The following is an abridged timeline of the 2/17th Battalion’s involvement in the Second World War. Attention is paid to the Battalion’s important actions, the experiences of individuals within the Battalion and the connection between the Battalion and the city of Sydney. Excerpts from the Battalion’s Unit Diary and the memoire of H.D. Wells, a corporal with the 2/17th, will be featured to further these points of significance.
26 April 1940: FormationThe 2/17th Battalion officially formed with the appointment of Lieutenant Colonel J.W. Crawford as Commanding Officer.[1]
1 May 1940 – 31 May 1940: Establishment & GrowthThe 2/17th Battalion, at this point only a nucleus of 16 men, headquartered at Ingleburn Army Camp in Sydney’s south-west.

Extract from 2/17th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary, 7 May 1940**[2]**


2/17th Battalion continued to grow over the course of May 1940 as new recruits arrived.New enlistments arriving at camp**[3]**


The first hundred**[4]**

The 2/17th Battalion achieved full strength by the end of May 1940, with 25 officers and 895 other ranks.


Extract from 2/17th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary, 31 May 1940**[5]**
June 1940 – October 1940: Training, Cohesion & RegimentationThe 2/17th Battalion underwent training between June and October of 1940. This period witnessed the transformation of civilians into soldiers;
“Already troops were becoming more like soldiers in actions and appearance. The white mark of their faces where chin straps had at first left a white slash on newly tanned faces, had disappeared. Marching columns had changed, from a crawling caterpillar, to a smart precision-like machine with arms swinging and feet meeting the ground in perfect unison.”**[6]** H.D. Wells


Extract from 2/17th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary, 12 June 1940**[7]**
As the men of the 2/17th trained together the bonds of ‘mateship’ and camaraderie slowly began to form as “the small but significant occasions of a new group life developed.”[8] Wells noted that it seemed the “beginning [of] a journey which was to lead us in coming years through many new countries and experiences”,[9] after which the Battalion would “become something which would be forever part of them and of which each would forever be a part.”[10]

Despite the regimentation of the soldiers, attempts to instil authority and discipline met with mixed results – and would continue to do so for the duration of the war. Wells recalls a telling incident of such larrikinism and disregard that occurred during this period;
“The Sergeants’s mess, a wooden structure built of piers, had hidden the conspirators as they drilled with a brace-and-bit through the wooden floor and into a nine-gallon keg of beer standing in a corner. With their precious cargo of amber liquid swirling in the buckets they had disappeared into the darkness while s steadily diminishing stream of beer was soaked up by the thirsty earth.” – H.D. Wells
19 October 1940 – 20 October 1940: Leaving SydneyThe men of the 2/17th Battalion embarked the Queen Mary during the night of 19 October 1940 and departed the following morning, 20 October 1940. Their departure was met with great fanfare by Sydneysiders; cheering groups of civilians formed along the rail tracks to Darling Harbour,[11] dozens of small craft met them on the water and thousands of spectators watched from the headlands of Sydney.[12]
“Small craft of all shapes and sizes soon began to appear from various bays and inlets which surround Sydney Harbour. Closer and closer they sailed towards the ‘Mary’ and then began to encircling her, their occupants calling to the troops and or holding up huge hand-written signs asking for Private Smith, Corporal Jones or whomsoever’s attention they desired to attract”[13]. – H.D. Wells

Extract from 2/17th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary, 19 October 1940**[14]**

Extract from 2/17th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary, 20 October 1940**[15]**
The 2/17th Battalion would finally disembark in Egypt in November of 1940.
April 1941 – October 1941: TobrukThe 2/17th Battalion, as part of the 9th Division, remained under siege by General Rommel’s Afrika Korps in Tobruk from the beginning of the siege in April 1941 until their withdrawal in October 1942. A more fulsome account than the summary one offered below can be accessed elsewhere in this exhibition.


