The formation of the 2/26th Infantry Battalion began with the appointment of its first commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Boyes, on 1 November 1940. A shortage of camp accommodation, however, prevented its assembly as a unit until 26 November when the first of its personnel marched into Grovely Camp. The 2/26th drew its recruits from Queensland and northern New South Wales and trained at Grovely until the battalion relocated to Redbank Camp on 29 January 1941. A weekly cross-country training run earned the battalion its nickname, “the gallopers”.
On 24 February the 2/26th began moving to Bathurst and joined the other battalions of the 27th Brigade - the 2/29th and 2/30th - as part of the 8th Division. The 27th Brigade was the last AIF infantry brigade raised for service during the Second World War. The battalion left Bathurst on 29 July bound for Singapore, via Melbourne, arriving on 15 August.
In Singapore the 2/26th was camped near Changi village on the south-eastern tip of the island. With war against Japan increasingly likely, at the start of October the battalion began deploying to Malaya where it continued its training and prepared defences. It was split between the area around Kota Tingii, on the south-eastern tip of the Malayan peninsula, and Jasin in the west-coast sultanate of Malacca. On the night of 6 December 1941 the battalion stood to arms and was concentrated north of Kota Tinggi. It saw no action for the ensuing month and on 10 January 1942 moved to Johore, on the western side of the peninsula.
The 27th Brigade formed part of Westforce and fought alongside British and Indian troops. The Australians was deployed around the Segamat sector. The 2/30th was in the foremost position at Gemas, where it was to act as a “shock-absorber” against the initial Japanese attack. The 2/26th was deployed in the Paya Lang Estate, while the 2/29th was deployed at Buloh Kasap but it was later sent to Muar to reinforce the Indian brigade.
Following the 2/30th’s successful ambush at Gemas on 14 January, the 2/26th conducted a fighting withdrawal to Yong Peng, Ayer Hitam, and a number of other locations, as Westforce withdrew towards Singapore Island. Between 26 and 27 January the 2/26th held the Simpang Rengam crossroads at 46-mile post, where they were shelled by Japanese artillery and strafed by Japanese aircraft. By 28 January the 2/29th was involved in the heavy fighting at the Namazie Estate rubber plantation. That day and the next the battalion inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese. The 2/26th proved to be particularly successful in fighting these rearguard actions and its morale was high.
With Indian troops protecting the final withdraw, the brigade entered Johore Bahru on 30 January and crossed the Causeway into “fortress” Singapore. When the Japanese attacked Singapore on 8 February the brigade defended the Causeway sector. They could not stop the Japanese, however, and on 15 February the British commander on Singapore surrendered. The 2/26th spent the next three-and-a-half years as prisoners of war.
After the surrender the battalion was concentrated in Changi goal, where they were used as labour for work parties, first in Singapore and then in other parts of Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere. Men were sent to Burma and Thailand to work on the railway, while others were sent to Borneo and Japan.
After the war’s end, the battalion’s return to Australia was a “fragmented event”, as troops came home from a variety of locations and by a variety of methods. The main body of the 2/26th - 470 men - returned to Australia aboard the ship Largs Bay, berthing at Pinkenba Wharf in Brisbane on 8 October 1945.
- 432 died
- 136 wounded
- 1,157 prisoners
- 1 MC
- 1 DCM
- 15 MID
For more information please see Honours and Awards database
Search for related collection items
- AWM52/8/3/26: 2/26 Infantry Battalion unit diary
- Magarry, William Ronald, The Battalion story : 2/26th Battalion, 8th Division, A.I.F, (Jindalee, Qld : W.R. Magarry, 1994)
- Uhr, Janet Margaret, Against the sun : the AIF in Malaya, 1941-42, (St. Leonards, N.S.W.: Allen & Unwin, 1998)