- Swinden, Greg
- History - WW1, WWI operations
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2007 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Therefore it was decided by the War Office that the RANBT was to be disbanded. By this time, Bracegirdle had been transferred to staff duties in Melbourne and Lieutenant Hansley Read had taken over the Train for its final days.
It was decided that 84 members of the Train would be retained in a new unit (Army Troop Company Australian Engineers). A further 153 joined the RAN. Of the remainder, some joined the AIF, most going to artillery, but some also going to infantry, engineers, provost corps and one, AB Watkins, joined the AFC. With this transfer to the army, some such as AB Driver George Parker found to his dismay that being a ‘six bob a day tourist’ meant just that, as his pay of seven shillings a day was reduced to that of a private, which was only six shillings.
Return to Australia
Those who did not join the RAN or AIF returned to Australia. This amounted to just over 180 men. They left Suez in HMAT Bulla on 29th May 1917, and arrived in Melbourne on 10th July, from whence they were demobilised.
Thus came to an end the story of the RAN Bridging Train, a unit which was barely known about in 1917, let alone in the modern day. The Train was attached to the AIF, and Lieutenant Commander Bracegirdle later stated that ‘the army never failed to render every assistance, in regard to pay, clothing, equipment, hospital treatment and other matters’, yet most of the army did not even know of the existence of the Train – possibly assuming the unit was attached to the Light Horse as they wore Light Horse uniforms.
Even at Gallipoli, the soldiers at Anzac Cove had no idea that there was an Australian unit a short distance away at Suvla Bay. AB Driver Carl Schuler stated that he and the rest of the 2nd Reinforcements for the Train were incorrectly landed at Anzac Cove and found that no-one had ever heard of their unit. They were promptly got rid of by sending them to Suvla in a pinnace.
It is also unlikely that many RAN personnel knew of the Train either. In histories of the RAN, the Train is lucky to get a passing mention. Well may the Officers and Men of the Royal Australian Navy Bridging Train be called the ‘Dry Land Sailors.’
The name Bracegirdle will of course ring a bell with many of our readers. It holds a special place in the history of the RAN. Leighton Bracegirdle was born in 1881, son of a retired Master Mariner. He joined the NSW Naval Brigade in 1898 and saw service in China during the Boxer rebellion and in South Africa during the Boer War.
With the creation of the RAN in 1911, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Permanent Naval Forces. He was awarded the DSO ‘in recognition of the services rendered by him in the prosecution of the war’. After the war, he has a distinguished career in a number of military positions. In 1931, he was made Military and Official Secretary to the Governor General, then Sir Isaac Isaacs. He remained in
this position until 1947, serving under Isaacs, Lord Gowrie, The Duke of Gloucester, and Sir William McKell. He was made a Commander f the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in 1935, and was knighted in 1935 – Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order – on his retirement in the rank of Rear Admiral. Following his retirement, he held a number of Directorships, including one with BHP.
His son, Warwick Seymour Bracegirdle joined the RAN in the 1920s. He commanded destroyers in WWII and in the Korean campaign and was awarded the DSC and two bars. He is remembered by those who served under him as having a very aloof and commanding manner. He died in 1970 at the age of 89.