The 28th Battalion in the Battle of Menin Road – 20 September 1917

After almost four months of constant training the 28th Battalion were finally in action once more in the Battle of Menin Road which started on 20 September 1917. The objective was to take and hold the high ground of the ridge that crossed the Menin Road to the south east of Ypres. The Australian 1st and 2nd Divisions would attack side by side from Westhoek Ridge towards Polygon Wood – see below map (click to enlarge). But due to the bombardments in preparation for the attack, very little if anything remained of the original woods. “Westhoek, on the second spur, was marked only by the line of pillboxes which the Germans had built in its ruins. On the main ridge the woods had been shredded to stubble, and the slight depressions of the Polygon Wood plateau on the crest, as well as the hollows on either side, had been turned into bog.” (Official History, p 739)

A desolate scene on Westhoek Ridge, in the Ypres sector, looking towards Glencorse Wood and Nonne Bosschen. The view includes Polygon Wood on the extreme left and Clapham Junction on the extreme right and shows the state of the area which the 1st Division attacked over on 20 September 1917, twenty four hours prior to the taking of the photograph.

Map showing the objectives for the three waves of attack for the Australian Divisions – the red line was the objective for the first wave, the blue line for the second wave, and the green line the final objective for the third wave. The pill-boxes known as Anzac, Iron Cross Redoubt and Albert Redoubt are highlighted.

The tactics were different from before with three waves of successive attacks deploying the new ‘bite and hold’ tactics – the first battalion in the first wave to take their objective and hold it, whilst the second battalion who had been lying in wait behind them leapfrogged their position, took their objective and held it, whilst a third battalion leapfrogged the second position on their way to take the third and final objective. The battalions being leapfrogged would then act as reserves for the next battalion. The artillery would provide a creeping barrage but the difference being that the barrage would be much deeper than before, move on and then come back, for each successive wave of the attack, and then continue as a standing barrage just in front of the final objective for several hours to deal with the expected counter attacks from the enemy. The 28th Battalion would form the third and last wave of the attack in their allocated sector. The force in the earlier waves might be lighter, and the advance there deeper and quicker, than in the later stages. The last stage must be the shortest and slowest, and carried out by the strongest force, which must be prepared to meet immediate counter-attack.

The tactics demanded careful and precise planning. But after months of preparation, with refreshed troops, the attack went according to plan.

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A dump of 18 pounder shell cases at Birr Cross Roads, in the Ypres Sector, where positions were occupied by the 2nd Divisional Artillery, 20 September 1917

It helped that the successive objectives were each relatively modest distances – This was another ‘new’ tactic to “preserve physical freshness and good organisation”. And the weather was favourable – the threatened rain, which could have seen a recurrence of the hellish mud at Gueudecourt, held off. Drier weather made it much easier for the attackers to move vast amounts of supplies forward and for the infantry to move quickly to the next objective. There was a ground fog around dawn, which helped conceal the Australian infantry during the attack, before clearing up later in the morning to expose German troop movements to observation and attack.

Another difference to previous battles was that the Germans held no definite, readily distinguishable trench lines. Instead the front line consisted of scattered reinforced posts (‘pill-boxes’), with machine-guns distributed chequer-wise over a wide area behind it.  The pill-boxes gave excellent protection to the machine gunners inside who could shelter from the shell fire and, as the barrage eased, quickly emerge to mount the machine guns against the attacking infantry. The real line of resistance lay in rear of all this, with supports, reserves, and more machine-guns distributed in great depth.

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A pillbox known as Anzac, captured by the 2nd Australian Division, on 20 September 1917, and on which they hoisted an Australian flag

The tactics to overcome the pill-boxes had been practiced by the Australians. While a section fired at the loopholes to deny observation to the occupiers, another section would creep around the flanks to fling bombs (grenades) through the apertures and entrance door at the rear. It was also crucial for the attacking troops to closely follow the creeping barrage and not to allow the German machine gunners time to emerge from the pill-boxes to set up the machine guns.

Unidentified soldiers with a British male Mark IV tank, temporarily out of action, near Westhoek Ridge in September 1917. (From the collection of 704 Driver Ernest Charles Barnes who served with the 1st Field Artillery Brigade, 21st Howitzer Brigade and 2nd Field Artillery Brigade.)

Scattered in the zone of attack were the remains of a number of tanks which had been wrecked in earlier actions. Though the Australians had decided to attack without tank support, two tanks were fitted out as wireless stations to be placed in Glencourse Wood.

 

 

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Detailed map showing the zone of attach of the Australian Divisions – the 28th Bn are to the right hand side of the 2nd Division’s zone – shown in green starting at the rear (far left), and ending at the final objective, the green line (far right)

The attack was a great success along its entire front. Zero hour for the attack was 5.40am when the heavy barrage opened. By 6.30am the 25th Battalion had taken its objective of the Red Line, running along a sunken road with its northern edge at Glencourse Wood and its southern edge at Hannebeke Swamp in None Bosschen. Small pockets of resistance were encountered, particularly from the zealous German machine gunners, who almost inevitably fought to the death, although most of the dazed enemy garrison surrendered. At 7am the 27th Battalion leap-frogged the 25th and by 7.30am had taken their objective of the Blue Line, extending from Iron Cross Redoubt to Polygon Wood. The majority of the enemy surrendered with token resistance. At 8.10am the 28th moved forward from its position at Westhoek Ridge to take up its place just behind the artillery barrage in front of the Blue Line (see map above).

The 28th Battalion’s attack commenced with the re-opening of the barrage at 9.53am, and then the four companies A, B, C and D spread out in order from left to right, each composed of four waves moving steadily forward behind the creeping barrage in good order. German artillery and machine gun fire caused many casualties. When all the officers of D Company became casualties, Sergeant Albert.W. Clark took command of the Company and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. This N.C.O. led his platoon with great dash, and set a splendid example to all. When all his company officers had become casualties, he took command of his company, and handled his men in grand style under very trying circumstances. His conduct was most gallant and inspiring.

