The 10th Battalion prepares for war

The Broken Hill men were assigned to the 10th Battalion, which together with the 9th, 11th and 12th Battalions formed the 3rd Brigade. Andy Duncan, with his previous military experience, was assigned the rank of Sergeant.

The 10th Battalion reached its full strength by the end of August 1914. All of September and the first half of October 1914 was spent training at Morphettville.


“Life at Morphettville is strenuous during working hours, when the soldier, be he the finished article or the raw recruit, spends hours training for duty at the front. But when work is over he is, within certain limits, his own master. The picture shows members of the expeditionary force spending a brief period in recreation.”
CAMP LIFE AT MORPHETTVILLE. (1914, August 29) The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA) p. 17. Newspaper article found in Trove reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

On 20 October Andy embarked for active service abroad. The men of the 10th Battalion were transferred by train to Outer Harbour where they boarded HMAT Ascanius. Their destination was unknown, but there was speculation that the battalion would be heading to Europe.

The Ascanius made a brief stop at Albany, Western Australia, then sailed for Egypt via Colombo.

HMAT Ascanius (A11) at Fremantle, Western Australia in November 1914.  Australian War Memorial collection H16157
HMAT Ascanius (A11) at Fremantle, Western Australia in November 1914.
Australian War Memorial collection H16157

On 3 November Andy experienced the first bad weather – and possibly his first bout of sea-sickness – of the voyage. As the day progressed waves crashed over the deck with increasing fury. The rough seas continued overnight. On some transport ships horses were washed overboard.

The following day the weather calmed somewhat and the Ascanius joined the Anzac fleet of 38 transports. 6 warships, including the Japanese TMS Ibuka, escorted the fleet.

The fleet headed northeast, into waters where German cruisers prowled for allied ships. During the day the men prepared with fire alarm, collision and boat drills. At night the fleet sailed with all lights out.

The weather became hot and muggy. Andy would have slept on deck to seek some relief.

In the early morning of 9 November Andy may have witnessed the HMAS Sydney steam west at full speed. He likely watched several hours later when the Melbourne and the Ibuka raced away with battle flags raised. The men knew that something was doing. Then at 11:15am news was received from the Sydney that the German cruiser Emden was “beached and done for”.

Another Broken Hill enlistee, Private H.W.B. Macarty, wrote

Great rejoicing on board, free beer, very hot.

The heat was relentless. By 14 November the men had “no smokes and little to drink”. A stop at Colombo 15 – 17 November was only to take on coal and water; there was no shore leave and no opportunity to replenish tobacco and matches.

When the fleet left Colombo the men were aware that German submarines were active in the area. So when the Ascanius collided with the Shropshire before dawn on 21 November, some thought the ship had been attacked.

The men in the forward compartments of the Ascanius were thrown from their hammocks by the force. Andy would have hurriedly paraded on deck with life belt on, ready to evacuate the ship. Evacuation was not necessary, however. Despite receiving a 7-metre hole in the port bow the Ascanius proceeded on to Aden.

The fleet reached Aden on 25 November. For many soldiers the bustling port must have been a new and exotic experience. Macarty wrote

Bedouins, Arabian Jews, Pharsees all around boat like flies selling Pine Apples, cigarettes, belts, large harbour, workers a lazy lot, get 4d a day, we throw spuds … to make them work, talk a man blind.

Perhaps Andy was reminded of his time in India.

Local men trading with troops on board an Australian transport at the port of Aden, Egypt. Baskets transferring food and goods are being lifted up to the ship by a set of ropes. Australian War Memorial collection C02540
Local men trading with troops on board an Australian transport at the port of Aden, Egypt. Baskets transferring food and goods are being lifted up to the ship by a set of ropes.
Australian War Memorial collection C02540

The fleet left Aden at dawn the following day. Soon after Andy became unwell, possibly from the intense heat and the fever that was doing the rounds, or from the sea-sickness that still plagued some men. He was in bed for 5 days, treated for dehydration. From his bed he would have heard that the Australian Division was to disembark at Alexandria and proceed to Cairo for training.

The Australians were going to advance against the Turks.

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