According to Notre Dame University History co-ordinator Deborah Gare, Fremantle and its port played an important and unique role for WA soldiers in both the Boer War and World War I as the major port for those heading to and from the battlefields.
‘It was from Fremantle that the Boer War troops departed and returned. The most celebrated of these was in 1900 when the colony’s second contingent of bush troops were marched from their barracks at Karrakatta and into the port where there was a magnificent send off,’ she said.
‘In 1914 the first WA troops of the AIF left Fremantle (for the Great War) and from there they sailed to Egypt where they prepared for the Gallipoli landing.
‘The mounted troops of the Light Horse Brigade departed Fremantle a few weeks later and though thousands of people crowded Fremantle’s wharf to fare them well, news of their departure in 1915 was censored for their own protection.’
Professor Gare said Fremantle was a town of celebration during the wars, with departing troops farewelled with streamers, parades, bunting and brass bands, but it was a different story on their return.
‘Fremantle was deeply proud of its men who left to serve in the war, and also of its nurses,’ she said.
‘The return of the wounded troops was a more sober event and in July, 1915, when the first of the Gallipoli wounded were returned to Fremantle, the troops cheered loudly when they entered the port.
‘The crowd who waited by the wharf, however, remained silent; they were too anxious and distressed at the sight of the wounded men to raise a cheer in response.
‘The reality of war was very different to the expectations of excitement the town had shared at its beginning.’