hangard Wood, yet fought on to the end.
      On 27.8.1918, at the advance of Bouchavesnes, another unit was held up by the 2nd Prussian Grenadier Guards. The 33rd was ordered to attack Road Wood. With only 187 men they attacked the enemy with such ferocity that they took 600 prisoners and captured 101 machine guns. 27 field guns and 10 trench mortars. The machine guns had been manned by Prussians who died almost to a man, with over 200 counted dead after the action. With the possible exception of Hangard Wood and the defence of Villers-Bretonneux, this battle was the 33rd's most brilliant achievement.
      Writing specifically of the 33rd Battalion the official historian of the war. Dr. C.E.W. Bean, in
Volume 5. said: 'During the Battle of Messines, the 33rd, an exceptionally fine unit. commanded by a young Gallipoli veteran, Lt-Col. Morshead. had been specially chosen by Monash for the extreme right flank position.'
      Of Villers-Bretonneux Bean says: 'The 33rd was a battalion which anyone acquainted with the A.I.F. recognised as a magnificent battalion, even before Messines in 1917, and one of the very best.'


C.E.W. Bean describes the action prior to, and on Road Wood:

      "On the northern flank the 3rd Division's attack had been arranged at short notice after a day exhausting to both infantry and artillery... The timing of the attack was to be taken from the left where the 58th Division (British), somewhat farther back from the 9th Brigade. started at 5.10 am behind a very slow barrage to attack Marrieres Wood. The 9th Brigade, using the 33rd Battalion, started at the time arranged, 5.40, but the artillery had not received its orders and, though it fired, the barrage was thin and machine-guns in the south-west corner of Road Wood stopped the 33rd. One company was Iate but Captain Duncan swung his  company into its place. Major Brodziak was now killed while referring to his map. But within twenty minutes the artillery greatly increased its fire. The 33rd were able to raise their heads. A Pte George Cartwright, stood up and from the shoulder, fired at the troublesome German gunner and then, walking forward, shot him and two men who took his place. Next, covering his run by exploding a bomb short of the trench, he rushed the gun and captured 9 Germans. The 33rd stood up and cheered him, and then advancing by two's and three's entered the wood. Pte Irwin, an Australian half-caste, after attacking Iike Cartwright, was mortally wounded.
      The 33rd was considerably behind time-table. The 6th London (58th Div), having chased the Germans from Marrieres Wood, was held up by fire from Wary Alley which curved up the gully between the woods. Coming through from the south, Sergeant-Major Mathias cleared these Germans by fire from a Lewis-gun.
      The 33rd now set to bombing up the old trenches leading up to the upper end of the 1916 Spur where the Peronne-Bapaume road also ran through. On the nearer side of the road a German commander with his gun crews and some infantry was blazing with six field-guns into the Australian groups wherever they left shelter. From the southward Lieutenants Turnbull and McLean of the 33rd, the latter greatly helped by two leaders of the 10th Brigade, Sergeant Walter (39th) and Corporal Grinton (38th), worked up and presently rushed the guns, the German battery commander fighting to the last with his revolver. (He was shot by Turnbull). Duncan, reaching the road, realised that the old quarry beyond was a commanding position, and accordingly took it and 40 prisoners and placed a post on its eastern rim. [Returning to Wary Alley, finding] some of the 6th London, [he] got Captain Cooke and 20 men to garrison the quarry while the 33rd lined the Bapaume road to the right."

