Centenary of the Great War

GAS MASKS ON:  Australian members of a howitzer prepare to launch a night time barrage. Photo courtesy of The Digger’s View by Juan Mahony.
GAS MASKS ON: Australian members of a howitzer prepare to launch a night time barrage. Photo courtesy of The Digger’s View by Juan Mahony.

Newcastle Morning Herald transcriptions and Hunter Valley enlistment and death details for September 17-23, 1917.

A SIGNALLER'S NARRATIVE

Mr. G. Smith, of Hobart-road, New Lambton, has received a letter from his son, Signaller Joseph Smith, who, like so many other district soldiers, was in the battle of Messines. Signaller Smith reckons that if any of the German prisoners get back to the Fatherland they will give the Australians a great name. The one thing which Australians wanted when once they got to France was to get a cut at the Huns, hand to hand, and at Messines some old scores were paid off.

"It was like hell let loose, with the mines going up, and the continual roar of the guns, and the choking dust and dirt. I reckon that every chap who went over the top that morning went mad for the time. We came up to our trenches the previous night, and waited until morning. At ten minutes past three o'clock to the second a solitary gun fired, and about seven seconds afterwards there was a terrible rumble, and the trenches rocked and rolled like a ship at sea. The first of our mines had been fired. It was a wonderful sight. It seemed to be like molten sea being flung up hundreds of feet, and then coming down and slowly rolling. A second one went up a few minutes after the first, and that was the signal to show whether our boys could prove themselves or not. In a few minutes under our own barrage we were through his wire, and into his front line, and it was then that we could see how well our artillery had done its work. His wire was cut, and lying in small pieces, and his front line was unrecognisable as a trench. It was a line of holes and spongy ground, and a few solid concrete dugouts rolled over by the force of the explosion of the mines. The enemy sent up green, red, white, and pink parachute lights, making No-Man's-Land like day. We had to advance slowly behind our artillery fire, the shrapnel shells bursting above our heads. The dust was choking, and I had not been over five minutes before I had to have a go at the water bottle."

OVER THE TOP

Mrs. J. A. Crossley, of Greta, has received a letter from her brother, Private Edward Barsley, who, writing from "Somewhere in France" on June 19, gives some of his experiences in the fighting on the western front. At the time of writing his battalion was enjoying a spell. Their casualties had been small, while those of the Germans had been enormous. Three thousand of the enemy had been taken prisoner, and their dead were lying all over the place. The brigade to which Private Barsley's battalion was attached had made a great name for itself, and had been praised by several of the generals. They had their objective to take, and not one of the men went ever the top against his wish. Everybody was eager, and they took the objective in fine style. The Australians were chasing Germans as though they were hares. Private Barsley concludes by saying that the recommendation had gone through for his promotion to corporal, and that he hoped that by the time the letter reached Australia he would have that rank.

A CLOSE CALL

Mr. and Mrs. J. Hawken, of Grahame-road, Broadmeadow, have received the following letter from their eldest son, Corporal Frank Hawken, First Railway Unit, dated 2nd July, 1917: "Just a line to you. I have had my brother Joe over to see me today. I have been with him all day. I would never have known him again, he has got so big and strong looking. You know we have never seen one another for five years. His company is about ten miles from me. We are both in pretty warm corners, I can tell you. I am going to tell you something now - you will never credit it. Joe and I were outside my tent at nine o'clock p.m, just going to shake hands for him to go home to his camp, when a big shell came over and burst not far from us, and a big piece of it came and went through Joe's hat, hit him on the shoulder, and then on to me and knocked the skin off my thumb. We were dumbfounded for the time, and the chaps ran over to us, but we were all right. A corporal found the piece, and it was red hot, and gave it to me. Joe was terribly shaken, but he was not hurt much. Half an inch for both of us would have done it. I felt quite worried tonight, you may depend, as Joe went straight away on his bike. He has seen so much hard fighting, you know. Although he is not up in the lines now, he is no better off, as he is under shell fire, that is, high explosives. It racks one's nerves badly. The Huns are shelling the town I am in now, and they do it so dirty. They just throw their guns anywhere. You never know when or where it is coming. One big house was blown to pieces yesterday, but the people got out of it wonderfully. Things are moving along here pretty hot for Fritz, but he does some terrible things."

LIEUTENANT E.R. SPARKE

Among the last detachment of troops from the front was Lieutenant Edward R. Sparke, of the 1st Battalion, the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. W. Sparke, of Waratah.

Lieutenant Sparke enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces in August, 1914, and sailed with the 1st Division in October of that year. He was in the landing at Gallipoli, on April 25, 1915; at Lone Pine, and throughout that campaign. He was afterwards on the Sinai Peninsula for two months. In March, 1916, he went to France, and saw continuous service from then on. He was awarded an infantry commission on the field at Pozieres, and stepped from a private to commissioned rank. He was present with the 1st Division in all important engagements, including Bapaume and Bullecourt, and during the fighting at the latter centre, while adjutant to his battalion, was severely wounded in the right arm and shoulder. The fighting there was very open and severe. The Australians were practically surrounded by Germans. His battalion went in with upwards of 600, and came out with 80. The Australians, as is known, were finally relieved by English divisions. It was originally decided to amputate the lieutenant's arm, but after consultation it was thought that operations might prove effective. This, it is hoped, will be found correct. He was treated for two months in hospital in England, and was then sent out to Australia, arriving in Melbourne on Tuesday, and in Newcastle Thursday.

