The 2/17th Infantry Battalion was formed on 26 April 1940 at Ingleburn army camp, south-west of Liverpool, as part of the 20th Brigade of the newly formed 7th Division. The 2/17th did its basic training at Ingleburn, before marching to Bathurst army camp for subunit field training.
In October 1940 the 20th Brigade sailed from Sydney Harbour to the Middle East. The brigade transferred to the newly formed 9th Division en route to Egypt, arriving in the Middle East in November. In early March 1941 the 2/17th relieved subunits of the 6th Division destined for Greece in the foremost defences near Mersa Brega, east of Tripoli.
After German forces landed at Tripoli to bolster the Italians, they soon advanced to the east. The 2/17th was involved in a general withdrawal of British forces to Tobruk. When the Axis made a major attack to capture Tobruk at Easter, the 2/17th held against German tanks and remained in position with engaging enemy infantry. The German tanks were destroyed by artillery and supporting arms. Corporal John Hurst Edmondson was posthumously awarded Australia’s first Victoria Cross, for the Second World War, for his involvement in the battle.
Tobruk was under siege for over eight months. During this time, the remaining 9th Division was successfully relieved by the 70th British Division, arriving by units in stages by sea to Alexandria and by land to Palestine.
The 2/17th moved to Hill 69, near Gaza, between 20 and 27 October 1941. They remained there for the rest of the year. In the first half of 1942 the battalion undertook training in Lebanon and Syria.
The war in North Africa became critical for the British Eighth Army in early-July 1942. German and Italian forces reached the vicinity of El Alamein in Egypt, about 100 miles north of the capital. The 9th Division moved to the area from Syria and held the northern sector in protracted defence for almost four months, while the British prepared for an offensive under new command.
The 2/17th reached the forward defences in mid-July. After an excursion with 20th Brigade to block enemy threat in the south the battalion moved to the forward defended locality of Tel El Eisa in early-August. For over two months the 2/17th observed enemy defences, before moving to a reserve training area in preparation for the Battle of El Alamein. The battalion performed with great distinction throughout the battle from 23 October to 5 November 1942.
The 9th Division was recalled from the Middle East to face the Japanese encroachment in the Pacific Islands which threatened Australia. The 2/17 left Suez aboard the Acquitania on 27 January 1943 and disembarked from Sydney on 27 February.
After leave and jungle training on the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland, the battalion embarked for Milne Bay in Papua on 1 August 1943 aboard the Dutch MS Van Heurts and American SS William Ellery Channing. The battalion participated in the amphibious landing of Australian troops at Lae and Finschhafen. It returned to Australia a second time on 10 March 1944 aboard the Clip Fontain and disembarked at Townsville for leave.
The battalion reformed on the Atherton Tablelands and spent the next 13 months training. It was not until the final months of the war the battalion returned to action.
Embarking from Townsville in Queensland the 2/17th came ashore at Brunei on 10 June 1945. The Australian advance freed the country and its rich oilfields at Seria from the Japanese. Demobilization followed and the unit became redundant in Brunei on 29 October 1945.
The battalion’s ranks thinned, as men were discharged, transferred, or volunteered for the occupation force for Japan. The 2/17th returned to Australia on 19 December 1945 and was disbanded at Ingleburn camp on 8 February 1946.
- North Africa 1941-42
- Defence of Tobruk
- El Adem Road
- El Alamein
- South-West Pacific 1943-45
- Scarlet Beach
- Defence of Scarlet Beach
- Liberation of Australian New Guinea
- Alam el Halfa
- 188 died
- 573 wounded
- Broadbent, John Raymond
- Crawford, John Wilson
- Fergusson, Maurice Alfred 'Ant Eater'
- Simpson, Noel William 'Red Fox'
- 1 VC
- 3 DSO
- 1 DSO and bar
- 3 OBE
- 1 MBE
- 1 BEM
- 3 DCM
- 11 MM
- 46 MID
For more information please see Honours and Awards database
Search for related collection items
- 2/17th Battalion History Committee (Australia), "What we have - we hold!" : a history of the 2/17th Australian Infantry Battalion, 1940-1945, (Loftus, N.S.W. : Australian Military History Publications, 1998)
- AWM52/8/3/17: 2/17 Infantry Battalion unit diary
- Halliday, David, "The 'stay puts': a history of the 2/17th Battalion"
- Wells, H D, 'B' Company second seventeenth infantry, (Toowoon Bay, N.S.W. : H.D. Wells, 1984)