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Saturday, April 11, 2015

43.1. i Anzac Centenary - Onto the Western Front in France Where they fought and died - some moments that became part of life!

The number of battles on the Western Front were staggering, where possible information relating to the battles has been included, particularly if relevant to any recorded deaths.

The Australians left Lemos and arrived in France April 1916.

World War I, 1914-1918, was the 'Great War', the 'war to end all wars'. In that conflict, the most important battleground was the 'Western Front' in France and Belgium where great battles were fought with names that were once household words in Australia — Fromelles, the Somme, Bullecourt, Messines, Passchendaele and Villers–Bretonneux. Of the more than 295,000 Australians who served in this theatre of war in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), 46,000 lost their lives and 132,000 were wounded.

(The information on this page has been sourced from records from different Australian War Sites, they have managed to put together some excellent resources, relating not only to Australians but all other countries as well)


Dotted across the landscape of France and Belgium are hundreds of war cemeteries and memorials where these soldiers lie buried or where their names are listed among those thousands who have 'no known grave, the 'missing'. 

Imagine a winter so cold that water was carried to the soldiers as blocks of ice. Think how cold it must have been to wake after a few hours sleep only to find your eyelids frozen shut. And imagine if you had to keep a bottle of ink in your pocket, otherwise the ink would freeze.

 Imagine your feet swelling to three times their normal size because you had been standing for a week in water up to your knees. And think how cold it must have been when ice formed around the rim of a boiling cup of tea after you had carried it only 20 paces.

The ANZACs’ first major battle in Europe was near a town called Fromelles (From-el) . For many it was also their last. The men received orders to attack the third line of the Germans’ trenches. They marched across no-man’s-land and quickly captured the first trench.

From here, they fought their way forward and successfully captured the second trench. Despite the intense fire, they leapt from the second trench and went looking for the third and final trench where they could finally seek shelter. But there was no third trench. Meanwhile, the Germans had fought their way back into the first and second trenches, and by now the ANZACs were out in the open.

They dived into bomb craters and filled sand bags with mud, anything to protect them from the deadly machine-gun fire. Here they lay until night fell, when they slowly tried to crawl back past the German trenches to the Australian line. The British High Command did not allow the rescue of wounded men in the open, in case the rescuers themselves should become wounded. The Australians disobeyed. 

They could not leave their mates stranded and calling for help. One officer walked across the battlefield and made a truce with the Germans. He even offered himself as a prisoner while his men tried to find all the Australian wounded. In the 27 hours after the Australians first attacked the German trenches, 5533 ANZACs had been killed or wounded. This was twice as many casualties as the landing at Gallipoli.

“A place so terrible...”

A section of the Western Front called the Somme, named after the river flowing through the area, was described by one ANZAC in August 1916 as “a place so terrible that a raving lunatic could never have imagined it”. In the middle of the Somme was a township called Pozières (Pozzy-air) , which was built on one of the few high points in the area.

Whoever held the ridge could see everything the enemy was doing. The British had tried to capture Pozières, and in one day alone suffered 60,000 casualties. The ANZACs were chosen to relieve the British, and were ordered to continue the attacks.

The Battle of Verdun is considered the greatest and lengthiest in world history. Never before or since has there been such a lengthy battle, involving so many men, situated on such a tiny piece of land. The battle, which lasted from 21 February 1916 until 19 December 1916 caused over an estimated 700,000 casualties (dead, wounded and missing). The battlefield was not even a square ten kilometres. From a strategic point of view there can be no justification for these atrocious losses.

(Source : Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Estampes et photographie, EI-13 (2563)

Picture: The 4th Battalion AIF on the way to board a ship for France - March, 1916.

7 April 1916

Australian soldiers took up positions on the Western Front at Armentieres, France.

19 July 1916Men of the 53rd Battalion, ALF, in the front line minutes before the attack at Fromelles, France, 19 July 1916.

Men of the 53rd Battalion, ALF, in the front line minutes before the attack at Fromelles, France, 19 July 1916. [AWM negative H16396]

On 11 November 1918 Charles Bean, Australia’s official war historian, stood on the battlefield of Fromelles: ‘We found the old no-man’s-land simply full of our dead’. These men died on 19–20 July 1916 assaulting the German lines, and their remains lie buried in VC Corner Australian Cemetery.

 In 1998, an Australian Memorial Park was dedicated on the old German front line and at its centre stands ‘Cobbers’, a statue showing an Australian soldier carrying a wounded mate from the battlefield. The story of this catastrophic event for Australia is told in the ‘Battle of Fromelles Museum’ which opened in July 2014 as part of the Australian Remembrance Trail.

The Battle of Fromelles Museum

The Battle of Fromelles Museum located adjacent to the Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery tells the story of the worst day in Australia’s military history, as well as the recovery of the remains of 250 soldiers from Pheasant Wood almost 100 years later. The Australian Government contributed over A$1 million to the Museum which opened in July 2014.

The Battle of Fromelles

A British and Australian preliminary bombardment was expected to suppress or destroy German machine guns, especially at their strongpoint, the Sugarloaf, in the centre of the German line. At 6pm on 19 July the attack began. The bombardment failed to keep the defender’s heads down and the attack was only partly successful. On the British right 400 metres of German trench was captured and on the Australian front the objective, the second line, was reached on a one kilometre front. Elsewhere the attackers were shot down in no man’s land or pinned there by machine gun and rifle fire.

During the night and early morning German counterattacks began recapturing the lost trenches. General Richard Haking, the British commander of the operation, gave the order to retreat and by 5am on 20 July, having held the German trenches for 11 hours, all the attackers who could do so were back in their own line. While the tactical objective was not achieved – capturing the German trenches – the strategic objective was. Fearing another attack on the Fromelles front the German 6th Army did not send troops south to the battle of the Somme until some weeks later. The Germans lost 2000 casualties. The attackers suffered 7000 killed and wounded. Five and a half thousand of these were Australians, making 19 July 1916 the worst day in Australian military history.

Map phase 1 (Initial Positions): The map shows the British and German lines opposite one another on a seven kilometre front near the town of Fromelles in northern France. Near Fromelles is Pheasant Wood, where the bodies of 250 Australian and British dead from the battle were found in 2009.

Note: the black circle that appears on the German front line to the east of Sugar Loaf (about 500 metres north of Delaporte Farm) is the present location of the Australian Memorial Park, Fromelles.
Map phase 2 (Allied objectives): The intent of the attack, as shown by the shaded area, was to capture two lines of German trenches on a four and a half kilometre front.

Map phase 3 (Temporary Allied gains): The map shows the ground temporarily gained in the Fromelles attack. On the eastern side, nearer to Fromelles, the Australians advanced 500 metres and held one kilometre of German trenches. The situation was similar in the west where the British captured a short length of German trenches near the village of Trivelet.

Map phase 4 (German counterattack): The German counterattacks, shown by arrows, were directed at the flanks of the Australian and British positions, the Germans fighting their way along the trenches instead of attacking in the open. The British and Australian were forced to retreat to their own trenches.

 23 July–3 September 1916
Australians were in action in the Battle of the Somme at Pozieres and Mouquet Farm, France.

The Windmill – Pozières, France

Go to the Pozières Windmill site

The Australian War Memorial owns a little piece of France – the Windmill site at Pozières. Australia’s official war historian, Charles Bean, suggested the purchase because ‘The Windmill site ... marks a ridge more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth’. Over seven weeks in 1916, at the Battle of the Somme, the Australian Imperial Force suffered 23,000 casualties, more than 6700 of whom died, in the countryside around the Windmill. On 11 November 1993 soil from the Windmill site was cast over the coffin of Australia’s Unknown Soldier during his funeral at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

The 2nd Australian Division had failed once to take the OG lines. A more carefully planned second assault was launched on 4 August. The OG lines were captured and held against counterattacks. For the first time the Australians on the ridge crest were able to see the German held town of Bapaume, eight kilometres to the north-east. Having captured the OG lines 1st Anzac Corps now turned its attention to Mouquet Farm. The Australian 4th Division relieved the 2nd, which had lost 7000 men in twelve days.

If 4th Division could capture the farm then the German strongpoint of Thiepval could be cut off and forced to surrender. From 8 August to 5 September the Australians advanced on Mouquet Farm, entering its grounds three times, but each time being forced out again. 1st and 2nd Divisions, which had rested and received replacements for their earlier losses, were brought back in their turn, however none of the Australian divisions could secure the farm. By 5 September, when 1st Australian Corps was withdrawn and replaced by Canadian troops, the Corps had lost 23,000 men in six weeks. Nine tenths of these losses fell among the 36 infantry battalions of the Corps. With just less than one thousand men in each battalion, over half of the Australian infantry had been killed or wounded.

Map phase 1 (Initial Positions): The Australian and German front lines after the capture of Pozières and before the advance to the OG Lines.
Map phase 2 (Australian advance on 4 August): On 4 August the Australians captured the high ground on which the Pozières windmill stood, taking one and a half kilometres of the Old German Lines.
Map phase 3 (German front line after 4 August): The map shows the Australian and German front lines after the successful Australian attack of 4 August.
Map phase 4 (Australian advance to Mouquet farm): Now that the high ground near the windmill was captured the Australians attacked north to Mouquet Farm in an effort to cut off the German strongpoint at Thiepval, off map one kilometre from the north-west corner.

Map phase 5 (Final front lines on 5 September): The map shows the ground held by the 1st Australian Corps before it was replaced by Canadian troops. The Australians were not able to capture Mouquet Farm.

First Australian Division Memorial – Pozières, France

Go to the Pozières memorial site

During the last week of July 1916 shells fell in their thousands on Australian soldiers in a village they had captured from the Germans – Pozières. I had not the slightest idea where our lines or the enemy’s were, and the shells were coming at us from, it seemed, three directions, wrote Australian Lieutenant John Raws. Pozières was reduced to rubble and shattered earth, but here the men of the First Australian Division later built their memorial in France. They remembered the tenacity with which they had held their ground and the comrades who had perished in the horror of those bombardments.

In mid July 1916 the three Australian divisions of 1st Anzac Corps marched to the Somme. On the night of 22/23 July the Corps was committed to the third phase of the Somme offensive in which the only successful attack was 1st Australian Division’s capture of the village of Pozières. Over the next few days the Australians extended their hold on the village as the Germans made determined but unsuccessful attempts to retake Pozières. In this period, at the end of July 1916, the Australians also suffered from the worst shellfire they ever experienced. By the time 1st Division was replaced by 2nd Division, it had lost 5000 men, mainly to artillery fire.

Some 500 metres north east of Pozières was a windmill on the highest point of ridge. The 2nd Division was brought forward to capture the OG lines (called by the Allies Old German line 1 and 2), which ran along the crest of the high ground past the windmill. Australian artillery observers stationed on this ground would then be able to direct artillery fire on the German rear areas up to 10 kilometres to the east in the direction of Bapaume.

On the night of 28/29 July 2nd Australian Division attacked the OG lines. Rushed planning resulted in failure, except on the Division’s left, where 6th Brigade captured a length of German trenches beyond the Pozières cemetery.

Map phase 1 (Initial Positions): The map shows the Australian and German front lines before the Australian capture of Pozières.
Note: the black circle that appears at the south-west edge of Pozières is the location of the First Australian Division Memorial which today lies across the road from the ruins of the ‘Gibraltar’ pillbox.

Map phase 2 (Australian capture of Pozières): On 23 July the Australian 1st Division advanced on a two kilometre front, taking Pozières, including the German strongpoint known as ‘Gibraltar’.
Map phase 3 (Front line 28 July): The map shows the Australian and German front lines before the Australians attempted a further advance towards the windmill on 29 July.

Map phase 4 (Australian attack on 29 July): On 29 July the Australians attempted to capture the high ground along which the German trenches (the OG Lines) ran. The attack failed on the right but gained some ground on the left near Pozières cemetery.
Map phase 5 (Gains to 3 August): In the days following the failed 29 July attack, the Australians improved their position around Pozières in a series of small operations.

Map phase 6 (Australian and German front lines early 4 August): The map shows the front lines prior to the successful attack of 4 August and the subsequent advance towards Mouquet Farm.

Thiepval Memorial – Thiepval, France

Go to the Thiepval memorial site

Private George Lewis Grant, Australian Imperial Force, was killed during the Battle of the Somme at Pozières on 29 July 1916. His body lies in one of the most unusual cemeteries on the old Western Front, the Anglo-French Cemetery at Thiepval. Here, on two sides of the cemetery, are the graves of 300 French and 300 British Empire soldiers, symbolising the alliance of the French Republic and the nations of the British Empire in World War I. Over them towers the great Thiepval Memorial with more than 73,000 names of soldiers of the British Army who went ‘missing in action’ in the Somme region.

The battle of the Somme was one of the largest and longest battles of the First World War. On either side of the River Somme in northern France, two million British and French soldiers fought half that number of Germans for four and a half months from 1 July 1916 to 18 November 1916. The British and French were attacking the Germans as a part of a strategy, agreed among the Allies the previous December, which called for simultaneous offensives by Britain, France, Italy and Russia.

The first day of the Somme offensive was successful on the French front and on the southern third of the British front. In the north, from Mametz to Beaumont Hamel, no ground was gained and here died most of the 19,000 British soldiers killed that day. After each major attack a pause was necessary to bring forward fresh troops, as well as the thousands of tons of ammunition the artillery required, without which the infantry could not advance. On the British front a second major attack was launched on 14 July and a third began on 23 July, in which the Australians captured Pozières. Further attacks were made until November when the Somme offensive was halted with the approach of winter.

