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Australian National Memorial, Villers‑Bretonneux

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Audio transcript

This is the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux in France. From here, on 5 November 1993, the coffin containing Australia's Unknown Soldier began the long trip home to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Fifty-five years before, on 22 July 1938, Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland laid a small bunch of poppies on the steps leading up to the memorial tower.

The Queen had been given the flowers that morning by a small boy from the Franco-Australian school in Villers-Bretonneux as she and her husband, King George VI, arrived to officially dedicate the memorial. After the King laid an official wreath, the Queen whispered to him, walked to his wreath, laid the poppies on top of it, and then stood looking for a moment at the memorial. Stretching away on either side of her, engraved in stone, were the names of more than 11 000 men of the Australian Imperial Force who had been killed in France in World War I and had 'no known grave'. Forty-eight of them went 'missing' in the fields immediately to the south-east of the tower on 25 April 1918.

From the top of the tower there is a good view of those fields and of the whole countryside encompassing Villers-Bretonneux, the city of Amiens away to the west, and the town of Corbie, with its 18th Century twin-towered abbey church. On 24 April 1918 the Germans, in their advance towards Amiens, seized Villers-Bretonneux. That night, Australian soldiers counter-attacked to the north and south of the town and encircled it, and by the evening of 25 April—Anzac Day—the enemy had been driven out. On this northern side, men of the Australian 57th, 59th and 60th Battalions, supported by the 58th Battalion, formed up on the road well down the slope to the west of the memorial. Then, carrying out a complicated forward movement in the dark, the Australians advanced through the shallow valley between the tower and the town, the 60th passing closest to the memorial. Soon they were strung out along the apex of the ridge directly to the east.

As the Australians approached German positions, the light from a burning building revealed their movement. Enemy flares lit the scene and the order was given to charge. 'There went up', wrote historian Charles Bean, 'from the unleashed line a shout—a savage, eager yell of which every narrative speaks—and the Australians made straight for the enemy'. Personal accounts collected later from every battalion, company and platoon which took part revealed the physical intensity of their assault: '[the Germans] screamed for mercy but there were too many machine guns about to show them any consideration', 'these three men [the first German machine-gun crew] were either bayoneted or shot'. Bean concluded that the half hour it took to seize the German line ranked as one of the 'wildest in the experience of the Australian infantry'.

As the Germans never retook these positions, it is surprising that the bodies of as many as forty-eight Australian soldiers went 'missing' in this northern area of the attack. Their names are listed with the missing of the 57th, 58th, 59th and 60th Battalions on the Australian National Memorial. The story of their fate is a tale worth telling on any Anzac Day.

Australian National Memorial, Villers‑Bretonneux

At home, or as you tour the twelve locations of the Australian Remembrance Trail in France and Belgium, listen to a four-minute audio-cast featuring the extraordinary stories of Australian soldiers 'on this spot'. Listen to the audio-cast from your device.

Also available are all 12 audio-casts.

Audio transcript

This is the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux in France. From here, on 5 November 1993, the coffin containing Australia's Unknown Soldier began the long trip home to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Fifty-five years before, on 22 July 1938, Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland laid a small bunch of poppies on the steps leading up to the memorial tower.

The Queen had been given the flowers that morning by a small boy from the Franco-Australian school in Villers-Bretonneux as she and her husband, King George VI, arrived to officially dedicate the memorial. After the King laid an official wreath, the Queen whispered to him, walked to his wreath, laid the poppies on top of it, and then stood looking for a moment at the memorial. Stretching away on either side of her, engraved in stone, were the names of more than 11 000 men of the Australian Imperial Force who had been killed in France in World War I and had 'no known grave'. Forty-eight of them went 'missing' in the fields immediately to the south-east of the tower on 25 April 1918.

From the top of the tower there is a good view of those fields and of the whole countryside encompassing Villers-Bretonneux, the city of Amiens away to the west, and the town of Corbie, with its 18th Century twin-towered abbey church. On 24 April 1918 the Germans, in their advance towards Amiens, seized Villers-Bretonneux. That night, Australian soldiers counter-attacked to the north and south of the town and encircled it, and by the evening of 25 April—Anzac Day—the enemy had been driven out. On this northern side, men of the Australian 57th, 59th and 60th Battalions, supported by the 58th Battalion, formed up on the road well down the slope to the west of the memorial. Then, carrying out a complicated forward movement in the dark, the Australians advanced through the shallow valley between the tower and the town, the 60th passing closest to the memorial. Soon they were strung out along the apex of the ridge directly to the east.

As the Australians approached German positions, the light from a burning building revealed their movement. Enemy flares lit the scene and the order was given to charge. 'There went up', wrote historian Charles Bean, 'from the unleashed line a shout—a savage, eager yell of which every narrative speaks—and the Australians made straight for the enemy'. Personal accounts collected later from every battalion, company and platoon which took part revealed the physical intensity of their assault: '[the Germans] screamed for mercy but there were too many machine guns about to show them any consideration', 'these three men [the first German machine-gun crew] were either bayoneted or shot'. Bean concluded that the half hour it took to seize the German line ranked as one of the 'wildest in the experience of the Australian infantry'.

As the Germans never retook these positions, it is surprising that the bodies of as many as forty-eight Australian soldiers went 'missing' in this northern area of the attack. Their names are listed with the missing of the 57th, 58th, 59th and 60th Battalions on the Australian National Memorial. The story of their fate is a tale worth telling on any Anzac Day.

On this spot—2nd Australian Division Memorial, Mont St Quentin

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Audio transcript

This is the Second Australian Division Memorial at Mont St Quentin. Of the five Australian divisional memorials in France and Belgium this is the only one with a symbolic work of art, in this case a 'digger' in slouch hat in full marching order, carrying all his personal equipment. By the time they reached this area on 31 August 1918 the men of the Second Division, along with the rest of the Australian Imperial Force, had been fighting their way across the French countryside since 8 August, pushing back the German Army.

On 1 September, 'A' Company of the 21st Australian Infantry Battalion, Second Division, were in position below Mont St Quentin beside the town of Péronne. Corporal Philip Starr wrote: 'We were weary and hungry and generally played out, so we threw ourselves down almost anywhere to rest'. The midday sun warmed the air as Starr and his mates thought they were going to have a good rest—'a very short one it turned out to be, as about an hour later we were called out and told that we had to take Mont St Quentin'. Strongly defended, Mont St Quentin was a vital position. Capture it, and the whole enemy position in Péronne would be untenable for the Germans. Although the Mont had been taken the previous day, a German counter-attack had driven the Australians off. Now 'A' Company was to be part of a renewed effort to secure the hill.

Under the leadership of Captain James Sullivan, the company moved to the attack at 2 pm. Starr felt they were all aware of what they were doing: 'It would certainly have meant the withdrawal of the force threatening Péronne … had we failed'. To their left they could see other companies of their battalion making progress straight up and over the hill, through Mont St Quentin village. With 'A' Company was the AIF's official photographer, Captain Hubert Wilkins, described by Starr as 'a game man' who 'took some good snaps'. One 'snap' showed Captain Sullivan leading his men under fire up a road in the village. It can't have been far from where the memorial stands today.

