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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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Download audio of 1st Australian Division Memorial, Pozières 3.78 MB MP3

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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Download audio of The Bullecourt Digger, France 3.66 MB MP3

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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Download audio of Tyne Cot, Zonnebeke 3.88 MB MP3

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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Download audio of Thiepval, France 3.78 MB MP3

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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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.

4th Australian Division Memorial, Bellenglise

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Download audio of 4th Australian Division Memorial, Bellenglise 3.75 MB MP3

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

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.

Download audio of Ieper (Ypres) – Belgium 3.5 MB MP3

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.

Ieper (Ypres) – Belgium

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.

Download audio of Ieper (Ypres) – Belgium 3.5 MB MP3

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.

Toronto Avenue Cemetery, Ploegsteert

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.

Download audio of Toronto Avenue Cemetery, Ploegsteert 4 MB MP3

Audio transcript

This is Ploegsteert Wood, Belgium. In May 1917 the 38th Australian Infantry Battalion was based in the wood and, according to battalion historian Private Eric Fairey, it was an idyllic spot—it was spring; the sun glinted down through the leaves of the pink chestnuts and copper beeches; the grass was covered with daisies, primroses and buttercups; and the air was filled with the melody of birdsong. Snaking through the trees were raised wooden tracks known as 'duckboards', with names on fingerposts of London streets such as Picadilly Circus, Regent Street and the Strand. On the night of 6–7 June the battalion returned to the wood on their way to the front line, but this march, according to Fairey, was a 'fearful ordeal'.

That night thousands of Australian soldiers were on the move through the wood. They were part of a mighty British Empire force heading to attack the German front line, which stretched for twenty kilometres to the north just beyond Ploegsteert Wood. Aware for some time that a great attack was in preparation, German artillery opened fire on the wood and its surroundings with high explosives and gas. The gas shells fell with a sound, reminiscent to official historian Charles Bean, of 'heavy drops before a thunderstorm'. It was a dreaded combination: high explosive fragments brought death and severe wounds, while gas caused men to reach quickly for their only protection against this noxious vapour—their 'small box respirator'.

The soldiers were weighed down with full battle gear: rifles, ammunition, grenades, rations, tools, and much else. Respirators shielded them from the gas, but movement became slow, breathing laboured. For many, the small mica eyepieces fogged up and men, looking for direction, stumbled around in a darkness lit only by exploding shells. Hundreds collapsed. According to the historian of the 39th Battalion, the tracks through the wood were strewn with 'prostrate men coughing and gasping in agony'. Lacking masks, pack animals—horses and mules—struggled for air until they too fell across and beside the tracks.

This shelling could have had disastrous consequences for the impending attack, scheduled for 3.10 am on 7 June. To prevent this, leaders worked to keep things going. Bringing up the rear of the march, Captain Robert Grieve and Major Charles Story of the 37th Battalion, finding the way ahead blocked by motionless soldiers of other units, got these men on the move, allowing their own unit to get forward on time. By 2.20 am only seven men of the 39th Battalion, led by Captain Alexander Paterson, had staggered into clearer air beyond the wood, and they were eventually joined by 113 more stragglers. Paterson, despite being slightly gassed himself, sought out ammonia capsules for his men to breath to help neutralise the gas, then reorganised them and led them successfully into the attack to capture the battalion's objective. He personally silenced an enemy machine gun; captured two others with their crews; supervised the consolidation of their position; and then fell wounded. Paterson's efforts were recognised by the award of the Military Cross.

The attack at Messines was a huge success. For the Australians, subjected to the ordeal of the night-march through gas-drenched Ploegsteert Wood, it was perhaps a double victory. Although sometimes greatly reduced in numbers, all the battalions scheduled for the attack went forward at 'zero hour'. It was an achievement which Charles Bean put down to the 'determination of the men themselves to reach the jumping-off position in time'.

Toronto Avenue Cemetery, Ploegsteert

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.