A platoon from A company moved too far to the left during the advance and was corrected by Corporal Reuben Arnold, who was awarded the Military Medal, Arnold, a farm hand from Perth, WA was killed barely a month later, of gas poisioning in the Battle of Passchendaele .

The Green Line objective was quickly reached in just a few minutes. The enemy troops offered token resistance and their positions were quickly cleared, with prisoners escorted back to the support lines. The success signal of two green Very lights (flares) fired in quick succession, was made at 10am. “The battle of September 20th (Menin Road), like those that succeeded it, is easily described in as much as it went almost precisely in accordance with plan.” (Official History, p. 761)

The 28th then took immediate action to consolidate the position by furiously digging a trench line under constant enemy shell fire and attack from enemy airplanes. The 28th moved the line forward in places, beyond the Green Line, a few yards down the slope of the ridge out of the line of the enemy barrage and commenced consolidation. Lance Corporal Ernest Jack Johnson, formerly a clerk from East Perth, WA, led his men forward and selected posts for a motley collection of 17th and 28th Battalion men. Johnson was wounded by shrapnel, but refused to be evacuated until his men were deployed. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct MedalFor conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. When his officers had become casualties, he took charge of two platoons of his battalion and a number of men of another battalion, showing excellent judgment in selecting positions and consolidating. The position was rendered safe by the good dispositions which he made for its defence and by his personal example and leadership. Though wounded, he carried on until the battalion was relieved, displaying an utter disregard for personal safety.’.

studio portrait of George Meysey Hammond taken before his departure for Egypt, inscribed “Australia will be there”

At 1.48, as no counter-attack appeared to be imminent anywhere, the barrage came to an end on the Anzac front after having run its course for eight hours and eight minutes. Carrying parties from the 26th battalion in support brought up coils of barbed wire which was strung out in front of the new front line. The 28th Battalion Intelligence Officer, Lieutenant George Meysey Hammond (see previous post on the Battle of Guedecourt), patrolled Polygon Wood with a revolver clutched in his one good hand and his pockets stuffed with Mills bombs (grenades). Hammond attacked an enemy party and returned with twenty German prisoners, for which he was awarded the Military Cross ‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in the attack on 20/9/17 at Westhoek. Lieut. Hammond went forward with the Advanced Brigade party as Intelligence Officer. he secured much valuable matter. Although only have the use of one arm, he captured 20 prisoners by himself. His example to the men was wonderful. He was fearless in the extreme, and cheered everyone on.  He volunteered for any dangerous work and made a number of reconnaissance of the front line, securing much valuable information.

By 4pm a continuous trench some 5 to 6 feet deep had been dug, contact had been made with the 17th battalion on their left and the 9th Battalion on their right, weapons had been cleaned and the troops prepared for the inevitable counter attacks. The German artillery and snipers constantly inflicted casualties throughout the day.  Corporal Alfred Frederick Hitchcock crawled out in front of the Battalion’s line and waited until a sniper fired another shot, thus revealing his position. Hitchcock promptly killed the sniper and returned to the trench and was later awarded the Military Medal.

Several times during the afternoon and evening, groups of enemy troops launched repeated desperate counter-attacks but were kept back by the Australian artillery fire. A number of ‘drop-shorts’ by the Australian artillery caused casualties in the battalion’s ranks.  A platoon post under the command of Corporal Ernest Reedy Walsh was attacked by an enemy bombing party, but Walsh dispersed the attack, and was awarded the Military Medal.

Enemy barrages of the front line continued into the night but as the intensity decreased patrols were sent out on both flanks into Polygon Wood and Albania Wood. At dawn (4.30 a.m.) on the 21st a great barrage, machine-gun fire and all, came down again as prearranged, and swept forward for 2,000 yards.  Sporadic shelling, artillery duels and German aircraft continued to harass the Australians throughout the day – with the inevitable continuous casualties. The Battalion was relieved by the 23rd Battalion at around 1am on 22nd September.

On 23rd September the 28th Battalion moved further back to bivouacs near Reninghelst, where they consolidated and hot baths were organised.The Battalion was well satisfied with its success, although the casualties at first count numbered 51 killed and 189 wounded.

So ended, with complete success, the first step in Haig’s trial of true step-by-step tactics. The British Army did this day precisely what it was intended to do, and did it even more cleanly than at Messines.” However “Lord Bertie, British Ambassador in Paris, noted in his diary: “ We have done a good offensive which is much appreciated. But will it lead to anything really important ?” (Official History) 

Sources:
Henry K. Kahan, The 28th Battalion Australian Imperial Force : a record of war service, pp 40-41
Neville Browning, The Blue & White Diamond : the History of the 28th Battalion 1915-1919, pp 226-233
CEW Bean, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, Volume IV – The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1917 (11th edition, 1941), Chapter XVIII – Step by Step. (1) The Menin Road, pp 735 – 790

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A scene on the Menin Road near Hooge, looking towards Birr Cross Roads, during the battle on 20 September 1917. The wounded on the stretchers are waiting to be taken to the clearing stations;

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Members of the 24th Battalion resting in a mine crater, just behind Albert Redoubt, during the battle of 20 September 1917

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Captured German trenches strewn with dead after the battle of 20 September 1917.

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A scene at Garter Point. Two unidentified soldiers walk toward a pillbox, captured some days earlier by the Australian 2nd Division. It commanded an excellent view over the surrounding country including Tokio Ridge (mid background, to the right of the tree).

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A copy of a colour printed post card of 1917, titled; “The Battle of Polygon Wood From Original Drawing by A. Pearse, War Artist.” The following description was printed on the reverse of the card; “One of the most inspiring and historic events during the Battle of Polygon Wood (Belgium), was the planting of the Australian Flag on Anzac Redoubt (German Pill-box), at 7.15 a.m., on September 20th, 1917, by Lieutenant A V L Hull, 18th Battalion. He was killed in action three weeks later.” This postcard was produced for sale and all profits were directed to the Australian Comforts Funds.

