On 5 August 1914, the day Australians learnt of the declaration of war, the German trading ship SS Pfalz was just leaving Port Phillip Bay. The ship had originally planned to depart the previous night, however, a last minute decision to take on additional coal meant that the departure was delayed until the following morning. News of the imminent outbreak of war was on everyone’s mind and the German crew were especially anxious as they slowly steamed towards the Heads.
Australia’s first gun, German steamer fired at while leaving Melbourne
The Herald, 5th August, 1914, page 12
The SS Pflaz was almost into Bass Strait when the Royal Australian Navy examination vessel Alvina received the signal from Queenscliff that war had been declared. The Alvina’s midshipman, Richard Stanley Veale, hoisted an international code flag H, indicating a hostile vessel, which ordered Fort Nepean to fire a warning shot across the bows of the SS Pfalz. A short struggle ensued between the German and Australian on board, before the German’s surrendered. This was the first shot fired by Allied Forces in World War I. The ship was captured and recommissioned as an Australian troopship while her crew were arrested.
Australia’s first shot in the war and the men who fired on the German S. S. Pfalz
Melbourne, Punch, 25 January, 1917, p. 139
Richard Stanley Veale the midshipman who had ordered the first shot to be fired for the allies in World War One, went on to serve in the first Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force which fought in what was then German New Guinea – the first site of action for Australian’s in WWI. Veale served in the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Navy Reserve for a total of 44 years, across both world wars. Amazingly, he was also the person who ordered Australia’s first shot fired in World War Two!
Officers in Command of the Navel Contingent
Photograph by J.E. Barnes; Melbourne, Punch, 20 August 1914
This story is one of the many presented in the State Library of Victoria’s World War 1 display in the Changing Face of Victoria. The State Library also holds a copy of Richard Stanley Veale’s autobiography, Autobiographic Recollections of a Naval Reserve Officer.
Written by Lucy Bracey, Curatorial Assistant, Changing Face of Victoria exhibition