In February 1916, Patrick Gordon (“Bill”) Taylor had been stationed at the AIF Liverpool training camps for over a month. Like other lads his age, he had been caught up in the enthusiasm to sign up and “do his bit”, so as to not miss out on what was thought to be at the time the greatest adventure of his generation.
This was the life he had chosen; and he could only assume it would get him a lot closer to the action than his parents’ plans for him to study medicine at Sydney University.
But camp life at Liverpool was to fall short of expectations for both this 18 year old, wide-eyed, second lieutenant from Raglan Street, Mosman, and for the army of volunteer recruits, from all over Sydney, and from all types of backgrounds.
“Bill” Taylor recalls:1
Since I had been a commissioned officer in the School Cadets and knew as much of elementary military training as one could know without having seen a shot fired in anger […] I was first given command of a platoon and, soon afterwards, of a company of Australian Imperial Force trainees. Somehow it worked. The men in the company were from all walks of life. Labourers, solicitors, station hands, shearers, office clerks, tradesmen of all kinds, professional men, they all had volunteered for the AIF and been sent to the Liverpool camp to be turned into soldiers. There were some toughs among them, of course, but I never had the slightest trouble with them. Perhaps they regarded me as some sort of boy mascot company commander, but anyway they gave me an absolutely fair deal.
There were of course the usual impassioned appeals for leave, often on the grounds of family emergencies. Sick wives, children all with measles, the roof leaking, all the routine domestic disasters. Some were genuine, some obviously invented. I went along with them as far as I could, as long as it didn’t interfere with training and wasn’t too blatantly malingering. But when they were on parade they worked hard, their discipline something they themselves took pride.
… but the heat of the sun and humidity on this particular February morning would do nothing to cool hot heads.
[T]here was a riot in the camp, stemming from some stupid injustice caused by a senior officer. The men made persistent orderly representations for this to be put right and were continually turned down. So they wrecked the camp, commandeered a train at Liverpool station, and drove it to Sydney where some thousands of them poured into the city with dramatic effect.2
Will we drill forty hours? No!
Trouble had been stirring in the dry, dusty, overcrowded Liverpool military training camps for some time. Complaints about harsh treatment including and difficulty in getting leave had gone unheeded by the authorities — despite Royal Commission findings about poor conditions inside the camp.
An increased training regime from 36 to 40.5 hours a week3 was all it took for the pressurised keg of collective frustration to ferment and explode.
Soldiers “organised” themselves for strike action on the morning of the 14th of February. They then proceeded to take matters into their own hands and compensate themselves for having their repeated requests for a “wet canteen” (permitting alcohol at camp) ignored.
At the Commercial Hotel, opposite the Liverpool railway station, the soldiers “after taking every available bottle of liquor in the bars, broke open the cellar, and hauled 11 hogsheads of beer, rum, wine, whisky, etc”4 onto the street, tapped them and drank them dry out of any makeshift cup or utensil that would hold liquid.
According to newspaper reports, thousands of angry, rum-fueled AIF trainees in various states of intoxication commandeered trains to Sydney and spilled out from Central Station5.
They then “made a really fine spectacle” marching up through Haymarket to Elizabeth and George Streets in columns under the Union Jack, red flag and regiment colours as if on parade with chants and placards saying Strike – We wont drill 40 ½ hours, noisily letting “all and sundry know what they thought of the camp and its new regulations” to “the discordant sound of trumpets.”
By the time the column had reached the turnstiles at the Manly ferry wharf, Circular Quay, many in the column had peeled off to wet dry throats at hotels and pubs along the way. The remaining marchers were then turned back up Macquarie Street passing the Conservatorium, where they had a “smoko” at the Domain Garden Gates.
Once rested — it was going to be at least a 7 ½ hour day, after all — they invaded a nearby hotel, only to be ejected by the constabulary once support had arrived from the police HQ across the road.