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From Hospital to Training Battalion – January to June 1917


Reg was discharged from the 3rd LGH on 19 January 2017. In a letter to his wife Laura written in June he says that his left wrist will be permanently stiff. From Hospital in London, Reg followed the standard route back to fitness and rejoining his Battalion at the Front, via the Command Depot for convalescence, followed by the Training Battalion for ‘hardening off’, both of which were on Salisbury Plain in the south of England.

First Reg was sent to No. I Command Depot, the A.I.F. convalescent and training camp at Perham Down on the edge of Salisbury Plain, arriving four days later on 23 January 1917. This was a temporary camp receiving men “likely to be well within 3 months” and getting them quickly up to the fitness required to move on to the Training Battalion, as soon as possible. By October 1916/January 1917, there were 5,600 men at No. I Command Depot, with men arriving at 630 per week. The structure and purpose of these depots for the AIF is covered in great detail by  Section II, Chapter XVI of the Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services, 1914–1918 by Colonel AG Butler DSO and this excellent website about the 22nd Battalion, AIF: Following the Twenty Second.

Reg was only at No. I Command Deport for one week, moving on to 7th Training Battalion at Rollestone on 28th January. Rollestone Camp is about ten miles as the crow flies from Perham Down on Salisbury Plain. The Training Battalion was not for new recruits but for experienced soldiers returning from convalescence. It was designed to harden them off after the Command Depot ready for their speedy return to their battalions at the Front and involved a mixture of military training and sports.

Rollestone Camp & huts Sailsbury Plain

Rollestone Camp shewing troops going through musketry in snow.

bayonet training at Rollestone camp

A group of soldiers of the 3rd Division AIF taking part in a training exercise on the Salisbury Plain simulating trench warfare.

brothers Frederick Benedict (Ted) Alsop and Bernard Michael (Bern or Barney) Alsop training at Salisbury Plains on the machine gun.

 

Crowds of soldiers and officers watch a boxing competition at an Australian camp, possibly on the Salisbury Plain.

soldiers playing ‘Catch the greasy pig’ during a sports day

Two soldiers applying grease to a pig for the ‘Catch the greasy pig’ contest that was part of a sports meeting held to celebrate the birthday of King George V

Three unidentified soldiers enjoy the snow at a camp in Wiltshire. Jan-Feb 1917

 

A group of unidentified soldiers playing ‘two-up’ at a camp on the Salisbury Plain. The player would toss two coins into the air, and the ring keeper would take bets on the coins falling ‘heads’ side up.

Reg’s recovery was delayed and he was back in hospital at the end of March, “N.Y.D.’ (“not yet diagnosed”), at Cobham Hall – a country house outside London in Kent, a wing of which was converted into a hospital for Australian Officers – and then to Tidworth Hospital on 6 April, now diagnosed with mumps. Tidworth was the location of the operational headquarters for the AIF (the administrative HQ was at Horseferry Road in London).

A view of the south front of Cobham Hall, Lord Darnley’s residence in Kent. A wing of the hall was used as a convalescent home for Australian officers.

The top ward of the Australian convalescent home at Cobham Hall, Kent. Otherwise known as the picture gallery.

convalescent officers playing croquet on the lawn before the west front of Cobham Hall, Kent

Reg is not recorded back to the training battalion at Rollestone until 21 May 1917. But within two weeks of his return to the training battalion, 7 June 1917, the AIF Depot at Tidworth records him “proceeded O/Sea’s France”:

 

 

Investiture at Buckingham Palace – November 1916

Reg was still recovering at the 3rd LGH in Wandsworth from his wound at Gueudecourt when attended the investiture at Buckingham Palace on 22th November 1916 to receive his MC from King George V for his action in the Raid at Armentières.

No letters from Reg survive of this occasion. We don’t know how much freedom he was allowed out of hospital, or if he was joined by his father and step-mother or members of the Bower family. But there is an account written by Vera Brittain‘s brother, Edward,  receiving his MC shortly afterwards on 17th December 1916 which gives an interesting insight into the proceedings:

“I came up to town on Tuesday the 16th, went to Buckingham Palace on the 17th at 10.30 am. Mother came with me in the taxi from home and I dropped her just outside the gates and drove in alone; I ascended a wide staircase and deposited my hat and stick in a sort of cloak room, keeping my gloves (your gloves), went up more stairs, was asked by an old boy in a frock coat what I was to receive, was then directed to another old boy who verified my name etc and told me to stand on one side of the room – a large room with portraits of royal personages round the walls. There were 3 C.M.G.’s, about 12 D.S.O.’s and about 30 M.C.’s so it was a fairly small investiture.

“We were instructed what to do by a Colonel who I believe is the King’s special private secretary and then the show started. One by one we walked into an adjoining room about 6 paces – halt – left turn – bow – 2 paces forward – King pins on cross – shake hands – pace back – bow – right turn and slope off by another door. The various acts were not read out, but the Colonel just called out ‘Receive the C.M.G.’ etc. Colonel so-and-so.

“The King spoke to a few of us including me; he said “I hope you have quite recovered from your wound”, to which I replied “Very nearly thank you, Sir”, and then went out with the cross in my pocket in a case. I met Mother just outside and we went off towards Victoria thinking we had quite escaped all the photographers, but unfortunately one beast from the Daily Mirror saw us and took us, but luckily it does not seem to have come out well as it is rather bad form to have your photo in a ½ d rag if avoidable.”

source: Great War London

Although Reg’s casualty form only mentions a GSW (gun shot wound) to his left wrist, he is seen in the photograph walking with a stick. I can only assume the stick is merely part of his uniform or just for fashion, rather than a medical necessity.

RHG injured at Gueudecourt – November 1916

Despite surviving the horrors of the Battle of Pozières, in July/August 1916, Reg was soon to face more of the same at Gueudecourt, near Flers, in November. According to C.E.W. Bean, the official historian “The Australian divisions, almost restored by their rest at Ypres, were now to plunge into the hardest trial that ever came to them.” Official History, Vol III, Chapter XXV – Flers. The Somme Battle Ends, p.894.