Tobruk Fortress**[16]**
The 2/17th Battalion features prominently in the defensive actions of the Allied forces in Tobruk for the duration of the siege. Of particular note, as a part of the 20th Brigade the 2/17th repelled the initial probing attack near the Acroma Road on April 8 1941 and the Easter Attacks on Tobruk in the following days.[17] During this encounter 17 German tanks were destroyed and German casualties (excluding all those outside the defensive perimeter) numbered at least 150 dead and 250 captured, mostly in the 2/17th Battalion’s positions.[18]

Extract from 2/17th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary, 11 April 1941**[19]**


The ‘Bush Artillery’ – a gun crew from the 2/17th Battalion[20]
On 22 Oct 1941 the last of the 2/17th Battalion was withdrawn from Tobruk’s front lines in a scheduled change-over with British units, fresh to face the ongoing siege, and by 25 October the 2/17 Battalion had embarked the HMS Kingston bound for Alexandria.[21]


Extract from 2/17th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary, 22 October 1941**[22]**

Upon leaving Tobruk, Wells observed that the troops were hushed, “many thinking of those who would never leave the sands of this fortress” and that “there was no display of joy or thankfulness among the troops...talk was subdued as if they were still within hearing of the enemy.”[23]
October 1941 – July 1942: The LevantBetween October 1941 and July 1942 the 2/17th Battalion was stationed first at Gaza in Palestine, and later in Lebanon and Syria to continue training.[24]
In Palestine began a routine of the foot-slogger. Drilling, route-marches, saluting, mock battles now took on new significance as were built into a better physical and mental state”.**[25]** – H.D. Wells


A group of 2/17th Infantry Battalion NCOs in Palestine[26]
However, not everything in the 2/17th‘s new posting was arduous toil. Soldiers went on leave to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, to go sightseeing and carouse in equal measure – accordingly, a “happier state of mind pervaded camp, except for the mornings after”.[27]
July 1942 – November 1942: El AlameinThe 2/17th Battalion moved to El Alamein in mid-July 1942 in response to the impending German and Italian threat. As a part of the 9th Australian Division, 2/17th Battalion fought with distinction in what proved to be the decisive battle of the North African theatre, the Second Battle of El Alamein, between 23 October and 5 November 1942. A more fulsome account than the summary one offered here can be accessed elsewhere in this exhibition.


Extract from 2/17th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary, October 1942**[28]**
H.D. Wells illustrates the individual experience of the battle, the victory and the aftermath;
“Another thousand yards and everything seemed to go crazy. Caught in the midst of a creeping artillery barrage...flashes of light from the explosions of shells and mortar bombs lit the area, while screaming slivers of jagged steel made whistling noises all around us. Our supply trucks were making bonfires of death as their cargoes of ammunition exploded, and the advancing troops seemed to hesitate but then, like a dog which has just emerged from water and shaken itself to be free from a fear of drowning, once again we began the forward movement.” [29] - H.D. Wells
“In the turmoil of action it was impossible to count burning tanks but we watched prayerfully as our artillery chopped into the ranks of advancing infantry...The pent up feelings of seeing this must surely have been heard by the retreating Germans as we stood shouting and coo-eeing. Blasphemy, prayers, curses. All were hurled as the enemy withdrew.”**[30]**
“Dust rose from beneath our feet and formed a light cloud which drifted across the rows of dead as if it wished to blanked them from view. There was no chatter, no words of remorse at the sight, no tears. It was like walking in a void, even the breathing of passing platoons seemed to have stopped.”**[31]**
27 February 1943: Return to SydneyHaving embarked the Aquitania in Egypt on 27 January 1943, the 2/17th Battalion arrived in Sydney Harbour and docked at Woolloomooloo.[32]


Extract from 2/17th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary, 27 February 1943[33]

