31 DEC 1914: World War I and the second convoy of the first AIF departs Albany in Western Australia. Volunteers for the AIF enlisted so readily that a second convoy left within two months of the first. Many of those on board landed on Gallipoli on 25 April 1915.
Dr David Stevens, director of strategic and historical studies at the navy’s Sea Power Centre, said the second mass departure of Australian and New Zealand troopships was notable in part because it was the last formed convoy to leave Australian shores until 1917.
With German cruisers such as the Emden, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau having been destroyed in the few weeks prior to departure, it was considered there was little threat to the transports making their way to war, and the second convoy was accompanied only by the submarine AE2, which was being towed by HMAT Berrima.
“After that, they might have called them convoys, but in reality the transports sailed independently,” Dr Stevens said.
The navy historian – who last month released a book called In All Respects Ready: Australia’s Navy and World War One – said the second Anzac convoy also included five vessels that had been captured from the Germans and renamed: the Boorara, Barambah, Barunga, Boonah and Bakara.
The Bakara and Barunga were supposed to leave with the convoy on December 31, but a fire in Bakara’s coal bunker and engine problems for the Barunga meant both were delayed in their departure and they had to catch up with the rest of the fleet.
The journey was largely uneventful, with the exception of an unidentified vessel that appeared on January 21 and did not reply to signals, causing the AE2 crew to trigger their emergency preparations in case.
In the nick of time, the crew of the Indian vessel Dufferin signalled back – they too were on their way to the port of Aden.
Dr Stevens said while military life was often tough and regimented, the young Anzacs on their way to war were also able to relax a little before the reality of more serious training and combat truly set in.
“We forget that a lot of these guys weren’t living like we do today – they might have come from poorer backgrounds or poorer parts of the cities,” he said.
“When they went into the army they got regular meals, and when they got paid they could spend their money ashore.
“A case in point was that when they got to Colombo, about 500 soldiers broke ship. All but 22 had come back by the time the convoy sailed again a couple of days later, but the remaining ones were picked up by the Bakara when it came through a bit later.
“For most of them, the adventure would have overridden any minor discomforts.”
Nonetheless, the sombre nature of the task ahead was not lost on some of the soldiers.
Private Herbert Vincent Reynolds, of Victoria, who kept extensive diaries throughout the war, was a passenger on the Berrima and recorded his thoughts on December 31 as he watched the West Australian coastline get swallowed up by the horizon.
“We watched it disappear with very mixed feelings and thoughts of what this venture had in store for us, and what the coming year will bring forth,” Reynolds wrote.
“We have bade ‘goodbye’ to our homeland with the closing of the year, no doubt to many it will be a last ‘goodbye’. But whatever the fates decree, and if any return, it will be to enjoy the liberties and freedom of our own land in full security.”
Ships of the second Anzac convoy:
Australian transports: A29 Suevic; A30 Borda; A32 Themistocles; A33 Ayrshire; A34 Persic; A35 Berrima; A36 Boonah; A37 Barambah; A38 Ulysses; A39 Port Macquarie; A40 Ceramic; A42 Boorara; A43 Barunga; A44 Vestalia
New Zealand transports: HMNZT Knight of the Garter; HMNZT Willochra; HMNZT Verdala.
Australian submarine AE2 was under tow of the Berrima.