After Pozières in August, the 7th Brigade moved north to Flanders and spent most of September billeted at Steenvoorde, behind the lines near Ypres, training and refitting with a large batch of reinforcements and men returned from hospital. There were many promotions to replace the officers and NCOs lost in action during Pozières. Reg was promoted to Captain on 1 October 1917 to replace Capt A.S. Isaac in charge of C Company. Capt. Austin Stirling Isaac had been wounded in the arm at Pozières (which resulted in amputation but he survived the war) and was the only company commander to survive the night of 28/29 July:

Reg had previously complained to his brother about the delay in having this promotion conferred for the job he had been doing already for some time – I’m sure it was a typical complaint. (Reg’s letter to Theo 11 September 1916)

The rain during this period was incessant and the training ground reduced to a quagmire – which was rather fitting for what was to come. But the period was peaceful and a welcome respite – there was even a full sports programme with the 28th victorious in the football. During off duty hours the men were free to roam around Steenvoorde that the relationships with the local inhabitants were very cordial and it was a common sight to see the men of the brigade working in the fields, in the absence of the local men who had all been conscripted. [Neville Browning, The Blue and White Diamond – History of the 28th Battalion AIF 1915-1919 – pp146-7]

ANZAC soldiers wearing sheepskin jackets, and a mixture of slouch hats and steel helmets, resting on their way up to the trenches at the Somme, Dec 1916

In October the 28th AIF moved to Ypres, which was derelict due to two years of almost constant bombardment, and from there into the front line. The ‘weather was becoming wintry and the terrain and trenches were waterlogged due to the abundance rain that fell with monotonous frequency’. It was here that the 28th experienced the largest rats they had ever seen. “These unpleasant rodents, the size of well-grown kittens, infested dugouts and shelters and tunnelled into the earthworks…. One even had the temerity to bite the Regimental Sergeant Major’s nose one day when he was snatching forty winks!” [H.K. Kahan, The 28th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force : a record of war service ] The Battalion then moved back to the Somme, to the front line at Dernacourt near Albert, which caused some resentment, as the survivors of Pozières were not keen to return to the Somme believing that countless lives had been needlessly thrown away there for such little gain. The general feeling running through the AIF was that the Australians had done more than their share of fighting and dying. The weather was still dreadful and the condition of the trenches appalling. Mud oozed from the trench walls and communication trenches were reduced to canals. Reg’s mate Lieutenant Roy Phillipps was wounded at this time by attempting to walk across open country to inspect his Company post rather than attempt to negotiate 150 years of thigh deep mud in the communication trenches. He was almost half way across when a bullet struck the ground to his immediate front. he started to lope through the mud when another round went past his head. He wrote “the third got me, I tell you I was a bit blue crawling the rest of the way, some thirty yards expecting one in the neck”. Phillipps had been shot through the thigh and it took six stretcher-bearers nine hours to haul him two kilometres to an aid post through waist deep mud and slush.  (Browning, pp152-4)

The Battalion moved up to Gueudecourt, near Flers, for an attack on a German trench system named The Maze scheduled for 5th November. The 28th were detailed to take Gird Trench (known to the Germans as Gallwitz Stellung) on the left hand size of the Maze.

The Maze (Browning, p172)

Captain Charles Bean, Australian Official War Correspondent, knee deep in mud in Gird trench, near Gueudecourt in France, during the winter of 1916

Horses haul ammunition forward in deep mud outside Flers. November, 1916.

But the conditions were appalling. The mud caused havoc for the attack, preventing the men exploiting the creeping artillery barrage that preceded the attack and was supposed to cover the advance across no mans land. There was a gale, which preventing reconnaissance by air. Leading to poor execution of the barrage, with plenty of time for the Germans to emerge from their dug outs and face on the oncoming assault. The 28th, struggling through the mud, were decimated by the German machine guns, pinned down in no mans land, some for many days, in what we now see as typical of the First World War. The mud hampered the evacuation of the casualties and of the remaining men, most of them suffered from trench foot  – 90% of the 27th Battalion (Browning, pp157-9; Bean, Ch XXV, pp 917-920) The 28th’s Battalion War Diary for November 1916 typically records the horror of this period in its tragically understated way:

“3rd/4th   Took over front line from 53rd Bn AIF. Trenches in very bad order. In mud from 12 inches to 3 feet deep. Location M. 24. A. GUTDECOURT. Map [?]

4th   General work improving front trenches and preparing for attack of next day.

5th  The Bn in conjunction with 27th Bn & Coys of 25th & 26th Bn who were on our Right and the British Division on our left made an attack on the German line known as GIRD TRENCH. Owing to the inaccuracy of our Artillery fire, through lack of observation, the enemy were not kept down in their trenches by our barrage and the advancing troops were subjected to very heavy rifle & machine gun fire which prevented them reaching the objective. Our losses in this attack were 1 officer (Lieut W R Moore) killed and five wounded (2/Lieut F Muller, Lieut A W Curran) Previous to the attack four officers were wounded. Capt. R C Phillips, 2/Lieut MG Hammond, 2/Lieut CC Flower, Lieut RH Gill. The casualties of other ranks were as follows. 58 Killed, 166 wounded, 50 missing, 27 Other ranks were evacuated to Hospital suffering from effects of wet & [exposure?] ”
Battalion War Diary, 28th Battalion, AIF – November 2016

Australian Pioneers making a duckboard bridge across the trenches of the ‘Maze’.

Conditions for those wounded lucky enough to be rescued from no mans land and taken to the aid post were not much better. The aid post was incessantly shelled and there were no rations, water or blankets for the wounded. Those unable to walk were left lying on stretchers out in the open during the cold night. One casualty was discovered to have died of exposure over night. (Browning, p163)

 

 

 

 

 

Is it not recorded exactly when or where Reg was wounded – only ‘previous to the attack’ like Roy Phillipps and M.G. Hammond. Reg’s casualty list on his file at the AWM records a ‘GSW’ – gun shot wound – to his left wrist. The wound was serious enough for Reg to be sent for treatment to England.  Reg was heading back to England once more.

