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Marines in Melbourne
by Peter Flahavin

The exhausted 1st Marine Division left Guadalcanal in December 1942 and was sent to Brisbane, Australia. However their camp turned out to be in a malarial area, something the troops had just endured for six months on Guadalcanal.

General Vandergrift moved the Division south to the city of Melbourne in January 1943, which received the Marines with every hospitality. The 1st Marine Regiment was quartered at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG), which was near the centre of the city. The 7th Marines were 30 kms south-east at the bayside suburbs of Balcombe, Mt Martha and Frankston and the 11th Marines went to the town of Ballarat, 100 kms north west of Melbourne.

In Melbourne the men were issued brown Australian battledress type jackets (18 months before the "Ike' jacket made its appearance and the famous Divisional shoulder patch appeared to set them apart from the US Army troops.

A few months of steak and eggs, ice cream, Aussie beer and the company of Australian women did wonders for the Divisions health and morale. Clashes with Australian troops subsided after the famous beer party at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where 9,000 men drank beer out of paper cups and "a good time was had by all".

In July 1943 plans began to take shape for the New Britain operations and training was stepped up. During August - Sept 1943 the bulk of the Division moved north and by October 24th the last Divisional units arrived in New Guinea.

Melbourne was the only large city the 1st Marine Division saw until the end of the war. For the next 12 months the volume of Marine mail to and from the city exceeded the volume to the United States. Many enduring friendships were made, many hearts broken and many Aussie girls married Marines!

One Sergeant went out on a blind date and it was love at first sight. When he left in 1943 he did not not see his girlfriend again until 1947, when he left the Marines and returned to marry her and spend the next 48 years here.

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