The British and French lost 600,000 men killed and wounded, the Germans about 490,000. While the value of the Somme offensive is sometimes questioned, the Germans could not afford the losses they sustained there and at the battle of Verdun. As a consequence in the spring of 1917 they retreated 40 kilometres to a shorter, stronger line of defences, the Hindenburg Line.

Map phase 1 (Initial Positions): The map shows the British and German front lines before the start of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916.

Map phase 2 (Allied advance): In four and a half months from the beginning of the Somme offensive to 18 November 1916 the Allies advanced on a 35 kilometres front to a maximum depth of ten kilometres.

Ships of the Royal Australian Navy joined the British Grand Fleet in the North Sea and took part in the economic blockade of Germany.

'The East Yorks going into the trenches', 3 July 1916.

Soldiers of the 10th (Service) Battalion (1st Hull), East Yorkshire Regiment, marching to the trenches near Doullens on the Somme. Raised on 29 August 1914, the 10th was a 'Pals' battalion known as the 'Hull Commercials'. It suffered heavy casualties during the Somme fighting while serving with 31st Division.

(© IWM Q 743)... 

A Captain of one of the British regiments leading his horse on the Amiens-Albert road with his pet dog resting on the saddle, 25 August 1916.
(Photograph by Lt. John W. Brooke)
(© IWM Q 4152)

(This may be a Captain from the 16th Irish Guards as they were featured by this photographer in that location on the same day)

Lancashire Fusiliers in a flooded communication trench, showing wire. St.Yves, near Ploegsteert Wood, January 1917.

(Photo by Lt. John Warwick Brooke )
(© IWM Q 4662)Brooke,

18 November 1916
Somme campaign ended. Australian troops manned trenches throughout a severe winter on the Western Front, France.

11 April 1917

First Battle of Bullecourt, France.

The Bullecourt Digger – Bullecourt, France

Go to the Bullecourt site

Helping his mother to see what the battlefield of Bullecourt in May 1917 looked like, Private John Ware wrote: ‘if ever you saw a sheep camp in time of drought you will know how many sheep [die] in one night our men are lying about just the same’. Today at Bullecourt a statue, the ‘Digger’, stands in the Australian Memorial Park gazing out towards the enemy trenches which had cost so many Australian lives to capture. In the village, the story of the battles fought by Australians here in April and May 1917 is told in the Jean and Denise Letaille Museum.

The First Battle of Bullecourt, 11 April 1917, was an Australian attack on German trenches east of the village of Bullecourt. The plan was to advance some three kilometers north, taking the village of Hendecourt, two kilometers north east of Bullecourt. Operations of this kind were usually supported by a prior artillery bombardment of the German trenches.

However at Bullecourt the Australian 4th Division attacked without artillery support, in an attempt to surprise the Germans, but with the assistance of a dozen tanks. In spite of the failure of most of the tanks to reach the German line, the Australian infantry advanced northwards, with Bullecourt on their left flank, and seized two lines of German trenches. There they were halted by increasing German resistance. Let down a second time by the failure of their own artillery to fire on the German counterattacks, the Australians, having held the enemy trenches for several hours, were driven back to their starting line with the loss of over 3000 men. Poorly planned and hastily executed, the first battle of Bullecourt resulted in disaster.

Map phase 1 (Initial positions): The Australian 4th Division was deployed to the south-east of Bullecourt and planned to attack north between two German held salients. One salient was formed by the German occupation of the town of Bullecourt on the Australian left, the other by an extension of the German Droucourt-Queant line known as Balcony trench.
Note: the black circle that appears between the German front and second lines, just to the east of Bullecourt, is the present location of the Bullecourt ‘Digger’ and the Australian Memorial Park.
Map phase 2 (Australian attack): The map illustrates the advance of the Australians into the gap between the Bullecourt and Balcony trench salients and the German trenches they temporarily captured.

Map phase 3 (German counterattack): After several hours German reinforcements arrived and counterattacked from Bullecourt, the third German line, and the Drocourt-Queant line. They drove the Australians out of the trenches forcing them to retreat to their starting point.

Three weeks after the first battle of Bullecourt the Australian 2nd Division, now with the British 62nd Division attacking on their left towards Bullecourt itself, assaulted over the same ground where the Australians had met defeat on 11 April. This time the Australian infantry attacked without tanks but was well supported by artillery.

On the first day of the battle, 7 May, one Australian brigade on the right flank was unable to reach the German first line, and the British obtained only a foothold on the southern edge of Bullecourt, but the main Australian attack was successful in capturing the same German trenches the Australian 4th Division had been ejected from on 11 April. The battle continued for two weeks, the Australians and British committing four more divisions (the Australian 1st and 5th Divisions, and the 7th and 58th British Divisions). The Germans, also reinforced, made numerous unsuccessful counterattacks. By 17 May the Germans admitted defeat by ceasing attempts to recover their lost ground. Of 150,000 men from both sides who fought at Second Bullecourt, some 18,000 British and Australians, and 11,000 Germans, were killed or wounded in battle.

Map phase 1 (Initial positions): On 3rd May the front lines were much as they had been at the end of First Bullecourt on 11 April, with the Australian 2nd Division having replaced the 4th Division and the British 62nd Division now on the Australian left flank below Bullecourt.

Map phase 2 (British-Australian advance): The map shows the result of the initial advance, the capture of the German trenches, and the subsequent two weeks fighting. The British, on the left in Bullecourt, and the Australians on the right held a three kilometre length of the first and second line German trenches, but were unable to advance further.
Map phase 3 (Final positions) The map shows the final positions of the British and Australian forces on 17 May along with the new German front line.

The Battle of Arras, also known as the Arras offensive, was fought between the British and the Germans in northern France from 9 April 1917 to 17 May 1917. The Allied plan for 1917 was for a major French offensive on the Western Front on the Aisne river, 120 kilometres south-east of Arras, to begin in mid April. The British agreed to launch an attack at Arras a week earlier to draw in German reserves which would not then be available when the French attacked.

The Arras offensive was initially made on an 18 kilometre front from Vimy ridge in the north to Neuville-Vitasse in the south. By 17 May, when the offensive ended, the British had advanced up to 10 kilometres eastwards and the offensive was correctly hailed as a success, though the larger French offensive it was supporting was a failure. Twice during the battle of Arras attacks were made by the Australians near the town of Bullecourt, on the southern flank of the main advance and 12 kilometres south-east of the city of Arras.

Map phase 1 (Initial positions): The maps shows the British and German front lines over a 40 kilometre front in the area around the town of Arras on 9 April 1916 at the beginning of the Arras offensive. The two front lines ran parallel north-west to south-east with a ‘No man’s land’ of less than a kilometre between them. The rectangle on the map near Bullecourt marks the area where the Australians fought, which appears in detail on the other maps on this page.

Map phase 2 (Final positions): The map shows the British and German front lines at the end of the battle of Arras. By May 17, after over five weeks fighting, the British had advanced between one and ten kilometres on a front of over 20 kilometres.

In 1917, the French village of Bullecourt (Bull-cor) sat in the middle of the Hindenburg Line – a mass of barbed wire joining concrete block houses and trenches. In some places the wire was 100 metres thick, and no Army had yet been able to break through it.

On the night of 11 April 1917 the Australians attacked the Germans in Bullecourt. The ANZACs had no artillery, and the tanks that were supposed to break through the wire broke down or bogged in the snow-covered ground. Major Percy Black, who was leading part of the attack, called to his men: “Come on boys, bugger the tanks!” and charged towards the wire. His men leapt through with him, and fought their way into the German trenches. They were the first soldiers to break through the Hindenburg line. Proudly they looked for Major Black. But he lay dead on the wire.
“N’oublions jamais l’Australie”  (never forget Australia)

So many ANZACs had been killed in the attack that only a handful of men were left alive to hold the trenches. The Germans realised this, and counter-attacked on three sides. Overwhelmed, the ANZACs were forced to withdraw. The only order given was to “fight it out like Australians”. The ANZACs returned three weeks later, and again captured the German trenches. For two weeks they survived vicious counter-attacks until the Germans finally gave in. When the smoke cleared from the battlefield, 10,000 Australians had been killed or wounded trying to save this small French village. In 1918, the Germans planned one final great offensive in an effort to win the war.

At first the Allies were taken by surprise, and the Germans captured many towns and soon were within sight of the town of Amiens. The British High Command feared that if Amiens were captured, the war may be lost. The ANZACs were raced back from Belgium as ‘storm troops’ – special fighting soldiers who would be put into battle where they were needed most. At first, the ANZACs fought at Dernancourt (Dern-an-cor) , a town on the road to Amiens, where 4000 Australians beat off an attack by 25,000 Germans.

Next the Germans attacked the French village of Villers-Bretonneux (Bret-on-er) , after first using poisonous gas and artillery. When night fell, the ANZACs stormed from their trenches and counter-attacked. A British General, who himself had won a Victoria Cross for bravery, called the ANZACs’ attack “perhaps the greatest individual feat of the war”.

The ANZACs then had to enter the village and fight from house to house. Finally, Australian and French flags were raised over Villers-Bretonneux. The ANZACs stopped to bury their dead – 1200 Australians had been killed saving the village. It was not until they were putting the date on some makeshift crosses that they realised the date – it was ANZAC Day 1918, three years to the day since they had stormed ashore at Gallipoli.

Destroyers of the Royal Australian Navy took part in extensive anti-submarine operations in the Adriatic Sea.

7 June 1917

Toronto Avenue Cemetery – Ploegsteert Wood, Belgium

Go to the site at Ploegsteert

On the night of the 6–7 June 1917 gas shells rained on Ploegsteert Wood. The soldiers of Australia’s 3rd Division fumbled for their gas masks; dozens of pack horses and mules gasped for air; and men collapsed retching by the side of duckboard tracks. They struggled on and were soon in trenches ready to attack in the opening moments of the Battle of Messines. At the edge of the wood is Toronto Avenue Cemetery, an exclusively Australian burial ground. These stories are brought to life at the ‘Plugstreet 14-18 Experience’ Interpretive Centre, officially opened on 9 November 2013 as part of the Australian Remembrance Trail.

Map phase 1 (Initial positions): The map shows the southern two thirds of the Battle of Messines, where the Australians fought. The black circle marks Toronto Avenue Cemetery (see À cet endroit précis : cimetière de Toronto Avenue). The 2nd Anzac Corps front was to the east of Ploegsteert Wood.

Map phase 2 (3rd Australian Division deploys prior to the assault): Four arrows show the movement of two brigades of Australian 3rd Division to the front line the night before the battle. Also marked is the area where the Australians came under a gas bombardment while marching. North-west of the wood, in reserve to be committed after the initial assault, was 4th Australian Division.

Map phase 3 (British/Australian attack on 7 June): The map shows the ground gained on the southern two thirds of the front on the first day of the Battle of Messines.

Map phase 4 (Final positions at the end of the battle): For two weeks after the capture of Messines Ridge the British, New Zealanders and Australians continued to gain ground on the far slope of the ridge and across the flat ground to the east.

Battle of Messines, Belgium.

At the Battle of Messines, as was customary for most set piece offensives on the Western Front, the infantry making the assault were kept in the rear beforehand, so as to be fresh for the attack. While one brigade of 3rd Australian Division held the trenches, the other two brigades rested five kilometres from the front in four camps to the south west of Ploegsteert Wood. On the night before the attack they marched in columns to the front line.

The Germans suspected that the British might be about to attack Messines Ridge and regularly bombarded likely approaches to the British front line. Ploegsteert Wood was an obvious one because troops could move through the wood unseen. On the night of 6/7 June German artillery shelled the wood with phosgene gas mixed with high explosive. Phosgene burns the skin on contact and if inhaled limits the victims ability to breathe.

It can cause suffocation or heart failure. The Australians put on their gas masks and continued to march, but at least 500 men were incapacitated by gas in Ploegsteert Wood — most were hospitalised and 30 later died. The gas bombardment also caused delay and disorder. In some of the eight assaulting battalions less than half of the men were ready in the front trenches by 3 am when the attack began.

The southern third of the British front at Messines was the responsibility of 2nd Anzac Corps. It was commanded by General Alexander Godley who had commanded the New Zealand and Australian Division at Gallipoli. The Corps contained the 3rd and 4th Australian Divisions, the 25th British Division and the New Zealand Division.

After the detonation of 19 mines under the German trenches, five of them on the Anzac front, the attack commenced. On the right the 3rd, near Ploegsteert Wood, advanced a kilometre to protect the flank of the main attack to its north. In the Corps centre the New Zealanders captured the town of Messines on the ridge crest, and on their left the 25th went forward between Messines and Wytschaete. By midday all the Corps objectives for the morning had been taken.

In the afternoon 4th Australian Division was brought forward to attack down the far slope of Messines Ridge. The assault at Messines on 7 June was the most successful British attack of the war so far, though fighting continued for two weeks during which further ground was gained, either by small attacks or by German withdrawals to a more defensible line.

Map phase 1 (Initial positions): The map shows the British and German lines along the nine kilometre salient formed by German held Messines Ridge.
Map phase 2 (British advance 7 June): Ground gained by the British, Australians and New Zealanders on the first day of the Battle of Messines. Wytschaete, Messines, Bellheem and Factory Farm were captured. The longest advance, by 9 Corps, was three kilometres.

Map phase 3 (Final positions after Messines): For two weeks after the first assault, the British continued to gain ground to the east.

