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As Australia Day approaches, I cannot help but cast my mind back to when  ANZAC Day was subsumed by the Coronavirus lockdown and we were denied the right to celebrate it and honour our Diggers in the usual way by government decree.

It looks like this 26th of January may subsumed by the furore of the leftist activist minorities, aided and encouraged by  Corporate Australia. 

Either way, we are still getting the usual collection of the bearded unwashed telling us how wrong we were/are for participating in any war because we should be celebrating peace and that, instead of celebrating Australia Day, we should be hanging our heads in shame on  " Invasion Day. " 

Which brings me to today's article"   The Angry Shots of War.  

These angry shots are not the first, nor will they be the last salvos we ordinary grateful citizens will be subjected to by this ignorant element in our society. Ignore them and roll with the punches.

Part One: the First Angry Shot

When one talks about real angry shots and the peaceful scenario of Port Philip Bay on a calm and cloudy day one does not normally connect the two in the same sentence but on 4th August 1914, they did.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Germany had collected a sizeable colonial empire in the Pacific and the Far East. The core of this colonial empire was based in the Chinese port city of Tsingtao where the German government had negotiated a lease. This city was the base for a formidable naval squadron and was the control point for wireless stations situated on various Pacific Islands, including New Guinea. At that time the Northern part of New Guinea and the offshore islands was a German colony.

The naval squadron, known as The Pacific Squadron, was built around two heavy cruisers, the Emden and the Konigsberg. Both of these ships were able to roam the western Pacific and the Indian Oceans. They caused significant damage to unarmed merchant ships in the early part of the war.
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The German high command had, in 1897, developed a plan for the conduct of war against major European powers and Russia called the Schlieffen Plan. The object was to avoid having to fight a war on two fronts and part of it was at the moment war was to break out all German ships in ports around the world were to immediately return home or coal up and head for South America.

On the fateful day, 3rd August, 1914, war broke out and messages were duly sent to all German ships. A German merchant ship named the Pfalz, was due to sail on that day from the port of Melbourne but on receiving the message had to delay departure until 5th August to take on extra coal for the journey to South America.

On 2nd August, after weeks of rumours that war was imminent, the Naval Board set up the Port Examination Service designed to inspect all shipping going in or out of our major ports. The Pfalz departed the port under the control of the pilot and was instructed to proceed to the Heads and anchor for the Port Examination Service to arrive. The ship was reportedly bound for Sydney. It passed inspection but while at anchor the tide had swung the ship side on to its intended course causing further delay while the pilot kept manoeuvring the ship.


The crew at the coastal gun which fired on German merchant ship SS Pfalz at 12.45pm on August 5, 1914.

During the delay, a number of German consular officials appeared on deck alerting the departing inspection crew that Sydney might not have been the intended destination. At about the same time a message was received that war had broken out. A pennant was broken out at Fort Nepean ordering the ship to stop. A fight broke out between the pilot and the master during which time a shot was fired from the Point Nepean battery which landed near the stern of the ship.

That was enough for the master who surrendered his ship to the pilot and returned to Port Melbourne.

The shot from the Point Nepean battery was the first shot fired in defence of the British Empire in WW1


The damage to the SS Pfalz.

After the Pfalz returned to Port Melbourne it was commandeered by the Commonwealth, re-named the Boorara and used as a troopship by the RAN for the duration of the war. In 1919 she was transferred to the Commonwealth Shipping Line to repatriate troops from England back to Australia.

During the Crimean War substantial fortification works were undertaken at Point Nepean and Queenscliff. Both sides of the entrance to Port Philip Bay were heavily fortified and armed. In addition, there were other fortifications built within the bay itself. These were designed to blow the Russian navy out of the water should they attempt an invasion.

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Fort Nepean was built between 1878 and 1942 to protect Australia from an enemy invasion.

