Borella posted to the 26th Battalion
1915, Brisbane, Queensland AUSTRALIA
No. 275 Private Albert “Bert" Borella of the 26th Infantry Battalion embarked on the HMAT Ascanius A11 from Brisbane on the 24th May 1915. Borella served for the entire war with the 26th Battalion of the First Australian Imperial Force.
The 26th Battalion was raised at Enoggera, Queensland, in April 1915 from recruits enlisted in Queensland and Tasmania, and formed part of the 7th Brigade – made up of four battalions. It left Australia in July, and, after training in Egypt, landed at Gallipoli on 12 September.
A Battalion is around 6,00 men, but can be markedly bigger if its officers manage to obtain extra men, or it can be much smaller depending on casualties.
At Gallipoli, the 26th Battalion played a purely defensive role and at various times was responsible for the defence of Courtney’s and Steele’s Posts, and Russell’s Top. It withdrew from the peninsula on 12 December 1915.
After reconstitution and training in Egypt, in March 1916 the 7th Brigade proceeded to France as part of the 2nd Australian Division. In concert with the 28th Battalion, the 26th mounted the first trench raid undertaken by Australian troops on the Western Front on 6 June 1916.
The Battalion fought in its first major battle around Pozières between 28 July and 7 August 1916. After a short spell in Belgium, the 2nd Division came south in October to attack again in the Somme Valley. The 26th Battalion took part in two attacks to the east of Flers, both of which floundered in mud and slush.
In early 1917, the 26th Battalion joined the follow-up of the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line and attacked at Warlencourt (1-2 March) and Lagincourt (26 March). For valorous actions at Lagincourt, Captain Percy Cherry was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. On 3 May, the Battalion was also involved in the second attempt to breach the Hindenburg Line defences around Bullecourt.
Later that year the focus of the AIF’s operations switched to Belgium. There, the 26th battalion fought in the battle of Menin Road on 20 September, and participated in the capture of Broodseinde Ridge on 4 October. Like most AIF battalions, the 26th fought to turn back the German spring offensive in April 1918, and in the lull that followed mounted “peaceful penetration” operations to snatch portions of the German front line. In one such operation in Monument Wood on 14 July the 26th Battalion captured the first German tank to fall into Allied hands – No. 506 Mephisto.
Capturing a tank and bringing it home
British and French forces successfully developed tanks in the middle of the war, and they were deployed – not without controversy – to cross trenches, crush barbed wire, and generally break the entrenched deadlock of the war. The Germans, by comparison, were slow in recognizing the tank’s potential. In late 1917 the German Army produced 20 A7V Sturmpanzerwagen’s which were deployed in combat the following year. Crewed with 18 men, the cumbersome war machines went into action in April 1918. The German tanks were later engaged in actions at such places as Villers-Bretonneux, a small French village that was recaptured by Australian soldiers at the cost of 1,200 lives. The A7V’s were involved in the first tank versus tank action.
The A7V Sturmpanzerwagen known as Mephisto was immobilised in an area close to Villers-Bretonneux called Monument Wood. A few months later, a detachment of soldiers from the 26th Battalion, mainly comprised of Queenslanders, helped recover the abandoned tank and drag it back to the Allied lines.
The German 30 ton machine was sent to Australia as a war trophy, arriving at Norman Wharf in June 1919 where it was towed by two Brisbane City Council steamrollers to the Queensland Museum, then located in Fortitude Valley. It remains the sole surviving A7V tank in the world.
Albert Borella VC
In a combat action against the Germans, on 17 July, Lieutenant Albert Borella was awarded the Victoria Cross. Later in the year the 26th participated in the great offensive that began on 8 August, its most notable engagement being an attack east of Mont St Quentin on 2 September.
The Battalion’s last action of the war was the capture of Lormisset, part of the operation to breach the Beaurevoir Line, on 3 October 1918. The 26th Battalion was disbanded in May 1919, but reformed in World War II.
26th Battallion, First Imperial Force
Casualties: 840 killed; 2, 052 wounded (86 gassed)
» 2 x Victoria Cross
» 3 x Distinguished Service Order
» 1 x Member British Empire
» 23 x Military Cross, 3 bars
» 25 x Distinguished Conduct Medal
» 92 x Military Medal, 4 bars
» 4 x Meritorious Service Medal
» 37 x Mentioned in Despatches
» 8 x foreign awards