The Battle of Messines was an essential preliminary to the major British offensive for 1917, the Third Battle of Ypres. The German held Messines Ridge formed a salient into the British line on the southern flank of the planned Ypres attack and provided a view for German artillery observers of the ground west of Ypres where the British intended to gather their forces for the attack. The ridge had to be captured before the Ypres offensive could commence. Three British corps, the 2nd Anzac Corps being southernmost, were to make the attack.

The battle commenced a few minutes after 3am on 7 June with the detonation of 19 mines, dug secretly over the previous year, under the German trenches. The explosions created enormous craters, some still visible today, obliterated the German front line and left the survivors stunned. The advance was at first unopposed over much of the front. The ridge and thousands of prisoners were captured easily. German counterattacks failed and over the next two weeks further British advances were made. About 26,000 men were killed, wounded or captured on each side. The Australians were withdrawn in July and fought at Ypres from September, then returned to garrison the Messines trenches through the winter of 1917/18.

22 July 1917

Four members of the Australian Army Nursing Service – Sisters Cawood, Deacon and Ross-King and Staff Nurse Derrer - were awarded Military Medals for rescuing patients trapped in a burning Casualty Clearing Station at Trois Arbres, France. These were the first bravery awards given to Australian nurses in action.

1 August 1917

 Machine gunners of the 4th Australian Division, Garter Point, Ypres, Belgium, 27 September 1917.
Machine gunners of the 4th Australian Division, Garter Point, Ypres, Belgium, 27 September 1917. [AWM negative E01401]
1 August – 14 November 1917

Go to the site at IeperDuring the First World War the Belgian town of Ypres (Ieper) was devastated by shellfire and deserted by its inhabitants. Unforgettable images of this destruction were made by the Australian official photographer, Captain Frank Hurley, who also captured the lives of the Australian soldiers who inhabited these ruins during the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele), which was fought to the east of the town between 31 July and 10 November 1917. The tragedy of wartime Ieper is told at the In Flanders Fields Museum in the Cloth Hall, a site on the Australian Remembrance Trail which includes stories of Australians associated with the town and its determined defence.

Third Battle of Ypres – Australian soldiers were in action most notably at Menin Road, Glencorse Wood, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde Ridge and Passchendaele.

Map phase 1 (Initial positions): On 31 July 1917, as the 3rd Battle of Ypres began, the British held a bulge in the line around the east of Ypres. To their north were the French, then the Belgians whose northern flank rested on the Yser River. The initial British objective was a ridge of high ground which ran from Passchendaele through Broodseinde and Polygon Wood. The rectangle on the map at Polygon Wood marks the area where the Australians fought. 

Map phase 2 (Final positions): The battle lasted three and a half months. By 10 November the Allied armies had advanced on a front of over 20 kilometres and captured Passchendaele, 10 kilometres from their starting point.

The British plan in late 1917 was to capture the high ground east of Ypres, on which the village of Passchendaele stood, break through the German lines and advance to the Belgian coast north of the flooded area.

After eight major attacks over three and a half months, five of which involved Australian infantry and artillery, the Canadians captured Passchendaele early in November, marking the end of the offensive and the failure of the British strategic plan. The Allies lost 310,000 casualties, of which 38,000 were Australian. German losses were about 270,000.

Time to bury their mates

Men and officers gathered in a cemetery follow the chaplain as he reads the service at the unveiling of the memorial to fallen members of the 1st Australian Division - France, 8th July 1917.

Visible in the centre are the graves of 5714 Private T McWilliam of the 1/7 Gordons, killed in action December 1916; 2375 James Lough Borthwick of D Company, 51st Battalion, died of wounds 3 April 1917; 5619 Private John Banks Hughes of the 21st Battalion, died of wounds 20 March 1917.

31 October 1917

Tyne Cot Cemetery – Zonnebeke, Belgium

Go to the Tyne Cot site at Zonnebeke
Towering over the headstones in the Tyne Cot Cemetery, Belgium, is a Great Cross. Hidden beneath the cross’s stone pedestal are the remains of a German concrete bunker which, an inscription relates, was captured by the 3rd Australian Division on 4 October 1917. In this countryside was fought one of the most costly and horrific battles of the First World War – Passchendaele. In the mud of Passchendaele, in the month of October 1917 alone, the AIF lost 6673 dead. The Australian story at Passchendaele is told nearby in the ‘Memorial Museum Passchendaele’ in Zonnebeke, where a new gallery was opened on 12 July 2013 as a site on the Australian Remembrance Trail.

The Battle of Menin Road

Map phase 1 (Initial Positions): The map shows in detail one quarter of the area of the Third Battle of Ypres map on the Ieper – Belgium: What happened here? page. Its focus is east of Ypres where the Australians fought. South-west of Passchendaele are Polygon Wood and Broodseinde, both of which featured in three remarkably successful Australian advances during Third Ypres. These were the battles of Menin Road, Polygon Wood and Broodseinde.

Map phase 2 (Allied advance): On 20 September the 1st Australian Corps, with British corps on both flanks, advanced two kilometres to capture the western half of Polygon Wood.

The Battle of Menin Road was the third of seven major British offensives during the Third Battle of Ypres. It was the first one involving the Australian infantry, though Australian artillery had been firing in support of British attacks since the battle began on 31 July.

On 20 September 1917 the Australian 1st and 2nd Divisions of 1st Anzac Corps moved forward on a three kilometre front, with Menin road on their right, capturing the western half of Polygon Wood. Three British Corps advanced on both flanks of 1st Anzac. The attack succeeded along the entire front, though the infantry had to overcome formidable entrenched German positions including concrete pill-box strongpoints. The two Australian divisions sustained 5,013 casualties while killing, wounding, or capturing 4200 Germans.

The Battle of Polygon Wood

Map phase 1 (Initial Positions): The map shows the British and German front lines before the start of the Battle of Polygon Wood.

Map phase 2 (British advance): After a five day pause from the Battle of Menin Road the British attacked again on 26 September. The Australians completed the capture of Polygon Wood while the British took the village of Zonnebeke.

The battle of Polygon Wood, 26 September 1917, was the second of three notable attacks planned by British General Herbert Plumer. The problem with previous overambitious attempts to advance was that the infantry sometimes went beyond the range at which their own artillery could protect them from German counterattacks. The ground captured was often lost. Plumer was an advocate of ‘bite and hold’ tactics. This involved a short advance by the infantry behind a heavy artillery barrage followed by the infantry digging in on the position gained, while a barrage placed in front of them prevented the Germans from counterattacking. There would be a several day break to prepare for the next step, then the process would be repeated.

After Menin road there was a five day pause. The 4th and 5th Australian divisions took over from 1st and 2nd Divisions for the next phase. In spite of a German attack south of Polygon Wood, which coincidentally occurred just as the Australians attacked, the battle unfolded as planned. With the British on either flank, the Australians advanced a kilometre, clearing Polygon Wood by taking two lines of German trenches. After the war the veterans of the 5th Division chose Polygon wood as the site of the Division’s memorial.

The Battles of Broodseinde and Passchendaele

Map phase 1 (Initial Positions): The British and German front lines before the start of the Battles of Broodseinde and Passchendaele. The 1st and 2nd Australian Corps were ordered to attack on a front to the north of where the 1st Corps had fought during the battles of Menin Road and Polygon Wood.
Map phase 2 (British advance): On 4 October the British advanced north-east towards Passchendaele. 1st Australian Corps took Broodseinde, 2nd Corps captured Tyne Cot.

Map phase 3 (British advance 9-12 October): In a series of small piecemeal attacks less than a kilometre of ground was gained and the Australian attack on Passchendaele was repulsed.

Broodseinde was a large operation, involving twelve divisions attacking simultaneously along a 10 kilometre front. In the centre I and II Anzac Corps, composed of three Australian divisions and the New Zealand Division, went forward side by side capturing the village of Broodseinde. The attack was executed in the same manner as Menin Road and Polygon Wood; The troops' objectives were only one or two kilometres from the start line and the advance was preceded by a massive artillery bombardment. The infantry then followed a creeping barrage, which was timed to arrive at the German trenches just before the infantry did. Once again concrete pillboxes, such as those captured by the Tasmanian 40th Battalion at Tyne Cot and still visible in the cemetery there, delayed, but did not stop the advance.
After Broodseinde the weather turned against the British. Rain and mud made movement on the battlefield extremely difficult. Artillery was unable to come forward so the barrage for the next two operations was weak and ineffective. The Australians attacked again, towards Passchendaele, on 9 and 12 October. Little ground was gained and the few men who reached the outskirts of Passchendaele were thrown back by German counterattacks. The exhausted and depleted Australians were relieved by the Canadian Corps, which took Passchendaele on 6 November, bringing a close to the Third Battle of Ypres.

The morning after the first battle of Paschendaele, Australian Infantry wounded around a blockhouse near the site of Zonnebeke Railway Station.
12th of October 1917.

(This image is a 'composite portrait' made of two or more of photographer Frank Hurley's photos )
(Australian War memorial collection)

An Australian dressing station on the Menin Road during the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele), 20 September 1917. The wounded soldier in the lower left of the photo has a dazed thousand-yard stare, a frequent symptom of "shell-shock".

Advanced Dressing Stations - commanded by a Royal Army Medical Corps Captain and orderlies. These were normally sited behind the front lines in a suitable building or dugout. Here the casualty would be thoroughly examined and in emergency cases operated on. After appropriated treatment and logged, the wounded were transported to Main Dressing Stations.

Photograph by Frank Hurley (© IWM E(AUS) 715)

(Colourised by Royston Leonard from the UK)

Australian National Memorial – Villers-Bretonneux, France


Go to the Villers-Bretonneux siteOn 22 July 1938,* Queen Elizabeth laid a bunch of poppies, given to her by a local schoolboy, at the unveiling of the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. Was she thinking of her own brother, Fergus Bowes-Lyon, ‘missing’ at the Battle of Loos in 1915? Around the walls of the Memorial were the names of some 11,000 Australians ‘missing’ in action in France. On the night of 24–25 April 1918, Australian soldiers recaptured Villers-Bretonneux from the Germans, a battle also remembered in the Franco-Australian museum at the Victoria school in the town. In the playground is a sign: ‘Do Not Forget Australia’.

Some photos inside the useum, it is inside a school building upstairs, seemed so strange to be visiting during school classes.

 Australians drove Germans from Villers-Bretonneux, France.

The First and Second Battles of Villers-Bretonneux were a part of the Kaiserschlacht (Kaiser’s battle), a series of German attacks along the Western Front. The German aim was to win the war before the enormous material and manpower resources of the United States, which had declared war on Germany in April 1917, could be brought to bear.

The Germans also had a short term advantage in numbers as Russia had made peace in 1917, allowing 48 German divisions to be moved to the western front. Beginning on 21 March 1918, the German offensive was the most successful one on the western front to date by either side. In April the Germans planned to take Amiens, 15 kilometres west of Villers-Bretonneux. Through Amiens ran the main north-south rail line in northern France. Cutting the line would seriously limit the British ability to move troops and supplies.

On 4 April, in the First Battle of Villers-Bretonneux, the Germans had narrowly failed to capture the town, but in the second battle on 24 April they succeeded. Breaking through the British 8th and 58th Divisions, with the assistance of 15 tanks they drove the British back three kilometres. Australian involvement on the first day of the battle was limited: The 14th Brigade, near Vaire wood, bent the southern end of its line back to keep in contact with the British as they retreated, while a troop of the Australian’s Corps cavalry, the 13th Light Horse, scouted to determine the extent of the German advance.

The German attack also resulted in the first tank versus tank battle in history. Three British tanks took on three German ones in the fields south of Villers-Bretonneux. One German tank was knocked out and the others retreated.

Australian and British Counterattack

While still some distance from Amiens, the Germans posed a clear threat to the city. If, in the next step of their advance they could capture Hill 104, on which the Australian National Memorial now stands, their artillery observers could overlook Amiens and bring down accurate fire on it. It was vital for the Allies that Villers-Bretonneux be quickly retaken. Within hours of the German success two Australian brigades were rushed forward to retake the town.

Two composite British brigades, assembled from the survivors of the previous days fighting, were to assist. Starting at 10pm, hoping for surprise by attacking at night and not using a preliminary bombardment, the 15th Brigade, from 5th Australian Division, swept around the north side of the town, while 14th Brigade from the same division, still holding the line near Vaire wood, swung forward like a gate to cover the left flank of the advance.

South of Villers-Bretonneux 13th Brigade, from 4th Australian Division, attacked near Cachy. Held up for a time by German machine guns in D’Arquenne Wood, they fought their way close to Monument wood. By dawn the Australians had nearly surrounded Villers- Bretonneux. Some of the German garrison managed to escape via the narrow neck east of the town that the Australians had not managed to capture.

By dawn on 25 April, realising their predicament, the Germans began evacuating D’Arquenne Wood as the Australians closed their last avenue of escape east of Villers-Bretonneux. By late morning the Germans who had not escaped were trapped in Villers-Bretonneux when the British/Australian attack on the town commenced. The last Germans in the town had been killed or captured by early morning 26 April and almost all the ground lost in the German attack of 24 April was retaken. The German threat to Amiens was over. Australian casualties were more than 2400. The British lost 9500 men, mostly captured during the 24 April German advance. The German loss, including prisoners taken when Villers-Bretonneux was surrounded, was about 10,000.

Map phase 1 (Initial positions): The map shows the British and German lines opposite one another on an eight kilometre front east of the town of Villers-Bretonneux in northern France. The 14th Australian Brigade held Vaire Wood, to their south was 8th British Division and beyond Villers-Bretonneux the line was held by 58th British Division. North of Villers-Bretonneux, marked by a black circle, is hill 104 where the Australian National Memorial now stands.

