The 40th Battalion was the only all-Tasmanian battalion of World War One, formed as part of the 3rd Division, an Australian infantry division that served on the Western Front.
The 40th Battalion was established in Tasmania and trained at Claremont before embarking for Europe in July 1916. It served in France and Belgium from 1916 to 1918.
In June 1917, the battalion partook in the battle of Messines, considered to be one of the most successful operations on the Western Front by Allied forces.
The campaign to take the Messines Ridge involved the detonation of 19 mines followed by a heavy assault on German forces. The lead-up to the assault involved 18 months of preliminary mining. Often the troops would face one-on-one combat beneath the ground due to counter-mining by the Germans. Upon the eventual assault, 10 000 German troops were killed by the detonation alone and the sound could be heard from Dublin.
Within a week of the first attack Messines was captured.
In October 1917, the battalion participated in the battle of Broodseinde Ridge. It was here that Tasmanian-born Sergeant Lewis McGee of the 40th Battalion performed an act of bravery and leadership that would earn him the Victoria Cross.
In 1917, during the battle of Passchendaele, 248 members of the 40th Battalion were killed, wounded or gassed, and over 6 000 Australians died.
The following year the battalion fought in the Somme Valley in Northern France. In August 1918, another member of the battalion would perform acts that were deemed worthy of the Victoria Cross Sergeant Percy Clyde Statton, from Beaconsfield in Tasmania’s north-west.
The 40th Battalion’s advance had been interrupted by enemy forces near Proyart in France. Sergeant Statton took down two posts and five enemy troops, at one point storming machine guns armed only with a revolver. He then retrieved two badly wounded men under heavy fire.
For his efforts at Proyart and other acts, Sergeant Percy Clyde Statton received the Victoria Cross, the Military Medal, service medals for the First World War and coronation medals for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II.
Another significant member of the 40th Battalion was Frank MacDonald MM, who was born in 1896 and died in 2003 at the age of 107. He was responsible for repairing signal lines between battalion headquarters and trenches and received the Military Medal for working courageously under heavy fire.
In 2004, the Tasmanian Government, with support from the RSL, initiated the Frank MacDonald Memorial Prize to recognise Frank MacDonald as Tasmania’s last WW1 veteran. Prize winning students and accompanying adults travel to France and Belgium to visit significant World War One landmarks and battlefields.
After the cessation of hostilities on the 11 November 1918, the 40th Battalion returned home in 1919.