I was rummaging through my wardrobe today and found an opened package deep in it’s bowels which had been left undisturbed for I don’t know how long. Inside was an ancient, yellowed, pictorial history of the 24th battalion of the Australian Imperial Force of World War 2. I had obviously found it online and bought it many years ago and had kept in it’s box for preservation’s sake and safe keeping.
I’m not sure who would have created and produced this sort of booklet. Perhaps every fighting unit of the war had historians pore through notes on it’s service and produce a written record or pictorial history such as this for those who served within it. The 24th had seen some action and was obviously very proud of it’s performance. As it should have been.
I’m no expert but given the fact that another unit, 2/24 battalion had been raised to serve in the AIF early in the war I assume the 24th battalion was originally a militia battalion, raised through conscription and manned by “chocos”, the name the all volunteer units of the AIF used in desultory fashion to describe those members of the Australian Military Forces who were serving in militia battalions. Chocolate soldiers. They melt in the heat.
The original AIF battalions of WW2 had the prefix *2 added to the front of their battalion number to distinguish them from their Great War counterparts from a generation earlier but as the fight in the islands to the north got closer to Australia the conscript militia with their own battalions and links to the Great War were mobilized and met the Japanese in the dark, sodden jungles of New Guinea. And helped turn them back.
All militia battalions were eventually designated as AIF units thus ending the schism between Australia’s two land fighting forces of WW2. The “Chocos”, for the most part distinguished themselves in the fighting and few people who know the history of Australia in the Second World War haven’t heard of “Those Ragged Bloody Heroes”, the men of the 39th militia battalion who fought so gamely and gallantly on the Kokoda Trail-alongside their AIF counterparts.
And thus the story of Wilfred Geoffrey Broadbent begins.
Wilf Broadbent was my Great Uncle and a member of the 24th battalion. Which would be the reason for me purchasing the ancient battalion history.
I never knew him. He was killed in a car accident in 1949 and so to glean some sort of history of his life through his military record is a comfort for both me and my father who remembers his uncle only a little. He has but a few shimmering snap shots in his memory of a life cut short. He bares a remarkable resemblance to Wilf.
In the 24th battalion booklet is the photo above of Uncle Wilf. He is obscured by the magazine of his comrades’ Owen gun but the image is enough to suggest a young man morphed into an Australian jungle fighter of legend.
The men are in an observation post on the Mubo Track in New Guinea. It is obviously a staged shot but it gives some idea of the conditions endured and operations performed by the Australian army in Papua New Guinea in 1943. The Owen gun I assume was more of a close quarters weapon so the enemy would be near. The Mubo Track fighting, part of the tough Wau-Salamaua campaign, was very hard and it there is some pride in our family knowing Wilf was in the thick of it.
Wilf was involved in a car accident outside the Milawa Butter Factory on August 28 1949. There were three others in the car as well including his brother Horace and the car had been wedged under the tray of the truck. Wilf suffered compound fractures of the skull and died in Wangaratta Hospital the next day. He was 26 years old.
It’s unfair that a young man only really beginning his life had it cut short so suddenly. He had seen so much and fought so bravely. To suffer fatal injuries at an innocuous intersection in a one horse country town hardly seems right. But we remember him.
Lest we forget.