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Why a stop at Taranto? and Suez? for Australia from France


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I'm just curious about something.  One of the soldiers I am researching was sent home to Australia from France for 'furlough' (he was in the 12th Battalion AIF).  The exact date of his leaving France was not recorded, however it was recorded in his service notes that he left Taranto Italy on the Kaiser-I-Hind on the 24th of September 1918.  He seems to have been transferred to the Devon, leaving Suez on the 13th of October and was able to disembark at Australia in November of 1918.  I'm just curious about this method to bring him home.  All of the soldiers I am researching left France for England first, and then home to Australia from there.  Why would he have been sent to Italy, then Suez, and then finally to Australia?  Does anyone know?


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"Exigencies of the service" may be the polite phrase.  Italy was an ally from 1915. Much of the traffic in manpower through the Med. used "shortcuts" by rail from the Western Front - through France and,if necessary, to Italy. The main port of embarkation was Marseilles-it provided a safe route south in wholly Allied territory, it saved the hazards of U-Boats on the Gibraltar route and, importantly, it saved on shipping space. I suspect that Kaiser-i-Hind may have stopped at Malta en route to Taranto-and,if so, then having delivered manpower or stores, then the shipping space for both had to be used. Malta was effectively a large hospital and  convalescent home during the war, so I suspect that Kaiser-i-Hind may have stopped there to pick up other Australians and New Zealanders -perhaps wounded in the Middle East and treated at Malta- for the fast passage to the Antipodes. Kaiser-i-Hind was a P and O ship and noted for speed-exactly what was wanted when carrying a lot of men as a "trooper"

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Some details from my file on transports returning to Australia that may be of interest to you:


Kaiser-I-Hind (& Devon):

Carried men on Special 1914 Leave: Entrained from France to Italy mid Sept 1918 – Embarked Taranto, Italy 24/9/1918 on Kaiser-I-Hind – disembarked Port Said, train to Suez – embarked Suez on Devon 13/10/1918 (List L) – (at Colombo 29/10/18) – disembarked Melbourne 23/11/1918


Official History: The A.I.F. in France Vol VI (C.E.W. Bean)

p.895-6: Monash’s preparations were affected by another acute anxiety when on September 12th there arrived from Birdwood (still administrative commander of the A.I.F.) a telephone message stating that shipping had been found by the British Government for the first batch of 1914 men to go on leave to Australia, and 60 officers and 740 men were to be embarked at once.

[Footnote: They would receive two months’ leave in Australia.  Men with wives in Australia received preference.]


p.896: He [Birdwood] suggested that men not required in the coming action could go in the first batch, and the others later.  Monash gave way and the full contingent was sent, including 260 from the 1st Division and 192 from the 4th.  Now came the news that a second ship would be available immediately after the fight.

[Footnote: Mr Hughes addressed them on Sep. 14 before they entrained.]



MELBOURNE September 17

The Minister for Defence (Mr Pearce) said to-day that every endeavor would be made by the Defence Department to make the stay in Australia of the 7,000 Anzacs who would be returned on leave shortly as pleasant as possible.  It was not yet known when the first party of 800 men would leave England; but it was hoped some would arrive for Christmas.  It had been difficult in the past to single out a few Anzacs for special treatment.  They would now arrive in large batches,  ……………..

[Observer (Adelaide, SA), Sat 21 Sept 1918 (p.32)]





Although the nine weeks’ journey to Australia severely tried the patience of men who were longing for a sight of home after an absence of four years, says the “Argus,” no one could complain that the voyage was uneventful.  ………………….

It was on September 13 that most of the Anzacs were notified that furlough had been granted.  A few hours later they assembled at Bray-sur-Somme, which had been selected as a rendezvous, and prepared for their long journey.  Two days were spent at Bray, and the troops then boarded a train composed – according to some accounts – of cattle trucks, and set out for Italy.  ………………………

Marseilles was reached after some days’ travelling, and then, in Southern France and Italy, the Anzacs had the good fortune to pass through some of the finest scenery in the world.  At Taranto two vessels were waiting.  The Australians embarked on one [Kaiser-I-Hind], together with a contingent of English troops going out to take up garrison duties in India and a party of 12 nuns going to Jerusalem to open an orphanage.  The other vessel carried a detachment of King’s African Rifles.  ……………………

From Port Said the Anzacs travelled by rail to Suez.  The train accommodation is described as even worse than that they had previously experienced.  Fortunately the discomfort had not to be endured for long, for the train left Port Said at dusk, and arrived at Suez at 6 o’clock next morning.  Much to the disappointment of everyone, no ship was available when Suez was reached, and 14 dreary days had to be spent in this desert port before the arrival of the vessel which conveyed the troops to Australia [Devon].  The journey to Australia was broken at Colombo, where the Australians spent a pleasant holiday sightseeing.  ………………..

The voyage across the Indian Ocean proved long and wearisome, and there was general delight when Australia was sighted.  When the ship was two days out from Fremantle, word was received by wireless that the Germans had surrendered.  …………………

At Fremantle the Anzacs landed for the day, and travelled by train to Perth, where they had a splendid reception.  The West Australians were given leave, while the men from the other States resumed the voyage to Melbourne.

[The Mercury (Hobart, Tas) Wed 27 Nov 1918 (p.6)]




The Argus (Melb, Vic), Mon 25 Nov 1918 (p.7):

Anzacs Welcomed Home

With the most heartfelt enthusiasm vast crowds welcomed back to Melbourne on Saturday the first of the parties of Anzacs to whom special leave was recently granted in view of their long and noble service. ……………………

Troops for Other States

Three hundred Victorian and 57 Tasmanian Anzacs took part in Saturday’s procession.  The Queensland and New South Wales men left for their respective States by a special train at 12.35 p.m., and the South Australians travelled to Adelaide by a train which left Melbourne at 2.30 p.m.  The Tasmanians will leave by the Loongana this afternoon.



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Frev-thank you for the fascinating information on the return of Australians to, well, Oz. The mention of  Colombo when P and O are invariably linked with India of the Raj does emphasise her use as fast ship. Is there perhaps more information on this in the P and O stuff at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich?  

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Frev this is WONDERFUL information thank you SO much!  My soldier was indeed an ANZAC who was a part of the first landing at Gallipoli so what you have found fits perfectly with his story so far, thank you so very much!

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