Centenary of the Great War

Newcastle Morning Herald transcriptions and Hunter Valley enlistment and death details for 11-17 June

Private James (Big Jim) Hartley Antcliff 36th Battalion. Big Jim was a captain of the Cooks Hill Surf Club and was killed in action 7th June 1917 during the Battle of Messines Ridge, Belgium. Photo: The Digger’s View by Juan Mahony

Private James (Big Jim) Hartley Antcliff 36th Battalion. Big Jim was a captain of the Cooks Hill Surf Club and was killed in action 7th June 1917 during the Battle of Messines Ridge, Belgium. Photo: The Digger’s View by Juan Mahony

THE FIGHTING IN FLANDERS

The wiping out of the Ypres salient and the capture of the Messines Ridge by the British may be regarded as a stepping stone to further successes in Flanders. That there should be a pause in operations is understood. The gigantic nature of the preparations for the attack upon the German positions near Ypres illustrates both the magnitude of the task and the thoroughness of the British. Not only did they smash up defences which it was believed would withstand any attack, but their forces also fought with desperate eagerness and courage. It may be anticipated, however, that another advance will be made before long. We are told that the British force rapidly dug themselves in in their new positions, and that heavy guns were being brought up to the new battle front even before the fighting had concluded. Therefore it may be expected that in a short time the necessary work will have been completed, and the soldiers sufficiently rested to resume operations. It is said that this latest Ypres battle is not a great one such as that of the Somme or that of the Marne. While this statement is obviously correct, it was none the less a battle which promises great results. While the Germans are talking of dividing Belgium into two countries and separating Flanders from the rest of the Belgian territory, the Allies are gradually driving the enemy out of Flanders. At the same time their warships and aviators are inflicting immense damage upon the Belgian ports occupied by the enemy. That the Germans have prepared defences behind the lines they still hold is no doubt certain, but they cannot be of the character and strength of the old defences. These were smashed up by the British artillery, and the same fate must occur still more rapidly to the newer ones. The news of the latest success must give great heart to the Belgian troops who are confronting the enemy near the sea coast. It is to them a promise of the recovery of their country and the ousting of an enemy who has throughout fought in contravention of all laws, both written and humane. It is a terribly stricken country, but with the aid of Europe and America, and the energy of its people, it will recover its former prosperity.

WORK OF ANZACS

Correspondents at British Headquarters state that the Australians made a small local attack in Battle Wood on Friday morning, rounding off Thursday's gains. The whole operation was so successful that it was completed by 9.30 a.m.

The total prisoners now counted amount to at least 7000, and more than 100 guns have been knocked out.

The Australians and New Zealanders broke all records on Thursday, digging successive lines of trenches six feet deep during the morning attack. The British success is so complete that even the heavy guns were able to move into the German lines in a few hours.

The attack on Messines Ridge was worked out with an open air model covering an area equal to four tennis courts. It included such minute details as an isolated tree stump.

Other correspondents state that the Irish troops assisted the New Zealanders to capture Messines Ridge, and the Australians and Englishmen were fighting nearby.

There was particularly stiff fighting for Battle Wood, where the Germans still held a corner, this being the only setback the British suffered during the whole glorious day. There is also heavy fighting around the White Chateau.

Before a large part of the ridge is a dip in the ground, where the British artillery was unable to cut the wire, but the attackers went through everything with irresistible dash.

A feature of the battle was the success of General Plumer's aviators. Though they brought down 44 machines they lost only 10. In one case five British aeroplanes fought 25 Germans, wrecking eight. All the British returned safely.

AMERICA'S TROOPS 

General Pershing, Commander of the American Expeditionary Force, with his staff, has arrived at Liverpool. He was welcomed by representatives of the Admiralty and the War Office.

In an interview, the General said he was proud to be the standard-bearer of his country in this great war for civilisation. He hoped America would be able to play a big part on the Western front.

There were most cordial scenes at Liverpool when the American Commander, who was dressed in khaki, inspected the guard. The band played the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

Afterwards the General and his officers returned on board the Baltic, and saluted while the band played "God Save the King."

THE KING'S MESSAGE

The King has sent the following telegrams to Sir Douglas Haig:-

"I rejoice that thanks to the thorough preparation and splendid cooperation of all arms, the important Messines Ridge, the scene of many memorable struggles, is again in our hands.

"Tell General Plumer and the Second Army how proud we are of the achievement by which, in a few hours, the enemy was driven out of the strongly entrenched positions he had held for two and a-half years."

AUSTRALIAN MINERS

Mr. Percival Phillips telegraphs:- “There are no happier men in this happy army of the north than the miners.

They toiled underground for months, prepared chambers for explosive charges, and courted death as freely as the infantry charging through the broken wire. They dug and carved through narrow, tortuous channels beneath No Man's Land, some only three foot by two, using infinite pains and skill, working in semi-darkness, breathing foul air, facing a variety of hidden dangers, and boring their way cautiously foot by foot with ears attuned to the slightest sound.

The success of these tunnellers, who came to France with years of experience in mining, fully compensated the weary effort, and the days and nights spent, in semi-suffocation in the bowels of the earth. They regarded HiIl 60 in a ferocious light. During the months of preparation they got to know the hill as "Our Hill," using the phrase in a grim businesslike way, which would have been extremely disquieting, to the complacent Wurtemburgers, if they could have heard these dangerous, square-jawed Australians quietly prophesying their doom as they wielded pick and shovel.

