Bendigo and the Anzacs

There were nearly 4000 people who enlisted in Bendigo to serve in the First World War, though over 5000 listed places in the Bendigo area as their place of birth on their service records (or you can watch a Discovering Anzacs video for more information on these records). Many who enlisted would have come from the Bendigo area, but some would have travelled great distances. This was often the case for those who were underage who travelled to distant recruitments point where they would not be recognised by officials and turned away from enlisting.

 
   AWM_Bendigo_Boys.jpg

‘Members of the 38th Battalion in Dog Trench near
Guillemont Farm, in which they were held by machine
gun  fire during the attack on the Hindenburg Line, near
Bony.  Identified, left to right: 5918 Private (Pte) Binion;
967  Sergeant A. E.  Pegler MM; 3020 Corporal H.
Amiet MM; Captain C. H. Peters MC; unidentified soldier
(almost completely obscured by Buckland); 763 Company
Sergeant Major (CSM) R. J. Buckland MM (smoking a
pipe); 6217 Pte G. Bain.’

Photo taken by George Hubert Wilkins, 29 September 1918
Courtesy of the 
Australian War Memorial

Recruitment took place at the Bendigo Town Hall. Diaries and letters, as well as other personal records, were kept by many as they served during the war. These will be progresively digitised by the Australian War Memorial as part of the Anzac Connections project.

Bendigo had its own battalion, the 38th Battalion,  in the 10th Infantry Brigade of the 1st Australian Imperial Force. The 38th Battalion was formed on 1 March 1916 and used the Bendigo Racecourse at Epsom as their training camp. From here, the 38th Battalion shipped out to the theatre of wars in France and Belguim, on the Western Front. The 38th Battalion served in several major battles and actions at Messines, Broodseinde, Passchendaele, Proyart, Somme Valley and the Hindenburg Line at St Quentin Canal. In some actions the battalion suffered as much as a 62% casualty rate. Over the course of the First World War the 38th Battalion suffered heavily – 1478 were gassed or wounded and 499 were killed and buried in war graves. The valour of the 38th Battalion was recognised by over 150 decorations. The 38th Battalion was disbanded in April 1919.

There were an estimated 400-800 Aboriginal diggers who served alongside their fellow countrymen and women in World War One. Some of these differs would have been local Dja Dja Wurrung people, including Jaara men, and Aboriginal Bendigonians. Aboriginal men served their country, although at the time they were not recognised as citizens and could not vote. This was not the first nor the last war Aboriginal people have served in, in a long and ongoing tradition of military service. Aboriginal service and sacrifice is now honoured each year on 31 May at 11am at the Shrine of Remembrance in a dedicated Victorian Indigenous Remembrance Service.

After the war, many communities commemorated the sacrifices made by listing the fallen on honour rolls and memorials, such as the Bendigo Roll of Honour located at the Soldiers Memorial on Pall Mall, or by planting Avenues of Honour. Monuments like the Soldiers Memorial on Pall Mall (1921) and the Arch of Triumph in White Hills (1925), both largely built by public subscription, are magnificent tributes that are of state heritage significance.

As a reward for their service, the Victoria government instigated low interest land purchase schemes to assist returned soldiers to settle in regional and rural areas. Mount Camel estate near Knowsley East was just one such settlement in this area. The areas chosen for soldier settlements were not always productive land and financial advances could be extensive to support these returned soldiers.

To ‘lend a helping hand to deserving comrades’ a Returned Soldiers’ Association was established as early as 1916 in Bendigo. Now known as the Returned and Services League, there are a number of Sub Branches that continue to serve the veteran community – Bendigo DistrictElmoreHeathcote and Kangaroo Flat.