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 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.