Troops depart Broken Hill

WAR BETWEEN ENGLAND AND GERMANY. (1914, August 6) The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA) p. 8. Newspaper article found in Trove reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia.
WAR BETWEEN ENGLAND AND GERMANY. (1914, August 6) The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA) p. 8. Newspaper article found in Trove reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

Exactly four months after Andy Duncan and Jane Stewart married, Britain declared war with Germany. In Broken Hill and all around Australia there was an enthusiastic rush of volunteers to join the Australian Expeditionary Force.  Andy Duncan is likely one of the volunteers described in Broken Hill’s Barrier Miner newspaper on 13 August

Since England has been at war, there has been a steady stream of able bodied men of all classes to the military staff office in Broken Hill, to enrol themselves as volunteers for the front. This afternoon Regimental Sergeant-Major Miller reported that altogether over 250 applications had been made

… Of the men, 125 who have had military experience have been selected, and these will probably form one of the companies of the Australian expeditionary forces. Those who have been chosen will probably be medically examined within the next few days. There may be a slight reduction in the number on this account, but the men are described as being of a splendid stamp, physically. The ages of the men range between 19 and 35, most of them being in the twenties. Twenty one are married, but only a few have children. The largest family is four.

While feelings of nationalism and patriotic duty drove the rush to enlist, in Broken Hill drought and unemployment in the mines must have had some influence.

Events moved quickly in August. By 15 August the makeup of the Australian Expeditionary Force and enlistment requirements had been finalised. Broken Hill men were expected to fill the South Australian quota of the Expeditionary Force. A recruiting and training camp was established at Morphettville in Adelaide.

Within a few hours of the Morphettville Camp opening, long queues formed outside the gates of men waiting to enlist. In Broken Hill eager volunteers underwent medical examinations. Andy Duncan was judged fit for active service – though at 5 foot 7 inches tall and a chest measurement of 35 inches, he only just met the minimum physical requirements for enlistment.

A.S. Duncan attestation 20 August 1914.  B2455/3525935 © Commonwealth of Australia (National Archives of Australia) 2013.
A.S. Duncan attestation 20 August 1914.
© Commonwealth of Australia (National Archives of Australia) 2013.

On Friday 21 August the first men were farewelled from Broken Hill. The scene was reminiscent of the farewell given to the South Lancashires in 1899 – even the songs were the same. Again Andy was not among the first group marching away; he left by train the following evening. His R.A.O.B. brethren were at the station to see the train out.

The first Broken Hill men to arrive at Morphettville in August 1914. Andy Duncan joined them a few days later. State Library of South Australia B 37013

The Barrier Miner reported –



Enthusiastic scenes marked the departure from Broken Hill last night of about 120 more volunteers for the front.

With the exception of two or three, who expect to be drafted into the Light Horse, all of last night’s batch belong to the Infantry. Lieutenant O. L. Davey was in charge of the men, and the other officers who departed were Lieutenants Perry and Farrier.

A few minutes after 6 o’clock the troops assembled in the Skating Rink, which was lent for the purpose by the management. The rink was bedecked with many flags. Though most of the men were in civilian garb, they presented a smart appearance, and their striking physique was favorably commented upon on all sides.

A few smart orders and, led by martial music from the Caledonian Pipers, the march for the station commenced. An enthusiastic demonstration greeted the men’s appearance in Oxide-street, and when the main thoroughfare was reached cheer upon cheer rent the air.

Argent-street was black with people. A vast number, with imaginations enlivened by the music, fell into step with the soldiers, and the marching army of men, women, and children swelled as it proceeded.

At the station the crowd appeared to be considerably larger than that which saw the volunteers away on Friday evening. Similar scenes were witnessed, though the patriotic feelings of the people were more visible – and audible. “Rule Britannia, ‘’God Save the King.” and war songs which have been laid to rest since the Boer war, were sung till throats were hoarse […] One of the Socialists at the northern end of the platform set up some opposition by singing “The Red Flag,” until a man in the crowd cried “Fix bayonets! Charge the red flag!” and they were hustled along a little way.

An enterprising photographer climbed on to the top of the carriages and took a flashlight snap of the crowd. A few minutes after schedule time the engine whistle shrieked its warning, final farewells were called, the Pipers struck up “The Ministrel Boy to the War Has Gone,” and the train drew slowly away from the cheering thousands.

Jane Duncan would have been amongst the crowd. She was fiercely proud of her husband being among the first to enlist, but that would not have made it any easier to watch him go.

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