The last days of the 22nd Battalion in Belgium passed pleasantly during the fine weather of May. The hospitality of the citizens of Marcinelle never waned towards the men and many happy and lasting friendships were formed. On the 24th May the final quota (No.57) consisting of 2 Officers and 71 Other Ranks left for England and to begin their return to Australia, and in so doing the 22nd Battalion ceased to function in the field.
The remnants of the AIF still in Belgium attended the Corps Commanders parade at Chatelet on the outskirts of Charleroi. Lieutenant-General Hobbs on horseback addressed the troops saying “At this moment, before leaving for Australia, I fear many of you are sad, because you are thinking with regret that everything is finished for the moment, and also because you are leaving behind you a lot of people whom you have learned to love and appreciate and also for your courage you have shown throughout this terrible war.” Lieut- Gen Hobbs also said he had recently returned from headquarters who were discussing where to erect a monument in honour of the brave soldiers who were killed. On that monument there would be inscribed in letters of gold the splendid deeds of the heroic Australians. In conclusion he again wished them a pleasant voyage to their own country.
Complimentary speeches were made by the Mayor of Charleroi and other public officials (photograph above of the Mayor in conversation with Lieut-Gen. Hobbs). The Mayor said they regretted the approaching departure of the Australian troops. The Belgians would never forget the services rendered to the Allied cause by the Australian Army. It was largely due to them that they had won the victory.
The AIF took part in the Dominion Troops victory march through the streets of London. The Canadians led the procession, then came Australian, New Zealand, South African and Newfoundland troops. Sir Henry Chauvel and Sir John Monash led the Australians. Chauvel joined the King on the dais, where seated opposite were several hundred wounded Dominion soldiers.
The AIF took part in the Anzac Day parade through London, where the troops were afforded the rare privilege of marching through the City with fixed bayonets.
With the repatriation of the soldiers back to Australia now in full swing, probably the largest single contingent of the 22nd Battalion to sail home together left Devonport on the SS ‘Castalia’ (picture right). For many it was the chance to renew old aquaintances as can be seen with half of the thirteen men of the 5th Reinforcements that left Melbourne on the RMS ‘Osterley’ in September 1915 but had subsequently been transferred to other Units such as the Pioneers in early 1916. For the duration of the voyage Lieut. Harricks, MC, was the Battalion Adjutant, and photographs taken during the six week journey from his personal collection can be found in his story ‘My War: 1915 -1919’ written and compiled by Jennie Marshall.
A Regimental Dinner was held at the Maison du Peuple, Marcinelle, as the final social event of the 22nd Battalion abroad and acted as a farewell to the 7 Officers and 89 Other Ranks proceeding home on the next quota. The dinner was very successful, speeches were given and songs rendered, and the gathering was exemplary of the spirit and camaraderie that existed in the battalion between all ranks.
For the month of March, when for the most part excellent weather prevailed, the 36 Officers and 414 Other Ranks had plenty of time on their hands with rifle and kit inspections in the morning and lectures arranged by the educational branch. Visits were arranged to various industrial institutions in the Charleroi area. Films were shown nightly in the 6th Brigade cinema, as well as several dances arranged in the local hall attended by the men and the local mademoiselles, with the music performed by the Battalion band (photograph or men outside the YMCA Club, Charleroi). Through the month 14 Officers and 24 Other Ranks would be Struck off Strength as they returned to Australia, either in small groups or sometimes individually, with no large quota allocation this month.