1st Australian Division Memorial, Pozières

Running time
4 min 7 sec

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

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'.

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