      The 33rd Battalion had been in some stiff fights in France and Belgium, but for fierceness, the battle of Road Wood, Bouchavesnes, was not surpassed and as a brilliant victory it ranked second only to Hangard Wood where the German offensive, five months before had received its first definite check. The British advance commenced on August 8th 1918, and in more or less open warfare ever since. With the initiative always in their hands, they continued to push back the German army from France.
      "A" Company of the 33rd Battalion, having been attached to the 34th for the attack on Road
Wood on the morning of August 31st, meant the 33rd was left with only eleven officers and 183 men. So 60 officers and men of "B" Company, 42nd Battalion, under the command of Captain C.S. Trudgian,
were attached to augment its strength.
      The official report of the operation at Road Wood (Bois Madame) states that the allies' barrage was extremely accurate and the battalions moved up right under it. A most determined resistance was put up by the enemy at Road Wood, which was strongly garrisoned and swarming with machine-guns. There was a gap of 500 yards between the 58th Division and "C" Company. "B" Company, in reserve, had to move and fill the gap acting as an assault company.
      At 6.20 am the battalion was held up by exceedingly heavy fire, enfilading from the ridge of the wood. Private George Cartwright, in face of the most withering fire, stood up and advanced firing his rifle from the shoulder. He killed three of the machine-gun team, then rushed forward, threw a bomb and
on the explosion, charged. He captured the gun and eight prisoners. Wildly cheering, the whole battalion got up and charged the Wood. For this deed, Cartwright was awarded the Victoria Cross, the second to be won by men of the battalion.
      The fighting at Road Wood was very bitter, the battalion was greatly outnumbered and the enemy machine-gunners fought fiercely, sticking to their guns to the end. Individual men and small parties worked round and forward, getting to the rear of strong-posts. The enemy, not realising the shortage of attackers, thought they were cut off and surrounded. To have cleared such a stronghold as Road Wood, with so few men, seemed incredible, particularly with both flanks in the air.
      In front of Road Wood, the enemy had the whole of the trench system covered with machine-guns. They counter-attacked with bombs, but the 33rd proved their superiority. They could not be stopped and their bombing and Lewis-guns were too accurate. "D" Company had particularly heavy fighting along Devillers Alley and three other trench systems. Their bombing was deadly. The dugouts proved to be death traps for the enemy, all the occupants being killed or captured.
      A German battery out in front, without any concealment, was firing over open sights west of Rancourt Road. Lewis-gunners pasted them unmercifully, and under fire the men charged and captured the battery, the battery commander remaining with his gun and fighting with his gunners to the last.
      Heavy resistance was offered at the old quarry, but the battalion pushed on and "C" Company
worked north along the road and captured it and 40 prisoners. Captain Duncan induced the Londoners to come and defend the quarry while the 33rd went on. "D" Company formed a strong position along Rancourt Road and "B '' Company in Gathmorey trench.
      The men were now thoroughly exhausted, but the success had to be exploited. "A" Company, 42nd Battalion, was ordered to reinforce "D" Company; "C" and "D" were reorganised and Lieutenant Turnbull was placed in command. Patrols went in advance and in spite of heavy machine-gun fire and shelling, routed the enemy. Ammunition supplies ran out, but 12,000 rounds were found in a dugout, evidently stored there before the big retreat in March. Enemy machine-guns were freely used by the Australians, otherwise the shortage would have been serious.
      As it was impossible to keep up with the barrage because of small numbers offering strong resistance, the men had to advance under cover of their own fire power, which the Lewis gunners supplied. The trench mortars did not get forward in time, their loads being too heavy and no machine-gunners co-operated that afternoon.
      The artillery barrage had gone on ahead and the Lewis-guns provided cover on their own and did it to perfection. The enemy machine-gunners were extraordinarily numerous and their gun teams fought stubbornly. The attackers had only 30 Lewis-guns, yet they captured no Iess than 101 enemy machine-guns and 600 prisoners. while 128 Germans were buried in the wood alone, where the fiercest fighting took place. The diggers' casualties numbered 7 officers and 128 men.



To summarise some of the results of the campaign, from March 27th when the Australians were put in
to stop the German advance at Amiens, to October 5th 1918:

  • The Australian Corps captured 29,144 prisoners and 338 guns.

  • In the advance from August 8th to October 5th they captured and released 116 French towns
    and villages.

