One of the Royal Australian Navy’s most unusual units - the last to leave the Gallipoli Peninsula - has been recognised during a small service in Melbourne.
A new plaque recognising the 1st Royal Australian Navy Bridging Train (RANBT) was unveiled at the Shrine of Remembrance by Commanding Officer of HMAS Cerberus Captain Tim Standen and historian Dr John Carroll of the HMAS Sydney and Vietnam Logistic Support Veterans Association.
The RANBT, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Leighton Bracegirdle, served in the Gallipoli, Sinai and Palestine campaigns during the First World War, constructing piers and pontoons for ground forces in dangerous and isolated conditions. Over the course of its existence, the RANBT lost 25 sailors killed in action or to illness or disease.
Captain Standen said the service was a small way to acknowledge the remarkable actions of the 598 volunteers of the RANBT during the Great War.
“It’s important to remember that these men were volunteers far from home during a time of global conflict. They trained to use horses and wagons on the grounds of where the Shrine of Remembrance stands today, and became the most decorated Australian naval unit of the First World War.
“The courage and tenacity of the RANBT are benchmarks for those of us wearing the uniform today and I’m delighted to represent Navy in recognising their place in Australian history.”
The RANBT was formed in February 1915 and by August that year were building piers to land troops, evacuate wounded, and manage work afloat and on the beach at Suvla Bay in Turkey.
Australian Imperial Force War Correspondent Charles Bean reported on the RANBT’s actions at the landing area dubbed ‘Kangaroo Beach’.
“They are quite cut off from their own force; they scarcely come into the category of the Australian Force, and scarcely that of the British; they are scarcely army and scarcely Navy”, he wrote.
“If you want to see the work, you only have to go to Kangaroo Beach, Suvla Bay, and look about you.
“They have made a harbour.”
Dr Carroll said the plaque at the Shrine of Remembrance was fitting for a unit that had achieved so much.
By December the British forces were evacuating the Gallipoli Peninsula with 50 men of the RANBT, under the command of Sub Lieutenant Charles Hicks, left behind to maintain the wharf.
At 0430 on 20 December the final escape transport departed Gallipoli with the men of the RANBT the last to step aboard.
The RANBT sailed for the Suez Canal in January 1916, building bridges, controlling military transport and manning small vessels.
The RANBT also supported ground troops in combat during this time, constructing piers through a mined landing area at El Arish in Egypt in support of a British attack.
On 20 March 1917 the RANBT was disbanded and many members elected to remain with the Royal Australian Navy.