Download audio of Toronto Avenue Cemetery, Ploegsteert 4 MB MP3

Audio transcript

This is Ploegsteert Wood, Belgium. In May 1917 the 38th Australian Infantry Battalion was based in the wood and, according to battalion historian Private Eric Fairey, it was an idyllic spot—it was spring; the sun glinted down through the leaves of the pink chestnuts and copper beeches; the grass was covered with daisies, primroses and buttercups; and the air was filled with the melody of birdsong. Snaking through the trees were raised wooden tracks known as 'duckboards', with names on fingerposts of London streets such as Picadilly Circus, Regent Street and the Strand. On the night of 6–7 June the battalion returned to the wood on their way to the front line, but this march, according to Fairey, was a 'fearful ordeal'.

That night thousands of Australian soldiers were on the move through the wood. They were part of a mighty British Empire force heading to attack the German front line, which stretched for twenty kilometres to the north just beyond Ploegsteert Wood. Aware for some time that a great attack was in preparation, German artillery opened fire on the wood and its surroundings with high explosives and gas. The gas shells fell with a sound, reminiscent to official historian Charles Bean, of 'heavy drops before a thunderstorm'. It was a dreaded combination: high explosive fragments brought death and severe wounds, while gas caused men to reach quickly for their only protection against this noxious vapour—their 'small box respirator'.

The soldiers were weighed down with full battle gear: rifles, ammunition, grenades, rations, tools, and much else. Respirators shielded them from the gas, but movement became slow, breathing laboured. For many, the small mica eyepieces fogged up and men, looking for direction, stumbled around in a darkness lit only by exploding shells. Hundreds collapsed. According to the historian of the 39th Battalion, the tracks through the wood were strewn with 'prostrate men coughing and gasping in agony'. Lacking masks, pack animals—horses and mules—struggled for air until they too fell across and beside the tracks.

This shelling could have had disastrous consequences for the impending attack, scheduled for 3.10 am on 7 June. To prevent this, leaders worked to keep things going. Bringing up the rear of the march, Captain Robert Grieve and Major Charles Story of the 37th Battalion, finding the way ahead blocked by motionless soldiers of other units, got these men on the move, allowing their own unit to get forward on time. By 2.20 am only seven men of the 39th Battalion, led by Captain Alexander Paterson, had staggered into clearer air beyond the wood, and they were eventually joined by 113 more stragglers. Paterson, despite being slightly gassed himself, sought out ammonia capsules for his men to breath to help neutralise the gas, then reorganised them and led them successfully into the attack to capture the battalion's objective. He personally silenced an enemy machine gun; captured two others with their crews; supervised the consolidation of their position; and then fell wounded. Paterson's efforts were recognised by the award of the Military Cross.

The attack at Messines was a huge success. For the Australians, subjected to the ordeal of the night-march through gas-drenched Ploegsteert Wood, it was perhaps a double victory. Although sometimes greatly reduced in numbers, all the battalions scheduled for the attack went forward at 'zero hour'. It was an achievement which Charles Bean put down to the 'determination of the men themselves to reach the jumping-off position in time'.

Stan Arneil

Stan Arneil was a sergeant in the 2/30th Battalion and a member of F Force when he became a prisoner of the Japanese at Singapore. In this audio interview he recollects an experience where an officer forced an unconscious, almost dead prisoner to be carried by other prisoners to attend a roll call by which time he was dead.

More about illness and death on the railway

Download audio of Stan Arneil 2.61 MB MP3

Audio Transcript

Well, the [cholera] camp broke up. We were to come back, there were around twenty of us left, the cholera had subsided, and we were come back to the camp, and we had to be counted, as all Japanese or Korean guards, they want everybody counted. We went over there. I was in charge of this little camp. And we lined them up there, and of course we were one short. And the officer said to me ‘you’re one short’. I said ‘It’s Dusty Blackadder, sir, I don’t think he’ll last an hour’. He said ‘Well, the guard wants him here’. I said, ‘Well look, he’ll be dead in an hour, why do we want to bring him over, leave him in peace there, he’s on his own, there’s not even anybody with him’. He said, ‘Go and get him!’ So I went back with four men and one of those big bamboo stretchers, which we’d made ourselves, great big unwieldy things, and it was filthy and the mud was waist deep almost with bamboo thorns in the mud, and we had bare feet, of course. I went into see Dusty, and he was unconscious, and we had a look at him, and a little talk about him, and we said, well, he’d be dead, we’d give him half an hour. And I went back again, and this fellow said, ‘Why didn’t you bring him?’, and I said, ‘He’s only got half an hour left’, and then he started really ranting and raving (that might be the words) ... that the Korean guard was going to hit him, if he didn’t bring the body over. My feelings were, well, what’s wrong with a few hits? Physical pain is very easy to take; physical pain won’t break you, it’s mental pain that beats you. But no, I had to go back. So we went back again and he was still alive, and we put him on the stretcher, went back. Now, it wouldn’t have been more than 150 yards, but it would have taken us half an hour to get that far through this morass of mud and cut bamboo and so forth, and of course we slipped and Dusty fell off the stretcher into the mud and covered with mud and slime. We got him back into the stretcher, and got over there — he was dead — and laid him down, and the Korean guard counted everybody and everybody was correct, and the officer went off and everybody was quite happy so we then struggled and took Dusty back to the cremation pit and cremated him. [©Copyright ABC]

