Lo­cals lost in last leg of war

Stanthorpe Border Post - - LIFE | LOCAL LIFE - Peter McLady

AL­THOUGH 1918 was to be the fi­nal year of World War I, the Al­lied forces, in­clud­ing the Aus­tralian in­fantry, be­gan the year in a pre­car­i­ous state.

In mid-Novem­ber 1917, the five Aus­tralian in­fantry di­vi­sions were sent to re­cover over the Euro­pean win­ter months to a qui­eter sec­tor of the front­line be­yond Messines. The great bat­tles of 1917 – Bul­le­court, Messines, Pass­chen­daele – had taken a heavy toll on the Aus­tralians.

The five di­vi­sions had suf­fered more than 55,000 ca­su­al­ties, 38,000 of which were in­flicted at the Bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele.

The Aus­tralian con­tri­bu­tion, still so pas­sion­ately re­mem­bered by the peo­ple of France, is typ­i­fied by the loss of men from the Gran­ite Belt dur­ing 1918.

In the de­fence of the West­ern Front, and in the Al­lied at­tack launched in Au­gust 1918 un­til the end of World War I, 10 men from the Gran­ite Belt lost their lives.

The Hun­dred Days Of­fen­sive was the fi­nal pe­riod of World War I when the Al­lies launched a se­ries of at­tacks on the West­ern front, be­gin­ning with the Bat­tle of Amiens.

The ac­tual Bat­tle of Amiens was not fought at Amiens, but to the east of Villers-Bre­ton­neux.

The bat­tle be­gan on Au­gust 8 when 100,000 Al­lied troops at­tacked along a front of 20km. The A.I.F. 2nd and 3rd Di­vi­sions joined the at­tack on a front be­tween Villers-Bre­ton­neux and the Somme River.

The Ger­mans were taken by sur­prise and the Al­lies broke through their lines. The 2nd and 3rd Di­vi­sions held their gains and the 4th and 5th Di­vi­sions moved through their lines to con­tinue the at­tack.

At the end of Au­gust 8 the Al­lies had cap­tured 13,000 Ger­man pris­on­ers and seized some 200 field guns (Bean 1948, 473). Gen­eral Lu­den­dorff de­scribed the day as “the black day of the Ger­man army” af­ter which he be­lieved there was no hope of a Ger­man vic­tory in World War I.

The fol­low­ing day, the Al­lied at­tack con­tin­ued with the Aus­tralians re­spon­si­ble for hold­ing the north­ern flank. Then fol­lowed three days of tough fight­ing. With­out co-or­di­nated ar­tillery sup­port, be­tween Au­gust 9-12, the five Aus­tralian di­vi­sions suf­fered nearly 6000 ca­su­al­ties.

Over the next week the Aus­tralian forces un­der­took a se­ries of what be­came known as “peace­ful pen­e­tra­tion” at­tacks.

The next large-scale Al­lied at­tack was on Au­gust 21 when the Bri­tish Third

Army at­tacked the Ger­man front to the south of Ar­ras. The A.I.F. 3rd Di­vi­sion joined the Bri­tish at­tack the next day.

The Third Army took most of its ob­jec­tives with the 3rd Di­vi­sion cap­tur­ing the area north of Bray. The fol­low­ing day the A.I.F. 1st Di­vi­sion, to­gether with the 32nd Bri­tish Di­vi­sion, at­tacked south of the Somme River. Of the 8000 Ger­man pris­on­ers taken by the

Al­lies, the A.I.F. 1st Di­vi­sion cap­tured 2000, but suf­fered nearly 1000 ca­su­al­ties in the fight­ing (Bean 1948, 477).

There fol­lowed an­other week of “peace­ful pen­e­tra­tion” fight­ing by the Aus­tralians, forc­ing the Ger­mans back across the old Somme bat­tle­field.

Dur­ing one such ad­vance on Au­gust 30, Pri­vate Ge­orge Alexan­der, of Wylie Creek, was killed by shell­fire in a for­ward area be­tween Her­be­court and the Somme Canal. Ge­orge has no known grave and is re­mem­bered on the Aus­tralian Na­tional Me­mo­rial at Villers-Bre­ton­neux.

The 1st Di­vi­sion A.I.F. was re­lieved by the 2nd and 5th Di­vi­sions and with the Ger­mans con­tin­u­ing to fall back, the Aus­tralian in­fantry car­ried the at­tack to them. The Aus­tralians were near­ing ex­haus­tion but pressed on with the at­tack and en­gaged the Ger­mans de­fences at Peronne and Mont St Quentin. “The cap­ture of Mont St. Quentin and Peronne is held by many Aus­tralian sol­diers to be the most bril­liant achieve­ment of the A.I.F.” (Bean 1942,

873).

Pri­vate Wil­liam Gaw­ith, of Stan­thorpe, was killed in ac­tion on Septem­ber 2 when the 25th Bat­tal­ion was en­gaged in heavy fight­ing in the vicin­ity of Mont St. Quentin. Wil­liam is buried in the Peronne Com­mu­nal Ceme­tery Ex­ten­sion.

The Aus­tralians con­tin­ued to pur­sue the re­treat­ing Ger­man forces to the Hin­den­berg Line. Pri­vate James Scott of the 4th Aus­tralian Ma­chine Gun Bat­tal­ion was in­volved in the at­tack on the Hin­den­berg Line east of Peronne.

He and Ge­orge Alexan­der were friends and busi­ness part­ners in the Wylie Creek Tin Dredg­ing Syn­di­cate. Just three weeks af­ter the death of his friend and busi­ness part­ner, James was wounded in ac­tion on Septem­ber 20. He was ad­mit­ted to a Ca­su­alty Clear­ing Sta­tion but died on Septem­ber 22. James is buried in La

❝ The cap­ture of Mont St. Quentin and Peronne is held by many Aus­tralian sol­diers to be the most bril­liant achieve­ment of the A.I.F — Charles Bean

Chapelette Bri­tish and In­dian Ceme­tery near Peronne. The Aus­tralian in­fantry went on to fight its last bat­tle on the West­ern Front at Mont­bre­hain on Oc­to­ber 5.

In the fi­nal year of World War I, Aus­tralia made a great con­tri­bu­tion, as Charles Bean at­tested:

“Such was the rep­u­ta­tion at­tained af­ter two-and-a-half years of in­tense war­fare on the West­ern Front by the force whose first trial was in the equally in­tense strug­gle on Gal­lipoli. There is no ques­tion – al­though their own home folk in Aus­tralia at first found this dif­fi­cult to be­lieve – that the spirit and skill of the Aus­tralian Im­pe­rial Force, and par­tic­u­larly of the in­fantry, in this fi­nal year’s fight­ing in France ma­te­ri­ally af­fected the course of the cam­paign there, as did that of the other Do­min­ion forces.” (Bean 1946, 494.)

PHO­TOS: PETER MCLADY

HIS­TORIC: Amiens Cathe­dral over­looks the River Somme and was built be­tween 1220 and c.1270.

The pic­turesque sur­round­ings of Villers-Bre­ton­neux.

A plaque that sits in Amiens Cathe­dral.

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