Skip to Content

40th Battalion

40th Battalion 1916 Victoria
A large group of soldiers, members of 6th Reinforcements, 40th Infantry Battalion, from Tasmania, grouped informally on the wharf, waiting to board the troopship HMAT Orsova (A67). Identified front row, seated centre: 2854 Private (Pte) Arthur William Murfet, farmer of Sheffield, Tas; 2761 Pte (Acting Sergeant (Sgt)) John Stanley Piesse, clerk of Hobart, Tas, sitting middle front behind his dark kitbag and his white kitbag. Standing first row on left is 2783 Pte Marsey Waterhouse Barrett of Whitemarsh, Flinders, Island, Tas. Next to Pte Barrett are two corporals, unable to further identify as there are eight corporals in this group. Acting Sgt Piesse was killed in action on 13 October 1917 at Passchendaele, aged only 20 years. Piesse was a Lieutenant in the cadets for the military forces in 1915. Promoted to acting Sergeant Major, but was considered too young for a commission. He attended officers' training for a short period having first been granted approval from Colonel Lord. Piesse subsequently decided to embark for France. To the left in the background there is a truck covered by a tarpaulin. Australian War Memorial PB0779
40th Battalion Officers
Outdoor group portrait of officers of the 40th Battalion at Neuve Eglise, Belgium, on 26 January 1918. Identified back row, left to right: Captain (Capt) Henry Lawrence Foster MC; Lieutenant (Lt) Cedric Harold Cane; Lt Harold John Dell; Lt Charles William Marshall; Lt Walter Alexander Moon; Lt Herbert William McBean (killed in action in France on 9 May 1918); Lt Cedric Howard Fawcett; Lt Rupert Esmond D'Oyley Groom; and Lt Bertie Tulloch Sadler, Belgian Croix de Guerre. Middle row: Lt Ernest James Bertram; Lt Bert James Jackson MC; Lt Herbert Roy Trethewie; Lt Horace Chamberlain (died of wounds in France on 30 March 1918); Chaplain the Reverend William Howes; Lt Thurston George Cranswick MC DCM; Lt Stanley Gladstone Stebbins MC; Lt Alfred Percival Brown MC; Lt Norman Oliver Champion; and Lt Rothesay Seaforth MacKenzie. Front row: Capt Allan La Touche Cruickshank; Capt Gilbert Langdon McIntyre MC; Capt Graeme Sutherland Bisdee; Major Leslie Herbert Payne DSO; Lieutenant Colonel John Edward Cecil Lord DSO, CMG, French Croix de Guerre; Lt Laurence Wendover Barnett MC; Major Lyndhurst Falkiner Giblin DSO MC; Major Wendall Inglis Clark MC; Lt Maurice Henry Oakley Whitaker MC. Australian War Memorial E01610
40th Battalion
Group portrait of a platoon of the 40th Battalion, winners of a Rifle Competition held at Querrieu, seen here in the Querrieu Chateau grounds. Left to right, back row: 7478 Private (Pte) C. E. Dent MM; 2982 Pte J. Barker; 7521 Pte J. T. Pilkington MM; 7496 Pte C. I. Goldsworthy; 7565 Pte E. A. Whittle; 2788 Pte Leonard Joshua Binns; 3608 Pte H. A. Williams; 7508 Pte A. H. Johnson; 7550 Pte T. Spinks; 1902 Pte J. McCoy. Middle row: 7808 Pte H. L. Thompson; 2604 Lance Corporal (L Cpl) H. Lambert MM; 7793 Pte V. S. Ransley; 3529 Pte C. J. Fenton; 367 L Cpl H. A. Downs; 1710 Pte J. H. Smith; 3554 Pte J. Pregnell; 1941 Pte W. H. Sutcliffe; 7454 Pte L. J. Belbin; 1662 Pte H. Newman; 2544 Pte W. Cole. Front row: 97 Pte J. Parsissons; 495 Lance Sergeant C. W. Shalless MM; 1703 Sergeant (Sgt) G. H. Henley; Lieutenant E. Boyes MC; Lieutenant Colonel J. E. C. Lord DSO; 3500 Sgt Michael John Traynor; 1034 Corporal C. T. Thompson; 423 L Cpl J. Imlach; 101 Pte A. E. Walker. Australian War Memorial E03885
40th Battalion at Claremont
Group portrait of 28 men of Machine Gun Section, 40th Battalion, who embarked from Hobart,Tasmania, on 1 July 1916, aboard HMAT Berrima (A35). Identified is 94 Private (Pte) Basil George Henry O'Brien, of Branxholm, Tasmania (back row, second from right). Pte O'Brien was killed in action on 7 June 1917 at Messines. Australian War Memorial P12282.001
40th Battalion December 1918
Group portrait of members of D Company 40th Battalion, taken at Epagne. Amongst this group, but position unknown is 824 Private William Eberhardt. A 25 year old of Campbelltown, Tasmania, he embarked as an original member of the unit on HMAT Berrima (A35). He returned to Australia on 12 September 1919. Australian War Memorial P05769.001

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.

Sources: