In the 1880s a militia unit had been established in Glen Innes. It was known as K Company and the recruits were “foot sloggers”. When the Boer War broke out in 1899, a number of K Company men joined the colours in South Africa. All those who went to the Boer War were volunteers and in some cases they had to supply their own horse and saddle. As they signed on for a period of time, some of the first to enlist came home when their term of duty was up before the war ended. By this time, however, the back of the resistance was broken and the army was mainly engaged in trying to round up De Wet, the resourceful Boer General who fought on when most of the other high ranking Boers had been captured.
The Australians adapted well to the South African conditions and, being good horsemen and used to bush conditions, they made a name for themselves. As the war progressed, patriotic organisations sprang up to send comforts to the troops. Many of these didn’t reach their destination when the Boers captured and burnt a train carrying these comforts. Altogether, forty-four local members enlisted and three made the supreme sacrifice. A lamp at the corner of Grey and Meade Streets has a marble base on which are inscribed the names of those who went to the Boer War.
Following the Boer War, a Light Horse Troop was formed in Glen Innes and the old K Company disbanded. Many of these Light Horsemen enlisted when World War 1 broke out in 1914 and some went first to Gallipoli as infantrymen.
After Gallipoli was abandoned, those who survived went back to Egypt where some picked up their horses and continued the war against the Turks in the Middle East. The remainder of the Light Horsemen were drafted to France as infantrymen where they joined the ranks of those who had joined the infantry and fought in the trench warfare. The Anzacs had previously experienced trench warfare at Gallipoli. Conditions were hard in the trenches and mortality was high. It is estimated that 1,400 men enlisted and of these 100 failed to return.
On the home front, war was a world away but it was brought home to the people of Australia when the German ship Emden which was raiding the merchant shipping in the Indian Ocean, was sunk by the Sydney at Cocos Island. Horrifying casualty lists began to be published in the papers and this clearly showed the seriousness of the situation to the Australian people.
Volunteer organisations were formed in the town and a women’s committee took over the shop on the southern side of the Town Hall, which was known as the War Time Tea Rooms. Run on a volunteer basis, the profits were used for comforts for the troops and hand-knitted socks and balaclava caps for the men in France who, in the slushy trenches, were fighting in freezing conditions. Following the war, the funds left over from the War Time Tea Rooms were used to build a small kiosk in Anzac Park near West Avenue.
On the land things went on much as usual, except that labour was scarce with so many young men enlisted in the forces. Owing to the German blockade, some goods were hard to get, although there was no rationing in Australia. Cars were few and there were no tractors in use, so the fuel problem in Australia was not acute. The British Government acquired the Australian wool clip as it was in keen demand for the making of uniforms.
After the war, memorial gates were erected on the corner of Bourke Street and West Avenue, bearing the names of those who had enlisted in the war. The park was named Anzac Park to commemorate the men who fought on Gallipoli and elsewhere. The churches in the town each had their own honour rolls and where there were halls in outlying parts of the district, they established honour rolls for those who had enlisted from that area in the district.
At the time that World War II broke out, Glen Innes had a Light Horse troop and volunteer infantry unit. As with World War I, only volunteers were allowed to fight overseas, however men from these militia units formed the backbone of the first division to be sent overseas to protect Egypt against the Italians and later the Germans.
Australians fought in most theatres of war and always gave a good account of themselves on land, sea and air.
When the troops came back from the Middle East, army-staging camps were hurriedly set up at Glen Innes at the golf course, on the Grafton Road, and at the Plumpton Ground. The showground was used as a medical base. As these camps were only used as staging camps, they closed down when the troops moved off to battle stations in the Pacific.
Mussolini had conscripted a large army which was sent to North Africa. When the “heat was on”, the Italians surrendered in large numbers and these prisoners of war became an embarrassment to the allies as they had to be fed from foodstuffs which were in short supply. To relieve this, a number of the Italian POWs were sent to Australia.
With the shortage of manpower in country areas, Italian POWs were sent to work on the land and some came to this district. One farm in this district employed six. While they didn’t want to fight they were also not overly keen to work for their enemy. From time to time an army officer would come to visit POWs and if a man was unsatisfactory to the farmer they would replace him. On one occasion after Japan came into the war, the army van came to a farmer in this district and took away one of the POWs. As this happened quickly, the others wanted to know what it was about. The farmer told them that the man taken away hadn’t been working as he should and in future, any loafers would be taken away to fight the Japanese. The farmer got more work done in the next week than they had done in the previous three weeks.
World War II also caused disruption to the home front. With so many young men in the armed forces, there was a general shortage of labour and the Government had to pass legislation giving it control over manpower. Certain industries were classified as essential and the Government had the right to manpower civilians into these industries. Also, with the building of aerodromes and other projects necessary to the defence of Australia, the Government manpowered a number of civilians into these projects. In the essential industries it was necessary for young men who wanted to join the armed forces to get permission from the manpower officers who were established in the essential industry. Many young men in essential industry used their ingenuity to bypass these restrictions so they could join up.
In this district before the war, most of the farming was done with horses, however, with the shortage of labour, tractors in many cases replaced the horses.
During the war, a home guard was formed of those in essential industry who could not enlist and those too old to serve. The name was later changed to Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC). While weapons were in short supply, the VDC were not properly equipped until near the end of the war. The first rifles issued were old 310 cadet single-shot rifles. When the Japanese came into the war, a detachment of five men, armed with the .310 rifles, was stationed on the Big Hill east of Glen Innes. They were given a crosscut saw and each man was issued with five rounds of ammunition. If the Japanese invaded they were to cut down trees across the road and they had strict instructions not to fire a round of ammunition unless they saw a Japanese.
Following World War II, men in Glen Innes saw war service in Korea and Vietnam as well as in the occupation force in Japan following hostilities.
Men and women from this district served in all theatres of war and their names are engraved on the Memorial Gates at Anzac Park.