These works were carried out while Victoria was still a separate colony of Great Britain. The fortifications at Point Nepean are not apparent from a seaward aspect. They are all underground. Queenscliff on the other side of the bay was built as a traditional fort to enable it to withstand a siege cut off from Melbourne for 6 months. A ship like the Pfalz had no chance of running that gauntlet.

Coincidentally the first angry shot of WW2 was also fired by the same gun at the same fort; Fort Nepean.

This time it was not fired at the enemy but was still fired in anger. An Australian coastal freighter on 4th September, 1939 only hours after war had been declared, approached Port Philip Heads and failed to respond to the recognition signal. A shot was placed over its bows and the correct response was given much to the relief of all concerned.

The Commonwealth Defence Department took over Point Nepean as a defence training establishment and quarantine station. The general public were not permitted to enter until 2009 when it was transferred back to the Victorian government and is now a national park.

If one can remember the cry “Australia will be there”, the words “from the beginning” could be added and not be out of place.

The bottom end of Port Philip Bay is a rather little known area other than to those who live and sail there. It is extremely rich in the history of our nation being the place of the first attempt to establish a colony in Victoria and a place where Matthew Flinders entered on his circumnavigation voyage, climbed the mountain which he named Arthur’s Seat, and from a tor now known as Flinders’ Lookout, saw the huge expanse of water to his north and west and decided it was too large for him to undertake further exploration there.


As part of our military history, the fortifications at the Southern end of the bay, on both sides, compare with anything that was built in Sydney and are well worth devoting a good deal of time to any visit one might make to Victoria.

During my time in the Army I trained there on many occasions. One thing that always struck me as ironic was the brand of the steel manufacturer on all of the girders and steel beams cast into each section. The brand was KRUPPS.

The story I am about to relate to you is one which will be vaguely familiar to some, the detail unknown to almost all. Australia’s contribution to the defense of the Empire in the very early days of WW1 is barely recognised and never acknowledged such was the extent to which we were taken for granted by Britain.

Part Two - The Next Angry Shot

In my posting above, The First Angry Shot, I described the German strategy known as The Schlieffen Plan and its Pacific and Far East Asian Empire. It is suffice to say that Germany was very well prepared for WW1. If it had not been triggered by the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the Grand Duke of Austria and his wife, then I am sure that some other cause or incident would have taken its place.

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How Britain ever became a major player in a war that began as a dispute within the Austro-Hungarian Empire is a subject that requires intense concentration. The fact is however, as we all know now, a move for independence by Serbia from Austro-Hungary ended up in a major conflict between Germany, France & Britain with Russia in the mix as well. The bottom line is that Britain, despite being the leading naval power in the world, was not prepared at all and its Pacific and far Eastern colonies were totally exposed to the German Squadron based in China.

Conventional wisdom would say to most Australians that the 1st AIF was the first Commonwealth military formation to be raised after 1901. It was not. That honour goes to a now forgotten force known as the 1st Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF).

On 6th August, 1914, the British government asked Australia to seize and destroy the German wireless stations in the South Pacific. Germany had wireless stations in several Pacific Island including Samoa, Nauru, the Solomons and New Guinea. These stations were critical to maintain communication with the German fleet. At the same time the Australian government also decided to raise and organise the Australian Imperial Force.

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The AN&MEF was to be made up of 1,000 men divided into 8 companies plus another 500 naval reservists.

The force was raised at Victoria Barracks and Mosman in Sydney in record time. In 8 days this force was issued with uniforms, weapons and sundry equipment, drilled, given a crash course in soldiering and ready for embarkation. A passing out parade was held at Moore Park in Sydney, the troops marched to Circular Quay and boarded the troop ship Berrima,passing through the Heads for an unknown destination.

When the ship reached Palm Island off the North Queensland coast the troops went ashore for field training and live firing practice for the first time. When they were ready to leave they were joined by a naval fleet lead by the cruisers HMAS Sydney and HMAS Encounter, two submarines, a supply ship and a collection of coal boats. From there they moved to Port Moresby, a British colony at the time.