It took 'A' Company until 6 pm to reach a German trench just beyond the village to the south. Starr described his path through a bushy space where leaves were forced aside with bayonets as enemy machine-gun bullets ripped through the branches. A road was crossed and hard fighting ensued to drive the Germans from more bushes. A bullet killed Private William McIntosh, but, as Starr wrote, they were 'not in the mood to be stopped that day'. Another strongly held trench was captured by fighting their way down it with 'bomb and bayonet' until 'A' Company reached what Starr called the 'last stronghold of the defences of Mont St Quentin'. Here they stopped, consolidated their position and beat off counter-attacks. Up to their left the other companies were digging in. Mont St Quentin was in Australian hands.

This action was soon being hailed as one of the greatest Australian victories of the war, so perhaps it is no surprise that the Second Division decided to build its memorial here. On the side of the memorial is another feature not seen on any other Australian divisional memorial: a bas-relief depicting diggers making their way down a German trench with bomb and bayonet. It is a fitting tribute to the contribution of 'A' Company, 21st Battalion, and others, to the capture of Mont St Quentin.

On this spot—2nd Australian Division Memorial, Mont St Quentin

At home, or as you tour the twelve locations of the Australian Remembrance Trail in France and Belgium, listen to a four-minute audio-cast featuring the extraordinary stories of Australian soldiers 'on this spot'. Listen to the audio-cast from your device.

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Audio transcript

This is the Second Australian Division Memorial at Mont St Quentin. Of the five Australian divisional memorials in France and Belgium this is the only one with a symbolic work of art, in this case a 'digger' in slouch hat in full marching order, carrying all his personal equipment. By the time they reached this area on 31 August 1918 the men of the Second Division, along with the rest of the Australian Imperial Force, had been fighting their way across the French countryside since 8 August, pushing back the German Army.

On 1 September, 'A' Company of the 21st Australian Infantry Battalion, Second Division, were in position below Mont St Quentin beside the town of Péronne. Corporal Philip Starr wrote: 'We were weary and hungry and generally played out, so we threw ourselves down almost anywhere to rest'. The midday sun warmed the air as Starr and his mates thought they were going to have a good rest—'a very short one it turned out to be, as about an hour later we were called out and told that we had to take Mont St Quentin'. Strongly defended, Mont St Quentin was a vital position. Capture it, and the whole enemy position in Péronne would be untenable for the Germans. Although the Mont had been taken the previous day, a German counter-attack had driven the Australians off. Now 'A' Company was to be part of a renewed effort to secure the hill.

Under the leadership of Captain James Sullivan, the company moved to the attack at 2 pm. Starr felt they were all aware of what they were doing: 'It would certainly have meant the withdrawal of the force threatening Péronne … had we failed'. To their left they could see other companies of their battalion making progress straight up and over the hill, through Mont St Quentin village. With 'A' Company was the AIF's official photographer, Captain Hubert Wilkins, described by Starr as 'a game man' who 'took some good snaps'. One 'snap' showed Captain Sullivan leading his men under fire up a road in the village. It can't have been far from where the memorial stands today.

It took 'A' Company until 6 pm to reach a German trench just beyond the village to the south. Starr described his path through a bushy space where leaves were forced aside with bayonets as enemy machine-gun bullets ripped through the branches. A road was crossed and hard fighting ensued to drive the Germans from more bushes. A bullet killed Private William McIntosh, but, as Starr wrote, they were 'not in the mood to be stopped that day'. Another strongly held trench was captured by fighting their way down it with 'bomb and bayonet' until 'A' Company reached what Starr called the 'last stronghold of the defences of Mont St Quentin'. Here they stopped, consolidated their position and beat off counter-attacks. Up to their left the other companies were digging in. Mont St Quentin was in Australian hands.

This action was soon being hailed as one of the greatest Australian victories of the war, so perhaps it is no surprise that the Second Division decided to build its memorial here. On the side of the memorial is another feature not seen on any other Australian divisional memorial: a bas-relief depicting diggers making their way down a German trench with bomb and bayonet. It is a fitting tribute to the contribution of 'A' Company, 21st Battalion, and others, to the capture of Mont St Quentin.

Australian Corps Memorial, Le Hamel

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Audio transcript

This is the Australian Corps Memorial on the ridge overlooking the village of Le Hamel, near Villers-Bretonneux, in France. From here the view to the west and north is superb. In the distance, about four kilometres away, are the twin towers of the 18th century abbey church of Corbie; to the right, and down the hill, is the River Somme running due west through numerous open pond-like stretches of water; and peeping over the distant hill slightly to the south-west, is the top of the tower of the Australian National Memorial. Among the battle honours inscribed on that memorial is the name 'Hamel', which remembers the battle fought here on 4 July 1918.

Shaping his official narrative of that day's events, the diarist of the War Diary of the 44th Battalion AIF wrote: 'As darkness gave way to day, our men could be seen working their way steadily but surely to the crest of the ridge while eight tanks wobbled here and there over the slopes'. They had begun their advance on this strong German position known as the 'Wolfsberg', full of deep dugouts and stretching for some 500 metres north to south, in the dark from about two and a half kilometres away.

At 3.10 am an Australian artillery barrage had descended on the Germans, its effect vividly captured by our battalion diarist: '[it] came down with ferocious suddenness upon the enemy front line and pounded, battered and chopped it to pieces with shells of every calibre—light, medium, heavy, gas, shrapnel, high explosive'. After four minutes the barrage lifted 90 metres forward and then progressed, in stages like this, every one minute. Supported by British Mark V tanks, the men of the 44th Battalion advanced behind another Australian battalion towards Le Hamel. German machine gunners opened up and here the key role of the tanks is brought to life, as recorded once again in the War Diary: [they] smelt out the vicious machine guns in the enemy strong points, and summarily dealt with them in their own quaint manner'.

On reaching Le Hamel the 44th Battalion split into two groups and, each group accompanied by three tanks, went ahead around the village and straight up the slope at the Wolfsberg. Ahead of them the sky was lit up by exploding Verey lights and rockets as the embattled Germans sent up these colourful signals requesting badly needed artillery support. The 44th found the resulting barrage of little effect, but praised the manner in which their tanks dealt with the more troublesome machine guns. Indeed, it was the tanks which, as the War Diary put it, 'wobbled' over the summit of the ridge and cleared the German machine gunners from their positions.

'By twenty-five minutes to five' according to our war diarist, 'the ridge was ours'. That was, from their official record, just 85 minutes after the men of the 44th Battalion had begun their advance. Usually the time given for this most successful Australian advance and the capture of the German positions along the ridge beyond Le Hamel is 93 minutes. If their record is correct, the 44th beat that by eight minutes.