On the occasion that H.D. Wells describes as “THAT morning”;
“The clean white beaches, red-roofed houses, as with the dawn we approached Sydney Heads. There’s Maroubra, there’s Coogee...So serene, so utterly beautiful yet we saw it through a mist – a mist of tears. No hysterics, no outward flood of tears but a mist of thankfulness; gratitude to God we were home.”**[34]**
The returning soldiers of the 2/17th were welcomed home enthusiastically by their fellow Sydneysiders, and not without a response.[35]
“Horns of cars honking till their batteries almost became flat. People waving sheets from windows, rooftops, jetties. Voices shouting an unintelligible, jumbled noise – but it was a jubilant exciting sound. Slowly troops respond, afraid at first their voices would not obey their throats. Tensions slackened, coo-ees, ho-hoes, whistles awoke the harbour. For those who returned – this morning was worth it. This feeling, the inadequacy of words to express it. No man can buy it, no masterpiece of oil painting can conjure it up. It can only be felt inside. Each man reacting outwardly as if it happened every day but knowing this only happens once and is then present for all time.”**[36]**


Sydney welcomes the return of the 2/17th Battalion**[37]**
September 1943 – January 1944: New GuineaBetween September of 1943 and January of 1944 the 2/17th Battalion waged an extensive campaign against Japanese forces in New Guinea.
On 4 November 1943 the 2/17th Battalion spearheaded the first amphibious landing of Australian troops since Gallipoli, at Red Beach. The historical pedigree of the landings was not lost upon the soldiers.[38]


Red Beach Landing Diagram**[39]**
With the landing zone at Red Beach secure, 2/17th Battalion proceed to advance upon the Japanese occupied town of Lae, captured by elements of the 7th Division on 16 September 1943.[40]


Map of Red Beach and Lae**[41]**
Having captured Lae, the 2/17th Battalion re-embarked on 21 September and landed the following day, 22 September, at Scarlet Beach with the aim of marching south and capturing the town of Finschhafen. The landing at Scarlet Beach met with strong Japanese resistance;
“And then – firing began in retaliation from the beach – from Scarlet Beach – and we were the first wave. I felt as if a thousand butterflies were trying to kick my stomach out. Tracers from the beach were ricocheting off the sea and striking the steel on the sides of the landing barge. Looking over the front of the barge I could see at least 8 machine-guns firing at us.”**[42]**
Heavy fighting continued as the 2/17th fought a running battle, lasting more than 3 months, as Japanese forces retreating northwards up the coast, culminating in the capture of the port of Sio in mid-January 1944.


Map of Sio Campaign**[43]**
The campaign was the most gruelling the 2/17th ever fought; “the long marches through the humid jingle, the nerve-wracking fighting at close quarters, the days on end of incessant rain when no clothes could be kept dry and the inadequate food were reflected in the thin faces and lean frames of the troops”.[44] The Battalion lost 58 men killed and 122 wounded with hundreds more evacuated with extreme illness and fatigue.[45]


The landing beach for the Sio mission**[46]**


Extract from 2/17th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary, February 1944**[47]**

June 1945 – July 1945: Borneo & BruneiIn the months of June and July of 1945 the 2/17th Battalion engaged Japanese forces in Borneo and liberated Brunei.[48]


Map of the Brunei Campaign**[49]**


Extract from 2/17th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary, June 1945**[51]**


Troops of 2/17th Battalion approaching Green Beach in landing craft**[50]**


Troops of 2/17th Battalion in Brunei township**[52]**


Members of 2/17th Battalion searching the bodies of Japanese soldiers for documents, Brunei township**[53]**
12 October 1945: RedundantAfter more than 5 years of active service, the 2/17th Battalion declared redundant.[54]
8 February 1946: Disbanded2/17th Battalion finally disbanded at its place of origin, the Ingleburn Army Camp is Sydney’s south-west suburbs.[55]

