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.”

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Surviving the Battle of Pozières, 29 July – 6 August 1916

After his special leave in England granted for the successful trench raid in Armentieres, Reg returned to the 28th Battalion on 30 June 1916 and was soon to experience the full horrors of the Western Front in the Battle of Poizieres of July/August 1916.

The next of Reg’s letters that remain was written to his brother Theo on 11 September 1916 and recounts his experiences:

1916.09.11 first page

“The Pater doesn’t look a day older and Mum is very well.

            Somewhere in Belgium

                                    11-9-16

Dearest Old Chap

I got your letter which the Pater forwarded on from Lurgashall the other day and was delighted to hear you are getting better from your attack of jaundice and fever. By Jove I would have liked to have been with you up in Darjeeling, do you remember our trip up there, leaving Manjhaul for Begusairas [1]  and the train journey to the station, losing your boy and the heat and then that wonderful trip up the hills in the little railway and how bally cold it was when we got there, 51º if I remember correctly.

If only those days could come once more, life is a very uncertain factor here old man, we have been having some terrific fighting since I last wrote you, on the Somme, the Australians made their name at Poziers which we took, also the Heights of Poziers, where desperate fighting took place, it doesn’t matter much telling you all this now as it is all over & is public property. In one charge (taking the Heights) we lost 19 Officers (14 killed & 5 wounded) and 670 men in about one hour.[2] 

Personally I was knocked down three times by the blast of shells and once buried and yet came out untouched, talk about luck or providence, our battalion came out with 67 rifles only. The trouble is when a position is captured, trying to hold on to it while the work of consolidation. trenches are absolutely obliterated and it is a hard job to find where they have been, one can only tell by a sense of position or direction and the bodies more or less [distutaled?] I pray you may never encounter a modern bombardment, it is simply hell let lose. The sights one sees are too dreadful to talk about, no chance of burial for the dead, they slowly rot on the ground, mangled and remangled by shells and the flies come in swarms, imagine trying to eat food under those conditions, also up to the knees in mud and water for 4 and 5 days at a time, I pray to God it will soon be over & this madness of slaughter come to an end. We have left the South of France now and are resting preparatory to going into the trenches at Ypres, another miserable hole, they are working the Australians for all they are worth just now, we have been fighting constantly since April 5thI don’t know how we are going to stand the winter here as our fellows are not used to the cold. I had hoped they would send us to Mesopotamia for the winter. I am now in charge of “C” Company and have been for more than a month, it is up to them to give me my Captaincy soon, as we are doing Captains work and taking responsibility for Lieutenants pay. It isn’t a  fair deal, but the military don’t care a damn as long as they can get the work done, however I suppose it will come in good time.[3] 

Did Finch take the Bulgy Snoukes up to Darjeeling or was the railway fare for one beastie too much for the pocket? I hear Simon is married! Congratulate him for me. It would be awfully nice for you to have seen all those nice people again, the Macs were awfully nice, and and the Finch tribe.[4] I would love to see them all again, besides I suppose Mac is very cocky these days as by now he ought to be a fairly decent billiard player, although he never will be a good snipe shot, tell him we’ve got good “sniping” over here. I had a splendid time at home.

I hope you don’t have to go back to Mesopotamia again, it seems such a hopeless business,[5] why not go to Australia and join up you would get a commission at
once and be sent to England to train and then we could meet again. Good bye dear old man take care of yourself, I am trying hard to do so.

                   Ever yours.

                                                Reg.”

 

[1] Manjhaul, Bihar Province, India  – where GT Gill (Theo) was working at an indigo factory in 1914. Reggie visited India for six months from 1914 to 1915 and stayed with Theo. Begusarai is nearby to Manjhaul in Bihar Province.

[2] In the first unsuccessful attack on the German trench called OG1 at The Windmill on the night of 28/29th July, the 28th BN were caught on the uncut wire and lost over 470 men. 8 of its officers were killed, including 3 of the 4 company commanders (Maj. Welch, Capt N.F. Macrae and Capt C.T. Gibbins). The fourth company commander (Capt A.S. Isaac) lost an arm and the Battalion commander (Colonel Collett) was also wounded.

Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 19.33.47

Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 15.55.37

Presumably this is when Reg took over as company commander of C Coy. See the Official History, Vol III, Chap 18 for a detailed account of the action.

The second attack on 4th August was successful in taking the German trenches OG1 and OG2 but the 28th had to hold on in the face of fierce counterattacks for two more days.  This attack may have been successful in capturing its objectives, but the bombardment was so heavy that nothing of the tenches remained and the losses to the 28th Battalion and the rest of 7th Brigade were enormous.

The old ‘O.G. 1’ line [Old German 1 line] at Pozieres, France, looking north towards the Windmill from a point about 200 to 400 yards north of the junction with Pozieres trench. The photograph illustrates how completely the trench was filled up, so that only the muzzles of buried rifles are showing. This section of the trench had evidently been rebuilt at one time, as the sandbags seen in the foreground are on the German side.

The battlefield near Pozieres village, in France, showing how completely the trenches dug by Australians on 23 and 24 July, just south of the Bapaume Road, had been obliterated by shellfire.

Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 19.22.57

A number of messages written by Reg during the night of 4/5th August in the file of 7th Brigade:

RHG message - 04 08 16 
Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 19.46.37 Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 19.48.58 Screen Shot 2014-11-27 at 19.50.48

[3] Actually, Reg had just been promoted to Lieutenant on 28 August, and in less than a month after writing this letter, to Captain on 1 October 1916.

[4] ‘Finch’? E.J. Finch perhaps?

‘Bulgy Snoukes’ may be a dog or a horse – GTG’s photo album has many photos of named dogs and horses. One dog is ‘Bully also known as Boolgy’

‘The Macs’? perhaps Mr and Mrs E.G. Macpherson

‘The Mauhns’ or Munns – perhaps Ferrers and Margaret Munns?

 

[5] see GTG in Mesopatamia with the 2/6th Gurkha Rifles