Even after the Armistice there was still more fighting for George Binstead – as a contender in an Army boxing tournament in 1919.
An unusual entry in George’s service record shows that from March 21 to April 4, 1919, he was detached to the Australian Corps Boxing Tournament at Senzeilles in Belgium.
A cruiserweight, George returned to Australia after the war to a boxing career of mixed success, with two wins and two losses, at the Brisbane Stadium, the forerunner of the city’s Festival Hall.
The Brisbane Courier newspaper of October 14, 1920, reported how the previous night George Binstead, weighing in at 12 stone six pounds (79 kilos) had knocked out Tom Thompson, 13 stone six pounds (85 kilos) in one round.
However, in his next fight against Jack Leahy, on January 12, 1921, George Binstead lost in a total knockout on the third round.
Born at Coomera to George and Amelia Binstead, George was 21 years old and working as a drover when he enlisted in the AIF on July 23, 1915.
Private Binstead became part of the newly formed 31st Battalion, which had been raised at Enoggera in August, 1915. As some of the battalion’s companies had also been raised at Broadmeadows in Victoria, the Brisbane men of the 31st travelled south in October before the battalion embarked for overseas service, divided between two ships, the HMAT Wandilla and the HMS Bakara.
While the embarkation roll shows George leaving Melbourne on the Wandilla on November 9, 1915, his service record indicates he arrived at Suez on the Bakara on December 13.
He was transferred to the 5th Division Artillery at Tel el Kebir in Egypt on March 15, 1916, having been remustered as Gunner at his own request, before being taken on strength with the 5th Divisional Ammunition Column as a Driver on April 1.
However, three weeks later, George was transferred to the 14th Field Artillery Brigade and posted to the Brigade Ammunition Column. Delays in assembling the artillery for the Australian 5th Division, which had begun forming in Egypt in February, delayed the division’s departure for the Western Front until June.
George left Alexandria on June 20 on the HMT Huntsend as part of the British Expeditionary Force, arriving in Marseilles, France, 10 days later.
On August 8, he was again remustered as a Driver in the 5th Divisional Ammunition Column.
As the first major conflict of modern times, the Great War was defined by heavy artillery which caused death and destruction on a previously unimagined, industrial scale, with more soldiers killed by exploding shells and shrapnel than any other weapons during the war.
Feeding the field guns was a mammoth logistical task involving rail and motorised and horse-drawn transport, with each division having its own ammunition column to supply the artillerymen at the front. The sheer scale of the undertaking is highlighted by estimates that during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, almost 1.8 million shells were fired at the German lines in one week alone.
For the drivers of divisional ammunition columns, who played a vital role in supporting the artillerymen on the front line, it was back-breaking work that was both dreary and dangerous, especially when it involved horse-drawn wagons laden with high explosive shells.
A unit diary for the 5th Divisional Ammunition Column of 1916 tells how, on August 4, around 8.30pm, “a box of bombs burst on a wagon (just after being loaded) near bomb store Erquinghem. A man and mule grazed.” It also records how, 10 days later “His Majesty King George V passed through this area on a tour of inspection.”
George Binstead’s record shows that he served for more than two and a half years on the Western Front, but it does not tell of the horrors of the battlefield, the horrendous winter of 1916-17 in mud and snow in France, or the herculean task of carting tonnes of ammunition along roads reduced to a quagmire.
In the midst of it all, George managed 10 days’ leave to England in July 1917 and another two weeks’ leave beginning mid-March 1918.
In April, 1919, after the boxing tournament in Belgium, George was detached from duty with the 5th Divisional Ammunition Column, to join AIF Headquarters in London, with his record stating only “(sports)”.
George left England on July 7, 1919, to return to Australia on the Chemnitz, one of numerous ships surrendered to Britain as part of Germany’s war reparations.
He arrived in Sydney on September 8 and was discharged from the Army in Brisbane on November 8, 1919, almost a year after the war had ended.
The final entry in the 5th Divisional Ammunition Column’s last diary in April, 1919, reads:
“In conclusion, the behaviour and work of all ranks during the particularly heavy work has been excellent and efficient and personnel of the Column have at all times carried out their duties cheerfully and well.”