The brigade that never really was: Norm Furness

My story begins about June 1940 when many young men, including myself, enlisted in the AIF to fight the war against the German Army overseas. We that enlisted in Victoria mainly went through depots like the Caulfield Race Course, then transferred to training camps at places like Balcombe, Bendigo, Shepparton, Wangaratta, just to name a few.

It was about this time the 6th and 7th Divisions had already gone to the Middle East and the Defence Chiefs decided to form another Division, the 8th, which would go to support the two already overseas. In Victoria, as part of that plan, a new Brigade was to be formed consisting, as was routine at that time, of four Battalions plus associated groups, so the 23rd Brigade was formed which I believe would consist of the 2/21st, 2/22nd, 2/23rd and 2/24th Battalions.

This plan was soon to change as the formation of Divisions were to be altered. Instead of four Brigades consisting of 4 Battalions, a Division was altered to three Brigades consisting of 3 Battalions per Brigade. Overseas the 9th Division was formed using the overs from the 6th and 7th Divisions, but they needed more Battalions, so the 2/23rd and 2/24th from Victoria were the chosen ones from Victoria, which then left our Brigade one Battalion short.

I hope I have explained what I believe happened in 1940, but at my age 91, I have to put trust in my memory, but now I will continue on with what happened to our Brigade, the 23rd.

At this time we were at Bonegilla (near Albury) and other Battalions mentioned were also there, so we had the four Battalions. Then, as I mentioned, the 2/23rd and 2/24th left and we then had another Battalion join us, the 2/40th, a Tasmanian-raised unit, so at last we had a Brigade and our training for desert warfare stepped up a pace.

At Bonegilla things started to happen, the canteens were allowed to sell beer and we had a few thousand thirsty troops as the weather was pretty warm, so a lot of fun was had by the troops. Also we used to mount a Battalion Guard. The 2/22nd and 2/21st were old hands at it but the Tasmanians, for them it was a first time. On this particular night the 2/22nd was to be relieved by the 2/40th—no doubt you have seen this done in films and on TV—and an Officer inspects the Guard. So there we are, standing at attention ready for inspection, and the Officer of the 2/40th moves off and their band starts to play. The only thing was, they played a waltz. It was hilarious to see the Officer trying to be officious. I will never forget it.

I guess it’s time to get back to my story of our Brigade. We now had a Brigadier in charge, F Lind from Gippsland, and things started to move along The only thing was that the weeks kept going past and nothing was happening re our involvement in the war. My unit, the 2/22nd was formed in early July 1940 and by January 1941 we were still training. At last in February we were given final leave and in early March things began to happen.