Map phase 2 (German attack and capture of Villers-Bretonneux): On 24 April two German Divisions, the 4th Guard and 228th, supported by tanks, captured Villers-Bretonneux, driving the British line back three kilometres.
Map phase 3 (Front line after German attack): By last light on 24 April the Germans had created a seven kilometre wide bulge in the British line and were well placed to attack northwards to hill 104.
Map phase 4 (Australian and British counterattack): Two Australian brigades, with British support, counterattacked on the night of 24/25 April but did not quite succeed in surrounding Villers-Bretonneux by dawn.
Map phase 5 (Front line after Australian and British counterattack): The map shows the positions early on 25 April. Some Germans had abandoned Villers-Bretonneux, but the German evacuation of D’Arquenne Wood had not yet begun.
Map phase 6 (Recapture of Villers-Bretonneux): After a pause to reorganise, the Australians and British sealed off the German escape route from the town, then recaptured it.

Map phase 7 (Final front line positions on 26 April): Within 48 hours of the German attack, the Australians and British had restored the front line to its former position.

1 June 1918

Appointment of Lieutenant General Sir John Monash to command the Australian Corps in France. The Corps brought all five Divisions of the First AIF under an Australian commander.

 In May 1918, the ANZACs were finally commanded by one of their own. The officer chosen was General Sir John Monash. Monash had seen too many ANZACs killed, and was determined that the Australians were from now on were to be used properly.

In his first battle, at a place called le Hamel , Monash used aircraft, tanks and artillery to soften the enemy before he sent in the ANZACs. He also rehearsed the attack time and time again. Monash had planned it to last 90 minutes. After 93 minutes, his men had taken 1500 prisoners, caused 2000 German casualties and captured nearly 180 machine guns. But perhaps his best attack took place at Mont St Quentin , where the Germans held several thousand of their best men in reserve. The German General had decided that no one would be foolish enough to attack the hill, but just in case ordered his best-trained units to hold “to the death”. With less than a thousand men who had already been in combat for nearly three weeks, Monash planned his greatest attack. The ANZACs stormed the hill from three directions, and in two days had not only secured the hill, but had also captured 2500 prisoners. Victoria Crosses were awarded to another seven ANZACs for this action. It was to be the last great fight of their war.

4 July 1918

 Battlefield memorial, Quincone, France, to the men of the 53rd Battalion, ALF, who were killed in the battalion’s attack on Mont St Quentin, 1 September 1918.
Battlefield memorial, Quincone, France, to the men of the 53rd Battalion, ALF, who were killed in the battalion’s attack on Mont St Quentin, 1 September 1918. [AWM negative E03364]
Battle of Hamel, France.

Australian Corps Memorial – Le Hamel, France

Go to the Le Hamel site

The Battle of Hamel on 4 July 1918, it is usually claimed, took 93 minutes. According to one source in their official ‘War Diary’ the 44th Australian Infantry Battalion required only 85 minutes to take all their objectives. Starting at 3.10 am, then moving around Le Hamel village, the Western Australians advanced uphill, and by 4.35 had driven the Germans from a series of trenches and dugouts on top of the hill. There today stands the Australian Corps Memorial, with sweeping views across the valley of the Somme, a fitting place at which to remember the victories of the Australian Corps in France in 1918.

The battle of Hamel was a small scale brilliantly successful advance made by the Australian Corps under the command of Lieutenant General John Monash. The purpose of the attack was to take the high ground east of the village of Hamel. This ridge was important to the Germans if they intended another attempt to capture Amiens, and to the British to facilitate an advance further east along both banks of the Somme River.

On 4 July 1918, with 1000 United States infantry attached, four brigades drawn from 2nd, 3rd and 4th Australian Divisions, 8000 men, attacked Hamel with 550 guns, 60 tanks and 85 aircraft in support. In an hour and a half the Australians had taken all their objectives, advancing two kilometres on a six kilometre front. The Germans lost 2600 men killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. Some 1260 Australians and Americans were killed or wounded. The battle was regarded as a model of innovative tactics, one which was repeated on a larger scale in the series of Allied advances from 8 August which ended the war.

Map phase 1 (Initial positions): The map shows the Australian and German lines before the Australian attack of 4 July 1918.
Note: The black circle shown next to Hamel is the present location of the Australian Corps Memorial. It overlooks the village from a ridge just a few hundred metres to the east.

Map phase 2 (Final positions): An hour and a half from the beginning of the battle the Australians had advanced two kilometres on a four kilometre front.

31 August –2 September 1918
Australians attacked and seized Mont St Quentin, France.
Second Australian Division Memorial – Mont St Quentin, and Péronne, France
Go to the Mont St Quentin site

Between 31 August and 2 September 1918, Australia’s Second Division attacked and captured the German stronghold of Mont St Quentin, the key to the strategic town of Péronne on the Somme River. Tired and under strength, units such as the 21st Battalion skilfully drove the enemy from their well-established positions, and for his courage and leadership during the battle Sergeant Albert Lowerson, 21st Battalion, was awarded the Victoria Cross.

It was a costly action: twenty-three men of the battalion lost their lives that day. Today the Second Australian Division’s Memorial stands at Mont St Quentin, the scene of one of the division’s greatest victories.

On 18 July 1918 on the French front, and three weeks later on the British front, a series of victorious Allied offensives commenced which drove the Germans back 150 kilometres and forced them to ask for an armistice, ending the First World War on 11 November. The Allied advance, known as the 100 days, resulted in episodes of manoeuvre warfare which had not been seen on the Western Front since 1914. One such occasion was the capture of Mont St Quentin and Péronne by the Australian Corps.
In late August the Corps was pursuing the Germans along both sides of the Somme river.

Unlike trench warfare, there was no continuous front line and Australian Light Horse scouted ahead to determine the whereabouts of the enemy. The Germans halted their retreat at Mont St Quentin, where the Somme turns south, making an obstacle for the Germans to stand behind. On 29 August the Australian Corps commander, General Sir John Monash, ordered an attack across the Somme at Ommiecourt, Halle and Péronne, but the attempt failed.

Monash then decided to side-step left, shifting the weight of his Corps attack on Mont St Quentin from the south side of the river to the north. The next day 3rd Division, already north of the river, attacked towards Bouchavesnes to capture a ridge that overlooked the battlefield from the north. Meanwhile 2nd Division crossed the Somme on bridges repaired by Australian engineers and massed east of Clery. The 5th Division also shifted left, taking over 2nd Division’s line on the south side of the Somme.

The Australian attack

On 31 August the attack commenced. 58th British Division advanced to the left of 3rd Division which continued towards Bouchavesnes. The main attack was made by 2nd Division towards both Péronne and Mont St Quentin. The Australian Corps was much reduced by casualties which volunteers from Australia were insufficient to make up. The 5th Brigade, making the attack on Mont St Quentin, was at one third strength, about 1300 men, less than the number of defending Germans. The task was perhaps the most formidable faced by Australian infantry in the First World War. Unusually, rum was issued to the infantry before the attack, thus fortified the brigade charged with a yell at 5am. The brigade’s advance was strongly supported by a bombardment from 160 artillery pieces, served by twice the number of gunners than were infantry in the attack.

Like the Australians the Germans too were weary and their formations reduced in strength. Some fought hard, some surrendered – Sergeant James Rixon, formerly a Waverly tram conductor, captured 20 singlehanded – and some Germans ‘ran away in crowds’. By dawn the brigade had advanced two kilometres to the crest of Mont St Quentin, where 2nd Division’s memorial now stands. Casualties were heavy and those few men on the summit were unable to hold it when fresh Germans counterattacked. The Australians fell back and held a line below the crest. Other elements of 2nd Division, moving towards Péronne, repulsed counterattacks and dug in short of Anvil Wood on dark.

The Australians capture Mont St Quentin and Péronne

On 1 September 5th Australian Division joined the attack. Crossing the Somme at Péronne and Buscourt the Division’s objective was Péronne. In the Australian Corps centre the crest of Mont St Quentin was retaken by 2nd Division, while 3rd Division and 58th British Division, replaced by 74th Division on 2 September, drove forward through Bouchavesnes, completing the capture of the high ground on the northern flank. After another days fighting on 2 September, all of Péronne was in Australian hands and 2nd Division had driven forward two kilometres east of the crest of Mont St Quentin.

The capture of Mont St Quentin has been described as the finest feat of the Australian Imperial Force in the First World War. Together with the Canadian capture of the Droucort-Queant line, 30 kilometres north near Cambrai, it forced the Germans to abandon a position they had hoped to hold for several months. They fell back 20 kilometres to their next, and last, viable defensive position on the Western Front, the Hindenburg Line. German losses at Mont St Quentin-Péronne were about 5000, half of them prisoners. The Australians lost 3100 men and the British just over 1000.

Map phase 1 (Initial positions 30 August): Three divisions of the Australian Corps face the Germans along the River Somme. Owing to a rapid British advance there was not yet a continuous front line. The Second Australian Memorial stands at Mont St Quentin on the north-west side of Péronne city.
Map phase 2 (Monash’s redeployment): Unable to cross the Somme on the Halle to Péronne front, Monash moved Australian 2nd Division and his artillery north of the river so as to attack from Clery.
Map phase 3 (British and Australian positions at the end of 30 August): Australian 3rd Division gained ground towards Bouchavesnes while 2nd Division prepared to attack Mont St Quentin. 5th Australian Division held the line on the south side of the river.
Map phase 4 (Australian and British advance 31 August): The map shows 2nd Division’s capture of the Mont St Quentin crest, while 3rd Division advanced on its left.
Map phase 5 (German counterattack on 31 August): Weakened by losses, 2nd Division was unable to retain the Mont St Quentin crest. Other German counterattacks from Péronne failed.
Map phase 6 (British and Australian fronts at end of 31 August): The map shows the positions held on the night of 31 August.
Map phase 7 (British and Australian advance 1-2 September): 5th Division joins the advance, crossing the Somme and capturing Péronne, while 2nd Division retakes Mont St Quentin with 3rd Division. The British drive eastward on 2nd Division’s left flank.

Map phase 8 (Final front line positions at the end of Mont St Quentin): The map shows the front line positions after the battle, prior to the German withdrawal.

Fourth Australian Division Memorial – Bellenglise, France

Go to the site at Bellenglise

Between 18 and 20 September 1918, the 48th Battalion, Fourth Division AIF, fought its last successful action on the Western Front. Advancing on the Hindenburg Outpost Line near Bellenglise, they suffered 65 casualties but captured 500 prisoners, ‘nearly one per man of the battalion’. Holding the line they got into a ‘bit of a fight’ for which Private James Woods was awarded the Victoria Cross. The Division, achieving all its objectives, took more than 4300 prisoners for 1260 casualties. Today the Fourth Division’s memorial in France stands on the heights above Bellenglise. It is little visited.

The Hindenburg Outpost Line

Between 18 September and 5 October 1918 the Australian Corps, fighting with British and Americans, battered a ten kilometre wide hole in the formidable Hindenburg Line, Germany’s last hope of holding up the Allied advance on the Western Front. The breach of the Hindenburg trenches was a vital factor influencing Germany’s request for an armistice to end the war.

The Hindenburg Line, constructed in 1916, was composed of four consecutive positions: the outpost line, the main Hindenburg Line, the Le Catelet and Beaurevoir lines. All were a complex of trenches rather than a single trench and all were strongly protected by belts of barbed wire, sometimes 40 metres deep, and concrete pillboxes. Worse still, in front of the outpost line were three British trenches dating from before the German offensive of March 1918. These too were held by the Germans, making an eleven kilometre deep fortification with seven separate lines of defence.

The first old British line, not seriously contested by the Germans, was taken on 11 September to serve as the starting point for the 18 September British attack, which was intended to take the two remaining old British lines and the Hindenburg outpost line. That day the Australian Corp’s 1st and 4th Divisions, with British corps on both flanks, advanced on a six kilometre front and took all their objectives at a cost of 1200 men. This was considered a low casualty rate, in part a consequence of declining German morale — 4300 Germans chose to surrender rather than fight.

The 4th Division’s memorial stands near Bellenglise, at their farthest point of advance. The 18th of September was the last battle of the division’s infantry— its artillery, like that of all Australian divisions, fought on in support of British infantry until the end of the war eight weeks later.

Breaching the Hindenburg Line

The assault on the main Hindenburg line took place on 29 September. Two large but inexperienced American divisions, 27th and 30th, were placed under the command of the Australian Corps. The Corps task was to attack across a land bridge where the St Quentin Canal ran through a five kilometre tunnel. Lacking the additional defensive advantage of the canal here, the Germans had made the land bridge especially strong. The assault was supported by 150 tanks and, as there was no chance of surprise, preceded by a three day bombardment.

The Americans attacked first, but were only partially successful, piercing the main Hindenburg Line on a short front at Bellicourt. Further south British 9 Corps also captured a portion of the main line by crossing the St Quentin Canal north of Bellenglise.

Two Australian Divisions, 3rd and 5th, then passed through the Americans and continued the advance, completing the capture of the main Hindenburg Line. Several days later the Australians also took the Le Catelet line. Now only one German trench system remained. The 3rd and 5th were replaced by 2nd Australian Division, which captured the Beaurevoir line and, in the last Australian infantry attack of the First World War, took the town of Montebrehain on 5 October.

At a cost of 5500 men killed and wounded in 17 days, all five divisions of the Australian Corps had played a major role in breaking through the Hindenburg Line and bringing the war to a victorious end.

