4th Australian Division Memorial, Bellenglise

Running time
4 min 5 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

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.

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