Australian Corps Memorial, Le Hamel

At home, or as you tour the twelve locations of the Australian Remembrance Trail in France and Belgium, listen to a four-minute audio-cast featuring the extraordinary stories of Australian soldiers 'on this spot'. Listen to the audio-cast from your device.

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Audio transcript

This is the Australian Corps Memorial on the ridge overlooking the village of Le Hamel, near Villers-Bretonneux, in France. From here the view to the west and north is superb. In the distance, about four kilometres away, are the twin towers of the 18th century abbey church of Corbie; to the right, and down the hill, is the River Somme running due west through numerous open pond-like stretches of water; and peeping over the distant hill slightly to the south-west, is the top of the tower of the Australian National Memorial. Among the battle honours inscribed on that memorial is the name 'Hamel', which remembers the battle fought here on 4 July 1918.

Shaping his official narrative of that day's events, the diarist of the War Diary of the 44th Battalion AIF wrote: 'As darkness gave way to day, our men could be seen working their way steadily but surely to the crest of the ridge while eight tanks wobbled here and there over the slopes'. They had begun their advance on this strong German position known as the 'Wolfsberg', full of deep dugouts and stretching for some 500 metres north to south, in the dark from about two and a half kilometres away.

At 3.10 am an Australian artillery barrage had descended on the Germans, its effect vividly captured by our battalion diarist: '[it] came down with ferocious suddenness upon the enemy front line and pounded, battered and chopped it to pieces with shells of every calibre—light, medium, heavy, gas, shrapnel, high explosive'. After four minutes the barrage lifted 90 metres forward and then progressed, in stages like this, every one minute. Supported by British Mark V tanks, the men of the 44th Battalion advanced behind another Australian battalion towards Le Hamel. German machine gunners opened up and here the key role of the tanks is brought to life, as recorded once again in the War Diary: [they] smelt out the vicious machine guns in the enemy strong points, and summarily dealt with them in their own quaint manner'.

On reaching Le Hamel the 44th Battalion split into two groups and, each group accompanied by three tanks, went ahead around the village and straight up the slope at the Wolfsberg. Ahead of them the sky was lit up by exploding Verey lights and rockets as the embattled Germans sent up these colourful signals requesting badly needed artillery support. The 44th found the resulting barrage of little effect, but praised the manner in which their tanks dealt with the more troublesome machine guns. Indeed, it was the tanks which, as the War Diary put it, 'wobbled' over the summit of the ridge and cleared the German machine gunners from their positions.

'By twenty-five minutes to five' according to our war diarist, 'the ridge was ours'. That was, from their official record, just 85 minutes after the men of the 44th Battalion had begun their advance. Usually the time given for this most successful Australian advance and the capture of the German positions along the ridge beyond Le Hamel is 93 minutes. If their record is correct, the 44th beat that by eight minutes.

Australian Corps Memorial, Le Hamel

At home, or as you tour the twelve locations of the Australian Remembrance Trail in France and Belgium, listen to a four-minute audio-cast featuring the extraordinary stories of Australian soldiers 'on this spot'. Listen to the audio-cast from your device.

Also available are all 12 audio-casts.

Audio transcript

This is the Australian Corps Memorial on the ridge overlooking the village of Le Hamel, near Villers-Bretonneux, in France. From here the view to the west and north is superb. In the distance, about four kilometres away, are the twin towers of the 18th century abbey church of Corbie; to the right, and down the hill, is the River Somme running due west through numerous open pond-like stretches of water; and peeping over the distant hill slightly to the south-west, is the top of the tower of the Australian National Memorial. Among the battle honours inscribed on that memorial is the name 'Hamel', which remembers the battle fought here on 4 July 1918.

Shaping his official narrative of that day's events, the diarist of the War Diary of the 44th Battalion AIF wrote: 'As darkness gave way to day, our men could be seen working their way steadily but surely to the crest of the ridge while eight tanks wobbled here and there over the slopes'. They had begun their advance on this strong German position known as the 'Wolfsberg', full of deep dugouts and stretching for some 500 metres north to south, in the dark from about two and a half kilometres away.

At 3.10 am an Australian artillery barrage had descended on the Germans, its effect vividly captured by our battalion diarist: '[it] came down with ferocious suddenness upon the enemy front line and pounded, battered and chopped it to pieces with shells of every calibre—light, medium, heavy, gas, shrapnel, high explosive'. After four minutes the barrage lifted 90 metres forward and then progressed, in stages like this, every one minute. Supported by British Mark V tanks, the men of the 44th Battalion advanced behind another Australian battalion towards Le Hamel. German machine gunners opened up and here the key role of the tanks is brought to life, as recorded once again in the War Diary: [they] smelt out the vicious machine guns in the enemy strong points, and summarily dealt with them in their own quaint manner'.

On reaching Le Hamel the 44th Battalion split into two groups and, each group accompanied by three tanks, went ahead around the village and straight up the slope at the Wolfsberg. Ahead of them the sky was lit up by exploding Verey lights and rockets as the embattled Germans sent up these colourful signals requesting badly needed artillery support. The 44th found the resulting barrage of little effect, but praised the manner in which their tanks dealt with the more troublesome machine guns. Indeed, it was the tanks which, as the War Diary put it, 'wobbled' over the summit of the ridge and cleared the German machine gunners from their positions.

'By twenty-five minutes to five' according to our war diarist, 'the ridge was ours'. That was, from their official record, just 85 minutes after the men of the 44th Battalion had begun their advance. Usually the time given for this most successful Australian advance and the capture of the German positions along the ridge beyond Le Hamel is 93 minutes. If their record is correct, the 44th beat that by eight minutes.

The Windmill, Pozières

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Audio transcript

This is the site of the old Pozières windmill. Perched on this ridge just beyond the village, its sails once caught the winds that sweep in from the Atlantic across these exposed upland stretches of the Somme. Like Pozières itself, the windmill was battered out of existence by artillery bombardment during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Looking from the windmill ruins back to the village and to the right towards Mouquet Farm, about 1.8 kilometres away, the eye takes in a sweep of countryside which, in the words of official historian Charles Bean, 'was more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other spot on earth'. By that, Bean meant the 23 000 casualties suffered here by the Australian Imperial Force between 23 July and 4 September 1916. More than 6700 of them were killed in action or died of wounds. In 1932 Bean persuaded the Australian War Memorial to buy the windmill ruins, and it was from here that French soil was dug up to scatter on the coffin of Australia's Unknown Soldier when he was laid to rest at the Memorial on 11 November 1993.

Bean was deeply aware of the desperate digging in the shell-shattered country around Pozières and the windmill between 29 July and 3 August 1916. On 28–29 July the Second Australian Division had failed to capture this ridge. To attack it again required the construction of a network of communication trenches along which men could approach assembly trenches protected from enemy machine-gun and sniper fire. The diggers, however, were an easy target for the German artillery and the work was regarded as a battle operation.