Others proceeded to the Evening News demanding the newspaper change their advertising poster from ‘Riot At Liverpool’ to ‘Strike at Liverpool’, and issue an apology6. (Their windows were smashed so it could be assumed no apology was forthcoming?.)
The “strike” descended into a maelstrom of civil disorder throughout the day.
Groups joined up with new arrivals, making their way through inner-city neighborhoods, up side alleys and along major thoroughfares such as Cleveland and Shepherd streets in Chippendale, and Glebe Point Road off Broadway.
Italians, Greeks, Chinese and locals who owned grocery stalls, seafood and “oyster bars” closed shutters and removed wares from shop-front windows.
The German Club in Phillip Street was set upon and had windows broken. German-owned or named businesses were also targeted. One individual was nabbed “souveniring” a box of imported cigars from “Kleisdorff’s” tobacconist’s broken storefront window in Hunter Street.
Taxi cabs “made off at a fast pace” as soon as they saw anyone in khaki approaching as troops were commandeering all forms of transport not just trains and trams “…motor cars, motor bicycles, lorries, drays, on all of these the men deposited themselves without as much as ‘with your leave.’ However in the majority of cases it was tolerated.”7
Skirmishes occurred throughout the day with a largely overwhelmed police force, as a struggle to arrest and free soldiers ensued, including an attempted mass break-out of soldiers from Regent St Police lock-up by their comrades armed with metal pipes.
Toohey’s Brewery in Chippendale became an obvious target as did the market stalls at the Queen Victoria Building and other parts of the city during the day.8
All the fruit was taken—and the soldiers spared nothing of the vehicle to get it. The men started to pelt the big crowd that was watching the proceedings from the balcony of the station and one of the tramway bridges. Oranges, peaches, bananas, all flew about, but misses were more frequent than hits.9
The Bulletin concluded:
If all the beer in Sydney had been buried in stone vaults at the moment that the human tornado struck the city, it would have stood a big chance of being torn from its place of seclusion.10
As the day wore on thousands of curious onlookers and by-standers joined in…11
“…there was a wild scene on the Druitt-street side of the Town Hall. A crowd had collected, and the police drove through it. Women fainted and men cheered or boo-hooed. Just at this moment three distinct revolver shots were heard in Bathurst street, and the crowd surged round towards that thoroughfare, the few police being helpless to stem the tide. Luckily the mounted police arrived and dispersed the crowd, some of whom made towards Elizabeth-street, while others went down George-street. Many women took refuge in tho grounds of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, and from behind the railings watched the mob rush past. Over all the recruiting message from the Town Hall blazed out “The Empire Calls,” but the young military men took no notice of the message, and continued their mad career.12
The cancellation of Liverpool train services, closure of public bars and shops, baton charges by police and the deployment of 1,500 militia eventually funneled soldiers back to Central.
By about 9pm a large, surging group of AIF recruits chanting Will we drill forty hours? No! faced off against armed militia forming picket lines near Platform 1.
In the confusion shots rang out.
The scene of the shooting was at the eastern end of the assembly platform, between the entrance portico and near the lost property depot. It appears that a number of soldiers […] gathered at the lavatories at this end of the station and the iron gates were drawn against them. Some of those thus imprisoned brought a large hose into use and directed it against the military picket.13
The shouts of “blacklegs” and “scabs” were answered with rifle butts in a violent encounter.
Reports vary but it seems a trapped soldier fired shots from a revolver into the ceiling and this was answered by a volley from the military picket and “a number of men fell. Seven of these were found to be more or less injured by rifle fire…”14
Of the 50 or so cartridges discharged one bullet found its mark, shooting a 6th Light Horseman “clean through the left eye.”
The mortally wounded man Trooper Ernest William Keefe was moved to the “Refreshment room” and his recently deceased body taken to the Mortuary Station for later examination, service and burial at Waverley Cemetery. He left behind a fiancé as well as a grieving mother.
His cause of death is described in sobering detail at the coroner’s inquest.