 

Place of Casualty

 

Date of Casualty

Date From whom received
10.11.16 CO 28th Bn, List Wounded in action France 3-6/11/16
19.11.16 A.I.F.List 114 Placed on Seconded list France 4.11.16
7.11.16 8th Sty Hosp. Adm. GSW Lt Wrist. Rouen 6.11.16
9.11.16 do To England. GSW Lt Wrist ,, 8.11.16
9.11.16 HS”Austurias” Embarked for England
GSW Lt Wrist
Havre  

9.11.16

Of the other people mentioned by name in the Battalion War diary:

Lieut W.R. Moore: killed in the action “MOORE. Killed in action on November 6, Lieutenant W. R. Moore, fourth dearly beloved son of Mr. and Mrs. A. Moore, 193 Newcastle street. Perth; Deeply mourned. – His duty nobly done” The Western Mail, 8 Dec 1916

Capt. R C Phillips: Reg’s mate from Perth, Maj Roy Phillipps, MC & Bar, DFC – previously covered in this post here.

2/Lieut MG Hammond: Captain Meysey George Hammond MC MM – was one of the wounded had only just returned to the battalion on 23 September, having been wounded in the leg at Pozières. He ‘walked with a pronounced limp and with the aid of a walking stick’. During  the deployment before the attack, his left elbow was shattered by enemy fire and he had to be forcibly received of his command and sent to the dressing station. It was a wound that would have seen the end of active service of most men. The 3rd London General Hospital back in England (the same place Reg was treated) found that “there is almost complete fixation of the elbow at right angle, and at present no use in forearm or hand, although there is no organic lesion of nerves”. Despite this wound, rendering his left arm permanently useless and needing to be supported in a sling, Hammond convinced the authorities to return him to front line service. In January 1917 he was promoted to lieutenant and for his actions as an Intelligence Officer near Westhoek on 20 September 1917  he was awarded the Military Cross in 1917 for his actions at Polygon Wood. While having only one functioning arm and the added handicap of a walking stick, he managed to single-handedly capture 20 German prisoners and gather important information. On Christmas Day 1917 near Ploegsteert, Hammond had a narrow escape from a sniper when a bullet was stopped by his field notebook and his cigarette case as it tore through his breast pocket. In early 1918 Hammond was posted to the Australian War Records Section in England but following numerous appeals to his superiors he returned to his battalion in France in May as captain in command of ‘A’ company. His actions near Morlancourt on 10 June 1918 were recognised with the award of a bar to his Military Cross. During the fighting he moved across no-mans-land, ten metres in front of his men, directing the attacking line with his walking stick hanging from his useless left arm and a watch in his right hand. Despite the danger he frequently had his back to the enemy while following closely behind the creeping artillery barrage, and would occasionally straighten the line with a wave of his stick. When his men followed him into the German trench, Hammond had already captured a number of enemy prisoners. He was mortally wounded by a sniper’s bullet the following day and died on the 14th June 1918. A fellow officer said of Hammond that ‘I am quite sure that [he] did not know what fear meant never once saw him duck for either a shell or a bullet’. He is buried in Vignacourt Cemetery. [https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C118771]

2/Lieut CC Flower: Cyril Cecil Flower, a clerk from Perth, was also wounded at the same time. He had been promoted from Sergeant to Second Lieutenant on 16 August 1916, after Pozières. He was wounded again, severely, on the fateful night of 28 September 1917 but survived the war returning to WA in May 1918. He is recorded as Captain CC Flower as a contributor to Herbet Collet’s History of the 28th AIF in 1922.

Lieut AW Curran: was wounded for the second time. Appointed 2nd Lieutenant on 30 August 1916 having being Mentioned in Despatches on 9 June 1916 after the Raid at Armentières “For consistent goodwork during 3½ months on Gallipoli and two months in France; As Signalling Sergeant he displayed great resource and coolness in repairing lines whilst under fire.” He became Battalion Signally Officer ad was Mentioned in Dispatches again on 2 January 1917 “For conspicuous work in maintaining communication and excellent conduct under fire. Am original member of the battalion, his work through has been of the highest order. He distinguished himself on three separate occasions since March 1916.”

RHG and the ‘Black Anzacs’ Raid at Armentières

Reg with the 7th Reinforcements of the 28th Bn AIF finally joined up with the Battalion just outside Alexandria in March 1916, just as the Battalion was preparing to embark for France.  Within a few months Reg took part as the Battalion Scout Officer in a successful trench raid at Armentières on the night of 6 June 1916 (a combined operation between the 28th AIF and the 26th AIF which was a battalion raised from Queensland and Tasmania) which was later nicknamed the ‘Black Anzacs’ raid. The events are best described in Reg’s own words in a letter he wrote to his brother Theo, who was at that time serving with the 2/6th Gurkha Rifles in Mesopotamia:

France 16th July 1916

My dearest Theo, I was more than delighted to receive your letter and enclosures yesterday, it is a long long time since I heard last from you, so it was more than ever welcome especially to know that you are safe and well. Well dear old chap I have had many exciting times and adventures since landing in this country, amongst other things I am now the owner of the Military Cross which I am sure you will be pleased to hear, I will tell you about that later on. I have also been home & have seen the dear Pater & Mother, all the Bowers & most of the relations. I suppose I had better begin at the beginning and tell you as much as I can of what has happened.

We landed in France on March 21st [1] and on a bitter cold night, after 3 days in the train in a 3rd class carriage all the way from Marseilles, at about 9.0 pm & they started to issue iron rations in a blinding snow storm, they finished the job in about 2 hours & then we had a 12 mile march to a camp, at which we arrived about 2.0 am. no blankets, cold & wet through we turned into tents the floors of which were a veritable sea of mud, however when one is tired mud doesn’t concern and I for one slept like a log.[2]

We spent about a week in camps and billets & then had a 3 day march to the firing line, our spells in the trenches usually being 16 days in the front line and 5 or 6 days out again in billets “resting”! Resting consists of fatigues.[3]

We were round Armentieres Salient for about 10 weeks and then shifted up to Messines. Our casualties have been very heavy on the whole from shelling and some shelling goes on I can tell you, one afternoon they put 1100 shells, HE & shrapnel on a front of 200 yards in 50 minutes. I can tell you Theo it is like hell. I had been made Scout Officer for the 28th battalion, and had all the patrols to do at night between our lines & the Hun’s, not a very nice job as flares are going up between the lines continuously throughout the night, we have had several exciting little encounters with hostile patrols, until in the end, just before we left that portion of the line, we were completely masters of “No mans land”, the Germans being afraid to come outside their own line, as a matter of fact we patrolled up & down outside their line & if any body was seen by us they were immediately bombed.

