Rabaul: an enduring town on shaky ground
Predictable & predicted: the troubled Pacific

70 years after – and memories of Trawool

Seventy years ago the 2/22nd Battalion formed at Trawool in Victoria. NORM FURNESS was there and describes those months before the troops were sent to garrison Rabaul. Over half of them died in the sinking of the Montevideo Maru

2-22-lark-force 1 JULY 1940. At the St Kilda Road Army Barracks, Melbourne, Victoria, the decision was made to form the 8th Division of the Australian Infantry Force (AIF).

Victoria was to raise a new Infantry Brigade – the 23rd - with two Victorian Battalions, the 2/21st and the 2/22nd, and one Battalion to come from Tasmania, the 2/40th. Thus began our involvement.

The next move was that Lt Colonel Howard Carr was appointed Commanding Officer of the 2/22nd and he would recruit some men from his Militia Battalion, the 46th from Brighton, and he would get some new enlistments to form an advance party to go to Trawool, these days an hour and a half’s drive north of Melbourne.

11 July 1940. The advance party of four officers and 67 other ranks arrived at Trawool to prepare a camp for the hundreds of recruits who would soon be arriving.

15 July 1940. A draft of 259 other ranks and two officers arrived by train, and three more officers arrived by car. It so happened I was one of the 259 other ranks and it was a trip I will never forget.

We were wakened in the early dark hours of the morning by a booming voice shouting "Right, out of your bed, you’re on the move so pack your gear. Pronto". We couldn't see the person, but I can remember his voice! I later found out his name was Bill Bowring, an officer from Mildura.

Ever after that he was known as ‘Bull’ Bowring. He later transferred to the 2/29th Battalion and served in Malaya.

Well, we packed up, had breakfast and loaded on to a train. The trip took hours and most of us had no idea where we were heading. We got shunted onto side tracks and it just so happened that hotels were close by, and some stations had a bar! So, naturally most had a drink or two as well as the numerous stray dogs that adopted us.

Finally, we and the dogs arrived at Trawool. There was no station so we had to throw our luggage out and then jump or fall out of the train. Captain Alan Cameron, one of the advance party, had a guard of honour to greet us. One look at the new troops was enough and he quickly dismissed the guards. What a day. I might add I was only 18 years of age.

16 July 1940. Next morning at parade the riot act was read in no uncertain terms, stressing we were in the Army now and orders were to be obeyed. Next on the agenda was a dog round up. It was hilarious.

18 July 1940. Another draft of four officers and 180 other ranks arrived from Balcome by train. Much more orderly and no dogs!

19 July 1940. The first battalion parade was held and from then we started to settle in. We found Trawool in July pretty cold, and wet underfoot, and we lived in tents, each accommodating eight soldiers.

July - September 1940. Throughout this period, other small groups of men arrived from places like Bendigo and various showgrounds around Victoria. A big plus one day was the arrival of the Battalion Band. It so happened they were all Salvation Army musicians.

It was just what we needed - a bugler to wake us up, music to march to, plus a little Salvation Army training for our souls didn’t go amiss. We soon started to get fit, some for the first time in their lives.

We went on route marches, had plenty of physical training, learnt drills, undertook weapons training, ran up hills, guard duty and all the other training connected to an Infantry Battalion. At this time we all thought we’d soon be on the way to the Middle East war zone. How wrong we were.

Trawool_Symbol One company formed the numbers “2/22” in rocks on the hillside and painted them white [right]. Now, 70 years later, the Farrer family still look after them.

24 September 1940. Just as the weather at Trawool started to improve, orders came that we were to go to a new camp at Bonegilla near Albury. No trains this time. We were going to route march all the way, some 130 miles [225 km].

Late September - 4 October 1940. We footslogged along the sides of the Hume Highway, which in those days was only one lane each way. We spent some nights out in the open, under tent flys. Others nights were at showgrounds. Most enjoyed it and we got a good reception at each town we passed through.

We were getting fit. An added bonus was that our Band, which didn't march, came out to meet us about a mile out of town where we formed up in threes, fixed bayonets, sloped arms and in we marched. ‘Magnificent’ was the only word to describe us. At one point on the march we were ‘attacked’ by the RAAF - one lonely Gipsy Moth plane.

4 October 1940. We finally arrived at Bonegilla, which had brand new huts waiting for us. Training soon began for desert warfare. No jungle training. We had more troops join us, but sadly some of the originals were boarded out due to medical conditions that the route march showed up.

The rest of our story has been told many times, as have the sacrifices made by many of our Battalion, supportive Lark Force units and many civilians at Rabaul. For we ended up in New Guinea’s tropics, not the Western Desert.

Trawool. We enjoyed our stay here and I always remember the local pub – if there wre eight people in this bar it was packed.

We trust that in the years to come, Trawool will remain on the calendar - the last Sunday in July - as there are now only a few 2/22nd boys still alive.

We must thank the Farrer family for their contributions, looking after the memorial stone and surrounds, and also getting other locals involved, including Chris and Coral Robben, on whose land our stone stands.

The Rabaul and Montevideo Maru Society is seeking members. Email for details here.

Comments

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Helen Forsyth nee McGregor

I was four years old when my father enlisted in the 2/22nd and he went down with the Montevideo Maru.

It is comments such as the above that help to fill in missing pieces in our lives.

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