There were abrasions on the chin and the bridge of the nose, and an entrance wound of a bullet on the right cheek, above the angle of the mouth. The lower jaw was fractured in front, and the tongue was much lacerated; the left, internal jugular vein was torn. The bullet passed out the lower part of the left side of the neck and then entered the left shoulder fracturing the collar-bone and shoulder-blade, and was found on the outer side of the shoulder more or less broken up and flattened out.
Based on the evidence given by Lieutenant Colonel Logan and Constable Bailey —
The Coroner announced that Keefe died from the effects of a bullet wound in the head justifiably inflicted upon him by a military picket in lawful execution of their duty in maintaining public peace and suppressing a riot of mutinous soldiers and civilians.15
Taylor steers clear of turbulence
Knowing that strike action and revolt would be on the cards on the morning of the 14th of February, 2nd Lieutenant “Bill” Taylor had to find the middle road between the heavy handedness of camp authorities and the duty of care he felt towards the men in his platoon, many of them with families and other responsibilities.
I had advance information this was going to happen. Our battalion was not closely involved. But it wasn’t difficult to see that there would be trouble for all the men caught taking part in it. I didn’t want my chaps swept up into this shambles. So I lined them up on the parade on the morning of the final ultimatum to the camp commandant, and told them what I thought was going to happen. I then told them we were going to march out immediately into the country on a skirmishing exercise, and that any man who wanted to stay and join the mutiny must fall out now and leave the company. There were a few sideways glances, but not a man moved.
I kept them on the march, well out along the Holsworthy road, and into the bush for a smoko. Then we began the exercises for the day. By the time we got back to camp the worst of the trouble was over.16
In this way Taylor’s platoon was able to avoid, in his words, the day’s “shambles” — not just the sore heads to be nursed the next day, but the prosecutions that followed.
The strike’s aftermath
Reports vary but upwards of 1,000 men did not show up for parade and roll-call the next day and were immediately discharged17.
Up to 30018 were charged and many held for “mutiny” and “trial by court-martial”, of whom 36 were convicted in state courts. “Ringleaders” (some of them just 16 years old) were sentenced to up to five years hard labour. One 16 year old soldier, caught up in the furore faced 6 months of hard labour for “maliciously injuring a plate glass window” at the Grace Brothers flagship store on Broadway.
The Liverpool “riots” (as coined by newspapers at the time, or “strikes” as the participants insisted on) can be viewed as an isolated incident or one of a series of events building up to the General Strikes of 1917 and the rejection of Conscription in two Referendums.
Feb. 14th 1916 doesn’t sit comfortably with the “Myth of ANZAC” – and has been largely forgotten. A small bullet hole at Central Station the only remaining physical evidence that a struggle took place.
The “six-o’clock swill” became part of the Australian vernacular and way of life from 1916 until the mid 50’s, and was an unintended outcome of the day’s drinking “binge”.
Although the battle began as a dispute over working conditions it gave the temperance movement, which had been gathering support for many years, a compelling argument to convince the people of New South Wales to vote in June 1916 for the six o’clock closing of all pubs. The Bulletin denounced the link as ‘hysterical…pub hours were no more to blame than the railway timetable or the width of the Redfern tunnel.’21
In the aftermath the military camps at Casula and Liverpool were broken up and their occupants moved elsewhere, leaving only the German concentration camp and its unfortunate internees (POWs and “enemy aliens”) to occupy the area for the duration of the war.
Most of the A.I.F. recruits who participated in the Feb. 14 “riots” were shipped off sooner or later, to serve their country in the mud and trenches of Western Front or the deserts of the Middle East, many making the ultimate sacrifice, many returning to their former lives bearing the physical and emotional scars.
Taylor flies free
Despite his efforts and months of good service, 2nd Lieutenant Taylor was to find camp authorities unsympathetic to his going overseas. After reading an illustrated article about British aeroplanes destroying the German airship hangars at Cuxhaven in The Strand magazine on the train back to camp he was inspired to pursue his newly found life’s purpose — to fly.
He describes his dread at returning to camp.
