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.
Prime Minister William Hughes inspected the three Brigades of the Australian 2nd Division in the square at Marcinelle. PM Hughes addressed the parade and spoke about what was being done about repatriation and his efforts in the Paris Peace Conference. He was accorded a great reception by the troops and was given a great cheer on his departure.
Opportunities now became available for visiting Germany and the first of the Regimental Colours were sent up to Cologne to be dipped in the waters of the Rhine before being sent out to Australia.
The initial draft of the Covenant of the League of Nations comprising of 26 articles was completed and published under the close supervision of US President Woodrow Wilson. However while the League was accepted by many nations the US Congress refused to accept American membership of the League.
On what was a fine day, the 22nd Battalion marched via Somze to new billets at the Charleroi suburb of Marcinelle (photograph right). During this period practically the whole Battalion lived in private houses as guests of the civilian population where strong friendships were made, and as this was the first time since Egypt the Battalion was billeted close to a large city this was much appreciated by the men.
At 09:30am all officers and men assembled in Gourdinne square to bid farewell to the 1915 6th Quota draft returning to Australia. 1 Officer and 36 Other Ranks marched out with the draft. [photograph of the 22nd Battalion 6th Quota courtesy of Jennie Marshall and the Lieut Harricks, MC, collection]
To the surprise of many in Germany, given that their armies were still on foreign land, the Germans were not given a fair place at the table. On the other hand the Allies were deeply divided on their aims, with the French wanting to cripple Germany for centuries, but President Woodrow Wilson’s American delegation wanting a League of Nations (although the American people were much less keen on the idea.) Although there were 32 countries and nationalities represented, events were dominated by the small group of the major nations which became known as the ‘Big Four’, France, Britain, US, and Italy.
With repatriation now starting to take place instructions were issued regarding pay allowances, leave etc during and after return to Australia. At 10.15 am all available officers and men paraded in the square to bid goodbye to the 1 Officer and 73 Other Ranks of the 1915 personnel marching out for return to Australia. From 1pm A & B and C & D Companies were amalgamated and for the 34 Officers and 501 Other Ranks that remained administered as Nos 1 & 2 companies respectively.