itle: Essendon Rifles
Author: Madigan, Judith
Edition: 1st Edition
Publication Date: 2009
Cover: Soft Cover without Dust Jacket – 21 pages
Comments: The brief history of the 58th Battalion (Essendon Rifles) from it’s formation in the 1920s through to World War II.
In 1921 it was decided that the Citizens Force would be re-organised along the lines of the AIF, adopting the numerical designations of AIF units and maintaining their battle honours in order to perpetuate these units. As a result of this, the battalion was raised again as the “58th Battalion (Essendon Regiment)” in May 1921, attached to the 15th Brigade, then part of the 3rd Division and based in Melbourne.
In 1929, following the election of the Scullin Labor government, the compulsory training scheme was abolished and in its place a new system was introduced whereby the Citizens Forces would be maintained on a part-time, voluntary basis only. It also adopted the title of the “Militia” at this time. The result of this change in recruitment policy was a significant drop in the size of the Army, falling by almost 20,000 men in one year as there was little prospect for training and as the financial difficulties of the Great Depression meant that few men were able to take time off from civilian employment for military service.
Consequently, the decision was made to disband or amalgamate a number of units, with each brigade within the 3rd Division being reduced from four infantry battalions to three. The 58th Battalion was not one of those units chosen for amalgamation, although throughout the inter war years its authorised strength was greatly reduced and poor attendance and limited training opportunities characterised the era.
In 1936 some efforts were made to reinvigorate the training program and individual units implemented recruiting campaigns. Two years later, as the political situation in Europe grew worse, the Army made a more concerted effort to improve the readiness of the Militia and throughout 1938 increased training opportunities were provided. At the annual camp held that year all units of the 15th Brigade were given negative feedback about their performance, however, the 58th was singled out as having performed particularly poorly.
Throughout the inter war years, the battalion went through a number of name changes: “58th Battalion (Essendon Rifles)”, “58th Battalion (The Melbourne Rifles)”, “58th Battalion (Essendon Coburg & Brunswick Rifles)” and “58th Battalion (Essendon, Coburg, Brunswick Regiment)”, the last of which was adopted in 1939.
Following the outbreak of World War II, as a result of the provisions of the Defence Act (1903) which prohibited sending the Militia to fight outside of Australian territory, the decision was made to raise an all volunteer force, known as the Second Australian Imperial Force (2nd AIF), for service overseas. The result of this decision was that the Militia units that already existed lost some of their best personnel who were used to form a cadre of trained men upon which to raise the units of the 2nd AIF, while the units themselves were relegated to administering the training of conscripts that were called up following the reinstitution of the compulsory training scheme in January 1940.
At the same time, they were also progressively called upon to undertake brief periods of continuous training during 1940 and 1941 as part of an effort to improve the nation’s level of military preparedness. Throughout 1941 the 58th Battalion was stationed around Seymour in Victoria before undertaking further training near Casino, New South Wales, in 1942. At this time, the 15th Brigade was briefly expanded with the arrival of the 24th Battalion from the 10th Brigade, which had been disbanded as part of a minor demobilisation of forces that was necessitated by a manpower shortage that had developed within the Australian economy. As a result of the addition of the 24th Battalion, the 58th and 59th Battalions were amalgamated to form the 58th/59th Battalion (Essendon, Coburg, Brunswick/ Hume Regiment), in order to maintain the triangular structure of the brigade.
This came into effect on 27 August 1942. The 58th/59th Battalion would remain linked for the next four years, seeing action in the South-west Pacific in 1943–45. They were disbanded on 23 February 1946.