Men of the 2nd Australian Division in the front line at Croix du Bac, near Armentieres, 18 May 1916

Australian troops repairing a communication trench at Armentieres, May 1916.

 All this of course was leading up to one thing, a stunt we intended to carry out, and to carry it out properly “No mans land” had to be ours. A raid was to be made on the Enemy’s trenches and I, as Scout Officer had the job of cutting their wire entanglement. Our trouble of course was the short hours of darkness, as it did not get dark until 10.30 pm and was daylight by 1.45-2.0am however the raiding party went back to a farm house and  practised for nearly 3 weeks, trenches in replica of the point of entrances having been constructed, until everybody in the party (x6) knew not only his own job but everyone elses as well. My job was certainly the most trying of  the lot as we had to get up to their barbed wire and cut a  passage through it wide enough to admit the whole party 2 deep and it had to be done in absolute silence, as if we were heard the whole party would probably be seen and cut to pieces by machine guns before we could get back, our trenches here were 300 yds apart and the country between quite flat covered with long grass.[4]

Anyway off we started at about 10.0 pm with our faces blackened armed with revolvers, bombs, knobkerries & wire cutters, I took the lead with my Scout Corporal and 4 Scouts and we got over to their wire safely and started to cut,[5] we got on very well and cut away steadily for an hour and a half and were working up to what we thought was a bush when suddenly a head with a helmet appeared over the top and stared in our direction, we were then only 5 yards away from it, and had cut through at least 30 yards in depth of wire and were only about 15 yards away from their parapet wall we laid perfectly still & did not make the slightest sound I can assure you. Suddenly a flare went up from their trenches and fell a bit short and then 3 more heads, one with a helmet & 2 with the flat German forage caps ran round the side & stared in our direction & in the light of the flare we saw that what we had taken for a bush was a fortified listening post made of sand bags and steel loophole plates painted green. I was now in a quandary, the time was midnight and it  was too late to start a fresh path and quite impossible to cut away to the right or left as we had been observed & apparently so by this Listening Post, then I had to consider the safety of the main assaulting party lying outside the line.

Map

Captain Cecil Maitland Foss MC, 28th Battalion, of Babakin WA

You may be sure I had the Huns well covered with my revolver & some bombs ready to throw, so we laid there for 10 minutes and then watched each other and I then decided the only thing to do was to retire noiselessly whichwe did, replacing the wire as we retired and covering up our tracks.[6] Eventually we reached the main party & I told Captain Foss what had happened and he gave the order to return to our trenches. We all got back safely without a single casualty, and next day the General in an address to the Battalion complimented me on the work I had done the only thing possible under the circumstances and pulled my leg generally.[7]

Anyway the next night it has to be tried again, only this time with an artillery preparation, so once we crept out at 10.30pm and laid doggo until 11.15pm when we opened up a terrific bombardment also opened up and another similar one on the left, trench mortars with their 60 lb bombs played on the line and blew it to ribbons until 11.35pm when the scouts pushed forward and saw that the passage was clear the main party following closely and over we went into their trenches and stopped in them killing off any that were left alive (we bagged 25 and took 4 prisoners) for 10 minutes and then we retired back to a ditch in “No mans land” and laid low until their retaliation had ceased and then got back into our own trenches.[8]

Our casualties were 2 killed and 5 wounded, I got a crack in the left ear from a splinter of shell which amounted to nothing, so we were very lucky on the whole.

Nominal Roll - Appendix 6

Nominal Roll - Appendix 6 pg2

We got a lot of valuable information, papers, bombs rifles, ammunition, helmets uniforms, maps etc. A party was told off to visit the Listening Post and found it there exactly as I had stated also the remains of 4 dead Germans in small pieces, one of our trench mortar bombs had burst near & blown them all to bits, I can tell you it gave me immense satisfaction to have my story confirmed. We had all been promised a week’s leave if the raid was successful[9] and two days 
after I was told I could leave for England on the Friday.

By Jove Theo the joy of going home again after eleven years. We left Boulogne on Saturday at 6pm and arrived at Folkestone at about 7.15pm by the “Invicta”, do you remember her & got into the boat train arriving at Victoria at 10.30pm I called the Pater & Uncle Clifford and then went to the Hotel Cecil and to bed. At about 10.0 am Sunday Uncle rang me up and told me to come down to Bromley by the 1.0pm from Charring X. A few minutes after the dear old Pater rang up and could hardly speak from excitement. I arrange with him to go  down by the 9.28 am Wednesday to Haslemere, I had a parade on in London early on Tuesday morning so it was no use going down and coming back again, he quite understood the position, so I went on to Bromley & spent Sunday, Monday with them. Uncle, Aunty, Uncle Bert, Katie, Alf, Margy & her husband, Theo and Baish were there & we had a ripping time, can you imagine it all.[10] On Monday I went over in the afternoon to see Aunty Minnie  and Marjorie and in the evening Uncle Cliff, Aunty, Daphne and I went up to town & had dinner at the Trocadero & then on to a play called “A little bit of  fluff”. Awfully funny.

Administrative Headquarters, AIF, Horseferry Road

On Tuesday morning I went up to town with Uncle and had to attend the parade and in the evening the Officers of the raiding party entertained the Colonel to dinner at Frascatis and after to “Tonight’s the Night”, we all had a very jolly evening and next morning I set sail from Waterloo for Haslemere & was met by the dear Pater & Mater in their car and driven out to the “Malt House”,

The Malt House, Lurgashall, West Sussex

The Malt House, Lurgashall, West Sussex

they have a lovely home old chap, it is very quaint and old, the house is over 400 years old and simply full of old oak, black oak beams everywhere and furnished beautifully in the mater’s good taste. They were both very good indeed to me. I had a splendid time, motored everywhere round the country and visited a lot of people. I managed to get an extension of two days from the War Office, so did not leave Haslemere until the Saturday evening train at 6.15 pm and Aunty Maud and Uncle Clifford met me at Waterloo Station and I took them to the Hotel Cecil and shouted them supper, after supper we had a lovely yarn and then I said good bye to them at Victoria Station & came back to bed.

