The Development of the WADF from 1861-1901
The 1860s: The First Decade (1861-1872)
In 1861, Western Australia was still a young colony having only been settled 35 years prior. Up to this point the main military force in the colony were the Enrolled Pensioner Force and the Imperial Military. In the early 1860s volunteer units sprang up all across the empire and Western Australia was no different. Lt Col John Bruce was put in command of raising this new force and became its first commandant. Bruce was an experienced military officer who had seen active service in China and was a well respected figure in the colony.
The initial plan for the Western Australian Volunteer Force (WAVF) was to raise 6 infantry units and 2 mounted infantry units. However, within just a few months it became clear that only 2 infantry units (Metropolitan & Fremantle) and 1 Mounted Infantry unit (Pinjarra) could be effective. Thus, for most of the 1860s, the WAVF had only ~200 men or so.
In 1870, Lt Col John Bruce died after being commandant for 9 years. He was replaced by Maj Robert Crampton who would also die just a year later. During that time, the Fremantle Infantry was disbanded due to the bad quality of officers. At the same time however, a cavalry troop was raised in Perth (Union Troop). Cpt Charles Finnerty was made new acting commandant and it was during his time in office that the Metropolitan Infantry was disbanded due to a controversy regarding the payment of capitation grants. This brought the military force down to around 70 men and marks the end of the first period of the WAVF.
The 1870s: The Second Decade (1872-1882)
In mid-1872 while still under the command of Cpt Charles Finnerty, the WAVF bounced back with the re-creation of the Metropolitan and Fremantle Infantry. At the end of the year Cpt Charles Finnerty (who had only been acting commandant) handed control of the WAVF to Lt Col Edward Harvest. In 1873, the Union Troop cavalry was reformed into Horse Artillery creating Western Australia’s first ever artillery unit. In 1874, a third infantry unit was raised in Guildford.
The period of 1877-1879 saw a major military build up of the WAVF, with the creation of 3 new infantry units (Geraldton, York, Albany), a new cavalry unit (Wellington) and a new artillery unit (Fremantle). This grew the WADF from a size of ~300 to ~500. In 1880 Maj Edric Gifford VC, became the new commandant and this saw a period of decline in the early 1880s. By 1882, neither the Pinjarra nor Wellington cavalry units had enough numbers to keep going and were disbanded. This marks the end of the second period of the WAVF.
The 1880s: The Third Decade (1882-1890)
In 1882, Maj Edric Gifford VC was replaced by Lt Col Fox Angelo who would be commandant until 1886. This period saw major budgetary issues for the WAVF, with both the Albany and York infantry units being disbanded (though the Albany unit was re-raised very quickly). During his tenure as commandant and infantry unit was raised in Northampton and the beginnings of a medical department were created. In 1886, Lt Col William Philimore became the new commandant for the next 3 years. The official strength of the WAVF in 1886 was: 476 Infantry and 78 Artillery.
In 1888 the Albany infantry was disbanded again but re-raised the next year. In 1889, Col Pilkington CB became the new commandant. The official strength of the WAVF in 1889 was: 530 Infantry and 80 Artillery. The end of 1889 marks the end of the WAVF and the beginning of the Western Australian Defence Force (WADF).
The 1890s: Early Modernisation (1890-1897)
In 1890, Western Australia became a fully self-governing colony and the military force of the colony was renamed from the Western Australian Volunteer Force to the Western Australian Defence Force. For the first 2 years of the decade, Lt George Philips would begin the first actual modernisation plans of the WADF. The Permanent Force Artillery (the first permanent military force of W.A.) was raised alongside an Infantry unit in Bunbury, as well as the creation of official Chaplain & Medical departments.
In 1892, Lt Col Flemming became the new commandant and continued the modernisation of the WADF. First, he combined the Perth, Fremantle and Guildford infantry into the 1st Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He re-raised the infantry unit in York, and an attempted creation of a mounted rifles unit in Perth which only lasted 3 years. He created the annual Flemming Cup which would encourage units around the colony to practice marksmanship. He created the Headquarters band, and overall, the situation for the WADF was massively improved. The official strength of the WADF in 1894 was: 602 Infantry, 121 Artillery, 44 Mounted Infantry and 17 Support.
In 1895, the new commandant was Col Alexander Wilson KCB, who continued the modernisation over the next 3 years, most notably by combining the Fremantle and Perth Artillery into a single Field Artillery. In 1897, the official strength of the WADF was: 529 Infantry, 195 Artillery, 58 Support. The most notable event of 1897 was the WADF’s first overseas deployment: 3 Officers and 33 men sent to London for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
The New Century: Later Modernisation (1897-1903)
In 1897 the first overseas deployment of the WADF came when 36 officers and men went to London to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. In 1898, the final commandant of the WADF was appointed, Col George Chippindall. 1899 was a major year for the WADF as it saw the beginning of the 2nd Boer War in which well over 1,000 West Australians deployed, with 40 paying the ultimate sacrifice. 1900 saw the last major modernisation process for the WADF with all infantry units being formed into 5 Infantry Battalions, as well as the creation of new artillery and cavalry units. By Federation in 1901 the strength of the WADF was nearly 2,700, a massive increase from the 800 just 4 years before.
Volunteer Forces In Western Australia: From 1901-Today (1901-2022)
Pre War & WW1 (1901-1919)
Initially, federation did very little to change the military forces in Western Australia. They kept their original unit names until 1903 and continued to be relatively similar until 1919 despite uniform and name changes. This changed at the end of WW1 when all reserve units had their names changed to that of the units that had fought in the great war (eg: 25 Light Horse became the 10th Light Horse).
Inter War & WW2 (1919-1946)
The inter-war period saw a reduction in the size of reserve forces. In WW2 the reserve forces in Western Australia were vastly increased and some of them were even sent overseas. All reserve units were disbanded in 1946.
Post WW2 (1948-2022)
After being re-raised in 1948 the reserves remained similar to how they operated in the inter-war period. This changed in 1960 when a pentropic organisational system was put in place, and although it was changed within the decade this structure would have lasting effects on reserve forces in Western Australia such as the creation of the Royal Western Australia Regiment. The end of the Vietnam War saw a decline in the Australian Army and many units in WA were reduced or disbanded between the 1970s and 1990s (One notable exception is the creation of the Pilbara Regiment in 1984).
Since the 1990s the Australian Army has been growing in size, which has allowed more reservists to serve in Western Australia. The most recent expansion was in 2021 when the 10th Light Horse Regiment was re-raised to 2 squadrons after it had only been 1 squadron since 1976.
Currently the Army Reserve in Western Australia consists of the:
-10th Light Horse Regiment (Direct lineage to 1900, indirect lineage to 1861)
-13th Field Squadron, Royal Australian Engineers (Direct lineage to 1907)
-109th Signal Squadron (Direct lineage to sometime between 1907-1914)
-11th/28th Battalion, Royal Western Australia Regiment (Direct lineage to 1861)
-16th Battalion, Royal Western Australia Regiment (Direct lineage to 1914)
-13th Combat Service Support Battalion
-10th Transport Squadron (Direct lineage to sometime between 1907-1914)
-7th Close Health Company (Direct lineage to 1884)
-13th CSSB Logistics Company (Direct lineage to ???, Indirect lineage to WW2)
-113th Workshop Company (Direct lineage to ???, Indirect lineage to WW2)
7th Field Battery 9th Regiment Royal Australian Artillery (Direct lineage to 1871)
Pilbara Regiment (Direct lineage to 1982)
Elements of Norforce (Direct lineage to 1984)
Australian Army Band Perth (Direct lineage to 1895, indirect lineage to the 1860s)