2/20 Bn AIF in NSW from formation to Christmas 1940

‘Pounding Along to Singapore’ is the book I wrote about the 2/20 Battalion Australian Imperial Force (AIF) who were sent to Singapore and Malaya in 1941 as part of the 8th Division. Captain Bill Gaden’s letters to and from the family provide the timeline along which the story of the 2/20 Bn is woven, from inception in June 1940 to the end of the Second World War. Other  threads come from the 2/20 Battalion’s War Diary and Routine Orders, newspapers and magazines of the day, interviews with some of the men who survived the eventual POW years and came home and other reports from the time. This book is available from me.

The 2/20 Battalion Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was formed at Victoria Barracks in Sydney from 13 July 1940 when the War Diary reported that fourteen officers completed their final medical examinations and received their pay books as from this date. The next day they moved to Wallgrove Camp. The officers of 2/20 Bn. together with approx 250 prospective Non Commissioned Officers [N.C.O.’s] of 22 Inf. Bde. not yet allotted to separate units but intended to form a Bde. Nucleus reported to Wallgrove Camp and were superimposed on and quartered with militia units of 5 Inf. Bde. then in camp for a 10 day intensive course of training. The C.O. remained at 5 Inf. Bde. H.Q. and other senior officers of 2/20 Bn. (Majors and Captains) were billeted with 20/19 Bn. A.M.F. which was under the command of Lt. Col. E.H. Ward. All subalterns of 22 Inf. Bde. messed together in a separate mess in 56 Bn. A.M.F. lines with which they were quartered.  The officers referred to above were Lt. Col. W.D. Jeater, Maj. G.E. Ramsey, Maj. R.C. Merrett, Maj. A.E. Robertson, Capt. R.D.J. Richardson, Capt. A.C.M. Ewart, Capt. R.N. Cohen, Lt. E.W. Gaden, Lt. J. Hepburn, Lt. K.W. Hutton, Lt. A.G. Davies, Lt. B.D. Richardson, Lt. A.I. Yates, Lt. D.C. MacDougall, Lt. G. Maxwell, Lt. D. Thompson, Capt. J.G. Fairley.

Brig. Taylor addressed a gathering of all officers and prospective N.C.O.’s of 22 Inf. Bde. outlining his policy in regard to training, promotions and other administrative problems.

The 22nd Brigade was made up of the 2/18, 2/19 and 2/20 Battalions AIF, all volunteers from NSW, so their service number started with NX.

NX12539 David MacDougal was posted to the 2/20 with NX12543 (Edward William Gaden), but NX12540, NX12541 and NX12542 all became members of the 2/30 Battalion and they initially trained at Tamworth before going to Bathurst. They were known as Galleghan’s Greyhounds and also served in Singapore and Malaya (Leslie Gordon Gaffney was one of these men, see interview under POW pages.)

Over the next weeks Battalion spirit was encouraged. Sport became an important part of training. as it taught the men how to become good team players.  In addition concert parties all helped to develop the esprit de corps which is so important for a military unit. At Wallgrove the men were allowed weekend leave from midday Saturday to midnight Sunday which was a boost for morale. The men remained in the Sydney area for several weeks before moving to Bathurst…. this was an important time as the men learned to accept the Military way of doing things and learned to cooperate with each other in their sections, platoons, companies and the Battalion

 Routine Orders for 18 Sep ’40 Ingleburn included:-

BUGLE CALLS. Calls will be sounded on loud speaker as follows:-

Reveille           0600 hrs

Retreat            1730 hrs

1st Post           2130 hrs

Lights out        2215 hrs

Unit bugler will sound calls immediately after loud speaker has ceased, NOT before.

COMFORTS The following articles have been received during the week ending 18 Sep ’40 from the Lord Mayor’s Fund:-

240 pairs sandshoes

1 cricket bat.


T.C. arm bands stand for Traffic Control. The wearers have authority to pull up ANY vehicle (M.T.) as well, for any of the following reasons: – Excessive speed, negligent driving, Examining leave passes and, in cases of M.T. Trucks, Works Tickets.

Routine Orders for 19 Sep ’40 included that the Companys had to fall in on Bn. Parade Ground at 1025 hrs. and march to Y.M.C.A. Hut for inoculation and blood typing.

War Diary of 2 Oct ‘40 acknowledged the receipt of 200 pairs of socks and 850 Dilly Bags.

from the Lord Mayor’s Patriotic Fund

War Diary of the 2/20 Battalion A.I.F. Ingleburn Camp 4 Oct ‘40

Today unit participated in the 8 Div. march through SYDNEY. Troops extremely keen, discipline splendid.

Routine Orders of 6 Oct  included a reminder troops to  exercise care in imparting information Attention to all ranks is again drawn to the necessity of ensuring that no information which may be of value to the enemy regarding the movements of our Forces be disclosed verbally or in letters.