On the night of 31 July, Lieutenant John Raws, 23rd Australian Infantry Battalion, was in charge of a party in no-man's-land. German flares lit up the night, but they dug on through what Raws described as a 'tornado of bursting shells' ripping up the earth and burying them. Raws was often knocked down, and twice buried with the dead and dying. He pushed his men to the limit and towards daybreak refused to leave, even when ordered to do so by another officer. 'The trench was not finished', he wrote, 'I took it on myself to insist on the men staying, saying that any man who stopped digging would be shot'. On their way out Raws carried the only unburied wounded man they could find—'The journey down with him was awful. He was delirious. I tied one of his legs to his pack with one of my puttees'. Raws then spent two more hours under the shelling looking for wounded men. On the evening of 4 August 1916, in daylight, the Second Australian Division captured the ridge, including the ruin of the windmill.

On 31 July 1916 Bean visited the front line and was shocked. 'Everywhere', he wrote, 'were blackened men—torn and whole—dead for days'. On 28 August Bean took British official photographer Ernest Brooks out beyond Pozières to where all this furious digging had happened. Brooks' images are now in the Australian War Memorial. Much later, in May 1917, Bean walked the deserted battlefield with English poet and journalist John Masefield. Masefield found, and gave to Bean, an old Australian trench sign from 'Centre Way', one of the key communication trenches dug for the 4 August 1916 attack. It is thought to be the first object collected by Bean in France for what ultimately became the Australian War Memorial.

The Windmill, Pozières

At home, or as you tour the twelve locations of the Australian Remembrance Trail in France and Belgium, listen to a four-minute audio-cast featuring the extraordinary stories of Australian soldiers 'on this spot'. Listen to the audio-cast from your device.

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Audio transcript

This is the site of the old Pozières windmill. Perched on this ridge just beyond the village, its sails once caught the winds that sweep in from the Atlantic across these exposed upland stretches of the Somme. Like Pozières itself, the windmill was battered out of existence by artillery bombardment during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Looking from the windmill ruins back to the village and to the right towards Mouquet Farm, about 1.8 kilometres away, the eye takes in a sweep of countryside which, in the words of official historian Charles Bean, 'was more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other spot on earth'. By that, Bean meant the 23 000 casualties suffered here by the Australian Imperial Force between 23 July and 4 September 1916. More than 6700 of them were killed in action or died of wounds. In 1932 Bean persuaded the Australian War Memorial to buy the windmill ruins, and it was from here that French soil was dug up to scatter on the coffin of Australia's Unknown Soldier when he was laid to rest at the Memorial on 11 November 1993.

Bean was deeply aware of the desperate digging in the shell-shattered country around Pozières and the windmill between 29 July and 3 August 1916. On 28–29 July the Second Australian Division had failed to capture this ridge. To attack it again required the construction of a network of communication trenches along which men could approach assembly trenches protected from enemy machine-gun and sniper fire. The diggers, however, were an easy target for the German artillery and the work was regarded as a battle operation.

On the night of 31 July, Lieutenant John Raws, 23rd Australian Infantry Battalion, was in charge of a party in no-man's-land. German flares lit up the night, but they dug on through what Raws described as a 'tornado of bursting shells' ripping up the earth and burying them. Raws was often knocked down, and twice buried with the dead and dying. He pushed his men to the limit and towards daybreak refused to leave, even when ordered to do so by another officer. 'The trench was not finished', he wrote, 'I took it on myself to insist on the men staying, saying that any man who stopped digging would be shot'. On their way out Raws carried the only unburied wounded man they could find—'The journey down with him was awful. He was delirious. I tied one of his legs to his pack with one of my puttees'. Raws then spent two more hours under the shelling looking for wounded men. On the evening of 4 August 1916, in daylight, the Second Australian Division captured the ridge, including the ruin of the windmill.

On 31 July 1916 Bean visited the front line and was shocked. 'Everywhere', he wrote, 'were blackened men—torn and whole—dead for days'. On 28 August Bean took British official photographer Ernest Brooks out beyond Pozières to where all this furious digging had happened. Brooks' images are now in the Australian War Memorial. Much later, in May 1917, Bean walked the deserted battlefield with English poet and journalist John Masefield. Masefield found, and gave to Bean, an old Australian trench sign from 'Centre Way', one of the key communication trenches dug for the 4 August 1916 attack. It is thought to be the first object collected by Bean in France for what ultimately became the Australian War Memorial.

1st Australian Division Memorial, Pozières

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Audio transcript

This is the First Australian Division Memorial at Pozières in France. Close by is the ruin of the Gibraltar blockhouse, taken from the Germans when the Australian 1st Division attacked, took and held Pozières village between 23 and 26 July 1916. This action was one of the many battles between 1 July and 19 November of that year known collectively as The Battle of the Somme.

Gibraltar, like the Rock of Gibraltar, stuck out above the landscape, a landscape which by the end of July 1916 was a wilderness of craters. Lance Corporal Roger Morgan, 2nd Australian Infantry Battalion, described the scene: 'a land of desolation … villages are mere heaps of brick dust … every yard of earth has been torn about by shells … the whole place looks like a badly ploughed field'. This ploughing was done by thousands of British, Australian and German shells as the village and its surroundings were fought over, again and again, during July and August 1916.

Gibraltar itself was seized by men of the 2nd Australian Infantry Battalion just after daybreak on 23 July. A large white structure, some three metres tall and some 137 metres beyond the western end of Pozières, it was made of reinforced concrete and was used by the Germans as an observation post. The concrete covered the entrance to a large cellar and a stairway led down to an even deeper room. Realising this was a significant strongpoint, Captain Ernest Herrod rushed it with a small party from the front while others, led by Lieutenant Walter Waterhouse, attacked from the rear. Inside were twenty-six Germans, one of whom had his thumb on the button of a machine gun as the Australians burst in upon him. By the evening of the 23rd, the 2nd Battalion was in full possession of Gibraltar and throughout the coming days the Australians extended their hold over Pozières.

German counter-attacks failed to retake the village, so the enemy decided on a different approach. For three days their artillery poured shells on the Australian positions at Pozières. The area around Gibraltar was hard hit, as it lay close to one of the main supply routes into the village along 'Dead Man's Road'. That road is still there: it runs out into the far side of the main road across the small park beside the blockhouse ruins. The 2nd Battalion's 'War Diary' recorded: 'subject to very heavy shelling by the enemy', 'a continuous bombardment was maintained all day', 'bombardment continued throughout the night … many men were buried', 'bombardment so intense it was impossible for A and D Companies to remain in their trenches', 'men were thoroughly worn out'. All told the battalion lost 510 men killed, wounded and missing during three days at Pozières, nearly 55 per cent of those who had attacked the village on 23 July.

