Formation and Training of the 2/29th Battalion
The 2/29th Battalion was formed in Victoria under the command of Lt Col J.G. Robertson MC, VD on 17th October 1940.
The Unit was initially concentrated at Bonegilla, however, the Unit moved to Bathurst to undergo final training in open warfare as it was originally intended for the Battalion, as part of the 8th Division, to be sent to the Middle East.
Prior to the Battalion's move to Bathurst, much frantic work was undertaken by Lt Col Robertson to firstly form his own command group of Officers. This was achieved following a hectic tour of other Units to interview and select those Officers that would be suitable. He was aided in this task by the appointment of a Regular Officer as Adjutant; Capt. M.C. Morgan of the Australian Staff Corps.
During the month of November 1940, Officers from the 2/21st, 2/22nd and 2/40th were interviewed. Following, which, the Battalion's Quartermaster was appointed; Capt H. Kemp who had been a Militia Officer of several years standing.
Selection of the Battalion 2IC was finally made, and on the 13th November 1940, Major J.K. Lloyd was appointed. He too was a former Militia Officer and was left in command whilst LTCOL Robertson and the Adjutant left for Sydney to receive further orders and briefing on the role of the Battalion at 8th Division Headquarters. On their return to Melbourne, both Officers stopped at Bonegilla Camp to reconnoitre the area that the Battalion would soon occupy.
Meanwhile, back in Melbourne, the selection of Officers was now complete, and this group included Captains S.F. Olliff and Bowring who were to play a significant role in the Battalion's first action virtually 12 months later to the day. All Officers and senior NCO's then joined LTCOL Robertson and his advance party which now consisted of the Quartermaster and 45 other ranks at the Bonegilla camp.
The largest draft of troops arrived shortly after, totalling some 200 men from the 2/23rd Training Battalion at Albury and 130 from the Southern Command Cavalry Training Regiment, 149 soldiers from the 2/5th Training Battalion, 170 from the 2/7th and 199 from the 2/8th Training Battalions at Darley.
At the first muster parade a total of 30 Officers, 943 other ranks and 31 attached personnel were recorded. The organisation of the Battalion was then as follows:
Officer Lt. Col J.C. Robertson
Battalion 2 IC Maj J.K.Lloyd
Adjutant Capt. M.C.Morgan
QM Capt. H.Kemp
IO Lieut B.H.Wastell
OC HQ Coy Capt. S.F.Olliff
A Coy Capt. A.B.Sumner
B Coy Capt. M.B.Maher
C Coy Capt. W.B.Bowring
D Coy Capt. F.Hore
No time was wasted in preparing all members for the expected bloody times ahead.
Individual training in weapon handling, minor tactics and physical toughening exercises were relentlessly undertaken. Long route marches served to toughen soft shoulders and feet with Unit sports being played not only to relieve the hectic training pace, but to also act as a "toughener". Men, who only 12-18 months prior had been clerks, farmers, salesmen and a myriad of other civilian occupations were now being turned into an effective fighting machine.
During this time, the Regimental Medical Officer (RMO) marched into the Unit. Capt Victor Brand was to be justly awarded the Military Cross for his actions and devotion to duty during the Muar Road battle.
On the 8th January 1941, the Unit participated in a combined parade for all Units stationed in the Bonegilla area. Soldiers and the enthusiastic crowd who had assembled to cheer all Units present packed the Bonegilla racecourse to capacity. The Reviewing Officer was the Governor General, Lord Gowrie V.C with the parade being commanded by Brigadier Frank Lind of the 23rd Brigade.
During the month of January, the training continued at a frantic pace, with the standard of training being lifted by the return of Unit personnel who had been detached for specialist training. The need to "import" specialists in heavy weapons, demolitions, signal communications and alike was heightened at the instigation of Capt Olliff, and as a result, Lt Col Robertson departed to Melbourne to "recruit" 50 specialists.
The Unit again participated in a parade of AIF personnel, this time in Melbourne during February 1941. Enthusiastic crowds lined the streets to cheer and waive the troops on. Morale and fighting spirit amongst all Units, and in particular, the men of the 2/29th was at a fever pitch.
After the parade the Unit went on leave during February, however, Lt Col Robertson received orders to prepare to move to Bathurst camp. An advance party consisting of Capt Salier (formerly 2/40th) and several other ranks departed Melbourne to prepare the Unit's encampment area.
Again, no time was wasted when the Unit arrived at Bathurst in the early weeks of March 1941. Training was rigorously increased, with Lt Col Robertson and his 2IC attending tactical exercises for Senior Officers. Anti armour and demolition skills were honed, as well as cross training in all facets of small arms weapon handling.
The Unit was now moving into high gear, and a sense of urgency drove every activity. Again, sport played a major role in moulding team spirit within the Unit. Several inter unit Australian Rules Football matches did much to sort out "the men from the boys".
On the "home front" the 2/29th Battalion AIF Association was formed to provide support and welfare to the Unit. The formation of the Association actually took place in Geelong which was a major centre for returned servicemen of the 29th Battalion 1st AIF. A welfare fund was established to care for the wives and children of members of the Battalion. This Association proved not only to be an immediate comfort to members of the 2/29th, but played a crucial role during the dark days of imprisonment in Changi gaol.
During May 1941, the Unit took part in a number of exercises involving "live enemy" around the Wambool area that was some miles from the Battalion camp. Heavy "casualties" were inflicted by the umpires on both sides, however, the exercise was deemed a success, and the Unit occupied a defensive position to await the final assault by the exercise enemy force. The enemy attacked at dawn but were met with heavy fire and were repulsed. Evacuation of the exercise wounded and dead as adjudged by the umpires was carried out in terms of SOP's (Standing Operating Procedures). Even practice burials were carried out.
The Battalion carried out a tactical withdrawal through Brewongle and Glanmire, finally returning to camp in high spirits on May 2, 1941.
Training at all levels within the Battalion continued relentlessly - both day and night with little or no rest periods. It now became obvious to all members of the Battalion that embarkation was imminent.
As the ensuing two months sped by, the intensity of the training was only broken by the occasional football match between the 2/29th and 2/30th, and it was during such an event that orders were received on 12 July 1941 that the Unit was to embark between July 16 and July 24 1941.
Final embarkation leave was granted, and amongst the cheering and good wishes of a large and enthusiastic crowd, the Unit left Station Pier Port Melbourne at 1030 hours aboard the troop ship "Marnix" (known as "Transport EE" for security purposes).
Text by Gary Simmons