26th Infantry Militia Battalion beach defences
26th Infantry Militia Battalion camp
- North and Cape York
King Point, Horn Island 4875
The 26th Australian Infantry Battalion was formed in north Queensland in July 1939, made up of part-time soldiers of the Citizen Military Forces, also known as the Militia. The new battalion was headquartered at Hughenden with companies based at Julia Creek, Winton and Longreach. On the declaration of war in September 1939 the Battalion was called up for full-time training at Townsville, then Miowera and Sellheim, before being deployed to Fort Kissing Point at Townsville, to deter unrest by Italian cane farmers should Italy enter the war on Germany’s side. In May 1942, after Japan’s entry in the war, the troops of 26 Battalion carried out reconnaissance patrols in the Townsville district before being stationed at Kuranda where they were engaged in training until mid-1943.
In late May 1943 three company’s of 26 Battalion embarked from Cairns to take up garrison duties on Horn Island and the surrounding islands in the Torres Strait. The fourth company—A-Coy—was detached to Dutch New Guinea to become part of Merauke Force. Little evidence remains of the wartime presence of the troops of the Horn Island mobile force, but at King Point in a small concrete ammunition store dug into the side of a hill by the coast, two inscriptions survive—'E Peel 15/8/43' and 'EW Plumb 15/8/43'. Both were privates from D-Company, 26 Battalion. Nearby, other evidence of the Battalion defences include weapons pits and foxholes overlooking the coast.
The deployment of 26 Battalion in Torres Strait formed part of General Douglas MacArthur’s 'Moultrie Plan' to counter a possible Japanese assault against northern and western Australia in general, and the Merauke-Torres Strait area in particular. To meet this possible offensive the garrison at Merauke was to be increased to a brigade and two brigade groups were to be concentrated in the Horn and Thursday Island area with smaller forces on Cape York. On Horn Island 26 Battalion, along with the 5th Australian Machine Gun and Torres Strait Light Infantry (TSLI) Battalions, were to provide infantry support within the Horn Island Defensive Plan as part of the whole Moultrie Plan.
An Army Appreciation report in September 1943 noted that 26 Battalion was to form part of the defence of the Horn Island aerodrome and King Point area. Two tank-attack guns were located at King Point, while the Battalions’ B, C and D Company's, one machine gun platoon and two detachments of mortars were to make up part of a mobile force ready to proceed to any part of the island to aid in its defence. The 5th Machine Gun and TSLI Battalions made up the remainder of the troops in this mobile force. Platoon detachments were placed on islands surrounding Horn Island including Goods, Hammond, Entrance, Wednesday and Tuesday Island to provide infantry support for coast defence and anti-aircraft batteries. From August 1943 the 26th travelled between Horn Island and the mainland, switching between garrison work in the islands and labouring on the Red Island Point and Mutee Head jetties. The Battalion left Horn Island between September and December 1943, returning to the island for several months in mid-1944 before resuming training near Brisbane for 11 Brigade’s next deployment at Bougainville in the Solomon Islands, where 26 Battalion finally saw action.
Pearce, Howard (contributing author).
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Reg A Ball, Torres Strait Force 1942 to 1945: The defence of Cape York, Torres Strait and Merauke in Dutch New Guinea, Sydney, 1996.
Graham McKenzie Smith, Australia’s Forgotten Army, vol 2, ACT, 1995.
Howard Pearce. WWII: NQ: A cultural heritage overview of significant places in the defence of north Queensland during World War II. Environmental Protection Agency, Brisbane, 2009.
Vanessa Seekee, Horn Island 1939–1945: A record of the defence of Horn Island during World War Two, Horn Island 2002.