The miners narrowly escaped discovery and death. German pioneers were unconscious of the Australians' proximity, so warily did the Australians creep forward, but the Germans actually mined within 40ft of the Australians' main charge under Hill 60, and within 10ft of their gallery, but they were not aware of it. On another occasion the enemy was so close that he dislodged a portion of the roof of the Australian mine chamber, the earth falling upon a stack of explosives. The Australians heard guttural conversation. Only a thin layer of earth separated the enemies.

The Australians overcame many difficulties. At one time a hundred miners together, jumped out a 400ft stretch of the gallery. On one occasion the Huns blew up the front line, and the miners ran out of the dugouts without boots and chased the raiders. A week ago the Germans blew in a new mine gallery, and two Australian listeners were buried alive, one for seventeen hours, and the other for forty, but they were dug out unhurt. Both throughout recorded every sound they heard in the darkness. I found no finer record of cool courage and devotion to duty in the annals of this war than these two men's.

Mr: Phillips paints here a picture of the scene preceding the explosion. It was misty moonlight. Thousands of figures were lying crouching on the ground, where they had been brought up from their shelters, in order to bear the tremendous shock better. Two minutes before the appointed moment, men poured up silently from the depth, passing a group of officers in a dugout surrounding a fatal brass lever. One afterwards said the final two minutes seemed interminable, and the final thirty seconds, as they watched the second hand crawl round the dial, caused the most tense strain. When a young officer jammed down the lever, the ground billowed. The noise of the explosion was prolonged by a mighty cheer. The men couldn't help it. They had been ordered to maintain the strictest silence. Even the battle police were on duty, but when the mines lifted, the miners realised that their long work was a glorious success, and could not restrain their jubilation. Anyhow, the Huns were past hearing the cheers.

WORK OF THE ANZACS

General Sir Hubert Plumer has complimented all ranks on their soldierly conduct, which resulted in the capture of Messines Ridge.

The precision with which his orders were carried out enabled the programme to be fulfilled to the last detail with the minimum of losses and wounded. Witnesses point out that only the complexity of the plans leading up to the battle allows an estimate to be made of the part played by the Australians and New Zealanders, and discloses the brilliance of their achievement. Although Messines will be historic as the most gigantic artillery and engineering victory, employing explosives greater in quantity of powder than any previously seen in warfare, the mighty concussions would have accomplished little unless the troops had followed up, taking possession of the desolated land.

The New Zealanders have been given the most prominent mention, because they were the first to enter Messines. The Australians do not grudge them the honour.

But the Australians likewise played a definite part. They attacked and penetrated as far eastward as any troops. English regiments attacked the northern half of the salient, while the Australians and New Zealanders were responsible for the southern half. The New Zealanders faced the ridge at the point of its greatest rise opposite Messines. Two distinct bodies of Australians were engaged. The first body, which has a long record of fighting in France, notably at Mouquet Farm and Bullecourt, acted in support of the troops behind the New Zealanders, also supporting the English upon the New Zealanders' left. The other Australian body was given a complete stunt, advancing unassisted at the southern end of the salient, upon the New Zealanders' right. These Australians have not been long in France, but they won their first laurels. They attacked with wonderful coolness, and advanced steadily under the heaviest shellfire.

AUSTRALIANS ADVANCING

Headquarters, Wednesday June 13.

During the last two days the patrols pushed on more than a mile beyond Messines, to points within a thousand yards of the Warneton system of defences, on which the main German garrison retired.

The guns taken by the Australians have considerably increased since the first report. I know definitely of five, and understand that the total is about ten or eleven.

SOCK COMPETITION

The judging of the sock competition took place in the depot, Scott's Limited, Tuesday afternoon, by Mesdames Haydon, Mitchell and Chambers. A large number of socks were entered. The first prize of one guinea, given by Mrs. M'Meekan, Mayfield, was awarded to Miss Dulcie Garrett, East Maitland; second prize, of half a guinea, given by Mrs. W. Sparke, to Mrs. Paskett, Islington. The winner of the knitting competition, open to children 16 years of age, prize, a gold medal given by Scott's Limited, was Miss Madge Stephenson, Islington.

ENLISTMENTS

Norman Thomas Cragg, Teralba; William Francis Badior, Singleton; Frederick Thomas Barker, Broadmeadow; Wallace Hunter Bowman, Singleton; Victor Camden Constant, West Maitland; John Arthur Daniels, Tighes Hill; Melville Heric Jurd, Wollombi; Cornelius Mahony, Newcastle; Robert Marr, Newcastle; Neil McDonald, Barrington; Almo Alberta McKnight, Jerrys Plains; James McLeod, Barrington; John Murphy, Carrington; Thomas Patrick O'Brien, Raymond Terrace; Arthur Owen, Merewether; Walter Oliver Palmer, Newcastle; William Stein, Wallsend; Elias Thomas, Hebburn; William Henry Travers, Newcastle.

DEATHS

Cpl Charles James Berry, Tuncurry; Pte Reginald Thomas Cowley, Glendon Brook; L/Cpl Thomas McGilbray Cran, Dartmouth; 2nd Cpl Joseph Elliott, Kurri Kurri; Pte Michael Arbuthnot Fraser, Newcastle; Pte David Johnstone, West Wallsend; Spr Alexander Malcolm Mitchell, Wallsend; Pte David William Murray, Hamilton; 2nd Lieut Robert Donaldson Perrau, Hamilton; Pte Thomas James Proctor, Newcastle; Pte Thomas Raine, Carrington; Pte Thomas William Smith, Kurri Kurri; Pte Matthew Thompson, Carrington; Pte Michael Toner, Kahibah.

David Dial OAM is a Hunter Valley-based military historian.

Follow David's research at facebook.com/HunterValleyMilitaryHistory

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