  • Compared to the fighting in other campaigns on the western front and Gallipoli, casualties
    were light for all that was accomplished. The total casualties were 21,243, of whom
    4,998 were killed in action or died of wounds.

  • Inverell district has the honour of having supplied the most soldiers in proportion to its population, with about 25% of its eligible men signing up.

      Lieutenant Bert King, Battalion Intelligence Officer, compiled the following statistics from his records:
      "Of the original Battalion that sailed on the Marathon (approximately 1,000 men), only 19 served continuously (apart from leave) during the service of the Battalion in France. These were:

Lieutenants E.A. Clarence; G.E. Richardson.
Sergeants E. McNeilly; C.D. Blackadder M.M.
Lance-Corporal L. Irvine.
Privates J. Oakes; E.L.Cutcher; L.N.W. Wallace; A.E.Tyrrell; S.W. Evans; J. Dingwall; H. Moore; AJ. White.
Drivers G. (?) Roper; N.S. Lloyd; E.P. Lloyd; J.F. Ellis;
C.R. Creed;T.A. Ward.


Officers Other Ranks Total
Killed in action/
died of wounds
25 388 413
Wounded 86 2680 2,766
Taken prisoner 2 25 27
Evacuated sick 52 1,530 1,582
Total casualties 165 4,623 4788

Further statistics compiled by Lieutenant King:
Prisoners captured by the Battalion:
            A total of 1,522 prisoners were taken in the following engagements:
            Messines - 3; Passchendaele - 70: Hangard Wood - 19; Accroche Wood - 507; Bray - 313;
            Road Wood - 600; Hindenberg Line - 10.

War materials captured by the Battalion
            Howitzers & field guns - 23; Minenwerfers -26; Machine-guns, light & heavy - 159:
            Searchlights - 1; Horses - 7; Aeroplanes - 1; Field Kitchens - 1; Gun Limbers - 1;
            Typewriters - 2.

Battalion Battle Honours:
            England, Western Front (Flanders and France 1916-18):
Messines 1917; Ypres 1917; 
Polygon Wood;
Broodeseinde; Poelcappelle;  Passchendaele; Somme 1918; Avre; Amiens; 
Albert 1918; Hangard Wood; Villers-Bretonneux; Morlancourt;  Accroche Wood;  
Road Wood; Mont St Quentin; Hindenburg Line; Bray; Bony; St Quentin Canal.    


Victoria Cross 2 Privates J. Carroll and G. Cartwright.
Distinguished Service Order 6 Lieutenant Colonel L.J. Morshead
Bar to D.S.O. 1 Captain J . Duncan.
Military Cross 22
Distinguished Conduct Medal 18 Private F.C. Ayling,
Private G.E. Barr,
Private C.S. Crowley,
Private T. Cox
Private W.A. Irwin
Private J. Jensen
Sergeant S.J. Lang
Company Sergeant Major L.J. Mathias and Citation
Sergeant A. McLean
Private T.D. Merton
Sergeant J.H. Payten
Sergeant T.W. Rourke and Citation
Private G.F. Seagrott
Sergeant H. Shatwell and Citation
Sergeant E.G. Sheldon
Private T. Smith and Citation
Private J. Spence
Company Sergeant Major G.A. Werner
Bar to D.C.M 1 C.S.M. (Later Lieutenant) L.J. Mathias.
D.S.M. 8
Military Medal 78
Bar to M.M. 3 Corporal W.R. Jamieson,
Lance-Corporal C.N. Richardson,
Corporal F.A. Thurston.
Second Bar to M.M. 1 Corporal F.A. Thurston.
Meritorious Service Medal 6
Legion of Honour 1
French & Belgian Croix Ie Geurre 4
Italian Bronze Medal 1

Click Here for those that served

Average age of personnel in the 33rd: 25 .6 Years
Married: 14.5 %
Single: 84.5 %
Widowers: 1.0%
Average Length of Service (at end of the war): 29 mths