On 11th September, 1914 the flotilla arrived at Blanche Bay in German New Guinea and the troops from the Berrima landed and captured Rabaul on New Britain Island. Another party of naval reservists had been landed at another site nearby and encountered stiff opposition. The Berrima was despatched to provide reinforcements and destroy the wireless station some miles inland. In the fighting, a medical officer, Capt.Brian Pockley, and two others were killed. Two other seamen and an officer were killed and several were wounded in the fighting to become the first casualties of the war. In the end the Germans were overcome and the wireless station destroyed but the Governor had retreated to a defense line in the hills above the station and refused to surrender. A map of the fortifications was recovered in the fighting and used to mark an aiming point for the naval party’s 12 pounder gun. After a few rounds were lobbed on the target the white flag went up and the Governor surrendered with all of his forces.

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The Governor was allowed to return to Germany on condition that he took no further part in the war. German civilians were allowed to remain in their homes if they took an oath of neutrality and the native constabulary serving with the German Defence Force were transferred to the new Australian administration.

The commander, Colonel Holmes, was criticised for this leniency but his defense was that he was ordered to occupy and not annex the German colony. His actions were subsequently approved but on 13th September, 1914 a Proclamation was made, the flags of Australia and the Union Jack were raised and New Guinea became an Australian colony.

In the weeks that followed companies of the NM&MEF set out to round up other German settlements in the nearby islands and the Solomons and garrison the larger establishments.

Shortly after Proclamation Day, a group of three Germans who had been given parole escaped into the bush and beat up a missionary and his wife with green jungle canes. A houseboy escaped and raised the alarm back in Rabaul. A punitive force was despatched, rounded the three escapees up and bought them back. Colonel Holmes convened a battalion parade and assembled the German population. He condemned the three escapees to the same punishment as they had inflicted on the missionary and his wife. In turn, the three were lashed across a large chest and a burly MP delivered retribution in the same way. The three were then shipped back to a prison camp in Sydney under armed guard.

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The attestation papers of the men who joined the NM&MEF only provided a period of service of 6 months. Those of the AIF, which took longer to organise, were signed up for the duration of the war. In February, 1915 the garrison was relieved and returned to Sydney. 80% of these men re-enlisted in the AIF.

Subsequently, more battalions of this force were recruited and it remained as the occupying force for the duration of the war. Colonel Holmes re-enlisted in the AIF and was killed in action in 1917.


The 1st Battalion of the NM&MEF was the first force to leave Australia under direct control and command of Australian officers without Imperial supervision. Despite having achieved all of their objectives, having some of their complement killed and wounded, no recognition was ever officially bestowed on these men for the service that they gave to the Empire.

At the time of this incident Australia was the lone defender of the Empire in the whole of the South West Pacific. The Singapore naval base did not exist, the Royal Navy contingent in Hong Kong was unable to cope with the German South Pacific Squadron and Japan, although an ally, was not part of the Empire.

As a further addition to the casualty list, one of the two submarines of the escorting fleet, the A.E.1, was lost with all hands and without a trace. It is presumed that she hit a reef or a submerged coral rock but no trace of her has ever been found to this day.

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The information for this contribution has been gleaned from the annals of the Returned Services League of Australia (RSL). In particular a contribution published in the Reveille in 1955 by one of the men who was actually there as part of the force, Lance corporal John Martin. Each state branch of the RSL published its own newsletters under various headings. In WA it was The Listening Post, In Victoria Mufti. In NSW Reveille. In Queensland Digger. In SA it was The Signal and in Tassie On Service. These newsletters, which have been collated into book form, are an absolute treasure trove of real life experiences written exclusively by the men, and boys, who were actually there on the spot. Some of them were written in the trenches while shells were passing overhead, others while lying at a dressing station or a field hospital, most were written in the cold hard light of day after the hostilities were over. The authors range in rank from Generals down to privates and include those in between. Some these names have been made famous by the recording of their exploits by more august scribes but I must warn you, if you decide to dive into the deep end of these journals make sure you have that big box of tissues handy.

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