One of the 'missing' was a Second Battalion messenger observed lying dead in the main road just beyond Gibraltar. Sent with an important message from headquarters to the front line, he knew he might be killed by the intense shelling. Mortally wounded, he took the message from his pocket and held it in the air as he died. Twenty minutes later an ammunition party saw him lying in the road, removed his message, and delivered it. Brigadier General Neville Smyth, who sent the message and who wrote an account of this man's fate after the war, records simply: 'The man's name and number is not known'.

1st Australian Division Memorial, Pozières

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Audio transcript

This is the First Australian Division Memorial at Pozières in France. Close by is the ruin of the Gibraltar blockhouse, taken from the Germans when the Australian 1st Division attacked, took and held Pozières village between 23 and 26 July 1916. This action was one of the many battles between 1 July and 19 November of that year known collectively as The Battle of the Somme.

Gibraltar, like the Rock of Gibraltar, stuck out above the landscape, a landscape which by the end of July 1916 was a wilderness of craters. Lance Corporal Roger Morgan, 2nd Australian Infantry Battalion, described the scene: 'a land of desolation … villages are mere heaps of brick dust … every yard of earth has been torn about by shells … the whole place looks like a badly ploughed field'. This ploughing was done by thousands of British, Australian and German shells as the village and its surroundings were fought over, again and again, during July and August 1916.

Gibraltar itself was seized by men of the 2nd Australian Infantry Battalion just after daybreak on 23 July. A large white structure, some three metres tall and some 137 metres beyond the western end of Pozières, it was made of reinforced concrete and was used by the Germans as an observation post. The concrete covered the entrance to a large cellar and a stairway led down to an even deeper room. Realising this was a significant strongpoint, Captain Ernest Herrod rushed it with a small party from the front while others, led by Lieutenant Walter Waterhouse, attacked from the rear. Inside were twenty-six Germans, one of whom had his thumb on the button of a machine gun as the Australians burst in upon him. By the evening of the 23rd, the 2nd Battalion was in full possession of Gibraltar and throughout the coming days the Australians extended their hold over Pozières.

German counter-attacks failed to retake the village, so the enemy decided on a different approach. For three days their artillery poured shells on the Australian positions at Pozières. The area around Gibraltar was hard hit, as it lay close to one of the main supply routes into the village along 'Dead Man's Road'. That road is still there: it runs out into the far side of the main road across the small park beside the blockhouse ruins. The 2nd Battalion's 'War Diary' recorded: 'subject to very heavy shelling by the enemy', 'a continuous bombardment was maintained all day', 'bombardment continued throughout the night … many men were buried', 'bombardment so intense it was impossible for A and D Companies to remain in their trenches', 'men were thoroughly worn out'. All told the battalion lost 510 men killed, wounded and missing during three days at Pozières, nearly 55 per cent of those who had attacked the village on 23 July.

One of the 'missing' was a Second Battalion messenger observed lying dead in the main road just beyond Gibraltar. Sent with an important message from headquarters to the front line, he knew he might be killed by the intense shelling. Mortally wounded, he took the message from his pocket and held it in the air as he died. Twenty minutes later an ammunition party saw him lying in the road, removed his message, and delivered it. Brigadier General Neville Smyth, who sent the message and who wrote an account of this man's fate after the war, records simply: 'The man's name and number is not known'.

The Bullecourt Digger, France

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Audio transcript

This is the Bullecourt 'digger'. Looking out from the Australian Memorial Park over the fields of Bullecourt in France, the statue recalls the thousands of Australians who fought here in April and May 1917 in the first and second battles of Bullecourt. They captured a couple of square kilometres of trenches from the Germans, trenches which formed a small section of the formidable 'Hindenburg Line'.

During the first battle, on 11 April 1917, the diggers were driven from positions they had gained near the memorial at a cost of 3000 casualties. The second battle, fought for these same trenches between 3 and 16 May, resulted in 7000 Australian casualties. This time the Germans gave up the area, and the village, and fell back to a new front line.

What was it like to fight at Bullecourt? A couple of hundred metres up the road to the right of the memorial is a cross dedicated to Australians 'missing in action' in both battles. Just beyond the cross to the right, over the fields and bisecting the road, was the second German defensive line known as OG2. There was actually a gap in OG2 where it crossed the road. On the night of 3–4 May, the men of the 3rd Australian Infantry Battalion took over this position. For nearly three days, they defended and extended it as they endured machine-gun fire, artillery bombardment, vigorous and extensive grenade fights, and the flames of a German flamethrower.

Sergeant Patrick Kinchington, whose platoon was in charge of the battalion's left flank, placed an observation post in the road behind a barricade and two machine guns on the bank beside it. He also stored there a supply of small German 'egg' grenades found in the trench. These were useful as they were lighter and could be thrown further than their own British 'Mills' bombs.

Just after dawn on 4 May, Kinchington saw a large party of Germans coming down the road without rifles, seemingly oblivious to the Australian presence. When they were about 35-metres away, in Kinchington's own words, he 'saw a fellow shoot a jet of flame into the bank … It was the first flamethrower I had seen'. He shot the German, the bullet going through his body and igniting the flamethrower on his back. A dozen of the enemy seemed to fall into a hole in the road on top of the dead flamethrower, where they all caught fire. The remaining Germans assaulted the Australians with grenades. None reached OG2, having been beaten back by the Australians hurling the 'egg' grenades at them.

The defence of OG2 cost the 3rd Battalion dearly. When relieved their ranks were, in the words of the battalion historian, 'sadly thinned', having suffered 309 casualties—56 dead, 8 missing and 245 wounded. Private John Ambrose Ware, 3rd Battalion, who fought unwounded through those desperate days and nights, wrote to his mother, living near Yass in rural New South Wales, of the dead and wounded of Bullecourt: 'Sometimes they are blown to pieces, others not so bad, limbs off, skulls knocked in … the only burial they get at the time is a coat over their face ... someday I may try and explain to you what it was like.'

The Bullecourt Digger, France

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Audio transcript

This is the Bullecourt 'digger'. Looking out from the Australian Memorial Park over the fields of Bullecourt in France, the statue recalls the thousands of Australians who fought here in April and May 1917 in the first and second battles of Bullecourt. They captured a couple of square kilometres of trenches from the Germans, trenches which formed a small section of the formidable 'Hindenburg Line'.

During the first battle, on 11 April 1917, the diggers were driven from positions they had gained near the memorial at a cost of 3000 casualties. The second battle, fought for these same trenches between 3 and 16 May, resulted in 7000 Australian casualties. This time the Germans gave up the area, and the village, and fell back to a new front line.

What was it like to fight at Bullecourt? A couple of hundred metres up the road to the right of the memorial is a cross dedicated to Australians 'missing in action' in both battles. Just beyond the cross to the right, over the fields and bisecting the road, was the second German defensive line known as OG2. There was actually a gap in OG2 where it crossed the road. On the night of 3–4 May, the men of the 3rd Australian Infantry Battalion took over this position. For nearly three days, they defended and extended it as they endured machine-gun fire, artillery bombardment, vigorous and extensive grenade fights, and the flames of a German flamethrower.

