World War I

The 51st Battalion, Australian Imperial Force was raised at Tel-El-Kabir, Egypt, on 1 March 1916 from half of the 11th Battalion (veterans of the Gallipoli landing) and reinforcements of the 11th and 28th Battalions, all personnel being Western Australian volunteers. During the period 1899-1902, a number of Western Australian volunteers formed the various Mounted Infantry units which served in the Boer War in South Africa. In recognition of their services, These Mounted Infantry were awarded Battle Honour 'South Africa 1899-1902' which was then awarded to the Western Australian Infantry Battalions raised for World War One who, by virtue of being volunteers of the same regional origins, were deemed to be the successors of the Western Australian Mounted Infantry. So the 51st Battalion came to bear its first Battle Honour which is still emblazoned on the Regimental Colour today. The Battalion was granted the colour patch chocolate brown over saxe blue.

The new Battalion, under the command of LTCOL A.M.Ross D.S.O., having been allotted to the 13th Infantry Brigade, 4th Australian Division with 49th, 50th and 52nd Battalions, disembarked at Marseilles, France on 11 June 1916 and moved into the front line at Fleurbaix three days later. The 51st Battalion's first major engagements with the enemy occurred at the ruins of Pozieres and Mouquet Farm during the period August - September 1916. During these engagements, the Battalion reached its objectives but was unable to hold the captured positions. In less than three weeks the Battalion had suffered in excess of 650 casualties. The Battalion then shifted to the quieter section of the battlefield in Belgium. There its major battle was with the rain and the mud and at one stage the Battalion was down to approximately 300 men due to the shocking conditions they fought in. On the morning of 2nd April,1917, the Battalion along with the 50th Battalion attacked Noreuil, an outpost village near the Hindenberg Line. The attack was a success, but the Battalion suffered 239 casualties during the assault and subsequent defence of the village. The next major engagement of the 51st Battalion was the counter-attack at Villers Bretonneux on 24/25 April 1918, during which action the Battalion lost 389 men in just two days. Lieutenant C.W.K. Sadlier won the Victoria Cross for his valour during the engagement. For the action, the Battalion was awarded a total of 4l decorations. The depleted 52nd Battalion was incorporated into the 51st Battalion to make up the numbers for the rest of the war.

In 1918, a group of English women made a khaki wool flag with the colour patch of the 51st Battalion emblazoned in the middle and presented it to the Battalion. The flag was flown at 51 Battalion Headquarters in France and Belgium from early December 1918 until the unit was disbanded in May 1919. 

This flag is presently held at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. On 10 May 1919, at Aiseau in Belgium, the last entry was made in the War Diary by the Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel R. Christie, DSO and Bar. The losses during the war had been severe. 83 officers and 2,477 other ranks having been killed, wounded or captured. In 1920, all 60 Infantry Battalions of the AIF were awarded silk 'Union Flags which are to receive all honours and compliments paid to Colours'.

51st Battalion War Diaries

51st Battalion was also awarded the following battle honours:

Because of their gallant efforts during World War One, members of the 51st Battalion were awarded the following decorations:

Victoria Cross (1)
Distinguished Service Order (2)
Bar to DSO (1)
Officer of the Order of the British Empire (1)
Military Cross (15)
Bar to MC (2)
Distinguished Conduct Medal (14)
Military Medal (110)
Bar to MM (3)
Meritous Service Medal (9)
Croix de Guerre (France) (2)
Croix de Guerre (Belgium) (2)
Medal of St George 4th Class (Russia) (1)
Order of the Crown of Rumania (Chevalier) (1)
Order of the White Eagle, 5th Class (Serbian) (1)
Mentioned in Despatches (30)

    Important Links

    Inter War Years

    As a result of an Army reorganisation, 51st Battalion was re-raised at Subiaco, Western Australia in 1921. The unit was subsequently reformed as a Militia unit, the 51st Battalion, at Launceston, Tasmania in 1922. During 1924, the unit was relocated to Gladesville, Sydney, New South Wales,and the 51st Battalion now became a member of the 8th Brigade 1st Division. In 1927, the unit relocated to Ryde, also in New South Wales, and was renamed the 51st Battalion, The Field of Mars Regiment and awarded the motto 'Ducit Amor Patriae (Love of Country Leads Me). During 1930, the unit was amalgamated with the 30th Battalion (New South Wales Scottish) at Ryde. This amalgamation remained until 1935 when both battalions split and the 51st became amalgamated with the 18th Battalion to become 18th/51st Battalion.