Map phase 1 (Initial positions): The map shows eleven kilometres of the British and German front lines before the British 18 September attack on the Hindenburg Line. The first of the seven trench lines has already been taken. A black dot marks the position of the monument aux morts de la 4e Division on the Hindenburg Outpost Line near Bellenglise, at their farthest point of advance.
Map phase 2 (British and Australian advance on 18 September): With the Australian Corps assuming the main role, the Australians and British captured three lines of German trenches.
Map phase 3 (American and British breaching of the main Hindenburg Line): The British crossed the canal in the south, while the Americans captured Bellicourt in the centre, but failed in the north.

Map phase 4 (Allied advance to 5 October): With some American support in the first few days and British Corps (13th in the north and 9th in the south) on their flanks, the Australian Corps advanced nine kilometres east, capturing the two remaining German trench systems.

Arriving on September 25th 1918, at the remains of the St.Peter and Paul Catholic Church in the village of Neuvilly-en-Argonne in the Meuse-Argonne region of France, Medic - Alfred Hayes of Parsons, Kansas props his foot on a Eucharist railing beside an altar covered in bed rolls as a photograph is captured of the soldiers with the 35th  Division's, 140th Field Hospital, 110th Sanitary Train, unpacking supplies to set up a triage centre in the rubble.

While the 35th Division fought in five battles, the Meuse-Argonne offensive was the deadliest, as it resulted in more than half the American casualties of the entire war.

Of the 1.2 million American soldiers participating in the 40-day Meuse-Argonne battle, 26,277 were killed and 95,786 wounded. The 110th Sanitary Train remained in the church tending to the wounded until the last day of the war, Nov. 11, 1918.

(Colourised by Royston Leonard from the UK)

29 September 1918

Australians stormed the Hindenburg Line, France.
Captain G H Wilkins, official AIF photographer, rallied American troops at the Battle of the Hindenburg Line. For this action he was awarded a bar to his Military Cross, becoming the only Australian official photographer to be decorated for bravery in the field.

30 September 1918

Lance Corporal E A Corey, a stretcher bearer with the 55th Battalion, was awarded a third bar to his Military Medal. The winning of four Military Medals is a unique feat in the Australian or any other Commonwealth army

11 November 1918

On 11 November 1918 Charles Bean, Australia’s official war historian, stood on the battlefield of Fromelles: ‘We found the old no-man’s-land simply full of our dead’. These men died on 19–20 July 1916 assaulting the German lines, and their remains lie buried in VC Corner Australian Cemetery.

In 1998, an Australian Memorial Park was dedicated on the old German front line and at its centre stands ‘Cobbers’, a statue showing an Australian soldier carrying a wounded mate from the battlefield. The story of this catastrophic event for Australia is told in the ‘Battle of Fromelles Museum’ which opened in July 2014 as part of the Australian Remembrance Trail.

Germany signed an armistice and fighting ceased on the Western Front.


*The Queen Mother's brothers in World War 1

Captain Fergus Bowes-Lyon (18 April 1889 – 27 September 1915) was an older brother of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.

In the First World War he served with the 8th Battalion, Black Watch. Alfred Anderson, later the last surviving Scottish soldier of the conflict (and the last surviving British soldier to have been awarded the 1914 Star), was his batman.

Bowes-Lyon was killed during the Battle of the Hohenzollern Redoubt in the Battle of Loos. As he led an attack on the German lines, his leg was blown off by a barrage of German artillery and he fell back into his sergeant's arms. Bullets struck him in the chest and shoulder and he died on the field.

 He was buried in a quarry at Vermelles, but although the quarry was adopted as a war cemetery the details of his grave were lost and so he was recorded among the names of the missing on the Loos Memorial.

At the time of his death his brother John was also serving with the Black Watch. His younger brother Michael was at home recovering from wounds and his eldest brother, Lord Glamis, had recently left the Black Watch after being wounded. His mother, Cecilia Bowes-Lyon, Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne, was severely affected by the loss of her son, and after his death became an invalid, withdrawn from public life until the marriage of her daughter Elizabeth to the future king in 1923.

 Fergus's widow later married Captain William Frederick Martin (d. 6 October 1947).

In November 2011 his grandson supplied family records to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission detailing his original burial place, and showing that it had remained marked until the end of the war. As a result in August 2012 his place of commemoration was moved to the Quarry Cemetery, Vermelles, marked by a headstone inscribed with his details and the words "Buried near this spot" as the precise location of the grave is still not known.

Australian Remembrance Trail along the Western FrontThis series of maps and information has been compiled by the Australian Government, and as someone who has been and visited the Western Front, this would have to be one of the best sources of information available.  It would have made our tour a lot easier, as sometimes you just "stumble" on a site without knowing the significance or importance of it.


The dogs were used to find the injured on the battle field.


The New Zealanders in France built this bridge in 13 hours.

After being found guilty of desertion, 28-year-old Private Frank Hughes was shot by firing squad in the French village of Hallencourt. He was the first New Zealand soldier executed during the First World War.

Born in Gore in 1888, Frank worked as a builder’s labourer in Wellington before enlisting in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF). He left New Zealand with the 10th Reinforcements and arrived in France in late April 1916. A month later he joined the 12th (Nelson) Company, 2nd Battalion, Canterbury Regiment.

Hughes, a heavy drinker, was in trouble from the start. By late July 1916 he had been hauled before his commanding officer three times for ill-discipline. On 26 July a Field General Court Martial found him guilty of ‘absenting himself without leave’ and sentenced him to one year’s imprisonment with hard labour. This sentence was suspended after review and Hughes was issued a final warning.

Released from custody, Hughes had only just rejoined his unit in the trenches when he disappeared again on the afternoon of 29 July. Eleven days later Military Police found him asleep in an abandoned house in Armentières. Asked what he was doing, he replied: ‘I’ve come for a sleep ... I’ve been away six days.’

On 12 August 1916, Hughes appeared before a Field General Court Martial at Armentières, charged with ‘Deserting His Majesty’s Service’. He pleaded not guilty, blaming his behaviour on alcohol: ‘Owing to the effect of drink I was light-headed and wandered out of the trench. I knocked round town until I was arrested. I intended to give myself up as soon as the Police came to me. While in town I was drinking.’

Despite his protestations Hughes was found guilty and sentenced to ‘suffer death by being shot’. At the end of the trial, he was remanded in custody until sentencing was confirmed by the Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force, Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, on 22 August 1916. Two days later, and 12 days after his court martial, Hughes was told his fate.

The execution was carried out the next morning in an orchard in the village of Hallencourt. Hughes was led from his cell and placed against a tree. He was offered a blindfold but refused, reportedly saying: ‘Don’t put the bandage over my eyes – I want to see them shoot.’ At 5.50 a.m. the firing squad, made up of men from the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion, opened fire. Hughes was buried in the adjacent Hallencourt Communal Cemetery.

Frank Hughes was one of 28 members of the NZEF sentenced to death during the war. Five of these men were sent before the firing squad: Hughes, Private John Sweeney, Private John Braithwaite, Private John King, and Private Victor Spencer. All but one (Braithwaite) were tried and executed by New Zealand military authorities for desertion.

In September 2000 all five men received posthumous pardons when the New Zealand Parliament passed the Pardon for Soldiers of the Great War Act.



On 1 July 1916, the men of the 29th Division faced difficulties every bit as fearsome as those they had encountered on the beaches of Gallipoli. Serving with the division was one of the only two overseas British Empire units to be involved in the attack on the first day of the Battle of the Somme – the Newfoundland Regiment.

Newfoundland at this time was a self–governing Dominion of the British Empire and not part of Canada. The outbreak of war in 1914, very like Australia, led the Newfoundland government to recruit a force for service with the British Army. Soon enough men had volunteered that a whole battalion was formed:

Soon they sailed on a foul–smelling steamer called the Florizel with the first convoy to bring Canadian troops to the United Kingdom. In September 1915, they joined the 29th Division serving at Suvla, Gallipoli, where they were not made all that welcome by the British regular soldiers who regarded them as another batch of ‘civilians’. Although they were involved in no major actions, the Newfoundlanders took losses on Gallipoli – 30 were killed in action or died of wounds and ten died of disease.

 The unit was among the last to be evacuated from Suvla on 19–20 December 1915 and in January 1916 the Newfoundlanders formed part of the rearguard for the British evacuation of Helles.

On 1 July 1916, the opening attacks of the 29th Division at the Battle of the Somme failed to seize the German lines on this part of the battlefield. Beyond the entrance to the Newfoundland Park is a large open area of countryside left just as it was on that day with all its trench lines and shell holes. From the elevated walkway beside the Caribou statue one can look out on this old battleground and try to imagine the noise and action of that morning. After the initial failure, in mid–morning the 29th Division ordered into the attack two of its reserve units – the 1st Battalion Essex Regiment and the Newfoundland Battalion. At that point no–one knew whether or not any of the 8 battalions which had taken part in the initial assault had actually reached the German lines. Tragedy now overtook the Newfoundlanders.

Explosion of a British mine on Hawthorn  Ridge, Beaumont Hamel, just before the attack by the 29th British Division on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916. [AWM H08370]
Explosion of a British mine on Hawthorn Ridge, Beaumont Hamel, just before the attack by the 29th British Division on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916. [AWM H08370] ... 
Caribou, Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial. [DVA]
Add caption
Caribou, Beaumont Hamel Newfoundland Memorial. [DVA] ...

From the reserve trenches to the old front line was a distance of about 275 metres. All the communication trenches to the front were already blocked with masses of wounded and other troops. The Newfoundlanders, however, had been told that their attack was urgent so they left their trenches, roughly behind where the Caribou Memorial now stands, and advanced to the right over open countryside towards the front line in the face of concentrated German machine gun fire.

 Even before they got to no–man’s–land they had to make their way through narrow gaps in British barbed wire and here they naturally bunched up. After the battle, the bodies of 69 Newfoundlanders were found in one of these gaps. The remnant of the battalion reached no–man’s–land and struggled on but none of them got far. To the right from the Caribou Memorial, out in the middle of the old battlefield, is a dead tree called the ‘Danger Tree’ around which many of the Newfoundlanders fell that day. Few of them made it beyond that point. Private F H Cameron, 1st Kings Own Scottish Borderers, saw them die:

On came the Newfoundlanders, a great body of men, but the fire intensified and they were wiped out in front of my eyes. I cursed the generals for their useless slaughter, they seemed to have no idea what was going on.
Cameron, quoted in Martin Middlebrook, The First Day on the Somme, London, 1977, p.189 
British historian Martin Middlebrook, estimates that 91 percent of those Newfoundlanders who attacked were either killed or wounded and concludes that ‘rarely can a battalion have been so completely smashed in such a short time’. Of the 778 men of the Newfoundland Regiment who went into action on 1 July 1916 only 68 answered the roll call at the end of the day. A Newfoundland religious publication wrote of the effect of 1 July 1916 in Newfoundland:
Barbed wire at Beaumont Hamel, 1916.  [PANL NA–2732, Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador]
Barbed wire at Beaumont Hamel, 1916. [PANL NA–2732, Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador] ... 

Many a home has been darkened with the shadow of bereavement as the Casualty List, day by day has flashed across the ocean. The sympathy of the whole community has gone forth, both to the brave Lads who have suffered, and to their anxious and sorrowing relatives at home. The gloom of these dark days, however, will be lightened up by the glorious heroism, which the Regiment displayed, and the glory it has achieved both for itself and the old Colony which it proudly represents.

Diocesan Magazine 124, quoted in ‘Newfoundland and the Great War’ at


Pheasant Wood – Discovery

Pheasant Wood, the ‘Bois du Faisan’, is close to Fromelles. Approaching from the north-west along the D22, the Rue de la Basse Ville, the wood lies just across a field before the first of the village houses. The view is peaceful today, but in mid-2009 the meadow on the southern edge of the wood was alive with activity as the remains of 250 World War One Australian and British soldiers were carefully exhumed from a mass grave dug there by the Germans after the Battle of Fromelles in July 1916.

This burial site was missed when military war graves units searched these battlefield areas in the aftermath of the war. It was recognised that a particularly high proportion of those killed at Fromelles could not be found, as Major GL Phillips, Australia’s post-war representative on the Imperial War Graves Commission, was aware: ‘A great number must still be in the ground and too deep to be located by ploughing or probing’.
Aerial photograph: Pheasant Wood site outside Fromelles

Aerial photograph showing the site of the mass grave beside Pheasant Wood, the northern end of the village of Fromelles, and the site of the Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery. The mass burial site, its access roads and facilities are shown to the right (eastern side) off the central road leaving Fromelles (the D22). The location of the cemetery site, its access road and carpark are marked on the left (western side) of the D22. [Australian Army] ...

The probing and searching eventually stopped. By the late 1920s, those Australian unidentified casualties from the Fromelles battle who could be found had been buried: 410 of them at VC Corner Cemetery and others at nearby cemeteries like Rue Petillon or Ration Farm. The names of 1294 missing Australians were then inscribed on the VC Corner Memorial. A few of the Fromelles missing were also recorded on the walls of the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux. There for decades the matter rested until the 1980s and 1990s, when a retired Australian schoolteacher, Lambis Englezos, became curious about the missing casualties of Fromelles. Simple maths led him to conclude that some 163 men could not be accounted for, after adding up the numbers of all the locatable graves of unidentified Australians.

With others in Australia and Britain, Englezos gathered evidence from published and manuscript sources, along with a tell-tale aerial photograph of a possible grave site at Pheasant Wood, to suggest that here were the missing men. A number of attempts to persuade an Australian Army panel of experts finally led to the panel recommending two surveys of the site to determine if bodies were buried there.