Sergeant Patrick Kinchington, whose platoon was in charge of the battalion's left flank, placed an observation post in the road behind a barricade and two machine guns on the bank beside it. He also stored there a supply of small German 'egg' grenades found in the trench. These were useful as they were lighter and could be thrown further than their own British 'Mills' bombs.

Just after dawn on 4 May, Kinchington saw a large party of Germans coming down the road without rifles, seemingly oblivious to the Australian presence. When they were about 35-metres away, in Kinchington's own words, he 'saw a fellow shoot a jet of flame into the bank … It was the first flamethrower I had seen'. He shot the German, the bullet going through his body and igniting the flamethrower on his back. A dozen of the enemy seemed to fall into a hole in the road on top of the dead flamethrower, where they all caught fire. The remaining Germans assaulted the Australians with grenades. None reached OG2, having been beaten back by the Australians hurling the 'egg' grenades at them.

The defence of OG2 cost the 3rd Battalion dearly. When relieved their ranks were, in the words of the battalion historian, 'sadly thinned', having suffered 309 casualties—56 dead, 8 missing and 245 wounded. Private John Ambrose Ware, 3rd Battalion, who fought unwounded through those desperate days and nights, wrote to his mother, living near Yass in rural New South Wales, of the dead and wounded of Bullecourt: 'Sometimes they are blown to pieces, others not so bad, limbs off, skulls knocked in … the only burial they get at the time is a coat over their face ... someday I may try and explain to you what it was like.'

Tyne Cot, Zonnebeke

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Audio trancript

This is the Tyne Cot blockhouse at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium. The blockhouse is covered by the Great Cross, but a small section of the original concrete of this German defensive position is visible behind the ornamental wreath at the front. From here, there is a view out over the countryside back to the spires of Ieper, some ten kilometres away, and well beyond. Tyne Cot is the largest British Commonwealth War Cemetery in the world, with more than 11 900 British Empire soldiers buried here, 1369 of whom are Australians. Towards dawn on the morning of 4 October 1917 this cemetery was an Australian battlefield—the battlefield of Broodseinde Ridge.

The concrete blockhouse, often called a 'pill-box' by the British, was the characteristic feature of the German defences in this part of Belgium. Behind its reinforced concrete walls, enemy soldiers could sit out the massive artillery bombardments which preceded British attacks. Barbed wire, strung between the blockhouses, was positioned to funnel attacking troops into the fixed fields of fire of heavy machine guns, and German light machine gunners, riflemen and bomb throwers manned surrounding trench positions.

Captain Frank Green, who later wrote a history of the 40th Australian Infantry Battalion, fought with this all-Tasmanian unit on the morning of 4 October 1917 at Tyne Cot. According to Green's account, 'On the top of the ridge the trench system and line of pill-boxes seemed alive with men and machine guns … the only possible way to advance was from shell hole to shell hole by short rushes'. Much of the wire in front of the 40th had survived the artillery bombardment, and gaps in the wire were covered by German machine guns. Here many Tasmanians were killed or wounded and the advance slowed. As often in such situations, individual actions saved the day.

Captain Cecil McVilly stood up, leading his men forward until he was severely wounded; Captain Henry Dumaresq led a charge into heavy machine-gun fire; and Captain William Ruddock, through what Frank Green described as a 'perfect tornado of machine-gun fire', worked his men into a position to fire across a particularly strong German blockhouse position at Hamburg Farm. Looking from the Great Cross at Tyne Cot, Hamburg lies beyond the bottom right-hand corner of the cemetery wall, on the other side of a large field. Ruddock's covering fire enabled Sergeant Lewis McGee to make a direct personal assault on the Germans. Green tells the story: 'Sergeant McGee rushed straight at the pill-box in the face of what seemed like certain death, but he got across that 50 yards of open ground and shot the crew with his revolver'. For his bravery McGee was awarded the Victoria Cross. Shortly after 9 am the 40th Battalion were digging in on all their objectives, successfully captured around what is now the Tyne Cot Cemetery.

For the Australians, the Battle of Broodseinde was a stunning success. In his official history Charles Bean called it 'an overwhelming blow' driving the Germans from 'one of the most important positions on the Western Front'. The Australian units suffered more than 4600 casualties, killed and wounded. An inscription beneath the ornamental wreath at the Tyne Cot Great Cross reads: 'This was the Tyne Cot blockhouse captured by the 3rd Australian Division 4th October 1917'. It could, perhaps more accurately, read 'captured by the Tasmanians of the 40th Battalion'.

Tyne Cot, Zonnebeke

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Also available are all 12 audio-casts.

Audio trancript

This is the Tyne Cot blockhouse at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium. The blockhouse is covered by the Great Cross, but a small section of the original concrete of this German defensive position is visible behind the ornamental wreath at the front. From here, there is a view out over the countryside back to the spires of Ieper, some ten kilometres away, and well beyond. Tyne Cot is the largest British Commonwealth War Cemetery in the world, with more than 11 900 British Empire soldiers buried here, 1369 of whom are Australians. Towards dawn on the morning of 4 October 1917 this cemetery was an Australian battlefield—the battlefield of Broodseinde Ridge.

The concrete blockhouse, often called a 'pill-box' by the British, was the characteristic feature of the German defences in this part of Belgium. Behind its reinforced concrete walls, enemy soldiers could sit out the massive artillery bombardments which preceded British attacks. Barbed wire, strung between the blockhouses, was positioned to funnel attacking troops into the fixed fields of fire of heavy machine guns, and German light machine gunners, riflemen and bomb throwers manned surrounding trench positions.

Captain Frank Green, who later wrote a history of the 40th Australian Infantry Battalion, fought with this all-Tasmanian unit on the morning of 4 October 1917 at Tyne Cot. According to Green's account, 'On the top of the ridge the trench system and line of pill-boxes seemed alive with men and machine guns … the only possible way to advance was from shell hole to shell hole by short rushes'. Much of the wire in front of the 40th had survived the artillery bombardment, and gaps in the wire were covered by German machine guns. Here many Tasmanians were killed or wounded and the advance slowed. As often in such situations, individual actions saved the day.

Captain Cecil McVilly stood up, leading his men forward until he was severely wounded; Captain Henry Dumaresq led a charge into heavy machine-gun fire; and Captain William Ruddock, through what Frank Green described as a 'perfect tornado of machine-gun fire', worked his men into a position to fire across a particularly strong German blockhouse position at Hamburg Farm. Looking from the Great Cross at Tyne Cot, Hamburg lies beyond the bottom right-hand corner of the cemetery wall, on the other side of a large field. Ruddock's covering fire enabled Sergeant Lewis McGee to make a direct personal assault on the Germans. Green tells the story: 'Sergeant McGee rushed straight at the pill-box in the face of what seemed like certain death, but he got across that 50 yards of open ground and shot the crew with his revolver'. For his bravery McGee was awarded the Victoria Cross. Shortly after 9 am the 40th Battalion were digging in on all their objectives, successfully captured around what is now the Tyne Cot Cemetery.

