Batteries, Companies, Regiments and Corps (Land)
Here we will examine the development of the defence force from a purely volunteer entity to a predominately militia force supported by a permanent cadre and a volunteer branch. Papers on the subject will be added when available.
Defending the colony
Though often understated, defence is a major theme in Queensland history. An estimated 25,000 citizens undertook some form of military service in Queensland in the four decades between 1859 and 1901. It was an era in which the colony of Queensland was responsible for its own military and naval defence.
When separation from New South Wales occurred in late 1859 there was no military force to protect the coastline of the new colony. A force composed of local men who voluntarily undertook regular military training was quickly established. Known as the Queensland Volunteer Force during its early years, it faced many challenges and did not immediately prosper. It was supplemented by British Army detachments between 1860 and 1869, before again being left to its own devices.
During the late 1870s defensive schemes for the Australian colonies were devised by experienced British officers, though each colony had to bear the cost of implementation. The frugal Queensland Government was somewhat tardy, and it was 1885 before the local military achieved the beginnings of a professional edge. The Volunteers were reorganised across the colony as the Queensland Defence Force. At its heart was a small full-time force that manned fortifications and provided training and instruction for all others, a large partially paid militia force, and a small force of volunteers who gave their service without remuneration.
A new Queensland Marine Defence Force conducted maritime surveys and coastal patrols, and supported Naval Brigade companies in port towns. Eventually military and naval units were formed in more than forty Queensland towns.
Queensland soldiers did not go to war to defend their homeland, although thousands volunteered to fight in South Africa from 1899 to 1902. The new Commonwealth government assumed responsibility for the defence of Australia following Federation of the Australian colonies in 1901.
On Active Service
The citizen soldiers of Queensland were called out on active service a number of times during the 19th century. These included the ‘Bread Riots’ of 1866, and the Russian war scares of 1878 and 1885. They were also called out to aid the civil powers during the maritime strikes of 1889-90, and the shearers’ strikes of 1891 and 1894. Defence Force personnel assisted during smallpox outbreaks in the early 1890s, and in rescue operations during the 1893 flood in south-east Queensland.
In 1891, the Queensland Mounted Infantry were used extensively in the western districts of Queensland during the shearer’s strike, where the mobility and dedication of the corps was recognized and a few legends formed. It was then the Wide Bay Mounted Infantry adopted emu plumes for their hats, a novelty which spread through the Queensland Mounted Infantry, and was adopted by their successors, the Australian Light Horse.
Many former or serving members of the Forces served in the ranks of the Queensland contingents fighting in South Africa between 1899 and 1902. 150 Officers and approximately 2800 men volunteered for active service during that time. For most of these Queenslanders it was their first foray into a theatre of war. By all accounts they were well trained and aggressively completed the tasks required of them. Sadly, almost 100 died or were killed on service.
A small number of former Queensland Defence Force soldiers and sailors, mainly officers, served with distinction during WWI, and a few donned khaki again during WWII.