The Military History
These mounted troops trained on the hills and plains around the area and later, the VMR saw action against Boer Guerrillas in the South African War in 1899-1902. It was quickly discovered that the independent thinking, country-bred Australians and their nuggety stock horses were particularly suited to the free-ranging, unconventional warfare being fought in South Africa.
The success of Australian mounted troops in the South African war lead to a greatly increased number of Mounted units being formed across Australia. After Federation, The success of Victorian Mounted Rifles, and other Colonial mounted troops during the South African War led to a rapid growth in the number of mounted militia regiments in Australia. It was the officers and men from the old VMR who would form the nucleus of many of the Australian Light Horse Regiments which would later go on to gain fame in the Great War.
In 1910, Lord Kitchener then Commander in Chief of the British Army, visited Seymour as part of his review of Australia’s military capabilities. He was provided with an impressive parade of 4,000 men, 2,000 horses and artillery and would see them on manoeuvres where they performed with dash and élan.
When the Great War broke out in the latter part of 1914, Kitchener was appointed Secretary of State for War and, largely as a result of his favourable views of Seymour as a training area, the Seymour Camp was established as a major Army base.
Contemporary photos and documents of the Great War period show Seymour camp as a busy hive of military activity. Seymour Camp was used as a training, holding, isolation, and overflow camp during the build-up of the the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), and it appears that, in its role as an isolation camp, it was vital in stopping the spread of diseases such as viral Meningitis which was sweeping through camps like Broadmeadows in 1915.
The camp was used throughout the course of the Great War for the forming and reinforcing of both Infantry Battalions, and Light Horse Regiments. Men of the 8th Light Horse Regiment became soldiers at Seymour before sacrificing themselves at the disastrous Attack on “The Nek” at Gallipoli. A Company of 30th Infantry Battalion, comprising of ex-navy sailors turned AIF soldiers gathered and trained at Seymour before sailing off for their baptism of fire in the hell of the Battle of Fromelles. Some of the Troopers who rode into history at the Charge of Beersheba in 1917, had first passed through the Seymour Camp. The entire 37th Infantry Battalion was formed at Seymour before it went onto the mud and death of Paschendaele.
After the end of the Great War, in 1921, the Army purchased additional lands, enlarging the Camp to a massive 350 hectares, and it became Victoria’s major training base. While it was large enough to meet the Army’s requirements for some years, the demands on the site increased to such an extent that a new, larger base was needed.
By 1939, the feeling that war was coming was in the air. Puckapunyal Camp was opened and soon became a major training area. Additionally, Seymour camp’s facilities were improved and satellite camps were built astride the Goulburn River along the Yea Road and the Trawool-Tallarook Road.
On 3 September 1939 Prime Minister Menzies announced that “It is my melancholy duty to inform you officially that, in consequence of a persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her, and that, as a result, Australia is also at war.’ Mobilisation for war began immediately in Australia. Just as it had during the Great War, Seymour Camp proved to be an important site during the Second World War, particularly as a transit and training camp for units as they were formed, concentrated, and moved along the eastern seaboard of Australia. The Seymour Camp has been described as a “great military crossroads”, with some of Australia’s most notable soldiers spending time there, including Colonel Donovan Joynt VC who became the colourful commandant of the camp during the busy years of the war. Too old for frontline service, Joynt had earned the VC in the latter stages of the Great War and used his considerable force of personality to ensure that Seymour Camp operated to his high personal standards.
Hundreds of thousands of troops moved though Seymour during the Second World War. Brigades from the 8th Division AIF trained for the war against the Japanese at Seymour. They were ultimately doomed to captivity and the horror of Changi, and the Burma-Thailand Railway where thousands of them would lose their lives as a result of brutal treatment, overwork, and malnutrition.
In early 1942 Seymour was the temporary home of the 41st US Division (The Sunset Division) which was the first US unit sent overseas by their country to fight the Japanese. The 41st would be the US unit that fought, and stayed overseas longer than any other American unit during the Second World War, not returning home until mid 1946. Due to their hard fighting in the Pacific Campaign, at places like Sanananda, Biak, Wakde, Hollandia, and the Zamboanga Peninsula in the Southern Philippines, a campaign which started with hard training at Seymour, the 41st Division was to earn the new nicknames of “The Jungleers” (bestowed by the American Government), and “The Bloody Butchers” (bestowed by the Japanese enemy).
Units of the “Devil Dogs” of the First US Marine Division rested and recuperated at Seymour after their protracted battle to seize and hold the island of Guadalcanal from the Japanese. The Americans have never forgotten their links to Australia. The 1st Marines Divisional song remains to this day, “Waltzing Matilda” and the 41st US Division’s descendant unit holds an ANZAC Day service each year in honour of their links to Australia.
The Victorian units of the famous “Rats of Tobruk”; the 9th Australian Division passed through Seymour upon their return from inflicting the first notable defeats on Rommel’s crack “Afrika Korps” at the siege of Tobruk and the Battle of El Alamein.
The very ground of the Seymour camp is irrevocably linked with the story of ANZAC and of righteous defiance of tyranny. The contribution it made to the war effort in the Second World War is arguably Seymour Camp’s “Finest Hour”.