For the Australians, the Battle of Broodseinde was a stunning success. In his official history Charles Bean called it 'an overwhelming blow' driving the Germans from 'one of the most important positions on the Western Front'. The Australian units suffered more than 4600 casualties, killed and wounded. An inscription beneath the ornamental wreath at the Tyne Cot Great Cross reads: 'This was the Tyne Cot blockhouse captured by the 3rd Australian Division 4th October 1917'. It could, perhaps more accurately, read 'captured by the Tasmanians of the 40th Battalion'.

Thiepval, France

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Audio transcript

This is the Anglo–French Cemetery beside the British Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, at Thiepval in France. Here lie 600 soldiers—300 from France and 300 from the British Empire—brought here in the months prior to the dedication of the great memorial by Edward, Prince of Wales, and President Albert Lebrun of France on 1 August 1932. Only 108 of them are identified. The purpose of this unique cemetery, in words inscribed on the side of the Cross of Sacrifice, is to remember those two and a half million French and British soldiers who died, fighting for a common cause, in World War I.

On 1 July 1916 the cemetery was a battlefield. At 7.30 am soldiers of the 16th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers left their trenches out in the fields directly beyond the Cross and, moving across no-man's-land, attacked the German front-line trenches which ran through the cemetery. The battalion war diary described what happened in a few, simple words: 'The enemy stood upon their parapet and waved to our men to come on and picked them off with rifle fire. The enemy's fire was so intense that the advance was checked and the waves, or what was left of them, were forced to lie down'. So great was the loss that the battalion commander ordered the remnants of the last wave, as they left their trench, to stop where they were.

Along a 20 kilometre front that day the British Army sustained 60 000 casualties, some 20 000 of whom died in battle or of wounds. Throughout the period of the Somme battle—1 July to 19 November 1916—the British Empire armies suffered more than 400 000 casualties. On the panels of the memorial are the names of 72,203 British soldiers described on the large inscription across the top of the edifice as 'The Missing of the Somme'. What happened on the Somme in 1916 looms large in the memory of the 'Great War', the 'war to end all wars'.

Buried on the British side of the cemetery are men who served in famous British regiments. One grave holds an unknown 'Soldier of the Great War' of the Northumberland Fusiliers, one of the British Army's oldest regiments, with the regiment's badge showing St George slaying the dragon, cut into the stone. Sergeant Major William James Nelson, born in Petersburg (now Peterborough), South Australia, fought with the 23rd Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers and died on 1 July 1916, a day on which 85 per cent of his unit—700 men—were killed or wounded. On 10 August, his brother, Private John Nelson, 16th Australian Infantry Battalion, died within sight of Thiepval, attacking Mouquet Farm. Neither of the brothers' bodies were recovered: William's name is remembered here on the Thiepval Memorial and John's is listed with the missing of the 16th Battalion in France on the walls of the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

Among the 300 soldiers buried on this side of the cemetery are ten Australian soldiers, four identified and six unidentified. On each of their headstones is that well-known emblem of the Australian Imperial Force, the rising sun badge. Their presence is a reminder that on the Western Front Australians served not only as members of the AIF but as proud citizens of that vanished realm known as the British Empire.

Thiepval, France

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Audio transcript

This is the Anglo–French Cemetery beside the British Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, at Thiepval in France. Here lie 600 soldiers—300 from France and 300 from the British Empire—brought here in the months prior to the dedication of the great memorial by Edward, Prince of Wales, and President Albert Lebrun of France on 1 August 1932. Only 108 of them are identified. The purpose of this unique cemetery, in words inscribed on the side of the Cross of Sacrifice, is to remember those two and a half million French and British soldiers who died, fighting for a common cause, in World War I.

On 1 July 1916 the cemetery was a battlefield. At 7.30 am soldiers of the 16th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers left their trenches out in the fields directly beyond the Cross and, moving across no-man's-land, attacked the German front-line trenches which ran through the cemetery. The battalion war diary described what happened in a few, simple words: 'The enemy stood upon their parapet and waved to our men to come on and picked them off with rifle fire. The enemy's fire was so intense that the advance was checked and the waves, or what was left of them, were forced to lie down'. So great was the loss that the battalion commander ordered the remnants of the last wave, as they left their trench, to stop where they were.

Along a 20 kilometre front that day the British Army sustained 60 000 casualties, some 20 000 of whom died in battle or of wounds. Throughout the period of the Somme battle—1 July to 19 November 1916—the British Empire armies suffered more than 400 000 casualties. On the panels of the memorial are the names of 72,203 British soldiers described on the large inscription across the top of the edifice as 'The Missing of the Somme'. What happened on the Somme in 1916 looms large in the memory of the 'Great War', the 'war to end all wars'.

Buried on the British side of the cemetery are men who served in famous British regiments. One grave holds an unknown 'Soldier of the Great War' of the Northumberland Fusiliers, one of the British Army's oldest regiments, with the regiment's badge showing St George slaying the dragon, cut into the stone. Sergeant Major William James Nelson, born in Petersburg (now Peterborough), South Australia, fought with the 23rd Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers and died on 1 July 1916, a day on which 85 per cent of his unit—700 men—were killed or wounded. On 10 August, his brother, Private John Nelson, 16th Australian Infantry Battalion, died within sight of Thiepval, attacking Mouquet Farm. Neither of the brothers' bodies were recovered: William's name is remembered here on the Thiepval Memorial and John's is listed with the missing of the 16th Battalion in France on the walls of the Australian National Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

Among the 300 soldiers buried on this side of the cemetery are ten Australian soldiers, four identified and six unidentified. On each of their headstones is that well-known emblem of the Australian Imperial Force, the rising sun badge. Their presence is a reminder that on the Western Front Australians served not only as members of the AIF but as proud citizens of that vanished realm known as the British Empire.

4th Australian Division Memorial, Bellenglise

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For the men of the Fourth Australian Division the war ended here, on a hill looking south towards the village of Bellenglise, where they built their memorial in France. This is an isolated place, little frequented by Australian battlefield visitors. The division considered other locations for the memorial, such as Dernancourt, where in April 1918 they had stopped the advance of a greatly superior German force; or Pozières, where in August 1916 they suffered heavy casualties. But Bellenglise was chosen because, according to the division's own statement, it was 'the culminating point of the Fourth Australian Division's work in the war … [and] also the scene of an extremely successful operation carried out during the period 18th–24th September 1918'.

For the 48th Australian Infantry Battalion, Fourth Division, the war began in March 1916 in Egypt and ended at Bellenglise. In Egypt the battalion was created from a core of men who had fought on Gallipoli and new recruits from Australia, men described by their historian, Chaplain William Devine, in his book Story of a Battalion as 'for the most part, of the country … They were not a kid-glove lot of men … Some of them were bad soldiers even after training. Very few of them proved bad fighters'.