The train was approaching Liverpool. The thought of the dust and the parades was horrible, something to be left for the brilliance of these diving aircraft… getting to grips with the enemy without all the sordid complications of war on the ground.
The next day I made a direct request for transfer to the Australian flying Corps. My request was ridiculed. I was told there was a war on. I was in the army.
However, for “Bill” Taylor —
The idea of flying grew quickly into an obsession, so that every wasted minute in the camp became almost unendurable… discreet inquiries brought the advice that I should apply for leave, so that I could go to England at my own expense. There I would be able to join one of the flying services. But first I must escape the clutches of the Army.
I knew that any further conventional approach to the authorities would be useless. I had already been turned down and I couldn’t put forward any new circumstances to make them change their minds. But by then I didn’t care how I got out of the army. I decided to use any family influence I might have to get free of that dusty camp.19
“Bill” Taylor’s father Patrick Thompson Taylor was horrified by the idea of flying (in a war – that was suicide!) but was eventually persuaded by his son’s enthusiastic arguments. Once convinced he was able to use his considerable influence, cutting through official “red tape” and military regulation.
… he did everything in his power to get me away as soon as possible. He was in a position to have my request dealt with on a higher level. Neither he nor I had any misgivings about resorting to this action—I wasn’t trying to avoid the war. I was trying to reach it
In a few days I was told to report to the camp Commandant’s office. I arrived punctually and saluted, eagerly waiting instructions. The scene was brief; I had been granted leave in the terms of my request. I was free to go.20
“Bill” Taylor had “escaped the clutches of the Army” and taken the first steps to emulating the “brilliance” of those daring pilots he had read about, and imagined becoming.
Whilst stationed with 66 Squadron in France, Taylor chanced to meet up with a face from the past.
“D’you remember that day, Cap?”
“Bill” Taylor in his memoirs wrote that he and members of his squadron sometimes went to Amiens on short leave. In order to make their bare huts more liveable they picked up chairs, lamps pictures and postcards (including Kirchner girls and “select illustrations” from La Vie Parisienne). They would on occasion frequent cafes and other establishments including “Charlie’s Bar”.
In his own words…
Looking back I realise that this surely must have been one of the toughest places of its kind on earth. Charlie’s Bar was the retreat of all sorts of characters from the active services, including usually a few flying corps pilots from nearby aerodromes. It was a dangerous place in which to become involved in an argument because most of its patrons had come from scenes of violent death, so that the reactions of some to the most trivial disagreement, particularly if they were well on the grog, were liable to be extremely violent. It was in these circumstances that by pure chance I met again one of the old soldiers who had been in my training company at Liverpool camp in Australia, and, as it happened our mutual recognition, of each other could hardly have happened at a better moment.
On this occasion, Taylor and three of his flying mates had decided to drop in to Charlie’s Bar for a drink before returning to Vert Galand Farm where the squadron was stationed.
There was the usual crowd of men from the war; some pretty full and argumentative, including two Australian soldiers who were quite near us at the bar.
We hadn’t been there long before some of the more audible remarks about the Flying Corps began to come our way.
‘Where’s you blokes when the Jerries come shootin’ us up in the trenches? Where’s th’ flamin’ Flyern Corps then?’
It was getting bad, and very soon something would have to be done. Then one of the Australians turned towards me, and suddenly stopped in his tracks, his face lighting up with recognition.
‘Well, stone th’ flamin’ crows! Its Cap! Good ole Cap-sir’
I recognized him immediately, one of the toughest characters I ever had in the company at Liverpool, often at trouble at home, but fundamentally a good man. To get him clear of some awkward disciplinary situation I had recommended him for the next group of men to go overseas. ‘Cap’ was a sort of honorary title given me by the men when I was a company commander, which normally carried the rank of Captain, though I was in fact a temporary second lieutenant.
Taylor says he felt pretty relieved by the mutual recognition, as it had diffused a potentially explosive situation. The A.I.F. boys were obviously spoiling for a fight…
‘Murphy!’ I greeted him. ‘Well, you finally made it. When did you get away?’