One convincing piece of evidence, which swayed this decision, was the discovery in the Bavarian military archives of a written order by Generalmajor Julius Ritter von Braun, the commander of the German 21st Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment, who had defended their positions against the attacking Australians on 19–20 July 1916. Von Braun had ordered the digging of a mass grave for 400 English soldiers behind Pheasant Wood and provided instructions about how this was to be done. By mid-2008, Glasgow University’s Archaeological Research Division had established through the finding of suggestive objects, followed by an exploratory excavation, that there was indeed a mass grave at Pheasant Wood. In early 2009, Oxford Archaeology, an organisation with a specialist unit known as ‘Heritage Burial Services’, was commissioned to carry out a full-scale exhumation at Pheasant Wood.

This was a complex project.

.I think of the mothers and fathers who never knew where their sons were buried... – Reverend Catie Inches-Ogden

At 11 am on 30 January 2010, the first of the Pheasant Wood soldiers was laid to rest in the new cemetery. This interment, as with all the 248 burials which followed throughout February, was conducted with full military honours by bearer parties of Australian and British soldiers. A British or Australian military chaplain read prayers at the graveside, after which each coffin was carefully lowered into the ground. At the first ceremony, watched by 400 local people, the Mayor of Fromelles, Hubert Huchette, spoke of what these rediscovered soldiers meant to his village:
Soon they all will rest here a few metres from our church at the centre of our village. We have always gathered our dead at the church. This is how our ancestors wanted to maintain their precious memory. This is the commitment we are taking, to honour the memory of these brave Australian and British soldiers as we honour the memory of our own ancestors.
[Peter Wilson, ‘French vow to keep memory of war dead alive’, The Australian, 1 February 2010.]
Military bugler plays as military bearers stand at attentionMilitary bugler. On 30 January 2010, the first of the Pheasant Wood soldiers was interned. 248 burials followed, conducted with full military honours. [Image courtesy of the Australian Army] ... 

By the end of February 2010, 249 of the 250 bodies recovered from Pheasant Wood had been reburied in the new cemetery. Great care was taken to ensure that the location of each individual soldier’s remains was known as work was proceeding on DNA matching with descendants and identified men would have their names inscribed on their headstones. Moreover, the CWGC had just four and a half months to complete the cemetery for a late July dedication ceremony. Tons of topsoil was brought in, smoothed out and grass rolled out; permanent Portland headstones were cut, inscribed and fitted into place; and flowers and shrubs were planted to give that English country garden effect sought after by the early designers of the British war cemeteries in the 1920s.

On 19 July 2010, ninety-four years after the Battle of Fromelles, the coffin holding the last of the Pheasant Wood soldiers was placed on a World War One service wagon and drawn by horses through Fromelles. Behind walked His Royal Highness, Prince Charles and Australia’s Governor-General, Quentin Bryce. At the cemetery a large crowd, many of them family members of the dead from Australia, were gathered for the official dedication ceremony of the Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery and the reburial of this last soldier. Hymns were sung; prayers said; speeches made; and a military bearer party lowered the coffin into the ground close by the Cross of Sacrifice.

Many personal and national tributes were paid that day to the soldiers of Pheasant Wood. But perhaps the feelings expressed by the then Senior Chaplain of the Australian Army, Reverend Catie Inches-Ogden, as she buried these men on cold days in January and February 2010, when snow dusted the cemetery, come closest to the real impact their deaths had all those years ago in 1916:
When the sergeant is about to call his coffin bearers to march I look down at each coffin I have committed and I think of the mothers and fathers who never knew where their sons were buried.

Gallery: Reburial

Reburial of the remains, during January and February 2010, of 249 of the Australian and British soldiers exhumed from the mass grave at Pheasant Wood, Fromelles, between May and October 2009.

 [All images courtesy of the Australian Army].

Gallery photo (3): reburial of the remains
Gallery photo (1): reburial of the remains Gallery photo (2): reburial of the remainsGallery photo (4): reburial of the remainsGallery photo (6): reburial of the remains
Gallery photo (5): reburial of the remains

Gallery photo (8): the reburial of the remainsGallery photo (7): the reburial of the remains        

         The Reburial Service


On many occasions, the Allies nor the enemy just couldn't figure out the Aussies!   You see it is not uncommon, that when an Australian has his back to the wall, he will become even more determined in his fight.  Something that seems to have been bred into us.

Perhaps it was the need to survive, as our ancestors had it pretty tough.

At the Battle of Mont St Quentin, they charged the Germans, yelling and sounding like bushrangers.  The Germans thought there were many more soldiers than there really were!

The key to the whole enemy position

From the back of the Second Division Memorial the prospect is westward down the slope over the fields. Here, at dawn on 1 September 1918, were strong German positions around the summit of Mont St Quentin, positions which were the key to defending the town of Peronne to the left. At 5 am shells from British and Australian guns began pounding German trenches on the lower slopes as two under–strength AIF battalions – the 17th and 20th – dashed forward towards Mont St Quentin. Behind them came the men of the 18th and 19th Battalions. To make up for their lack of numbers the soldiers had been urged by their officers to ‘yell like a lot of bushrangers’!

To the Germans the attack came as a complete surprise. Many quickly surrendered and pushed to the rear leaving, in many cases, their machine guns on the ground. One German officer reported that it ‘had all happened like lightning and before we had fired a shot we were taken unawares’. As the Australians reached the bottom of the hill they could see many of the enemy running back over the shoulders of the hill:
The Australians, who had expected heavy fighting, hurried with minds now carefree, half running, trying to catch them and taking occasional shots. As each new group of Germans broke from the trenches ahead the Lewis gunners would throw themselves down for a minute to fire.
Charles Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1918, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, Volume VI, p.813
The 21st Battalion (Victoria) move forward during the attack on Mont St Quentin, France, 1 September 1918. [AWM E03104]

The 21st Battalion (Victoria) move forward during the attack on Mont St Quentin, France, 1 September 1918. [AWM E03104] ... 

The attackers soon pushed right to the top of Mont St Quentin while others went forward on the flat fields below securing the flanks. It was all a swift and sudden success. Back at Fourth Army Headquarters General Sir Henry Rawlinson was rising for the day:
As I was dressing … Archie [Chief of Staff, Sir Archibald Montgomery] rang me to say the Australians had captured Mont St Quentin. It is indeed a magnificent performance.
General Sir Henry Rawlinson, commander, Fourth British Army, in his advanced headquarters carriage, near  Péronne, France, 1918. [AWM E03898]
General Sir Henry Rawlinson, commander, Fourth British Army, in his advanced headquarters carriage, near Péronne, France, 1918. [AWM E03898] ... 
Captain James Sullivan, 21st  Battalion (Victoria), leading his men up the bullet swept road at Mont St  Quentin, France, 1 September 1918. Captain Sullivan was killed in the AIF’s  last action in France on 5 October 1918 and buried in Bellicourt British  Cemetery, Plot VI, Row S, Grave 7. [AWM E03126]
Captain James Sullivan, 21st Battalion (Victoria), leading his men up the bullet swept road at Mont St Quentin, France, 1 September 1918.

 Captain Sullivan was killed in the AIF’s last action in France on 5 October 1918 and buried in Bellicourt British Cemetery, Plot VI, Row S, Grave 7. [AWM E03126] 

Members of the 24th Battalion (Victoria) in a trench awaiting the lifting of the artillery barrage before the renewed attack at Mont St. Quentin, France, 1 September 1918. [AWM E03138]
Members of the 24th Battalion (Victoria) in a trench awaiting the lifting of the artillery barrage before the renewed attack at Mont St. Quentin, France, 1 September 1918. [AWM E03138]

Charles Bean later wrote that those in high command would have been even more amazed had they known the full extent of the Australian force that had won the hill – ‘eight very tired companies comprising some 550 rifles, with a handful of machine gunners and four companies of 22 in close support’.

Given this small force the situation on Mont St Quentin was actually grim. During the morning of 31 September the Germans began to infiltrate around the thinly held Australian positions and by the afternoon the Australians had pulled back to the bottom of Mont St Quentin.

Next day, 1 September 1918, the AIF resumed its attack and eventually overran Mont St Quentin. One young soldier in the 23rd Battalion who faced the German machine guns that day was Private Robert Comb, a 20–year–old boundary rider from Sea Lake, Victoria.

Years later, Robert recalled how his section was being pinned down by a particular machine gun and that in his words – ‘I did my block’. Rather than crawl forward under the enemy bullets, Robert stood up and charged firing his Lewis gun from the hip so allowing his mates to advance safely.

In Mont St Quentin Village, Private Comb, single–handed, took out another German machine gun. For his courage that day Private Robert Comb was awarded the Military Medal.
Australian soldiers moving along a communication trench at Mont St Quentin, France, 1 September 1918. [AWM E03139]
Australian soldiers moving along a communication trench at Mont St Quentin, France, 1 September 1918. [AWM E03139] 

In 1993, Robert Comb returned to the memorial on Mt St Quentin as part of an official Australian Government veterans’ mission commemorating the 75th anniversary of those battles fought by the AIF in France and Belgium between 1916 and 1918. Behind the silent statue of the Australian soldier, Robert took himself away from the party and sat down quietly with a beer. Was he perhaps hearing again down the years the rat–a–tat of the machine guns and the crash of the artillery on Mont St Quentin on 1 September 1918?

Success in battle depends on the efficient working of complex operations and manoeuvres, for which all sorts of skills are essential. Fighting in the 23rd Battalion on Mont St Quentin was 21–year–old Private Thomas Delahunty, a butcher of Footscray, Victoria.

 In the AIF Thomas had learnt the arts of a ‘signaller linesman’ and, despite the heavy machine gun fire all around him, he continually went out and ensured that the essential phone lines between the front commanders and the rear were kept in working order. As the recommendation for his Military Medal said:

… his personal disregard of danger enabled the companies and Headquarters to be kept in close communication during critical periods of the operation. His cheerful spirit and gallant conduct was of a very high order.
Recommendation for Military Medal, Private Thomas Delahunty, 23rd Battalion AIF, internet version at


This story from The Australian Newspaper:

As shells exploded around him and flares pierced the night sky, Lieutenant Cliff Sadlier and his platoon found themselves pinned down by the murderous machinegun fire of tracer bullets coming from a wooded area to the left.

Sadlier's path to his objective was blocked. The words of his commanding officer rang in his ears: "Nothing will stop you getting to your goal. Kill every bloody German you see. We don't want any prisoners, and God bless you." Sadlier's second-in-command, Sergeant Charlie Stokes, crept up to Sadlier on his stomach. "What are we going to do?" he asked.
"Carry out the order. Go straight to the objective," Sadlier said.
"We can't do it," Stokes replied. "You'll all be killed."
"Well, what can we do?"
"Collect your bombers and go into the wood and bomb those guns out," Stokes said.
And so they did. In what official World War I historian C.W. Bean described as "an extraordinarily bold move", Sadlier ordered his men to rush the woods, which hid crack Prussian troops manning six machinegun emplacements.

"The Germans were not expecting it," Bean wrote. "Before they recovered from their surprise the Australians were in among the trees, fighting wildly in the dark, advancing around bushes and trees, stumbling on unsuspected posts. Sadlier and Stokes, who had secured a bag of bombs grenades, were leaders. To suppress the first German machinegun they fired rifle grenades over the trees and when the gun stopped firing they rushed it."

Two machinegun posts were taken out before Sadlier was shot in the thigh. He later recalled: "Felt a burning pain in the leg, a machinegun bullet point-blank through it.
"It didn't seem to give much trouble, so I kept going, hurling grenades and firing my pistol. I concentrated on one machinegun that seemed to be doing a lot of damage."

As recorded in the official citation that came with his Victoria Cross, "By this time Lieut. Sadlier's party were all casualties, and he alone attacked a third enemy machinegun with his revolver, killing a crew of four and taking the gun. In doing so he was again wounded and unable to go on."
Stokes took over, soon running out of bombs. He grabbed some German stick bombs from one overwhelmed post and hurled them at the enemy to blow away another machinegun crew, then another, and another.

In all, six machinegun nests were taken out and the attack plan, aimed at wresting back the village of Villers-Bretonneux from the Germans, was able to proceed.

Sadlier, a travelling salesman, and Stokes, a former Cobb and Co coach driver, both from Subiaco, Western Australia, were recommended for the Victoria Cross, but only Sadlier won it. Stokes had to make do with a distinguished conduct medal.

Stories of extraordinary bravery such as this fill the pages of history of World War I, when 180,000 Australian troops served on the Western Front, from Belgium through northern France. Fifty-two thousand of them died, far from home, but 11,000 were never accounted for and lie where they fell in the fields.

Today, they are largely forgotten.

A the Anzac legend resonates strongly with new generations of younger Australians, the heroics of our men in France have played second fiddle to the soldiers who went ashore at Gallipoli in 1915. In remembering Gallipoli, we have forgotten the Western Front. It is as if the glorious failure in the Dardanelles has blinkered us to the extraordinary successes of the Australians in France.

Yet the accounts of their actions paint a compelling portrait of young Australians as we imagine ourselves today: laconic, no-nonsense folk imbued with common sense and an attitude that there's a job to be done, so let's get on with it. They exhibited a Jack's-as-good-as-his-master kind of insouciance that cocked a snook at authority with the confidence that comes from knowing they should be judged by what they did, not how sharply they saluted. They were proud to be seen as rough but effective.

