The 2/33rd Australian Infantry Battalion A.I.F. was born out of a day of infamy and treachery, September 1, 1939 – the day Adolph Hitler shook the world by launching his brutal and unprovoked Blitzkreig on Poland, starting World War II. Bent on world conquest, Hitler ignored Britain’s ultimatum to halt the invasion. Two days later, September 3, 1939, the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, faced with no other choice, declared that Britain and France were at war with Germany, the same enemy they had defeated just 21 years earlier.

An hour later, 9.15 pm on Sunday, September 3, 1939, a sombre Prime Minister of Australia, Robert Menzies, announced on radio to our stunned nation that Australia was also at war. Within weeks of the Menzies’ call to arms thousands of volunteers were enlisting in the new 2nd AIF to fight Hitler and Nazi Germany. Among the first to volunteer were 430 men who on arrival in England six months later wrote their own page in history by becoming the first members of the newlyformed 2/33rd Australian Infantry Battalion. William Crooks, author of The Footsoldiers, the official battalion history, was one of them.

Most of the men left Sydney on May 5, 1940, on the mighty RMS Queen Mary, one of six troopships in a convoy carrying 5,500 soldiers, the largest ever to leave Australia. Others joined the convoy in Melbourne.

Affectionately nicknamed “the grey ghost”, the Queen Mary, was camouflaged in grey to help escape detection by enemy U boats on the long and dangerous voyage to Britain.

Although the departure was veiled in secrecy a few tearful families gave the convoy carrying the men to war, a sad sendoff as it slipped out of the harbour to the echo of ships at anchor tooting farewell and safe journey.

Cheering crowds and the sounds of Waltzing Matilda greeted the convoy when it arrived in Gourock, Scotland, six weeks later, on June 17, 1940, but the reality of the daunting task facing England was evident. France had fallen. England had its back to the wall; standing alone against Hitler’s Army massing on the French coast ready to invade across the English Channel. The Battle of Britain, the desperate fight for air supremacy and survival, was about to begin.

Newspaper headlines give the grim news about the start of World War II.
Robert Menzies
The Right Hon.Robert Menzies September 3, 1939.

“Fellow Australians, it is my melancholy duty to inform you officially that,in consequence of the persistence of Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her,and that,as a result,Australia is also at war.”

The mightyRMS Queen Maryleaving Sydney carrying Australian troops for England and the Middle East.

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