AUSTRALIANS IN ACTION

(By C. E. W. Bean, Australian Official Correspondent.)

Headquarters, Thursday. The Australian and British troops have just been launched in a most tremendous attack. The bombardment is such as never before known.

The British battle front is now advancing behind that barrage, both to the right and left of the Australians. Before the Australians, as at Pozieres, stretches the country which is the summit of the battlefield. It is one long bare ridge, sloping down on the south to the plain beyond Messines, curving on the north past the little valley of Hannebeke, and further streams in one long sickle of hills outstanding from the Flanders Plain. Three years ago this ridge was clothed by the great trees of Polygon Wood, around Lonnebeck Racecourse, where the first small British army, and where the forever glorious Canadians and British held on fighting inch by inch after the Germans broached their first vile gas cylinders. Today that same ridge is just one long, bare red flank of mother earth, lying naked to the skies.

Nearer the end from four red craters, and relics of recent battles, hung a few gaunt black stumps of the Inverness Copse and Glencorse Wood, and where the valley dips down the northern slope to Hannebeke before powdered brick heaps, which once were Westhoek Village, lies the wood of Nonneboschen. Beyond this, further up the slope from Hannebeke could be seen a broken farm building, known as Anzac. To the right of all this from Glencorse Wood runs the bare and gently rounded crest of the main ridge. At the further end against the eastern horizon are a few more blackened stumps and a big brown earthen hole, like the tailings from a copper mine. That with a low undergrowth a few feet high is all that remains at this hour of the famous Polygon Wood.

That desolate country, where the face of nature has been flayed and pimpled all over as with warts, by concrete blockhouses, and as pitted by smallpox with water-filled craters, is the battlefield into which our boys were launched a few minutes ago. For days they have been marching up into it. Strong, silent columns, seen by the flicker of guns, tramping up long roads by night, lone files of determined men wending their way over the crater field by day. One never has seen them in more magnificent heart. Every man seems to have some pet bomb or bayonet, which he is nursing for the Germans.

They went into battle as Australians generally do, not singing or laughing, like so many of the British regiments, but very grim and very silent, with the officers marching quietly at the head of each small string of men. The new portents of this new battlefield opened themselves around them. A new German gas shell, and a new German incendiary shell, which lit up the whole expanse of the world with one gigantic rose glow like that of the blowing up of an ammunition dump. For several days they held the line under a gradually growing torment of shells, which the Germans poured in retaliation for our increasing bombardments.

Now, under the thunder of the mightiest artillery ever concentrated, they have gone into one of the world's mightiest battles. Dust and smoke has swallowed them up. By the time this reaches Australia, a communique will probably have told the fate of this great enterprise. We do not know it yet, and from where some of us are waiting for news it will be difficult to get it away for some hours. One can only say they went into this great test beside the British troops, the same grand, whole-hearted Australian boys who took Pozieres, and who stormed Gallipoli.

ENLISTMENTS

Alexander Gordon Armour, Weston; Charles Joseph Bremer, Newcastle; Maitland Thomas Butler, Kurri Kurri; James Francis Clifford, Carrington; Edward James Conway, Mayfield; Ernest Davie, West Maitland;  James Edward Harris, Mandalong; William Fairley Hedley, Greta; William Albert Hull, New Lambton; James Marshall, Wickham; Robert Newell, Port Stephens; George Patrick Paul, Newcastle; James Roach, Carrington.

DEATHS

Pte Daniel Baccus, West Wallsend; Pte Clarence John Bambach, Raymond Terrace; Pte William Edward Bruderlin, Singleton; Pte John Charles Burgess, Stockton; Pte John Clark, Weston;  Cpl George Frederick Coleman, Newcastle; Pte George Easter, Denman; Dvr John Grothen, The Junction; Pte Peter Inglis, Cessnock; L/Cpl Percy Oliver Joliffe, Rouchel; Pte Robert Thomas Logan, Kurri Kurri; Pte Abbey Green Marshall, Singleton; Spr George Muir, Aberdare; Pte Harold Neilson, Bandon Grove; Pte Thomas George Neville, Singleton; Pte Fitzgerald O'Neil, Dry Creek via Scone; Pte Frank Bennett Randall, Dora Creek; Pte Harold Selby Redman, Denman; L/Sgt William Alfred Roberts, Wollombi; Pte Jack Robinson, Anna Bay; Cpl Anthony Thomas Rodgers, Teralba; Pte Kenneth Knowlton Saxby, East Maitland;

Pte James David Simpson, Waratah; Pte James William Smith, Weston; Pte Keith Kalatina Smith, Islington; Pte Albert Richard Warring, New Lambton.

David Dial OAM is a Hunter-based military historian. Follow his reasearch at  facebook.com/HunterValleyMilitaryHistory