Typical of the Australians' laid-back approach is this account given by medical officer Captain P.B. Sewell, of Malvern in Melbourne: "A Tommy (British) corporal came stumbling in, weeping like a kid and holding his arm. 'Pain bad?' says I. 'No, sir,' he squeaked, 'this is nothing, but I can't get the boys to go forward.' He had evidently been trying to rally a very young platoon with a bullet in his arm. A wounded Digger soothed him. 'Never mind, kid,' he said. 'The boys will hunt Fritz without yous kids."'

The battle of Villers-Bretonneux on April 25, 1918 - Australia's other Anzac Day - was a turning point in the war. Four years of horrible, muddy, gas-filled trench warfare had yielded a stalemate. Early in 1918, the Germans went on an offensive, pushing to within 100km of Paris. They took Villers-Bretonneux, a strategic rail town on the way to Amiens. If the Germans could capture Amiens, Paris was in mortal danger. Villers-Bretonneux had to be retaken. After three days of battle, it was, at a cost of 2473 Australians dead, along with 9529 British and 10,400 Germans.

Australians excelled in open war and surprise attacks. In the months that followed they routed the Germans time and again, until the Armistice was forced on November 11, 1918.

Fifty-six VCs for valour were won by Australians on the Western Front between 1916 and 1918. Les Carlyon, in his recent book The Great War, records some of them:

* Lieutenant Lawrence McCarthy, a farmer from WA, worked his way down an old trench network and, often alone, stormed enemy positions armed with a revolver and grenades. He captured five machineguns and 50 prisoners, and single-handedly took 500m of German front line, a feat labelled by Bean as "perhaps the most effective feat of individual fighting in the history of the AIF".

* Private Harry Dalziel, a railway fireman from north Queensland, rushed a machinegun post alone with a revolver, shooting two Germans. Part of Dalziel's trigger finger was blown away and, bleeding badly, he was sent to the rear. He twice disobeyed orders and returned to the fight, only to be shot in the head, a terrible wound that smashed his skull and exposed his brain. But he lived to receive his VC.

* Corporal Phillip Davey, a 21-year-old horse driver from South Australia, came under fire from a machinegun and his platoon commander was killed. Davey twice went out alone with bombs, wiped out the gun crew, then turned the machinegun on the Germans. He was wounded in the back, legs and abdomen.

* Lieutenant Alfred Gaby, a farmer from Tasmania, single-handedly attacked machinegun posts armed with only a revolver. He came back with 50 prisoners, but he never knew he had been awarded the VC. Three days after his conspicuous bravery, he was killed by a sniper.

Not all encounters led to VCs but were nevertheless marked by ferocious savagery. As British and Australian troops encircled Villers-Bretonneux, cutting off the Germans, Captain E.M. Young, of St Kilda, Melbourne, spotted an enemy group and, "in a calm, easy voice", gave the order to charge.

Sergeant R.A. Fynch of Fitzroy, Melbourne, who was later killed, wrote in his account of the action: "With a ferocious roar and the cry of 'Into the bastards, boys,' we were down on them before the Boche realised what had happened. The Boche screamed for mercy but there were too many machineguns around to show them any consideration. With a cheer that would have turned a tribe of Red Indians green with envy, we 'hopped the bags' (slang for jumping over a parapet) and the night was turned into day by flares and a terrific machinegun barrage, but in very few instances did the enemy put up a fight and he was quickly dealt with. Every man was in his glee and old scores were wiped out two or three times over."

Today, in the verdant valley of the Somme, there are few signs of the fighting 90 years ago. But the cemeteries are there, lines of white sandstone headstones rising amid blooming roses and freshly mown lawns, mute testimony to the carnage of the war to end all wars. It is a powerful and haunting experience for an Australian to walk among these graves, one that has moved many grown men - military men at that - to break down into racking sobs. These heroes must not be forgotten.


The number of Australians who died in the First World War (1914–1918): 61,919

(From the names recorded on the national Roll of Honour at the Australian War Memorial)

Between March 1916 and November 1918 more than 295,000 Australians served in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in France and Belgium. Of these, some 132,000 became casualties and 46,000 lost their lives. As the centenary of the First World War (1914–1918) approaches, more and more Australians are travelling to places along the old Western Front associated with the AIF. They go to Pozières, where in a little over six weeks in 1916 the AIF suffered 23,000 battle casualties; or the fields of Belgian Flanders, where in October 1917 alone 6673 Australians died and a further 13,328 were wounded, missing or made prisoners of war. Everywhere the memorials and cemeteries mark locations of loss to nation and family.

To help visitors appreciate the contribution of Australia to the Allied war effort along the Western Front, and the stories of those who served there, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is developing the Australian Remembrance Trail. The Trail highlights twelve sites, and other significant locations, from Passchendaele in Belgium down to the area of some of the AIF’s last actions in France around Péronne in 1918.

Each site will be interpreted in a unique way. At Bullecourt in France, for example, where the AIF fought in two battles with great loss in April and May 1917, there is now the ‘Jean and Denise Letaille Museum’. For many years, Jean Letaille, a farmer, collected relics from his fields associated with those battles and stored them in his barn. He also established a collection of smaller objects and, together with his wife Denise, he welcomed visiting Australians to his home and shared with them his understanding of what had happened to their ancestors at Bullecourt. Sadly, both Jean and Denise passed away before the opening of the refurbished museum on Anzac Day in 2012.


FRENCH authorities believe they have identified the first Australian to have died during World War I as they prepare to honour the sacrifice made by the then “young nation” from the other side of the world.

The Australian War Memorial has long listed the first Australian fatalities of the Great War as being sailors from the Australian Navy and Military Expeditionary Force during the landing on German New Guinea in September 1914.

But officials in France tasked with WWI commemorations say the first Australian to die in the Great War was Sydney man Lieutenant William Malcolm Chisholm who died some weeks earlier in the Battle of Le Cateau — the first clash of Allied soldiers on French soil.

The finding of his name and grave in a civilian cemetery came after researching the battle and found a street in the northern French town of Ligny en Cambresis named “Chisholm” which piqued their interest.

They found it was named after the family including the soldier’s mother Emma Isabel Chisholm Mitchell who died in Sydney in 1928 but whose ashes were reinterred by her husband, respected Macquarie Street doctor William Chisholm, so she could rest next to their son.

“We are pretty sure this is now the first Australia to die in World War I, certainly the first to die in the campaign here in France,” said Delphine Bartier from France’s northern district tasked with WWI commemoration promotion.

“We were quite excited when we put it altogether and realised he was possibly the first. We were interested in the Le Cateau battle of 1914 and we popped into a small cemetery and realised this was the first battle of the war that an Australian took part we thought he must be the first Australian to die in the Great War. So for us it was exciting to find that some Australians were here in France before 1916.”

Ms Bartier said if it had been known at the time it had largely been forgotten over the years but they would single it out now for commemoration.

The former Sydney Grammar boy was an army cadet in Sydney and also a lieutenant of the NSW Scottish Rifles.

The family moved to the UK when the father got a job at a London hospital and William joined Sandhurst military college in 1911 and joined the Lancashire Regiment a year later.

On August 26, 1914 with the British troops in retreat from the battle of Mons in Belgium they faced the German artillery at Cateau Cambresis. In a matter of hours from the 40,000 British troops that took part, 9000 were listed as dead or wounded with 2500 taken prisoner.

Lt Chisholm had only arrived at Le Cateau at 5pm on the 25th and took action from 4am but by 3pm had been shot in the stomach and died the next day.

As reported 2014


Now spare a thought for the White Family

Every parent’s nightmare is to lose a child. “It confounds the natural order,” is the reaction of parents when the tragedy occurs.

Imagine then the utter horror of losing more than one child, as occurred in the First World War to the Smith family from Barnard Castle in County Durham, whose story is told in a new BBC documentary. 

They lost no fewer than five of their six sons in the trenches, two in 1916, two in 1917, and one in 1918. Their broken father himself died in 1918, leaving the mother to spend the rest of her life absorbing the loss alone. 

The intervention in 1918 of the local vicar’s wife in writing to Queen Mary, the wife of George V, may well have saved the life of Mrs Smith’s final son, Wilfred. Buckingham Palace contacted the War Office, and he was spared serving on the front line. Wilfred went on to have five children and lived to the age of 72.

Four of the five Smith brothers who were killed in the First World War. The sole survivor lived to the age of 72

The loss of five brothers was not unique. Queen Mary may well have been stirred to action when Amy Beechey from Lincoln was presented to her and George V in April 1918 after she had lost five of her eight sons in the war. When the Queen thanked her for her sacrifice, she replied: “It was no sacrifice, Ma’am. I did not give them willingly.”

Annie Souls from Great Rissington in the Cotswolds also lost five of her six sons: Alfred (1918), Walter (1916), Albert (1916), Arthur (1918) and Frederick (1916). A local newspaper recorded that “Fred’s body was never found but his mother kept a candle burning in the window of the house in the hope that he would return”.

The Dominions saw losses in equal proportions. Charlotte Wood from Winnipeg, Canada, had five sons killed, and a further two seriously wounded. She was one of three mothers presented to Edward VIII prior to his unveiling of the iconic memorial at Vimy Ridge in northern France in 1936. “I wish your sons were all here,” the King said to her. “Oh, Sir,” cried out the elderly woman, “I have just been looking at the trenches and I just can’t figure out why our boys had to go through that.”

Neither the government, nor the military, gave thought to the devastation heaped on families and communities by the loss of so many brothers. Not even the deaths separately of George and Roland Boys Bradford, the only brothers in history to have won the Victoria Cross, woke them up to the pain that was being caused. Nor did the death of a third brother, James Barker.

No records were kept at the time of how many brothers were killed, or indeed how many fathers and sons, and only now are we able to ascertain the full extent of these multiple disasters for families. In the Gallipoli campaign, no fewer than 196 pairs of brothers were killed. Of that total of 392 men, only 13 have marked graves. Two commemorated on the Helles Memorial are Captain Austen Belcher and Lieutenant Humphrey Belcher. Both were boys at Winchester, served in the 5th Wiltshires, and were killed within three days of each other in August 1915.

Schools and communities across the country were swallowed up by such family tragedies. One of Eton’s greatest stars was Julian Grenfell, the soldier-poet, who had been killed in May 1915. His brother, Billy, went on from Eton to Oxford, where he was destined for an All Souls fellowship. Billy served courageously on the Front, and when leading a charge at Hooge in July 1915 exhorted his men “remember you are Englishmen – do nothing to dishonour the name”. Grenfell was an early victim, falling in a hail of German bullets.

Close beside him was Sidney Woodroffe, who had been a boy at Marlborough. Despite being wounded, he continued to struggle to find a passage through the German wire. Hit three more times, he died shortly after and was awarded a posthumous VC. His brother Leslie was wounded in the same attack and killed in 1916, while a third brother, Kenneth, was killed at Aubers Ridge in May 1915.

Compassionate let-outs were on offer. After John Gordon Shallis lost four brothers in the Great War, he was brought before a tribunal in Middlesex which declared that it was “of the opinion that the mother is entitled to the comfort she will obtain by the retention of this last son”. 



‘Nottingham Evening Post’, 23rd December 1915.

The Government appealed on 22nd December 1917 for people not to overindulge over the Christmas period, for the resulting pressure on allied shipping would delay the transfer of “some thousands” of American troops to the Western Front.



“Sir Arthur Yapp, Director of Food Economy, writes:

“The hope that lies deepest in the hearts of everyone this Christmastide is that this shall be the last Christmas of war, and that next Christmas shall find the boys home, sharing our festivities with us.

“May I point out to your readers that the possibility of turning this hope into reality lies very much in the hands of the people of this country? If we wish next Christmas to share the festivities our boys, we must this year be willing, in a small degree, to share the sacrifices which they will be making this Christmas on our behalf.

“That an excess of Christmas feasting will have a very direct effect on military activities can be seen by the fact that if the vast majority of people of this country were individually to exceed voluntarv rations by two or three ounces each day during the Christmas week alone, the demands made upon our tonnage would be sufficient to delay the transport of some thousands of American troops to the western front.

“Christmas this year must made a glad day for the children, but this can be done without encouraging any unwholesome over-feasting. Let them have plenty of good romping games, and they will not miss the usual surfeit of good things.

“That an excess of Christmas feasting will have a very direct effect on military activities can be seen by the fact that if the vast majority of people of this country were individually to exceed voluntarv rations by two or three ounces each day during the Christmas week alone, the demands made upon our tonnage would be sufficient to delay the transport of some thousands of American troops to the western front.

“Christmas this year must made a glad day for the children, but this can be done without encouraging any unwholesome over-feasting. Let them have plenty of good romping games, and they will not miss the usual surfeit of good things.

“Will those of your readers who realise the gravity of this question of food and tonnage, and who are willing, therefore, keep to the voluntary rations, and to help the food economy campaign, send me their names and addresses on a postcard? The anchor badge of the League of National Safety will then be sent free of charge.

“No better time than Christmas — the festival of peace and goodwill — could be chosen to make such a resolution, for it is for this cause that our men are fighting and dying.”

‘Nottingham Evening Post’, 22nd December 1917.




“The word " Anzac" is popularly supposed to be a kind of acrostic composed of the initial letters of the principal words in the military designation of the Australian Forces when operating at the Dardanelles – “Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.''

“It would appear, however, from inquiries made by the Australian Commonwealth Department in London that the word is Arabic, and that its attribution to the above-mentioned source is merely coincidence or the result of association of ideas.

“It is said that the nearest approach to the correct spelling of the word in English would be "Anzak," and that it means “to cause to jump," it may have been suggested by the nickname “Kangaroos," sometimes applied to the Australian troops when first quartered Egypt.

