Until 1870 the Australian colonies were protected by British regiments on regular
tours of duty which included the Evan/Penrith district. In 1870 the last British garrisons withdrew, leaving the colonies to support themselves and their neighbouring colonies. Local volunteer groups formed the majority of military experience and service in New South Wales, with a core group of British officers and professionals remaining to maintain standards.
In 1851, as part of the shift towards responsible government, the British Government
sanctioned the formation of local volunteer corps for the defence of the colony. It
was particularly in response to the threat of war with Russia. Each group had its own
uniform and received instructions and arms from the 11th Regiment. Following
the breaking out of the Maori Wars in New Zealand in the early 1860s, attention
was again drawn to the military and defence needs of New South Wales. The Penrith
Corps of Volunteer Rifles which formed in June 1860 as part of the Sydney City Rifle
Companies, was one of the first in New South Wales. James John Riley was appointed
captain and Robert Jamison his lieutenant. In 1868 military forces in New South Wales were reorganised under the Volunteer Regulation Act of 1867, and a grant of fifty acres was given for five years efficient service. Under this enactment many Penrith volunteers were rewarded.
1885 the Sudan War
In the early 1880s the Australian colonies were presented with their first military
opportunity to assist the British Empire. The British-backed Egyptian regime in the
Sudan was threatened by a Dervish revolt. In 1885 the Sudan War provided the first
real opportunity for the Australian colonies to ‘not only assist our mother country, but
to protect our hearths and homes’. The revered British military hero, General Charles
Gordon, was sent to help evacuate the trapped Egyptian forces. When the news broke
that Gordon had been killed while besieged at Khartoum in January 1885, New South
Wales immediately offered two batteries of its regular artillery, a battalion of infantry and a small ambulance detachment.
The war was keenly reported in the Nepean Times and 3 March was noted as an historic day which would mark ‘a new epoch in our history’. With a little trepidation the reporter stated ‘our men are a superior lot, and are determined to do “big things” for their country’. Drawn mostly from the Volunteer Corps, they included Penrith’s drill instructor quarter-master Sergeant Michael Tuite, an imperial soldier. Ensign Samuel Raynor of Emu Plains, George Edward Douglas from Penrith, Arthur Bennett from Castlereagh
and Percy Hallett all served as privates in the infantry. Frederick Liggins served as a Sergeant in A Company. Other men included Henry Hair of Penrith, Carl Fink, Charles Hannington and William Bennett, all from St Marys. They experienced the boredom of their first military campaign with virtually no action and after four months all returned on the SS Arab on 23 June.
1899 War in South Africa
Support for Britain and the Empire in South Africa was willingly provided by
the Australian colonies when war was declared in October 1899. To the British though, Australian volunteer soldiers were an unknown factor. They were accepted more as a demonstration of British Empire unity than for any need. Locally military enthusiasm never diminished. Men like Sudan veteran and local hotelier Percy Hallett, who never let an opportunity pass him by, told campaign stories and showed off his medals. He regularly attended Penrith’s K Company Volunteer Corps smoke concerts.
World War One and impact on Penrith
The 1914-1918 conflict which became known as The Great War, or World War One greatly impacted on Australian life. During the course of the war, over 300,000 Australian men and 2,396 Australian nurses volunteered to serve in the Armed Forces with 61,720 destined never to return. The massive casualty rates and dwindling number of volunteers raised the issue of conscription. Referendums held in 1916 and 1917 on the conscription issue were defeated, and created deep schisms in Australian society.
The Penrith district, encompassing the suburbs and towns in the current local government area, felt the impact of war as casualty figures mounted. Initially, the Nepean Times rode the wave of enthusiastic support with stirring words for a naïve audience. When war was declared, its editorial read:
It will no doubt be a bitter and terrific conflict – this Armageddon of the Teuton against the Briton, the Frank and the Slav … Australia’s battle cry will be On! On for true liberty, for democratic progress, for the sacred rights of hearth and home, for the glorious restoration of the arts of Peace, as the ultimates under God’s Divine Will of this great Titanic struggle.
The call for volunteers began in earnest and local dentist, William Henry Algernon
Pye wrote in the Nepean Times on 12 September 1914 calling for ‘our able-bodied young
men’ to come forward. Alfred Colless, editor of the Nepean Times, published letters from soldiers and nurses serving overseas and obituaries for many of the soldiers. In the early years of the war, the Nepean Times regularly included lists of local boys who had enlisted, the wounded and the dead. By July 1917, when the casualties were mounting at an increasing rate, the lists disappeared.
Sixteen nurses from the Penrith district also served overseas in the various theatres of war including Rabaul, Egypt, England the Western Front and Salonika.
These pages are a recognition of the sacrifices undertaken by the men and women of the Penrith district during times of war.
- Penrith’s Boer War experience – local men from Emu Plains, Penrith, St Marys, Llandilo, Castlereagh and Mulgoa served.
Penrith District Roll of Honor 1914-1919 The Penrith District Honor Rolls lists soldiers born in Penrith or resident in Penrith at the time of enlistment, who were killed during the war. The list includes two soldiers serving with Allied forces: one soldier served with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force and was killed at Gallipoli, the other soldier served with the Royal Welch Fusiliers and was killed on the Western Front.
War Memorials The War Memorials section contains details of the main war memorials and Rolls of Honor located in the Penrith Local Government Area.
- Our Fallen To commemorate 100 years since Australia’s involvement in the First World War, a series of booklets listing the men of the Penrith Local Government Area who fell during the conflict is being compiled.
WW1 Nurses This section is dedicated to the 16 Nurses from the Penrith District who served overseas with the Australian Army during World War 1 including information on the Australian Hospital Ship Grantala.
Poem Written by E M Little Second Lieutenant Edwin Maurice Little enlisted on 21 October 1914 with the 15th Battalion and returned to Australia on 20 October 1916 due to blindness.
War Trophies This sections contains information on the war trophies allocated to the various towns and communities in the Penrith Local Government Area.
Mont St Quentin Contains details of the Battle of Mont St Quentin in 1918.
- The Gilgandra to Sydney Coo-ee March, 10 October to 12 November 1915 – re-enactment in 2015
- The Nepean Times during World War One and how they kept their community informed about the events of the war, friends and relatives.
- Patterson ww1 document found in Penrith City Library’s Special Collections. This document is a pass granted to Maurice Patterson, a Sapper in the 12th Field Company Australian Engineers to travel on 12 February 1919 from Hastiere to Namur, two towns in war-torn Belgium. How on earth did this small piece of paper survive 97 years with maybe 30-odd of these years in obscurity in Local Studies at Penrith City Library? Why did Patterson keep it, considering it had served its purpose at 9pm on 12 February 1919? Who gave us the document and what’s the connection, if any, with Penrith?