As the plaque on the memorial records, the Fourth Division took part in most of the great battles fought by the Australian Imperial Force on the Western Front. Along the way 860 men of the 48th Battalion died, the vast majority killed in action or dying of wounds. The last to die, eighteen soldiers, lost their lives near Bellenglise between 18 and 24 September 1918 during their last engagement, the Battle of the Hindenburg Outpost Line. 'That knowledge', Devine wrote, 'gave a retrospective pathos to the fate of those who fell so near to final victory'. One who died was Private Nathanial Lunt, seen by Devine as a 'hero of many fights both in the line and out of it', someone who gave as 'much trouble to his friends as he did to the enemy'. One who lived to become a decorated 'hero' was Private James Woods. Both men were involved in securing a section of the Outpost Line which lay beyond the bridge to the right of the memorial over the A26 Autoroute and down about a kilometre to the left, roughly following the line of the great wind turbines which stand there today.

A British unit further south failed to capture this critical part of the Fourth Division's right flank. Leading a patrol to find out what was happening in the area, Private Woods rushed a German position in a front-line trench, captured it and then held off a counter-attack with grenades until reinforcements arrived. Throughout the night the 48th battled the Germans for the trench and here, in Devine's words, the 'fight in the darkness lost the dignity of battle and there was enacted something more crude and savage'. Somewhere in this trench Lunt was killed; Woods survived and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his exceptional bravery. By dawn, the enemy was being pushed down the slope and within another 48 hours the position was secure. So the fighting ended for the 48th Battalion and the Fourth Division. Withdrawn in late September 1918 after this last major battle, the division's infantry battalions never again saw action on the Western Front.

4th Australian Division Memorial, Bellenglise

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Audio transcript

For the men of the Fourth Australian Division the war ended here, on a hill looking south towards the village of Bellenglise, where they built their memorial in France. This is an isolated place, little frequented by Australian battlefield visitors. The division considered other locations for the memorial, such as Dernancourt, where in April 1918 they had stopped the advance of a greatly superior German force; or Pozières, where in August 1916 they suffered heavy casualties. But Bellenglise was chosen because, according to the division's own statement, it was 'the culminating point of the Fourth Australian Division's work in the war … [and] also the scene of an extremely successful operation carried out during the period 18th–24th September 1918'.

For the 48th Australian Infantry Battalion, Fourth Division, the war began in March 1916 in Egypt and ended at Bellenglise. In Egypt the battalion was created from a core of men who had fought on Gallipoli and new recruits from Australia, men described by their historian, Chaplain William Devine, in his book Story of a Battalion as 'for the most part, of the country … They were not a kid-glove lot of men … Some of them were bad soldiers even after training. Very few of them proved bad fighters'.

As the plaque on the memorial records, the Fourth Division took part in most of the great battles fought by the Australian Imperial Force on the Western Front. Along the way 860 men of the 48th Battalion died, the vast majority killed in action or dying of wounds. The last to die, eighteen soldiers, lost their lives near Bellenglise between 18 and 24 September 1918 during their last engagement, the Battle of the Hindenburg Outpost Line. 'That knowledge', Devine wrote, 'gave a retrospective pathos to the fate of those who fell so near to final victory'. One who died was Private Nathanial Lunt, seen by Devine as a 'hero of many fights both in the line and out of it', someone who gave as 'much trouble to his friends as he did to the enemy'. One who lived to become a decorated 'hero' was Private James Woods. Both men were involved in securing a section of the Outpost Line which lay beyond the bridge to the right of the memorial over the A26 Autoroute and down about a kilometre to the left, roughly following the line of the great wind turbines which stand there today.

A British unit further south failed to capture this critical part of the Fourth Division's right flank. Leading a patrol to find out what was happening in the area, Private Woods rushed a German position in a front-line trench, captured it and then held off a counter-attack with grenades until reinforcements arrived. Throughout the night the 48th battled the Germans for the trench and here, in Devine's words, the 'fight in the darkness lost the dignity of battle and there was enacted something more crude and savage'. Somewhere in this trench Lunt was killed; Woods survived and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his exceptional bravery. By dawn, the enemy was being pushed down the slope and within another 48 hours the position was secure. So the fighting ended for the 48th Battalion and the Fourth Division. Withdrawn in late September 1918 after this last major battle, the division's infantry battalions never again saw action on the Western Front.

Ieper (Ypres) – Belgium

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Audio transcript

This is the Cloth Hall in the great market square at Ieper in Belgium. Before 1914 Ieper was a quiet, provincial centre where on Saturdays the square bustled with a weekly market and farmers’ wives sold fresh vegetables from stalls in the covered area under the Cloth Hall; where dozens of women, young and old, bent over cushions making the famous Belgian lace. The great buildings spoke of wealthier times, when Ieper had been the centre of the Flanders cloth trade and merchants came from all over Europe to buy and sell at the Cloth Hall. During the First World War Ieper became famous again, not for its produce, but for its ruins.

In late 1914 war came to Ieper. On 22 November German shells fell as the front line between the Allies – British and French – and the invading Germans was established within kilometres of the town. The Cloth Hall caught fire, burning out its interior, but the people of Ieper remained, often in the cellars under the wreckage of their homes.

In late April 1915, a great battle occurred near the town and German bombardments rendered normal life impossible. On 28 April 1915 a local photographer, known simply as ‘Anthony of Ypres’, took his camera to the Cloth Hall and recorded what he called the ‘derniers fugitifs a Ypres’ – the last fugitives of Ypres – a man pushing a wheelbarrow with an elderly woman on a mattress on top of it, and beside him a woman pushing another barrow with a bundle of belongings. Dominating the scene is the burnt-out frame of the Cloth Hall. Pictures like this appeared in newspapers throughout the world, including Australia, illustrating the destruction of war and the plight of civilians. Ieper now became a military ghost town echoing to the tramp of thousands of soldiers and the intermittent explosions of shells.

On 3 September 1917 Australia’s recently appointed official photographer to the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), Captain Frank Hurley, pulled up in a car in front of the Cloth Hall. In his diary he wrote:

This magnificent old [building] is now a remnant of torn walls and rubbish. The fine tower is a pitiable apology of a brick dump scarred and riddled with shell holes. The figures are headless and the wonderful columns and carved pillars lay like fallen giants across the mangled remnants of roofs and other superstructures ... it’s too terrible for words.

During the next two months, as he ploughed through the mud and death of the battlefields east of Ieper, recording the experiences of the men of the AIF, Hurley and his assistant, Lieutenant Hubert Wilkins, returned again and again to the town. These bleak ruins captured Hurley’s imagination and he produced a series of images of the town, many with the Cloth Hall as their focus. As he confessed to his diary:

For my part, Ypres as it is now has a curious fascination and aesthetically is far more interesting than the Ypres that was.

For him there was pathos and sadness in this rubble, and Frank Hurley captured those sentiments for all time in his famous visual story of the destruction of modern war.

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