“The Australian papers announce that the use of the word is not only forbidden in the Commonwealth for trade purposes, but it may not be used as name of a residence, vehicle, or boat.”

‘Nottingham Evening Post’, 22nd December 1916.




'Australian soldiers and army nurses playing cards at Mudros on the Greek island of Lemnos on 19 September 1917'.

'The man on the left holds a copy of the Sydney Mail advertising sheep skin vests for soldiers'. 

the newspaper is upside down!


A list of missing officers of the Robin Hood Rifles appeared in the local press on 1st April 1918. The men listed were all either killed or captured on 21st March 1918. 
The survivors with King George V



“MAJOR J. C. Warren, only son of Mr. J. C. Warren, of Private-road, Nottingham, has also been missing since the 21st ult. Major Warren was educated at Sedbergh School and Trinity College, Oxford, and he was a Territorial officer before the war. He was with the Sherwood Foresters at the taking of the Hohenzollern Redoubt in October, 1915, when he won the Military Cross for great gallantry.


Mrs. D. K. Pragnell has received news that her husband, Capt. and Adjt. Frank Pragnell, Sherwood Foresters, is reported missing since March 21st. Capt. Pragnell is the son of the late Mr. Pragnell, and of Mrs. Pragnell, of Newcastle-on-Tyne, and is the son-in-law of Mr. and Mrs. T. G. Mellors, of Fern House, Mapperley-road, Nottingham. He is a partner in the firm of Mellors, Basden, and Mellors, chartered accountants of Nottingham. He joined the Nottingham O.T.C. In September, 1914, and was gazetted to the Sherwood Foresters in November, 1914. He was wounded in Ireland in April, 1916, and has been in France since February, 1917. He was promoted first-lieutenant in August, 1915, and captain two months later, and has acted as adjutant since June, 1916.


“Capt. A. Stanley Bright, the second son of Sir Joseph Bright, Western-terrace, The Park, Nottingham, is another Sherwood Forester officer who has been missing since March 21st. He was formerly with the firm of Sir. J. and A. Bright, solicitors, Pepper-street. He received his commission in the Sherwood Foresters in October, 1914, and was promoted to his company command in September, 1916. His brother, Lieut. F. A. Bright , was killed in action.


“Capt. Albert L. M. Dickins is the younger son of Mr. A. W. Dickins, Private-road, The Park, Nottingham, Capt. Dickins was educated at Waverley School, Nottingham, and at Repton, and he entered the Nottingham University O.T.C. in November, 1914. He was given a commission in the Sherwood Foresters in March, 1915, just after his 18th birthday, and went out to France in the following August. He was awarded the Military Cross last year.


“Lieut. Francis H. Clark, elder son of Mr. E.F. Clark, of Basford, has been missing since March 21st. He was educated at the High Pavement Secondary School, and University College, Nottingham. He was a member of the Nottingham University O.T.C., and received his commission in the Sherwood Foresters in September, 1915, being promoted in July last. He went out to France in June, 1916.


“Lieut. G. Ellis, Sherwood Forestets, is a nephew of Mrs. W. H. Hoyte, Private-road, Nottingham.


“Lieut. Reginald B. Emmett is the second son of Mr. and Mrs. A. G. Emmett, of Broadgate, Beeston. He was educated at the Nottingham High School and in Switzerland, and afterwards joined his father in business as a lace manufacturer at Beeston. He joined the King's Royal Rifles with the Notts. Magdala players at the outbreak of was, and received a commission in the Sherwood Foresters in July, 1915, being promoted in July last. He was awarded the Military Cross in September, 1916. He is an old member of the Notts. Rowing Club, and ran with the Mapperley Hare and Hounds for many years.


“Lieut. R. W. Hoyte is the fifth son of Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Hoyte, Private-road, Nottingham. He was educated at the Nottingham High School, and was with the Inns of Court Officers Training Corps. He received his commission in the Sherwood Foresters in September, 1915, and was promoted in July last. [9]


“Second-Lieut. John Wilson [10], Notts. and Derbys, son of Ald. J. L. Wilson of Mansfield is reported missing.” 

[1] Major John Crosby Warren, M.C., Mentioned in Despatches, 7th Battalion (Robin Hood Rifles) Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment, was killed in action on 21st March 1918. He was the 28 year-old son of John Crosby Warren and Mary Frances Warren, of Private Road, Sherwood, Nottingham; husband of Gladys Mary Warren. Educated Sedbergh and Trinity College, Oxford. (M.A.). He is buried in Queant Road Cemetery, Buissy.

[2] Captain Frank Pragnell, M.C., 7th Battalion (Robin Hood Rifles) Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment, was taken prisoner on 21st March 1918. He was repatriated on 29th November 1918.

[3] Second Lieutenant Frank Arnold Bright, 1/7th Battalion (Robin Hood Rifles) Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment, was killed in action at Hohenzollern Redoubt on 13th October 1915. He is commemorated by a special memorial in Philosophe British Cemetery, Mazingarbe.

[4] Captain Alfred Stanley Bright landed in France with 1/7th Battalion (Robin Hood Rifles) Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment, on 28th February 1915. He was captured on 21st March 1918. He was repatriated on 23rd September 1918.

[5] Captain Albert Light Moody Dickins, M.C., 7th Battalion (Robin Hood Rifles) Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment. The citation for his Military Cross was published in the 'London Gazette' on 27th October 1917:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in command of a patrol. Four of the enemy were met, and two were killed, the others making off. On returning to our lines a party of about twenty were encountered, and he ordered his men to charge, with the result that one of the enemy were killed, two wounded, and the remainder driven off.”

Dickins was killed in action on 21st March 1918, aged 21. He was the son of Amy Rosina Dickins, of "Southfields," 13 Tavistock Drive, Mapperley Park, Nottingham, and the late Arthur William Dickins. His grave was not identified and he is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

[6] He was taken prisoner on 21st March 1918 and repatriated on 29th November 1918.

[7] Second Lieutenant F. G. Ellis, 7th Battalion (Robin Hood Rifles) Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment, was taken prisoner on 21st March 1918. He was repatriated on 3rd December 1918.

[8] Lieutenant Reginald Boutwood Emmett had landed in France with the King's Royal Rifle Corps on 21st May 1915. He was commissioned on 31st July 1915 before transferring to 2/7th Battalion Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment. He was captured on 21st March 1918 and repatriated on 18th December 1918.

[9] Second Lieutenant Raymond Wilson Hoyte, 7th Battalion (Robin Hood Rifles) Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment, was killed in action on 21st March 1918. He was the 21 year-old son of William Henry and Henrietta Mary Hoyte, of 20 Private Road, Nottingham. No grave was found, so he is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

[10] Second Lieutenant John William Wilson. M.M., 7th Battalion (Robin Hood Rifles) Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment, was killed in action on 21st March 1918. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

[11] 'Nottingham Evening Post', 1st April 1918.

Image: King George V talking to surviving Robin Hoods, © IWM (Q 295).



Sergeant Lewis McGee, V.C. 40th (Tasmanian) Battalion Australian Infantry.

An extract from “The London Gazette"” No. 30400, dated 23rd November 1917, records the citation for the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross to Sergeant McGee for his actions on 4th October 1917:

“For most conspicuous bravery when, in the advance to the final objective, Sgt. McGee led his platoon with great dash and bravery, though strongly opposed, and under heavy shell fire. His platoon was suffering severely and the advance of the Company was stopped by machine gun fire from a 'Pill-box' post. Single-handed Sgt. McGee rushed the post armed only with a revolver. He shot some of the crew and captured the rest, and thus enabled the advance to proceed. He re-organised the remnants of his platoon and was foremost in the remainder of the advance, and during consolidation of the position he did splendid work. This Non-commissioned Officer's coolness and bravery were conspicuous and contributed largely to the success of the Company's operations. Sgt. McGee was subsequently killed in action.”

Sgt Lewis McGee was killed in action on 12th October in the next phase of the Battle of Broodseinde Ridge. He was aged 29. He had been an engine-driver before he enlisted in the army.

Sergeant McGee is buried in Tyne Cot cemetery grave reference Plot XX, Row D, Grave 1

***********************************************************************************aAnd "Some Mother's Do Have Them"

A Little Bit of a Character - Is this English/Australian

Private No2296 John (Barney) Hines of the Australian Imperial Force, 45th Battalion. 27th September 1917.

'Barney' Hines was also a kleptomaniac who became known in the trenches as the "Souvenir King". But he was one of the bravest soldiers at the front and would have been decorated many times had it not been for his lack of military discipline.

He earned his nickname because of his incurable habit of hijacking medals, badges, rifles, helmets and watches from the bodies of the German dead - and, in some cases, of those he captured.

He brought the Kaiser's wrath down upon his head when a photographer took a picture of him on September 27,1917, showing him surrounded by some of his loot after the Third Battle of Ypres.

Prints were circulated among the Diggers and inevitably some fell into the
hands of German soldiers - from whence they made their way to the infuriated Kaiser.

Born in Liverpool, England, in 1873, Barney Hines was always a rebel. Of
Irish descent, he ran away to enlist in the army at the age of 14 but was
dragged home by his mother.

Two years later he joined the Royal Navy and saw action during the Boxer
Rebellion when he served on a gunboat chasing pirates in the China Sea.

Discharged the following year, he went gold seeking around the world and was in South Africa when the Boer War broke out. He served throughout it as a scout with various British units.

His lust for gold continued and he searched for it in the US, South America
and New Zealand. But he was working in a sawmill in Australia when World War I broke out in August 1914.

Despite being in his early 40s, he immediately tried to enlist but was
turned down on medical grounds. Undeterred, he haunted recruiting centres until he was accepted to serve in France in 1916 as part of a reinforcement for the 45th Battalion.

And, once in France, the legend of this huge, powerful man who never showed fear, began.

He generally disdained conventional weapons such as his .303 rifle,
preferring to go into action with two sandbags packed with Mills bombs.

His commanding officer had a brain wave and gave him a Lewis gun, which was an immediate success. Hines was entranced by its spraying effect and announced in his broad Liverpudlian accent: "This thing'll do me. You can hose the bastards down."

Another nickname he earned was Wild Eyes and at a later date the commanding officer was heard to say: "I always felt secure when Wild Eyes was about. He was a tower of strength in the line- I don't think he knew what fear was and he naturally inspired confidence in officers and men."

One of Hines' pastimes was prowling around collecting prisoners and loot with enthusiasm.

On one occasion, annoyed at the sniper fire from a German pill-box, he ran straight at it, leapt on it's roof and preformed a war dance while taunting the Germans to come out. When they failed to comply, Hines lobbed a couple of Mills bombs through the gun port. A few minutes later the 63 Germans who had survived staggered out with their hands above their heads. Hines collected his "souvenirs" before herding his prisoners back to the Australian lines.

Another time he came across a battered German dressing station. Creeping in,he found the surgeon standing over the operating table and, on tapping him on the shoulder, Hines was amazed to watch him topple over - dead from a shell splinter in the heart. Only one man had survived - ironically a wounded Tommy who was on a stretcher on the floor out of the blast. Picking the man up as if he were an infant, Hines carried him towards safety but he died before reaching allied lines. Hines lowered him gently to the ground -then returned to the loot in the dressing room.

His booty wasn't confined to portable keepsakes. At Villers-Bretonneux he liberated a piano which he managed to keep for several days until he was persuaded to give it away.

On another occasion he scored a grandfather clock which he carried back to the trenches. But, after its hourly chimes were found to attract German fire, his mates blew it up with - what else? - a Mills bomb.

In Armentieres he came across a keg of Bass which he started to roll towards the battalion. He was stopped by military police and told not to go any further with it. Unfazed, Hines left the keg and went ahead to round up fellow Diggers who returned to drink it on the spot.

When the AIF reached Amiens they found the beautiful cathedral city deserted. It was too much for Hines. He disappeared and was finally sprung by British military police in the vaults of the Bank of France where he had already squirrelled away millions of francs, packed neatly in suitcases.

He was hauled off for questioning by the British who, nonplussed on what to do with the reprobate, returned him to his unit. Later he was to boast that the escapade had cost him no more than 14 days' pay and that he had been allowed to keep the banknotes he had stuffed into his pockets.

But for all his incorrigibility, he was an outstanding, if unpredictable soldier who managed to capture 10 German soldiers single-handed.

There were some near misses, too. At Passchendale he was the only survivor of a direct hit on the Lewis gun nest. Blasted 20ms. and with the soles of his boots blown off, he crawled back, got the gun working and continued firing until he fainted from wounds in his legs.

Hines was also renowned for the party he held at Villers-Bretonneux after he found a cache of 1870 champagne and tinned delicacies. His mates were all decked out in top hats and dress suits which he had also acquired.

It was to be his last party for some time. Just after it ended he scored a bullet wound over his eye, another in his leg and a whiff of gas. Despite protests, he was hospitalised at Etaples, being almost blinded.

A few nights later the Germans bombed the hospital, causing 3000 casualties. Hines hauled himself out of bed, found a broom which he used as a crutch and spent all night carrying the wounded and dying to safety.

After that he was invalided home and, in the ensuing years, despite his wounds, he worked as a drover, shearer, prospector and timber cutter.

He volunteered for World War II and, when he was turned down - he was now in his 60s - he stowed away on a troop ship. He was caught before the vessel got through the Heads and put ashore.

After a colourful life, Barney Hines died, penniless, in Concord Repatriation Hospital
on January 30, 1958, aged 84.

(Colourised by Doug UK)


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