Friday, 12 September 2014

Ballarat’s first casualty of the Great War …

You might have heard news reports this week regarding Australia’s entry into World War 1 and the brief but fatal battle at Bita Paka.
In August 1914, over 100 Victorian naval reservists joined the Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF) in order to seize and destroy German wireless stations in German New Guinea in the south-west Pacific. With troops from New South Wales and Queensland, the AN&MEF was ultimately successful in its task, but lives were lost at the battle of Bita Paka, where Victorian Able Seaman William Williams became the first Australian serviceman of WW 1 to die in battle (on 11 September 1914). You can read more here.

 Australia’s first submarine the AE1 was also involved, patrolling the area with other ships.  The AE1 disappeared without a trace on 14th September 1914, and you can read an account of the current search for the submarine here.  The loss of this vessel was the worst submarine disaster in the world, to that time, and remains a mystery to this day.  There is a website dedicated to the memory of the crew of the AE1 which gives the history of these submarines and provides excellent photographs.

What makes the AE1 important for Ballarat is that Engine Room Artificer John Messenger was on board.  He was the son of John and Elizabeth Messenger of Humffray St  South.  At the Victorian Railways Institute, in Lydiard St, the Messenger name is commemorated by Messenger Hall.  ERA John Messenger, sadly, is Ballarat’s first casualty of the Great War.
Photograph of John Messenger taken from "Dinkum Oil", by Amanda Taylor, in the Australiana Room collection

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