Centenary of the Great War

NIGHT MISSION: Armourers prepare an Australian Flying Corps aircraft for a bombing mission. Photo: The Digger’s View by Juan Mahony
NIGHT MISSION: Armourers prepare an Australian Flying Corps aircraft for a bombing mission. Photo: The Digger’s View by Juan Mahony

Newcastle Morning Herald transcriptions and Hunter Valley enlistment and death details for week of 24-30 September, 1917

FIGHTING ON BRITISH FRONT

London, Wednesday.

Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, the British Commandant on the West Front, reports: “Under a thick mist the enemy made a powerful counter-attack at dawn yesterday on positions on the ridge between the Tower Hamlets and Polygon Woods. He was repulsed on the bulk of the front, but northward of the Ypres-Menin Road and southward of Polygon Wood, he penetrated our lines for short distances on narrow fronts. Fierce fighting continued during the morning. Another heavy counter-attack at midday failed to make further progress, and early in the afternoon the enemy was ejected, and we re-established our line on the whole front attacked. The enemy raided a post southward of Queant. Many photographs were taken of the enemy's areas at the front and rear on Monday. Four tons of bombs were dropped on aerodromes northward and southward of Roulers, near Cambrai, and an important railway centre eastward of Tournai. We bombed at night time an ammunition dump northward of Cambrai, and billets eastward of Lens. Three enemy machines were brought down, and five driven down. Four of ours are missing. Among the German pilots brought down on Sunday was a lieutenant, who, according to the enemy, had brought down many Allied machines. A previous report stated “We successfully raided eastward of Epehy. An attempt to rush one of our forward posts north-eastward of Lens was repulsed. The enemy's artillery is active eastward and northward of Ypres.

FIGHTING SIDE BY SIDE

London, Friday.

C.E.W. Bean, the official Australian correspondent, in a message dated Thursday, 3.50pm, says: “The Germans made at least four counter-attacks on various parts of the line which the British and Australians seized yesterday. At noon they began to come out against the Australians beyond a mound in Polygon Wood, but were soon easily repulsed. Later in the afternoon they attacked the Australians further north, but the attack broke down under the barrage which descended. About the same time the British further north became involved in a heavy counter-attack, but the troops next the Australians held the ground without losing an inch. Towards evening another heavy counter-attack was made by the Germans, who had been moving all the afternoon towards the troops south of the Australians. This also broke down under the British artillery fire, except on the immediate flank of the Australians, which was the scene of such heavy confused fighting the day before. There was fighting in this valley during the greater part of the day.

The British troops attacked in conjunction with the Australians, and on reaching the position from which they had been driven back the day before found that the Scottish garrison on the posts there was still in its place, holding on though tremendously exhausted, although the Germans had passed their flank and completely cut them off. The troops who held out so magnificently were the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. The British attack was pushed on until yesterday's objectives were reached, and toward evening the position was that the British and Australian troops reached their intended position along the whole line, exactly as in the first stages of this great battle.

German planes were flying very low yesterday, but the Australian machine guns brought down two. The Germans removed their guns early. One big gun was seen by theplanes during the morning struggling along a road. The artillery was turned on. That afternoon, the Australian infantry arriving at the place, found the gun with its wheels scattered, and German dead lying round it. The Australians must have taken more than 600 prisoners, and at least twenty machine guns, of which many were used against the Germans. On September 25th at least thirty machine guns were captured, and over 600 prisoners, including a battalion commander. One lieutenant-colonel was taken yesterday.

