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
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.