The for­got­ten bat­tle of Bul­le­court’s many he­roes

Western Times - - NEWS - Sherele Moody Sherele.Moody@news­re­gional­me­dia.com .au

AS THE sun rose across an idyl­lic snow-cov­ered field in north­ern France on April 11, 1917, thou­sands of Aus­tralian Dig­gers calmly be­gan walk­ing to­ward the Ger­man en­emy line some 2km away.

By the end of the day, that beau­ti­ful stretch of pris­tine fer­tile ground a short dis­tance from the vil­lage of Bul­le­court would be known as “the blood tub”.

The first Bat­tle of Bul­le­court was an un­mit­i­gated dis­as­ter that saw the might of the Ger­man army mow down 3300 Aus­tralians with a bar­rage of bul­lets and ex­plo­sives in just a few hours. The Ger­mans also took 1170 of the Aus­tralian sol­diers as pris­on­ers of war by day’s end.

The pre­vi­ous evening, Bri­tish and Aus­tralian de­fence lead­ers or­dered the Aussies – in­clud­ing 10 Bund­aberg men from the

15th Bat­tal­ion – to at­tack the Ger­man de­fence of the Hin­den­burg Line on the op­po­site side of the field.

The Aussie in­fantry moved for­ward, ex­pect­ing to be pro­tected by at least 12 Bri­tish tanks.

But the be­he­moths of the bat­tle­field were so slow that they did not get to there on time and when the tanks even­tu­ally crawled past the Aussie trenches, they were quickly de­stroyed by the en­emy’s strong wall of field ar­tillery.

That same ar­se­nal of Ger­man weapons ripped the ap­proach­ing Dig­gers to shreds. Charleville labourer John Ed­ward Red­mond was killed in ac­tion dur­ing the first Bat­tle of Bul­le­court.

He em­barked from Bris­bane on board HMAT A50 Itonus on De­cem­ber 30, 1915

Roma men David Alexan­der Murphy, John David Ir­win, Mar­cel Firmin Varcin and Wil­liam Ge­orge Dray sur­vived Bul­le­court but suc­cumbed to wounds or dis­ease or were killed in ac­tion within 18 months of that fate­ful day.

“No doubt ex­ceed­ingly im­por­tant strate­gic ob­jects lay be­hind the Bri­tish (led) at­tack, but I have never been able to dis­cover what they were,” Ger­man Gen­eral Eric Lu­den­dorff wrote shortly af­ter the killer skir­mish that barely im­pacted his own bat­tal­ions.

Bat­tle of Bul­le­court ex­pert Cap­tain An­drew Craig said wave af­ter wave of Dig­gers moved across that icy field, never fal­ter­ing to fol­low in the foot­steps of their mates de­spite the un­re­lent­ing mass of bod­ies fall­ing be­fore them.

On April 25, Charleville res­i­dents will re­mem­ber the sac­ri­fice of th­ese sol­diers dur­ing the An­zac Day dawn ser­vices.

That bat­tle started on May 3, 1917, and by the time it ended two weeks later on May 17, 7482 Aus­tralians were dead.

Both Bul­le­court bat­tles ac­counted for the deaths of al­most 11,000 Aus­tralians, about one sixth of the 62,000-plus Aus­tralian ca­su­al­ties in the First World War.

PHOTO: PETER BAR­TON

FOR­GOT­TEN BAT­TLE: Aus­tralian pris­on­ers cap­tured at Bul­le­court are es­corted to the Ger­man rear on April 11, 1917.

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