54th Australian Infantry Battalion
|The 54th Battalion was raised in Egypt on 16 February 1916 as part of the "doubling" of the AIF. Half of its recruits were Gallipoli veterans from the 2nd Battalion, and the other half, fresh reinforcements from Australia. Reflecting the composition of the 2nd, the 54th was predominantly composed of men from New South Wales. The battalion became part of the 14th Brigade of the 5th Australian Division. |
Moving to France in June 1916, the 54th fought its first major battle on the Western Front at Fromelles, on 19 July. It was a disaster. The 54th was part of the initial assault and suffered casualties equivalent to 65 per cent of its fighting strength. Casualty rates among the rest of the 5th Division were similarly high, but despite these losses it continued to man the front in the Fromelles sector for a further two months.
After a freezing winter manning trenches in the Somme Valley, in early 1917 the 54th Battalion participated in the advance that followed the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line. It was spared the assault but did, however, defend gains made during the second battle of Bullecourt. Later in the year, the AIF's focus of operations switched to the Ypres sector in Belgium. The 54th's major battle here was at Polygon Wood on 26 September.
With the collapse of Russia in October 1917, a major German offensive on the Western Front was expected in early 1918. This came in late March and the 5th Division moved to defend the sector around Corbie. The 14th Brigade took up positions to the north of Villers-Bretonneux and held these even when the village fell, threatening their flanks.
Once the German offensive had been defeated, the Allies launched their own offensive in August 1918. The 14th Brigade did not play a major role in these operations until late in the month, but its actions, including those of the 54th Battalion at Anvil Wood, were critical to the capture of Peronne, which fell on 2 September.
Heavy casualties throughout 1918 and declining enlistments in Australia resulted in a decision in mid-September 1918 to disband several Australian battalions to reinforce others; in the 14th Brigade this battalion was to be the 54th. The men mutinied in response, which resulted in a temporary postponement of the order. The 54th fought its last major battle of the war, St Quentin Canal, between 29 September and 2 October 1918. On 11 October it ceased to exist as a separate entity when it was merged with the 56th Battalion to form the 54/56th Battalion.
|References||AWM4/23/71/1-23/71/33: 54th Battalion war diary|
|Related conflicts||First World War, 1914-1918|
|Decorations||2 VC; 2 DSO, 1 1st bar, 1 2nd bar; 1 MBE; 14 MC and 5 bars; 16 DCM and 1 bar; 49 MM, 3 1st bars, 1 2nd bar; 5 MSM; 13 MID; 4 foreign awards|