Education at the Memorial - A Different Story
So often in the study of history it is easy to get caught up in the “big” events, or the story that has most struck a chord in the social consciousness. Sadly that often means that fascinating people, events and moments in time can go virtually unexplored. Maybe in the mystery or excitement of exploring something that is the lesser known story, we can inspire people and challenge them to get passionate about history.
As Europe moved ever closer to war from the end of July 1914, Germany’s presence in the Pacific was of increasing concern to Australia. Ships of the German East Asiatic Cruiser Squadron patrolled the area, and German troops occupied bases in Tsingtao in China, the Marshall and Caroline Islands, Samoa, the Admiralty Islands, and New Guinea.
Allied attacks were ordered on Germany’s Pacific territories to disable and capture radio-stations. To this end, the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (AN & MEF), made up of 500 naval reservists and 1000 infantrymen departed from Sydney on 19 August 1914. Four Australians lost their lives in the action that followed around Kabakaul, New Britain; the first Australian losses of the war.
Captain Brian Colden Antill Pockley, born 4 September 1890 in North Sydney, studied medicine at Sydney University and went on to work as a medical practitioner. In August 1914, aged 24, he enlisted in the Australian Army Medical Corps. By 18 August he had been appointed a Captain. He left Australia with the AN & MEF the following day.
The island of New Britain formed part of the German colony of New Guinea, and the Expeditionary Force planned to sever communications between the island and the German Pacific fleet. On 11 September, Australians initially faced strong resistance from German soldiers in the thick jungle around Bitapaka. The wireless station was eventually captured and destroyed, but three sailors and an army doctor had lost their lives by nightfall.
Able Seaman William Williams was shot in the stomach. Pockley handed his Red Cross armband to another naval serviceman to get Williams safely to the rear. Shortly after, Pockley was also shot. Pockley and Williams were taken back to HMAS Berrima but both died on board that afternoon.
Historian S.S. Mackenzie later wrote, “Pockley’s action in giving up his Red Cross badge, and thus protecting another man’s life at the price of his own, was consonant with the best traditions of the Australian army, and afforded a noble foundation for those of [the] Australian Army Medical Corps in the war”.