16th Battalion Scouting Section formed 100 years ago

The Australian 16th Battalion’s scouting section was formally established on 27 June 1916 when a group of men selected from across the battalion paraded at Canteen Farm south of Erquinghem at 9.00am.The group included Private Martin O’Meara, who was later awarded the Victoria Cross and was Australia’s only Irish-born VC of the First World War. O’Meara’s membership of the scouting section was a key factor in his Victoria Cross; he was conducting scouting duties at the time of the bravery that led to his award.

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Martin O’Meara and five of his colleagues from B Company joined the section along with eight men from A Company, six men from C Company, five men from D Company and one man from the battalion signallers.

The function of the battalion scouts was described in a Divisional Order:

When a battalion is in the trenches those observers and snipers will work in pairs, either in the front line trench or from supports of other positions slightly in rear and will be independent of the ordinary trench garrison. Their special work will be the location and subduing of enemy snipers, the location of enemy M.G’s and observing posts, general observation and reporting of the progress or otherwise of work on the enemy’s front and support trenches. The patrol men will be about 6 in number and will be volunteers from among the battalion Scouts. Their special task will be to gather all information concerning the enemy up to and including his parapet, including precise topographical details, frequent reports on enemy’s wire, location of enemy’s observation posts, M.G. emplacements, listening posts, etc. Permanent, well concealed and protected observation posts may be constructed with the sanction of the C.O. at the direction of the Scout Officer for the use of himself and his observers, if he thinks that adequate observation cannot otherwise be obtained. The Scouts may be required to remain in the trenches after the Battalion has been relieved, in order to carry on and hand over all information to the next Battalion.

The first Scouting Officer was Lieutenant Bill Lynas, the battalion’s Intelligence Officer. Originally from New Zealand and of Irish stock, Bill Lynas had been working at a mine near Marble Bar in Western Australia’s remote north when he enlisted in September 1914. He had served with the 16th Battalion at Gallipoli and in Egypt and had been commissioned after the battalion had withdrawn from Gallipoli to Egypt. Bill Lynas was later described as eagerly participating in his new role, and was ‘never happier than when he was out in No Man’s Land patrolling along the enemy wire in search of scalps.’