On September 11, 1914, Britain tasked Australia and New Zealand with “a great and urgent and imperial service” to destroy German radio and re-fuelling stations in Germany’s Pacific territories, which posed a serious threat to merchant shipping in the region.
The stations were transmitting signals to the German East Asian Cruiser Squadron, a link Australia wanted broken before troopships started leaving for Europe and the Middle East.
The 2,000 soldiers and naval reservists formed the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Forceset set sail from Sydney Harbour in mid-August 1914 for what was then German New Guinea.
Spirits were high among those on board HMAS Berrima as it sailed north.
On September 11, 1914, a party of 25 went ashore at Rabaul.
Their target was the wireless station at Bita Paka, about seven kilometres inland.
It was not long before the Australians were ambushed by a German patrol.
In the ensuing skirmish, Able Seaman William (Billy) Williams (Pictued above) was shot in the stomach and collapsed on a jungle road. What unfolded next was a remarkable act of gallantry.
Army doctor Captain Brian Pockley (Pictured above) rushed to Williams’ aid. Captain Pockley, the son of a distinguished Macquarie Street surgeon and a gifted athlete, quickly realised the seriously wounded Williams needed to be taken back to the HMAS Berrima.
Without thinking, Pockley took off his Red Cross armband and gave it to the reservist carrying Williams as cover from German fire.
No longer with that protection, the doctor himself was shot and wounded.
Williams and Pockley were both taken back to the Berrima.
Both men died within an hour of each other, the first Australians to die fighting for their country in the Great War. Another 60,000 would die before the war was over.
The wireless stations were destroyed, allowing those troopship convoys to leave Australia largely unhindered.
most of the photo’s supplied were from a private collection and donated by the New Guinea Volunteer Riffles ex members association