Seventy years ago, the 2/22nd Battalion formed at Trawool in Victoria. NORM FURNESS was there – and tells how it was in those months before the troops were deployed to garrison Rabaul. Over half the battalion died in the sinking of the Montevideo Maru 1 July 1940.

At the St Kilda Road Army Barracks in Melbourne, the decision was made to form the 8th Division of the Australian Infantry Force. Victoria was to raise a new Infantry Brigade – the 23rd – and the two Victorian battalions were to be the 2/21st and the 2/22nd, with one battalion to come from Tasmania, the 2/40th.

This decision was the start of our involvement.

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 get new enlistments to form an advance party to go to Trawool, these days 1½ hours drive north of Melbourne.

11 July. 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. A draft of 259 other ranks and two officers arrived by train, and three more officers arrived by car. 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 remember his voice! I later found out his name was Bill Bowring, an officer from Mildura. Ever after 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 were 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 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 threw our luggage out and then jumped or fell 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. Next morning at parade the riot act was read in no uncertain terms, stressing that 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. Another draft of four officers and 180 other ranks arrived from Balcome by train. Much more orderly and no dogs!

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

July – September. Throughout this period, other small groups of men arrived from places like Bendigo and various showgrounds around Victoria. A big plus was the arrival of the Battalion Band. They were all Salvation Army musicians. It was just what we needed – a bugler to wake us, music to march to, plus a little Salvation Army training for our souls. 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 training connected to an Infantry Battalion. We all thought we’d soon be on the way to the Middle East war zone. How wrong we were. One company formed the numbers ‘2/22’ in rocks on the hillside and painted them white. Now, 70 years later, the Farrer family still looks after them.

24 September. 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 to route march all the way, some 130 miles [225 km].

Late September – 4 October. We footslogged along the sides of the Hume Highway, in those days 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 marched. ‘Magnificent’ was the only word to describe us. At one point we were ‘attacked’ by the RAAF – one lonely Gipsy Moth plane.

4 October. We finally arrived at Bonegilla, which had brand new huts waiting for us. Training 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.

Footnote The rest of our story has been told many times, as have the sacrifices made by our Battalion, supportive Lark Force units and many civilians in Rabaul. We ended up in New Guinea, not the Western Desert. Trawool. We enjoyed our stay and I always remember the local pub – if there were eight people in the 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.

Norm Furness is President of the 2/22 Battalion ‘Lark Force’ Association

Memorial News September 2010