Friday, September 16, 2005

The Victorian Military Forces

The Victorian Military Forces existed to secure the flanks of the Colony’s fixed defences. A foe determined to ease his passage through the Heads might attempt to throw a regiment or two upon the shore with the aim of storming one of the forts thereupon emplaced. The aim of the Victorian Military Forces was to oppose any such attempt.

The Militia System
1884 was a watershed year for the armed forces of the Crown Colony of Victoria. Previously the system of manning the battalions and batteries had relied on unpaid volunteers. These men contributed themselves and their time, paid subscriptions and fines (for late attendance to parades, incorrect uniform &.c.) while their government provided arms ammunition, accoutrements and the legislative framework for their employment. Indeed, when the volunteering movement began in the Australian colonies in the mid-1850s, uniforms were found by the volunteers themselves and were quite expensive, especially for those men serving in the gorgeously-uniformed volunteer cavalry units. During the 1870s the Government began to provide uniforms as well as the arms and accoutrements in a de facto recognition of this expense.

A recruit was put through a 3-month drill course and had to pass the inspection of a Staff Officer before being accepted into the ranks. He had then to attend five full day parages, fifteen half-day parades and 24 night parades for which he was remunerated six pound, five shillings to compensate him for lost wages. He was expected to serve a term of five years.

Of itself, the Volunteer system was adequate so long as no great strains were thrown upon it. As time wore on and initial enthusiasm waned, individuals began to fall away and corps had to be amalgamated or disbanded. As new threats of war threatened, enrolments might go up, but always the longer-term trend was downward. Flagging enthusiasm and poor attendance at drills were caused by the burden of drilling before or after a long days’ work several days a week and employers who were unwilling to provide time off. Indeed, that the men would simply become bored in the longer term simply outweighed the undoubted social aspect of the manly and militaristic activity on the drill ground and at the Easter Encampment.

In 1884 the government of the Colony made a de facto recognition of this unsatisfactory state of affairs and enacted a Militia or Part-paid system whereby men were paid for their attendance at parades, encampments and manoeuvres. In return, the Government was finally able to extend the terms of the Discipline Act (1870) to the whole of their forces and not just to the Permanent forces who had formed a small core of fully-paid professionals whose job it was to pass on their knowledge to the Volunteers. Thus now the men were to be brought fully under formal discipline and Officers and NCOs were to no longer be elected.

The Field Forces – how they would have fought
The Defence Authorities of the Colony were fairly confident in their fortifications. They did fear however that an enemy might attempt to outflank them. One such scenario that was explored was the probability of en enemy making a landing in Westernport Bay and marching on Melbourne via Frankston. To this end, the Easter encampment of 1889 exercised a General Idea that deployed forces to the Mornington Peninsula by train – Langwarrin is one railway station mentioned in the plan for the 1889 encampment. The Brigade of the VMF would set up a camp in the vicinity of the station while a smaller force of a half battalion of the Infantry, a half-battery of Artillery and a section of engineers would trace out and occupy a redoubt some miles south east of Langwarrin. Sentries and patrols would be thrown forward to cover the main roads in front of the redoubt.

Cavalry patrols (possibly with the mounted guns of the Nordenfelt battery in support) would be sent far forward to contact the enemy. They would then retire, possibly harassing the enemy as they went.

The redoubt would be reinforced by troops from the camp and battle would commence as the enemy (supposedly advancing from Hastings toward Frankston) came up to this prepared position.

The use of earthworks was also envisioned for the protection of Fort Queenscliff, and as the emergency of 1884 unfolded, one was actually erected, although this author is unaware of it’s precise location.


Post a Comment

<< Home