A little known military facility in the local area during the First World War was the Australian Light Horse Camp based on the Menangle Park racecourse in 1916.
Drunken riots at Liverpool
The establishment of the camp was the result of drunken unrest amongst the troops at the Casula and Liverpool military camps in February 1916 that was later called the Battle of Central Station. These events also contributed to the success of the campaign for 6.00pm closing in New South Wales that was not repealed until 1955.
After the soldier riots the Casula camp was closed and the ‘troops in training’ were distributed to other camps, including one at Menangle Park in February 1916.
Menangle race track
Military authorities leased the race track off the Menangle Racing Club.
The racetrack was first surveyed by military authorities in January 1916, although Campbelltown Showground had been inspected in September 1915.
Poor conditions in camp
The conditions of the Menangle camp in March 1916 were less than adequate. One correspondent to the Sydney press complained the camp was unprepared and the men had to grub out stumps and prepare the site for a permanent camp.
The writer complained that the men were busy on labouring duties when they could have been busy doing military training.
It would have been more effective, the correspondent felt, for a private contractor to clear the camp site.
The ‘discontentment’ amongst volunteers was caused by ‘wasters’ who, apparently, were quite happy for labouring duties to continue for up to 6 months.
Training involved forced marches in the local area. In mid-1916 over 1000 men, accompanied by over 100 horses, marched to Camden through Campbelltown on manoeuvres headed by a military band.
They were marched to Camden showground where they were dismissed for an hour where they had lunch.
The Camden press reported that it was an imposing spectacle having such a large number of troops marching through the town area. The mayor, GF Furner, welcomed the troops to Camden and he then hosted the officers at lunch.
According to the notes on the photograph:
Officers of the Light Horse Camp, Menangle. European War, November, 1917.
This photo was donated from “Camelot”. The Lt Clem Bate on the left end of the middle row was a friend of the Anderson Family and he probably gave them a copy. He was the uncle of Mr Jeff Bates who was an MHR for the Camden area for many years (as well as previously an MLA). The Lt R.V. Moore in the back row is Mr Val Moore of Glenmore, Camden. The Lt Veness in the back row is the other local in the photo. He came from Menangle.
In June 1916 reinforcements for the Camel Corps were posted to Menangle camp for training and exercises. The Sydney press stated the Abdul Wade of Bourke had lent 6 camels to the army for training exercises at the camp for members of the Camel Corps. Four of the animals were for riding, while the other two were pack animals. They were sent to Menangle camp by rail from Bourke under the care of an Afghan camel driver.
The Australian War Memorial states that the Imperial Camel Corps (ICC) was formed in January 1916 in order to deal with the revolt of pro-Turkish Senussi tribesmen in Egypt’s Western Desert. The first four companies were recruited from Australian infantry battalions recuperating after Gallipoli. Four battalions were eventually formed up and units saw action in Palestine in 1917 and 1918. Units were disbanded in mid-1918.
In July 1916 a further 1000 men from the Australian Light Horse and Trench Mortar Batteries at Menangle Camp did a route march through Camden. They stopped for lunch, after which they gave a demonstration of high explosives, grenades and bomb throwing for the amusement of the local community.
In July 1916 Colonel Lenohan, the officer in charge, stated the military band played at the camp every Sunday afternoon. He reported in the Camden press that he would welcome visitors and he offered to show them around the camp.
In early 1916 the Menangle Red Cross decided to donate a badly needed hospital tent to the Australian Light Horse at a of cost £34. It measured 20 x 30 feet (6×10 metres) and could be partitioned off and used for several purposes, or used as a whole for a camp hospital with a capacity of 14 beds.
The press report noted that it would ‘prove a boon to those recovering from sickness, or to any one ‘off colour’ and in need of a quiet rest and medical attention’. The cost of the tent ‘considerably diminish[ed]’ the cash reserves of the small Menangle Red Cross branch but was felt that it was greatly needed by the men.
In May 1916 Brigadier General Ramaciotti inspected the camp and stated that there was a fine billiard room for 10 tables under construction and a well-appointed canteen.
The Camden and Menangle Red Cross branches supplied the camp hospital with eggs, cakes, scones, pyjamas, hand towels, pillow slips, sheets, towels, and cakes of soap in 1916 and 1917.
The men’s Red Cross branches at Menangle and Camden sent across trays and bed rests that they constructed at their carpentry workshops.
As the hostilities on the Western Front wound down there was less need for training facilities and Menangle camp closed in May 1918.