[1] 2/17 Battalion History Committee, ‘What We Have - We Hold!’: A history of the 2/17th Australian Infantry Battalion, 1940-1945, 2/17 Battalion History Committee, Balgowlah, 1990, p.1.[2] AWM52 8/3/17/1, ‘2/17th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary’, May 1940, p.3.[3] ‘New enlistments arriving at camp’, in 2/17 Battalion History Committee, p.2.[4] ‘The first hundred’, in 2/17 Battalion History Committee, p.3.[5] AWM52 8/3/17/1, ‘2/17th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary’, May 1940, p.8.[6] H.D. Wells, ‘B’ Company Second Seventeenth Infantry, H.D. Wells, Toowoon Bay, 1984, p.17.[7] AWM52 8/3/17/2, ‘2/17th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary’, June-August 1940, p.5.[8] 2/17 Battalion History Committee, p.5.[9] Wells, p.17.[10] 2/17 Battalion History Committee, p.5.[11]ibid., p.6.[12] ibid., p.8.[13] Wells, p.19.[14] AWM52 8/3/17/3, ‘2/17th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary’, September-October 1940, p.103.[15]ibid., p.104.[16] ‘Tobruk Fortress’, in 2/17 Battalion History Committee, p.36.[17] ibid., pp.36-37.[18] ibid., p.43.[19]AWM52 8/3/17/7, ‘2/17th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary’, April-June 1941, p.7.[20] ‘The ‘Bush Artillery’ – a gun crew from the 2/17th Battalion’, Australian War Memorial (AWM), ‘Image 020279’.[21] 2/17 Battalion History Committee, p.71.[22]AWM52 8/3/17/9, ‘2/17th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary’, September-October 1941, p.141.[23] Wells, pp.98-99.[24] ‘2/17th Battalion’, Australian War Memorial, http://www.awm.gov.au/units/unit_11268.asp.[25] Wells, p.100.[26] ‘A group of 2/17th Infantry Battalion NCOs in Palestine’, Australian War Memorial (AWM), ‘Image 024180’.[27] Wells, p.100.[28]AWM52 8/3/17/15, ‘2/17th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary’, October-December 1942, p.3.[29] Wells, pp.128-129.[30] ibid., pp.131-132.[31] ibid., p.132.[32] ‘2/17th Battalion’, Australian War Memorial, http://www.awm.gov.au/units/unit_11268.asp.[33]AWM52 8/3/17/16, ‘2/17th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary’, January-May 1943, p.34.[34] Wells, p.143.[35] 2/17 Battalion History Committee, p.187.[36] Wells, p.143.[37] ‘Sydney welcomes the return of the 2/17th Battalion’, in 2/17 Battalion History Committee, p.187.[38] Wells, p.152.[39] ‘Red Beach Landing Diagram’, in 2/17 Battalion History Committee, p.211.[40] 2/17 Battalion History Committee, p.220.[41] ‘Map of Red Beach and Lae’, in 2/17 Battalion History Committee, p.209.[42] Wells, p.156.[43] ‘Map of Sio Campaign’, in 2/17 Battalion History Committee, p.276.[44] ibid., p.283.[45] ibid.[46] ‘The landing beach for the Sio mission’, Australian War Memorial (AWM), ‘Image 070333’.[47] AWM52 8/3/17/20, ‘2/17th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary’, January-February 1944, p.4.[48] 2/17 Battalion History Committee, p.309.[49] ‘Map of the Brunei Campaign’, in 2/17 Battalion History Committee, p.303.[50] ‘Troops of 2/17th Battalion approaching Green Beach in landing craft’, Australian War Memorial (AWM), ‘Image 108947’[51] AWM52 8/3/17/27, ‘2/17th Infantry Battalion Unit Diary’, June 1945, p.23.[52] ‘Troops of 2/17th Battalion in Brunei township’, Australian War Memorial (AWM), ‘Image 109304’.[53] ‘Members of 2/17th Battalion searching the bodies of Japanese soldiers for documents, Brunei township’, Australian War Memorial (AWM), ‘Image109317’[54] 2/17 Battalion History Committee, p.318.[55] ‘2/17th Battalion’, Australian War Memorial, http://www.awm.gov.au/units/unit_11268.asp.

Information researched by NickEditing, Layout and title images done by Dominique