They were also told of a Prophylactic clinic for VD, it was at the Board of Health, 93 Macquarie Street, Sydney except between the hours of 0200 and 0300. This service is available to all troops.

COMFORTS Receipt of 7 pairs socks from a “Well-wisher” in Newcastle is acknowledged… subsequently each Battalion had its own Comfort’s Fund and many and varied were sent to the troops. Usually the womenfolk back home were involved in fund raising for the unit in which their son, brother  or husband was serving

Routine Orders by 7 Oct ’40 included:-

Attention to all personnel is drawn to the fact that admission to Bn Orderly Room is granted for transaction of official business ONLY

Routine Orders 30 Oct ’40 Ingleburn included:-


Damage to Toll Shelters  Military truck drivers are instructed that when crossing Sydney Harbour Bridge they are to use the outside lines only, as damage has been caused to Collectors’ Shelters by military vehicles attempting to use the inside lines.

Routine Orders 6 Nov ’40 Ingleburn included:-

During recent inspections of camps it has been brought to notice that in a large number of instances boots after issue have been subjected to various treatments i.e. washing in soda, water, petrol, etc, with a view to removing the fat dressing from the leather in order that they may be polished. Men were reminded that the leather of the Army Boot is specially treated with this dressing in order to render the boots reasonably waterproof and serviceable under Active Service conditions and the dressing should on no account be removed.

This was to be their last day at Ingleburn and by 2100 hours the whole unit with exception of Rear Party personnel now in camp and settling down in new quarters in the Bathurst area. The men had de-trained at Kelso and marched in full kit the seven miles to their camp at Glanmire, north of Bathurst. The time spent here was to be an important phase in consolidating the individual Sections into Platoons and those in turn into Companies, thus becoming an efficient and effective Battalion unit.

The next day, 8th November the 2/20 were part of a 22nd Infantry Brigade Parade in camp and marched into Camping Area, Bathurst for midday meal. After meal they took part in the march through Bathurst where salute was taken by the Lord Mayor of Bathurst. After the march the Troops were given leave to see the City and on returning Unit marched back to Camp.

Bill Gaden wrote home to tell his family that the troops had moved from Ingleburn the previous  Thursday by train and arrived in Bathurst that afternoon. We detrained at a siding called Kelso which is 2 miles from Bathurst and then commenced a 6 mile march out to camp- arrived 8.30pm tired and cranky. The camp is approx 6 miles from Bathurst but the roads are indirect and make the distance longer. All the Coys are quartered in groups of huts and each group ½ mile apart. Our own Bn area is so extensive that we have motor transport to take us to mess and back and also to visit other Coys. The country is undulating – wheat fields surround us and there are very few trees. On all sides we can see hazy blue mountains in the distance – these worry us a little because we all know that we shall soon be training on the high ground and have to walk.

We marched through Bathurst on Friday. The lads turned on a great showLeave into town is good. We are allowed every night off- provided we are not working or on any duties. The snag is getting into town. The bus service is rotten and there are no taxis.

Our sleeping huts are excellent. I have a room with decent cupboards, 2 tables and a bed built in to a wall. My predecessor was in the 2/13 Bn and must have been a carpenter. We have our own rooms and therefore have a lot more privacy than previously in other camps. Most of the huts are new and have not been occupied before. We feel very stylish and quite pleased.

War Diary 18 Nov ‘40

This day a large bush and grass fire started in the unit Training Area. It swept across the area and all Coys. were moved into positions encircling the area and gradually gained control. Training syllabus was accordingly disrupted. The Coys. bivouacked on their training areas keeping the still burning area under control. A great deal of organization was required on account of this happening and was excellent training and experience.

War Diary 20 Nov ‘40

This night the Unit held its first Regimental Ball at the TROCADERO, Bathurst. This was the first Regimental Ball held yet in Bathurst. Attendance approximately 1000 persons. Bdr. H.S. Taylor M.C., V.D., and Mrs. Taylor attended. All units of 22 Inf. Bde. well represented by Officers, N.C.O.’s and men.

Routine Orders 19 Dec ’40 included:-

The troops were given leave over Christmas and were again to be warned of the time, place and expiry of their Active Service Leave

The Div. Comd. Wishes to convey to all ranks his best wishes for a Happy Xmas and Prosperous and Victorious New Year.

Though we are impatient to set out on the task for which we enlisted, we are fortunate that we are able to spend this Festive Season among relatives and friends in sunny Australia rather than among the discomforts of alien land. May the year 1941 see the 8 Aust. Div. participating in decisive victories against our enemies so that we may soon return to our homes to enjoy a real peace on earth with goodwill to all men.


References: The War Diary and Routine Orders of the 2/20 Bn AIF available from the Australian War Memorial Canberra  <http://www.awm.gov.au/collection/records/awm52/8/3/20/&gt; and Pounding Along to Singapore, Chapter 1.

#Singapore  #Prisoner of War  #POW  #World War 2

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