    2585 Corporal Ernest Lionel Bailey, 51st Battalion and later Australian Corps Salvage AIF, tagging battlefield trophies for the Australian War Museum at the Hoograaf Collecting Depot. The battlefield relics were gathered during the Australian advances in the Third Battle of Ypres and almost every item bears a signficance to some historic event in which Australian troops figure. Corporal Bailey was accidentally killed on 17 May 1918 at Ailly sur Somme while handling similar material. Note the German stick grenade, rifle with bayonet and the machine gun that he is holding.
       Portrait of 2484 Private John Cooper, 11th Battalion (later 51st Battalion), of Perth, WA, framed in a colour commemorative patriotic mat. Below the photograph is a printed biography of Pte Cooper's service in the AIF. It reads ‘In Loving Memory of Lance-Corporal J Cooper, DCM. No. 2484, of the 51st Battalion. Enlisted as a driver at Kalgoorlie on the 25th of May, 1915. He went into Blackboy but only stayed in camp a short period, sailing on 25th June, 1915 [actually 2 September 1915], for Egypt. He fought at Gallipoli, and went from there to France, where he took part in all the battles the Australians were in. This hero was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal at Zonnebeke Ridge, on the 19th November, 1917. He took command of his platoon during an attack when all the NCOs had become casualties, and led them successfully to the objective. He remained in charge until the consolidation, inspiring the men by his fearless conduct under heavy shell and machine gun fire. His initiative and example were of conspicuous merit. He was killed on the 25th April, 1918, at Villers-Bretonneux, leaving behind a wife and four children.’ The coloured illustrations on the mat include the words 'FOR KING AND COUNTRY', a rising sun badge, a Union Jack and Red Ensign flag and a version of a Western Australian coat of arms with a black swan, kangaroo, Australian flora and a lion.
       Outdoor portrait of ex-Prisoner of War (POW) 1730 Private Albert Victor Watson, 51st Battalion, from Boulder, Western Australia. Pte Watson enlisted on 31 January 1916 at the age of 43 and embarked for overseas on 17 April 1916 aboard HMAT Aeneas. He was captured at Mouquet Farm, France, on 3 September 1916 and held as a POW in Germany. While in hospital with rheumatism at the POW camp at Nurnberg, Germany he wrote to the Australian Red Cross in London on 21 August 1918 "Received parcel with sincerest thanks. It came while in hospital and is a treat for some 50 comrades whom I have shared with and who have just been captured, some very severely wounded." Pte Watson was repatriated to England on 21 December 1918 and arrived back in Australia on 10 April 1919. The handwritten note on the back of the photograph reads "Miss M.E. Chomley, As a slight recognition of services rendered by you as Hon. Sec. A.B.R.C. whilst Prisoner of War in Germany from 3rd Sept 16 to 14th Dec 18. With sincerest best wishes, yours sincerely, 1730 Pte A.V. Watson, 51 Battn. AIF." One of a series of over 400 photographs sent by Australian POWs in German camps to Miss M. E. Chomley, Secretary, Prisoners Department, Australian-British Red Cross Society, London. Original album housed in AWM Research Centre at RC00864, Album image number 368.

    of the Officers, NCO's & Men
                     of the
                 51st Battalion
                   Who Fell
                 at Messines
            7th to 13th June 1917

    Click images for larger photo
       An informal portrait of 2364 Company Quartermaster Sergeant (CQMS) Sydney Edwards, of West Leederville, Western Australia, at Berne, Switzerland, the day after escaping from German captivity. A stockman and sheep breeder before enlisting in April 1915, Private (Pte) Edwards left Australia for Egypt with the 7th Reinforcements of the 11th Battalion in June 1915 and served on Gallipoli for a month before being evacuated with constipation and influenza. He was transferred to the 51st Battalion as part of the 'doubling-up' of the AIF in May 1916, and was rapidly promoted from Pte to CQMS in March 1916. After arriving in France for service on the Western Front in June 1916, CQMS Edwards took part in the 51st Battalion's attack Mouquet Farm on 3 September 1916 and was wounded in the left thigh and taken prisoner. He was interned at the Lazarette at Grafenwohr, Germany, and in December was transferred to the prisoner-of-war camp at Nurnberg (Nuremberg) where he was a Senior British Officer (SBO) for British and Commonwealth prisoners. In June 1917 Edwards was transferred to the NCO punishment camp at Lechfeld for refusing to work manual labour for the Germans, and on 29 April 1918 made a successful escape with three other prisoners by cutting through the wooden bars from his cell and lowering himself out through the window by using a bed sheet. Travelling 160 kilometers on foot to cross the Swiss frontier on 9 May 1918, CQMS Sydney Edwards was the first Australian prisoner to make a successful escape to Switzerland during the First World War. He was repatriated to Australia in June 1918, and the following year was awarded the Military Medal (MM) for "gallant conduct and determination displayed in escaping...from captivity".
       This is the escape map used by CQSM Edwards during his escape forms part of the Memorial's Escape Map collection at the Australian War Memorial in the Research Centre at RC08512
    CQMS Edwards has marked the route on the map and put a cross to mark how far he travelled each day. The crosses are then annotated on the side of the map with features such as the terrain and whether he was travelling by day or night.
    Click on the photo for a low resolution image.