The next morning I had to catch the 8.50 am at Victoria for Folkestone and when we got there I found we had 6 hours to wait before the boat left so went for a walk round the old familiar spots, and just for the fun of it called on Miss Bradwick little thinking that they were still there, but sure enough Beatrice came into the room and I said I’m sure you don’t know who I am & she said Oh yes I do, you are Reggie Gill and how is Theodore!  We had a long yarn & she was very interested to hear how we all were and what we had done.

General William Riddell Birdwood, known as The Soul of Anzac

Well the blasted boat had to go so I got back to this land of “strafe”[11] once more. When I got back to camp, the Btn had shifted up to Messines or rather opposite that place.[12] I was greeted by everyone with showers of congratulation, I found I had been awarded the Military Cross, of course I was very pleased for the family’s sake. I had a  personal letter of congratulation from General Birdwood &  then came showers of letters from home.

Well old man you must be dead tired of reading this by now, about the longest I have written, so I will say so long, look after yourself dear old man, won’t you, please God we shall meet again some day.

Ever Your affectionate brother.

Reg. H Gill

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 15.29.38

 

 

 

[1] The 28th Battalion arrived in Marseilles on board the H.M.T. “Themistocles” from Egypt.

 

 

[2] see ‘Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918’, Volume III – The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916 (12th edition, 1941) Chap III – The Arrival in France, pp. 75-78

 

[3] see the Official History, Vol III, Chap IV – The Move to the Front, pp. 99-108

 

 

[4] Official History, Vol III, Chap IX The Raid at Armentieres, pp 243-245

 

[5] Official History, Vol III, Chap IX, pp 246-247 ‘In order to cut a passage, Gill lay on his back beneath it with his head towards the enemy’s trench and the wire across his chest, while his scout corporal, Tozer (Lieut. H. J. H. Tozer, M C., M.M.; 28th Bn Clerk; of Perth, W. Aust.; b Footscray, Vic., 24 March, 1892) lying almost on top of him, pressed the wire down. Gill had adjusted his steel wire-clippers to cut only two-thirds of the way through each strand, so that there should be no “ click ” to betray the operation. Each wire thus partly severed was easily broken by the hands’.

 

[6] Official History, Vol III, Chap IX, pp 246-247 ‘The wire-cutters had evidently run straight into a German listening-post. It soon became clear that they had not been actually seen; but to attempt proceeding farther would mean the certain discovery of the raid, of which the main body was then still assembling in No-Man’s Land. Gill and Tozer lay perfectly still for ten minutes, and then wriggled stealthily back, joining up the ends of the cut wire as they did so. The assault party had been waiting in a ditch near some willows in No-Man’s Land, and had just begun to crawl forward to its “ jumping-off ” position ’when Gill encountered it. The hour was then past 11.30, too late for an attempt to cut the wire at any other point. A message reporting the check was sent to Brigadier-General Paton, who had come up to a special headquarters in the line. By the time it reached him-12.30 a.m.-it was too late to adopt the third possible course and have the raid preluded by a preparatory bombardment, although that alternative had been previously discussed and plans for a bombardment were in existence. Paton accordingly decided to arrange for the attempt to be undertaken the next night after a short bombardment, and the party was withdrawn.’

 

[7] I imagine Reg took a lot of stick for effectively calling off the raid on the first night after all the painstaking preparations. One of the other raiders, Private Daniel Quinn of the 26th AIF, reported home in a letter published in the local paper “We started to cut Fritz’s barbwire and we came across a listening post, and we had to turn back very disappointed and wild. When we got back, to our trenches all the other fellows in the brigade roused upon us and said that we were frightened.” http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/1044231

A copy of Reg’s report is in the file of the 7th Brigade for June 1916:

RHG's report pg 1

RHG's report pg 2

 

[8] Official History, Vol III, Chap IX, pp.247-249

 

[9] Official History, Chap IX, p. 251

 

[10] The families of George Clifford Bower (‘Uncle Cliff’, stockbroker living at ‘Newquay’, Durham Avenue, Bromeley, Kent) and Theodore Herbert Bower (‘Uncle Bert’). Uncles Cliff and Bert were the brothers of Reg’s mother, who died in childbirth with Reg in 1881.

 

[11] ‘strafe’ – verb, now meaning ‘to attack repeatedly with bombs or machine-gun fire from low-flying aircraft’. Origin: early 20th century: humorous adaptation of the German World War I catchphrase Gott strafe England ‘may God punish England.’

 

[12] see Official History, Chapter XI – Opening of the Offensive and the Move to Messines

RHG with the 28th AIF

It seems that it was not until August 1915 that Reg volunteered to join the AIF. His application for a commission was signed 12 August. It is not known why he waited until August 1915 to volunteer but the Official History quoted below mentions a noted difference in the type of men and the reasons that they volunteered later, after the initial enthusiasm of August 1914.

Reg’s application for a commission was signed 12 August, his medical examination signed on 27 August, and his ‘Attestation Paper for Persons Enlisted for Service Abroad’ recording him as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 7th Reinforcements, 28th Battalion, AIF was signed by Reg on 16th September 1915.

Attestation Paper of Persons Enlisted for Service Abroad - 16 Sept 1915

The AIF

The AIF was the ‘Australian Imperial Force’. At the declaration of the war on August 4th 1914, Australia did not have a standing army for overseas service. Australia had no obligation to assist Britain in the war but, as with the other colonies, immediately volunteered an expeditionary force to fight overseas, wherever needed by the Empire. At first Australia volunteered a force of 20,000 men, but not a collection of brigades as had been sent to assist Britain in South Africa in the Boer Wars:

“It was quite clear that any force so composed would be dismembered and incorporated with units from other parts of the Empire in such a way that its national character would be lost.”