“Came with that reinforcement mob, Cap.” And, turning to his pal he quickly cleared up any threatening atmosphere,
“Ar-r Jacko; the Cap’s all right. Too bloody right e’ is. Marched us outer the flamin’ camp when th’ riot was on, and saved us from the clink. D’you remember that day, Cap?”
‘Yes I certainly do. Been up the line yet, have you?’
“To right I have been, Cap. Always there when the numbers go up- the ole Murph.”
We got onto the subject of the Huns sweeping down and strafing the trenches and I told him about it from our end. It did some good, I think. I was sorry to leave old Murphy, and I have often wondered what happened to him: whether he survived the war.
As we left he exhorted us to great deeds and ferocious action, ending ‘Good luck to yer, Cap-sir! Get th’ bloody Baron!’
I raised a hand to him and we left. Von Richtofen in his Albatros! That was unlikely.
Sir Patrick Gordon Taylor was not destined to tangle with the Red Baron but did down a few “E.A.” on the way to becoming an “Ace” in his beloved Sopwith Pup. In the end he “deplored the killing and all the other evils of war”22, but survived and went on to fulfil a legendary career in aviation as a co-pilot and navigator for Charles Kingsford-Smith and Charles Ulm.
We are grateful he was able in later life to record his experiences for posterity, including his formative days as a “boy mascot company commander” on the Liverpool plains in 1916, on a Valentine’s Day like nothing before (or since) in the nation’s history.
- Newspaper articles tagged 1916 AIF Mutiny – Casula Training Camp in Trove
- The other charge of the Light Brigade — Carl Reinecke, Griffith Review
- Wise, Nathan 2011-11-01, ‘‘In military parlance I suppose we were mutineers’: industrial relations in the Australian imperial force during World War I.’ Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History, no. 101, pp. 161(16).
1 Taylor, P. G. (Patrick Gordon), Sir 1968, Sopwith Scout 7309, Cassell, London
3 1916 ‘RIOTING.’, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 15 February, p. 9, viewed 13 February, 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15646740
4 1916 ‘AT LIVERPOOL.’, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 15 February, p. 9, viewed 13 February, 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15646739
5 1916 ‘CITY PARADE.’, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 15 February, p. 9, viewed 13 February, 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15646737
6 Reinecke, Carl 2010, ‘The other charge of the light brigade’” Griffith Review, no. 28, pp. 226-231.
7 1916 ‘CITY PARADE.’, The Sydney Morning Herald
8 Reinecke, Carl 2010, ‘The other charge of the light brigade’
9 1916 ‘CITY PARADE.’, The Sydney Morning Herald
10 Reinecke, Carl 2010, ‘The other charge of the light brigade’
12 1916 ‘AT THE TOWN HALL.’, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 15 February, p. 9, viewed 13 February, 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15646865
13 1916 ‘MILITARY RIOT.’, Singleton Argus (NSW : 1880 – 1954) , 17 February, p. 4, viewed 13 February, 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article80177971
14 1916 ‘SHOTS FIRED.’, The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), 15 February, p. 9, viewed 13 February, 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15646738
15 1916 ‘SOLDIERS’ RIOTS.’, Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA : 1896 – 1916), 7 March, p. 24, viewed 13 February, 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article33602446
16 Taylor, Sopwith Scout 7309
17 Newspapers reported up to 15,000 men were involved but it was probably closer to 5,000 as many soldiers were stranded back at Liverpool once train services to the city were stopped.
18 Newspapers at the time said 330 were charged, a recent study (Reinecke) says 279.
19 Taylor, Sopwith Scout 7309
20 Taylor, Sopwith Scout 7309
21 Reinecke, Carl 2010, ‘The other charge of the light brigade’
22 Isaacs, Keith 1990, ‘Taylor, Sir Patrick Gordon (1896–1966)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/taylor-sir-patrick-gordon-8763/text15357, accessed online 13 February 2016.