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From the Archives, 1940: Flinders narrowly escapes ‘capture’

That was the report issued yesterday by the headquarters of the 2nd Infantry Brigade, units of which “recaptured the town for the Allies after a desperate battle that raged for four hours.”

The action was part of the manoeuvres in which the brigade has been engaged since Monday – tactics that, because of the heat, have been much more of a gruelling test for the troops than intended. Mad dogs and Englishmen, it is said, go out in the midday sun. Men of the brigade, who demonstrated yesterday that they can “take it” will see the point of that saying.

Monday, with the thermometer at 100F (37C), the troops “foot-slogged” the 12 miles from Mount Martha to Rosebud, where they bivouacked for the night. Next morning they were on the march again, and the conditions seemed even worse. By lunch time they had covered eight miles of the march in three hours, and brigade officers were proud that only a few men had to fall out. The Victorian Scottish Regiment did not lose a single man on the two-day march.

The hones were evidently more distressed than the men, and on the steep hills from Rosebud across to Cape Schanck, the column was delayed several times to give the limber teams a “breather.” Watering the horses constituted more of a problem in the heat than catering for the men. At one watering during the heat of the day 240 horses used up 1600 gallons (7,273 litres) of water. On the other hand, in the best army tradition many men came through the day with still a good portion of the quart (1 litre) in their bottles.

Running into "battle" with rifles and bayonets raised.

Running into “battle” with rifles and bayonets raised.Credit:Argus Collection, The Age Archives

“The Landing”

More than 2000 men of the 5th, 6th and 32nd Battalions and the Melbourne University Rifles are taking part in the exercises. On Tuesday night the troops camped at ‘Clondrisse’ Colonel E. H. Harrison’s property the Cape Schanck-road, and it was there early yesterday morning that word came through that the enemy had landed at Flinders.

Distinguished by their white arm bands, the “enemy” marched off early, and were in command of the township when the rest of the brigade, less on battalion, the 6th, which was left behind to fight bush fires about a mile and a half from the camp, marched off to the attack, reinforced by the 38th Battery of Field Artillery.

The 32nd Battalion pushed off first but suffered heavy casualties from enemy machine guns, in fact, by 10a.m. most of the vanguard announced – with a certain degree of satisfaction – that they were “dead.” Brigadier Derham, to drive home the attack, brought up two more battalions and, moving in tactical formation, the troops swung off the Cape Schanck-road and headed inland over Razor Back Hill, to attack from the south-eastern flank. The issue was never in doubt. From the crest of the hill Brigadier Derham and his staff watched the attack develop. When the main body of troops had advanced over the hill it was only occasionally that khaki silhouettes could be picked out against the background of yellow grass.

Despatch riders, racing up on motor cycles, first-aid units waiting hopefully for “casualties,” and farther back down the road, the field kitchens were the only indications that a grim struggle was process. So little sign was there of warfare – with the danger of bush fires the firing that took place was purely hypothetical – that the layman wondered how anyone would know when the battle was over. When the enemy, dug in among the pine trees over on the ridge, were surrounded, cease fire was sounded.

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