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3 SQUADRON HISTORY - 100 Years Ago…

Gallipoli Start-to-Finish

3AFC’s Bert Billings’ Impressive Gallipoli Record

c 1916.  A pair of Australian signallers, each wearing a headphone, listening in on an early Marconi Mk III
crystal shortwave tuner radio.  The banded pole supports an aerial.  One of these men is 1349 (later Staff Sergeant)
Albert Joseph Egan, who ended the war attached to 3rd Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, (3AFC). 
Note the wooden lid of the wireless set in the background. 
The Marconi Mk III crystal shortwave tuner set could receive only, and was developed in 1915. 
It was used during the First World War until it was superceded by superior models which could receive and transmit. 
[AWM P04886.001]

Bert BILLINGS, who died in 1990, served with 3AFC on the Western Front.  Prior to that he had some amazing Army experiences in the Dardanelles.  His words below are extracted from the
1991 Journal of the
Australian Society of WW1 Aero Historians:

The First World War lasted a total of 1,559 days.  I spent no less than 1,682 days in the military service; 1,523 of them overseas.  That was all a long time ago now, but memories of my World War One experiences, from Gallipoli to the Somme, are still vividly etched on my mind.

I was born at Avenel, Victoria, in October, 1894; the son of a [Railway] Station-Master.  In 1912 I was enrolled in the 21st Signal Engineers, under the provisions of the Universal Training Act (1910), which required every youth who turned 18 that year to register for military training.  At that time there were only three methods of signalling between Army units in the field: hand-held semaphore flags; a 'heliograph' [mirror] in sunlight; or a large oil-burning signal lamp at night.

In 1913 the Australian Army obtained its first wireless sets - 500-Watt Marconi Pack Wireless Sets - and I was allocated to be the first person in Victoria to operate them.  On 19th August, 1914, I enlisted in the 1st Signal Troop, 1st Light Horse Brigade, AIF, and sailed for Egypt on 1st November. 

Plans for the Gallipoli landings revealed that the British Army had overlooked the need for mobile wireless stations, to enable them to communicate with the Royal Navy.  It was discovered that the only mobile wireless units in the Middle East were those of the AIF.  On 1st April, 1915, two wireless sections from the 1st Brigade and two from the 2nd were urgently sent to Mudros, about 50 miles from Gallipoli, to join the British 29th Division, Royal Engineers.  They were under the joint control of that unit and the Royal Navy.  After three weeks of intensive training in naval codes and procedures, two of the sections were allocated to the British Army and the other two to the AIF.

My section was attached to the Essex Regiment, which went into action at Cape Helles early in the morning of 25th April.  Five weeks later, we returned to our Signal Troop at Anzac Cove, but on 1st August, another operator and myself were again detailed for special wireless duty with the British Army.  This time with the London Wireless Unit, Royal Engineers.  We went ashore at Suvla Bay at 4.00am on 7th August.  As both of us had also landed at Cape Helles, it was most unusual that we should each make a second assault-landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula.


During my long stay on the Peninsula I was, like everyone else, under a constant strain from enemy rifle and shell fire.  There was no way to relax, other than to simply ignore it - which was very difficult to do at times.  One never knew when he would have something 'chucked' at him.  A walk to the beach; a swim; drawing rations; filling a water-tin at a well; or even just standing around in the camp area - all involved the risk of being shot.  The hilly ground rendered many areas (at first thought to be safe) visible to Turkish snipers, who positioned themselves in a secret spot and waited for some careless 'Digger' to present them with a target.  The same situation applied with the Turkish artillery, who would wait until they saw a few troops gathered together (such as a swimming party down at the beach) and then let fly with a shell - the rotten cows!

I remember one so-called "safe" spot, where our men suddenly started to come under fire from a hidden sniper.  A close examination of the area from which the shots came eventually pin-pointed his position at the extreme top of a ridge, where he must have just been able to get a sighting between the intervening hills.  A warning notice, saying "RUN PAST HERE" was erected at the spot, but we never stopped that particular sniper from trying his luck.  If you were game enough to stand there long enough, you could just see the position from which he fired.  I managed to sneak a quick look one day, before he spotted me.

I remained at Suvla Bay for 2½ months, before once again returning to my unit at Anzac - where I stayed until the evacuation.  As I was in the last party to leave the area held by the 1st Light Horse, my service record on Gallipoli was probably unique - eight months continuous service, including two recognised landings, as well as the final evacuation [20 December 1915].  I feel quite certain that no other soldier can claim the same service record as that.

After returning to Egypt in December, 1915, the Light Horse served in the Sinai Desert and was later engaged against the Turks at the Battle of Romani [August, 1916]. 

Soon after the finish of that battle, we were officially informed that applications would be accepted (from men with suitable trade qualifications or skills) for transfer to the Australian Flying Corps, which was then forming two new squadrons from men already serving overseas.  Among the skilled tradesmen being sought were Tailors (to sew the linen fabric for aeroplane wings and fuselages), Fitters & Turners, Motor Mechanics, Electrical Mechanics, Painters, etc.  I immediately applied as a Wireless Operator / Mechanic (the only applicant for this category at that time) and was duly accepted for AFC service, with the rank of 2nd Class Air Mechanic [2AM].

I later served in France with 3rd Squadron, AFC.  In October, 1918, the Australian Government decided that all servicemen who had been overseas for more than 1,000 days should be sent home.  Lists of those who were eligible were published and I was pleased to find that, along with 15 other men from the Squadron, I qualified for this early repatriation programme.  We were taken back to England to await transport home to Australia.  It was several weeks before we finally sailed for home, aboard the Troopship D34 Port Hacking, which carried a total of 770 men; all with service dating from the first months of the Great War.

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