55th Battalion (New South Wales Rifle Regiment)

After the First World War the defence of the Australian mainland lay with the part-time soldiers of the Citizens Military Force, also known as the Militia. The Militia was organized to maintain the structure of the First AIF and kept the same numerical designations. Consequently, Militia units were also known by the name of their region. Thus the 55th Infantry Battalion was the “New South Wales Rifle Regiment”, headquartered at Forest Lodge in Sydney. However, during the 1930s, little was spent on defence and the Militia had few volunteers. In 1937 the 55th merged with the 53rd Infantry Battalion, forming the 55th/53rd Infantry Battalion. In October 1941 the two battalions separated, although this proved to be only a short-term measure, as in October of the following year they merged again.

During November, while camped at Greta, west of Maitland, the 55th was brought up to strength with additional volunteers and young recruits. When Japan entered the Second World War the 55th moved to the Raymond Terrace-Stockton Beach area, north of Newcastle, where it erected barbed wire fences and help build other defences along the beach, such as pillboxes.

In May 1942 the battalion was told that it would be moving. The men assumed they would be going to Sydney but were mistaken. Instead, the 55th was transported to Port Moresby in Papua, arriving in groups between 22 and 29 May. The battalion was used for work parties. In July two companies went to Milne Bay and returned the following month suffering badly from malaria and other tropical diseases.

The battalion experienced Japanese air raids at Port Moresby but in September the possibility of action arose when it was ordered forward to Owen’s Corner. The battalion’s task was to guard and patrol the Goldie River Valley. Its machine gun company pushed on to Ilolo, while D Company was in the furthest forward position, straddling the track at Uberi. On 3 October Generals Douglas MacArthur and Thomas Blamey, Major General Arthur Allen, and Frank Forde, the Minister for the Army visited the battalion. Shortly after, the battalion was ordered back to Sapphire Creek in Port Moresby, where they returned to work parties and digging trenches.

On 25 October Blamey inspected the 55th and congratulated them on their turnout and bearing. The commander of the 14th Brigade sent a message to Lieutenant Colonel David Lovell, the battalion commander, congratulating them on a “fine show well done”. Despite the limited opportunities offered to the 55th, the battalion demonstrated potential for greater things. However, two days later the 55th was again amalgamated with the 53rd. The latter was disparagingly referred to as “that mob”, having fared poorly during their first action on the Kokoda Trail. The stigma was soon overcome after hard fighting Sanananda and on Bougainville with the 55th.

Glossary

Battle Honours

Casualties

  • 3 died
  • 4 wounded

For more information please see the Roll of Honour and Second World War Nominal Roll (external website) databases.

Commanding Officers

Decorations

  • Nil

For more information please see Honours and Awards database

References

  • AWM52/8/3/91: 55/53 Infantry Battalion unit diary
  • Budden, Frank M, That mob : the story of the 55/53rd Australian Infantry Battalion, A.I.F. / by F.M. Budden, (Sydney : F.M. Budden, 1973)
  • Laycock, Kenneth George, Memories of a militiaman 1938-1944, (Griffith, A.C.T. : K.G. & F.F. Laycock, 1995)