Real troopers

ANZAC Cottage in Mount Hawthorn is holding an open day to tell the story of life aboard the troopships that left Australia for the Great War.

When the first troopship departed Albany on November 1, 1914 it was less than three months since the declaration of war.

It was a huge logistical feat to get them underway; the navy didn’t have the dozens of troopships it would need at the start of the war. Many had to be requisitioned from civilian steamship companies and converted for wartime use.

The cramped conditions meant diseases like the flu would rapidly spread.

The ships were also threatened by the German navy – including ships like the famous cruiser Emden which roamed the Pacific and captured or sank 21 allied vessels until it came up against the HMAS Sydney – so troopships were escorted by British and Australian ships, and even the battlecruiser Ibuki, deployed by our Japanese allies.

• Wounded and ill men returning to Australia mid-July 1915, aboard the Scottish ship the SS Kyarra. Photo from Friends of ANZAC Cottage Collection

The Scottish-built SS Kyarra was originally a steel cargo and passenger liner, but was requisitioned and converted into a hospital ship in November 1914.  The ship survived wartime service and was returned to private hands on January 4 1918, only to be sunk by a German U-boat off Dorset in May 1918.

To this day it’s still a popular wreck for divers to explore.

Troops wrote of sad, funny and intriguing experiences aboard the ships, and the Friends of Anzac Cottage will be sharing a few of the stories recorded by the “sometimes reluctant sailors”.

The open day is at the cottage, 38 Kalgoorlie Street, on July 1 from 1.45pm to 2.45pm.

It’s free entry with a gold coin donation for afternoon tea.

by DAVID BELL

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