But the man in whose hands the Australian Government had placed the organisation of Australia’s contribution to the army of the Empire abroad was one who saw far ahead, and who realised something of  what it would mean to her that this force should go to the war as a national unit. William Throsby Bridges, Inspector-General of the Australian Military Forces, had been in  Queensland when the war broke out, but had been recalled to Melbourne. He was a man of great knowledge, slow of thought, but always thinking and thinking deeply, and when he arrived at a purpose lie held inflexibly to it. From August 5th, when he reached Melbourne and was entrusted with the organising of the expeditionary force, he was determined that Australia should send to this war an Australian “division”-a compact unit, to be kept and fought as an  Australian unit wherever it might go.” The Official History, Vol I, Chap II  p.30

“The contingent now being raised seemed an immense one for Australia. No  provision for anything so large as a division existed in the Australian Army system; a brigade was the largest formation yet provided for. Even Great Britain herself had never, before the present war, sent a fully organised modern division across the seas as one compact unit. No  one at this time dreamed that further contingents approaching the same size would be needed from Australia. For nearly a year the infantry division which Australia sent was commonly known as “The Australian Division” simply.” The Official History, Vol I, Chap II p.35

But because of the huge number of volunteers in Australia, which far exceeded the numbers of the initial division, including the reinforcements necessary to keep that initial division in the field, a second Division was formed:

“In June and July, 1915, there arrived in Egypt from Australia reinforcements of special importance. For some time after the departure of the Gallipoli expedition the only Australian troops regularly arriving had been the monthly drafts to maintain the strength of units already at the front. These came forward with absolute regularity, the quotas being whatever was laid down for the British Army. For example, when in December, 1914,the British War Office, after experience of the heavy losses in France, decided to send forward monthly 15 per cent. of the full strength of each infantry unit and 10 per cent. for each unit of cavalry, Australia adopted the same scale. At that time the force consisted of-

One (1st) infantry division,
One additional (4th) infantry brigade,
Three (Ist, 2nd, and 3rd) light horse brigades, and Certain base or L.-of-C. units.

For these the increased monthly reinforcement would be 3,227 officers and men. This number was therefore regularly despatched from Australia. But the recruits who continued to offer were more numerous than could be absorbed in these drafts. The great tide of enlistment which set in after the Landing had not, indeed, yet commenced, but since the sailing of the early contingents there had been steadily enrolled a somewhat different class of men from that which had first rushed to the recruiting offices. They were men who perceived that the war was likely to be longer and more difficult than had at first appeared; men who waited to settle their family or business affairs before considering themselves free to enlist ; men who had begun to realise that, if the war was to be won, each individual citizen must put his shoulder to the wheel. A high proportion volunteered not so much from impetuosity of spirit as because of a reasoned patriotism. The newspapers, in the effort to encourage enlistment, pointed out that these men were perhaps more truly representative of Australia [p.420] than the adventurous 1st Division, and that they were impressing all beholders as the finest troops yet raised in the Commonwealth. Men of the 1st Division, reduced, war-worn, sickening in their trenches at Anzac, read such eulogies with sardonic comments, and at once christened these future arrivals the “ Dinkum ” (that is, “ the genuine ”) Australians.

When this class began to maintain the flood of enrolment and the camps in Australia were found to be receiving far larger numbers than would he required for mere reinforcements, the Commonwealth Government cabled to Great Britain offering to organise, despatch, and maintain fresh units of a strength of 10,000. This proposal was accepted, the British Government asking that as large a percentage as possible should be infantry. On February 2nd, therefore, the Commonwealth notified London that the new force would comprise-

Two (5th and 6th) infantry brigades.
One (4th) light horse brigade.

On April 1st this was increased I)y the additional offer of-

One (7th) infantry brigade.

The three infantry brigades were raised as follows :-

In New South Wales –

5th (17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th Battalions).

In Victoria –

6th (21st, 22nd, 23rd, and 24th Battalions).

In other States – 7th Brigade

25th Battalion (Queensland).
26th Battalion (half Queensland, half Tasmania).
27th Battalion (South Australia).
28th Battalion [Western Australia).”

The Official History, Vol II, Chapter XV pp.419/420

 

The 28th Battalion

The 28th AIF was a unit comprised exclusively of men recruited from Western Australia. An excellent history of the early years of the 28th Battalion from 1915 until arrival in France in 1916 is written by its first commanding officer Colonel H.B. Collett and is available to read on-line here: The 28th: A Record of War Service in the Australian Imperial Force, 1915-19, Vol. I, by Herbert Brayley Collett. The 28th Battalion was created in April 1915, trained at Blackboy Hill Camp outside Perth, and departed for Egypt on the ss Ascansius on 9th June 1915 from Fremantle.

28th AIF - Some of the Original Officers

28th AIF – Some of the Original Officers

THE MARCH THROUGH PERTH - 3rd June, 1915 - The crowd in St George's Terrace

THE MARCH THROUGH PERTH – 3rd June, 1915 – The crowd in St George’s Terrace

THE FAREWELL AT FREMANTLE - 9th June, 1915

THE FAREWELL AT FREMANTLE – 9th June, 1915

Of the initial battalion that sailed that day, Col Collett’s history records that half the battalion were Australian born, and nearly all the remaining half were British born. The average age was approx. 24 years and (from approx 1,000 men) there were only 143 married men. 150 civil occupations were represented, the principal ones being: labourers 199, farmers and farm hands 109, miners and prospectors 70, timber workers 64, clerks 60, carpenters and joiners 27, horse drivers 18, pearlers 17, grocers 16, engineers 13, and butchers 13.

The battalion arrived at Gallipoli in September 1915 and was there until the evacuation in December 1915 before moving back to Egypt to reorganise and restore their numbers and then on to France for the Western Front in March 1916.

The 28th AIF, Cairo, August 1915

The 28th AIF, Cairo, August 1915