Part of the volunteer 2nd Australian Imperial Force (AIF) during World War II, the 2/3rd Battalion was formed on 3rd November 1939, drawing its men from a region in New South Wales known as “The Werriwa.” This area, rich in military heritage and tradition, spanned from Sydney to Bega in the south and westward to the Snowy Mountains, encapsulating Cooma, Canberra, Yass, and looping back through Goulburn and Liverpool. The battalion’s formation was part of Australia’s rapid military expansion in response to the global conflict that had erupted in September 1939.

By Roberto Golovic.

The battalion’s first commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Vivian England, was a seasoned veteran of the First World War and had continued his military service in the post-war period, commanding the 55th Battalion of the Militia. The 2/3rd Battalion adopted the unit colour patch of chocolate over green, a nod to the colours of the 3rd Battalion, which had served with distinction in the First World War.

After a brief training period in Liverpool and Ingleburn, the battalion marked its departure with a farewell march through Sydney, evoking memories of the first AIF’s departure for the First World War. The Sydney Morning Herald, reflecting on the march, noted the emotional impact on the city’s populace, drawing parallels to the sense of unity and purpose that had characterised the nation’s war effort a quarter-century earlier. The battalion then embarked for the Middle East in early 1940, aboard the transport Orcades, disembarking at El Kantara on the Suez Canal on 14th February 1940, then travelling to their camp at Julis in Palestine, where they undertook further training, preparing for the rigours of combat in the North African desert.

Their first engagement came at Bardia in January 1941, a major Italian military outpost in Libya. The successful assault on Bardia by the 16th Brigade, which included the 2/3rd Battalion, marked the first significant engagement of Australian troops in the Second World War. The operation showcased the effectiveness of Australian infantry and set the stage for subsequent actions in the North African campaign, including the capture of Tobruk, where the battalion again played a crucial role. These early victories were vital in boosting the morale of the Allied forces and demonstrated the skill and bravery of Australian troops in the face of entrenched enemy positions.

Following their success in North Africa, the battalion’s next major engagement was in Greece in 1941. Deployed as part of an Allied effort to defend Greece against German invasion, the battalion faced a well-prepared and numerically superior enemy. The battalion engaged in a critical delaying action at Tempe Gorge, also known as Pinios Gorge. They fought a series of rearguard actions down the length of Greece before being withdrawn. While the majority of the 2/3rd Battalion was successfully evacuated to Egypt, 141 men were onboard the transport ship Costa Rica, which was sunk, and they were taken to the island of Crete instead. These men fought in a composite Battalion, with the majority eventually reaching Egypt after the fall of Crete.

The battalion’s experiences in Greece and Crete were followed by their involvement in the Syria-Lebanon Campaign against Vichy French forces in mid-1941. This campaign was a critical effort to secure the eastern Mediterranean and prevent the Axis from exploiting Vichy French territories. Despite being under strength, the 2/3rd Battalion played a significant role in the Allied victory, demonstrating adaptability and courage in a complex and challenging operational environment.

In 1942, as the war in the Pacific intensified, the battalion was redeployed to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to prepare for a possible Japanese attack. The battalion’s time in Ceylon was marked by intensive training and preparations, which honed the skills that would be crucial in the coming campaigns in the Pacific.

The battalion’s return to the Pacific in 1942 brought them to the front lines of the conflict against Japan. Their involvement in the Kokoda Track campaign and subsequent operations in New Guinea were among the most challenging and pivotal of the war. The 2/3rd Battalion, along with other units of the 6th Division, faced grueling conditions and fierce resistance as they fought to push back the Japanese advance. These campaigns were characterised by difficult jungle warfare, where determination, endurance, and the ability to adapt to challenging conditions were essential for success.

The battalion’s final major campaign of the war was in Aitape-Wewak in 1944-1945, where they were tasked with clearing Japanese forces from the region. This campaign was marked by difficult terrain, determined enemy resistance, and the challenges of conducting operations in a disease-ridden environment.

Following the end of hostilities, the battalion undertook occupation duties before being repatriated to Australia, where it was disbanded in February 1946. Throughout its service, the 2/3rd Battalion exemplified the qualities of courage, resilience, and mateship that have come to define the Australian military tradition. Its members, drawn from communities across New South Wales, served with distinction in some of the Second World War’s most challenging campaigns, earning a place of honor in Australia’s military history.