Doctor Rowley Richards

Dr Rowley Richards was a doctor with Australian prisoners in Burma (now Myanmar) who helped save the lives of many POWs. Having been initially imprisoned in Singapore, and then sent to work on the railway, he later became a slave labourer in Japan. In this audio interview Dr Richards discusses the hierarchical honour based culture of the Japanese that led to ritualised brutality with prisoners considered as dishonourable and the lowest of the low in a chain of command.

More about the treatment of prisoners

Download audio of Doctor Rowley Richards 1.45 MB MP3

Audio Transcript

“ ... It became essential for us to try to understand why we were being treated the way we were. We learned fairly early of course that the Japanese despised anybody who became a prisoner; in their own culture, it was a matter of honour to arrange for somebody to decapitate you rather than submit to become prisoner or to commit hari kari. Therefore those of us who did not do this in the eyes of the Japanese were the lowest form of animal life. In addition to this, we learned very quickly the hierarchical structure of the Japanese, in that a colonel would have no hesitation in dealing out physical punishment to a major, and then he, in turn, to a captain and so it went on, so that you’d have a first class private would have no hesitation in beating up a second class private. And then right at the bottom of that hierarchy was the prisoner of war, and he copped it from everybody. But it was important to realise that in many cases, while we saw cases of bashing of prisoners of war, we also saw similar cases of Japanese versus Japanese, or perhaps more correctly, Japanese versus Koreans, and then the Koreans down the line. [©Copyright ABC]”

Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop

Lieutenant-Colonel E.E. ‘Weary’ Dunlop*, one of 44 Australian doctors on the Thai–Burma railway, was renowned for his untiring efforts to care for the sick. In this audio interview ‘Weary’ Dunlop recalls his ongoing battle with the Japanese works boss in the camp who would force prisoners to work on the railway although they were very seriously ill. He also describes how these prisoners were subject to abuse and how Dunlop and the prisoners would sometimes succeed in countering this brutality.

More about Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop

Download audio of Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop 1.72 MB MP3

Audio Transcript

Well, this was a continuous treadmill in which I used to have to attend the number 1 works’ boss of the Japanese, and he would say, ‘Tomorrow so many hundred men’, and I would say, ‘Impossible! We can’t turn out this number’, and we would argue until 10 o’clock during which time I could usually beat him down a few men. Then I’d have to wait up and see the last of the workforce in — around 2 o’clock in the morning they would come in practically crawling. So then you’ve got to make your assessment of how many men would be regarded by the Japanese as ‘very fit men, very fit men’ and how many would say ‘little sick men, or little byoke men’ and this really wasn’t official, but I used to have a group of ‘little byoke men’, and these would be fellows standing shivering with fierce attacks of malaria, pouring dysentery, tropical ulcers, great raw ulcers on their legs or their feet like raw tomatoes, just looking like they had no skin on them, and there they would stand in a dejected group. But I had still another group: people who we carried out physically and laid on the parade ground, and so these men can’t stand up. Sticks would be waved over them and they would be kicked, and if they didn’t get to their feet, they might even be given a hammer to crack stones with, it was a relentless business. We had all sorts of tricks. I would instruct people to collapse on their way out of the camp, and we’d rush and carry them to the hospital. We could usually win a few tricks, but you know, that was a sick parade. [©Copyright ABC]

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