The 2/3rd Battalion had fought all the major Axis powers: the Italians, Germans, Vichy French and Japanese. Alongside the Australian 2/5th Battalion, they were the only Allied troops able to make this claim. During its service a total of 3,303 men served with the 2/3rd Battalion of whom 203 were killed and 432 wounded. Members of the 2/3rd received four Distinguished Service Orders, 16 Military Crosses, 12 Distinguished Conduct Medals, 30 Military Medals, two British Empire Medals and 73 Mentions in Despatches.

Men of the 2/3rd Australian Infantry Battalion

Private Bernard “Dusty” Kuschert

Bernard “Dusty” Kuschert was a Greek campaign veteran from Goulburn. He was born in 1917, as the fifth child, and had enlisted in the AIF from the very onset of the war. He boarded the Orcades on the 9th of January 1940, with the rest of the 2/3 Australian Infantry Battalion. He remembered his ship being part of a 15-vessel convoy that left Australia on that day. The ships first went to Colombo and then to the Red Sea. Dusty disembarked in El Kantara, midway up the Suez Canal, while New Zealanders went to Egypt, Australians went to Palestine.

News of Italy entering the war found him at Camp Julis. A few months later, Dusty had his first combat experience, first at Bardia and then at Tobruk. He described it as a frightening but exhilarating experience.

In mid-March 1941, Dusty and his battalion arrived in Greece via HMS Gloucester. As in Libya, Dusty’s role in the army was that of an officer’s batman, a role he described as follows: “If you’re in camp, you’re supposed to have the officer’s shaving gear ready and have his uniforms looked after, and stuff like that. A general handyman. But Len Herwig was unlucky because I think he was the untidiest-looking officer of all because I was his batman. And I was with him all the time.” In Greece, he followed the above-mentioned Len Herwig, who was a quartermaster, so it meant that he spent most of his time in a truck as they were heading north of Athens to Larissa. In April, Yugoslavia had succumbed to German occupation and ANZAC forces were proceeding towards the Yugoslav border to prevent the same from happening to Greece.

Dusty remembers huge convoys of ANZAC troops round the foot of Mount Olympus, both on foot and on carriers, going through two-foot deep snow into the Tempe Gorge. He did not see much of the battle in the gorge when the order to retreat came. It was a dangerous journey through the Greek countryside, constantly under attack from the Luftwaffe. The retreat was chaotic, and there was no unit cohesion, and regular attacks by low flying German aircraft. One of Dusty’s mates managed to shoot down a German airplane with a lucky burst from his Bren gun – a small victory amid what must have seemed like a disaster at the time. A week later, they reached the designated evacuation spot:

“I think it was about Anzac Day, it might have been the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth we were coming through Athens in a hurry. And we were supposed to get on board ships at Argos just over the Corinth Canal. But when we got there, the two ships were blazing in the harbor. And so we carried on down to Kalamata right. One of the bays right at the foot. We were there in olive groves near the beach. And the women of the village, they were really peasant women. They were very kind to us, fed us and stuff like that. And even gave us a shampoo to some of us. There was no mucking around or anything like that. They were just wonderful friendly people.”

Dusty boarded HMS Hero and went straight to Alexandria, luckily avoiding being part of yet another ill-fated encounter with the Germans on Crete: “Oh, we were a bit down in the mouth, but we were fortunate, as I say, that we came out with better than half a battalion strength. Whereas the 2/1st Battalion, as I say, was down, about thirty men. Big difference, isn’t it?”

What Dusty found most inspirational in his experience was the camaraderie and exceptional leadership of some officers he encountered during his time in the service: “We were fortunate to have Colonel England as our commanding officer. “Black Panther” we called him. We became his cubs. And when we came down from Libya, he was transferred and became a brigadier, and they put him in charge of the Infantry Training Battalions. Much against his will… When we landed back in Julis after Greece, it was nighttime in the tents at Julis. And the brigadier came round to every tent, finding out what happened to who and what. He knew us all, a marvelous man. And I think that’s what made our battalion so good. Because we all wanted him to be proud of us. And I don’t think we let him down.”

After the Greek campaign, Dusty fought in Syria and New Guinea, not as a batman anymore but as a rifleman. He served until the end of the war and was very modest about his contribution: “I didn’t win any gongs, any medals I wear, I only earned them. We had quite a few chaps who were decorated. And I didn’t decry ‘em a bit. I would’ve liked to got one, but I didn’t.”

During a run-in with malaria in the Pacific, Dusty met his future wife. They got married immediately after he was discharged. Their first child was unfortunately stillborn, but in 1948 they had a son, Bruce. Dusty’s first captain from the war became Bruce’s godfather. In the ‘50s, Dusty moved to New Zealand but took special care to attend ANZAC day reunions in Sydney.