A previous message from Mr Bean states: “Despite the terribly heavy fighting on the southern slopes of Polygon Ridge yesterday, the British-Australian attack went over this morning punctual to the second. It now appears that the Australian flank yesterday held on even through the fierce fighting in the afternoon, and the Victorians, with their reinforcements, moved out for attack this morning, from the precise position which they had held all these days. A little before six the barrage descended like a wall, and the troops moved out behind it. On the left everything went like clockwork. The Western Australians and troops from all other States, like good Australians, hugging the barrage. The New South Welshmen worked steadily behind the barrage in the centre. The control of the battle passed out of the hands of the generals to those of the platoon officers and sergeants, the newly-promoted boys. Those behind could only sit and wait with intense anxiety for news of the fight, while the Victorians and British had a terribly hard task, advancing over the scene of yesterday's counter-attack, where the line was still partly unrestored. The first good news came fifty minutes from the start, when German prisoners were seen coming back out of the battle. Then more prisoners behind them, strings of prisoners fairly treading on each other's heels, as an enthusiastic clerk shouted down the telephone. The next news was that they had captured machine guns, block houses, and more prisoners. From the left the line swiftly reached a further ridge, beyond which we had seen for many days the ruins of Zonnebeke. Next the British in Zonnebeke itself.

About this time men were seen walking about at the further end of Polygon Wood, beyond the big mound, which, for the past few days looked down on our front. Clearly things were not going on badly on the right. Only on the actual scene of yesterday's counter-attack, which fell most heavily against the British troops, was the advance hampered seriously. There the troops who had undergone heavy trials the day before managed to organise themselves sufficiently to re-establish the line from which they had been driven out, and advanced in part. The Australian line swung round to link up with them, and what seemed at one time an impossible task was overcome. At the time of writing there were signs that the first German counter-attack was being launched, the British and Australian line facing it in the country beyond Polygon Wood and around Zonnebeke, which was the objective of this morning's attack. Never was battle carried to such success in the face of formidable difficulty.

ABERMAIN

The ladies of the Abermain Comforts Fund Committee have sent away 110 Christmas parcels for Abermain soldiers on active service. Each parcel contained one plum pudding, one tin of cheese, one of soup, one of potted meat, one of preserved ginger, one of lollies, one of tobacco and cigarettes, cigarette paper, chewing gum, pea nuts, and socks. The ladies have had to work very consistently to achieve such results, but were encouraged by the many letters of appreciation received after last Christmas cheer had reached the boys.

A GAME OLD SOLDIER

Mrs James Barker, of Abermain, is one of the heroic mothers of the war. She not only allowed her three sons to go on active service, but her husband, who was killed near Messines on July 20. One son was killed, one invalided home, and one remains in the army. She has received several letters from her late husband's officers and comrades of the 34th Battalion, expressing appreciation of his soldierly conduct

Captain Wheeler, adjutant of the battalion, writes: “I am extremely sorry to have to report the death of your husband, Private James Barker, who was an old and loyal member of the battalion. His great sacrifice in offering and giving his services to his country has fixed a high deal of courage and bravery in the mind of the men of the battalion, which shall never be forgotten. He did his duty to the fullest extent, and was killed on one of the biggest battlefields of this war. You may be rightly proud of his worthy actions, and of your brave sons, who are fighting in this great cause.”

Lance-corporal John Bailey writes: “It is with deepest regret that I am writing to you of the lamentable death of your husband. I was with him at the time, and can assure you that he suffered no pain. He and I, with Sergeant Cook and a friend of Jim's, named Kelly, and another, named Hunter, were all sitting down talking of what a fine time we would have when we were granted 'Blighty leave.' Suddenly a German shell burst in our midst, burying us all with earth and sandbags, and smashing up our dugout, which had just been built. Two of us managed to extricate ourselves quickly, and immediately got the others clear of the earth and debris. We could not stay to see exactly how much each man was injured, as we were anxious to get stretchers and get them to the doctors. I had only reached a distance of about twelve yards when another shell burst exactly in the same place as the first. Assistance was quickly at hand, but poor Jim was quite dead, and two others, Kelly and Burke, were seriously wounded. It was a terrible shock to the two of us who were left, from which we have not yet fully recovered. If you can be comforted at all in your great sorrow, perhaps the fact that your dear husband was spared a lingering death, with awful pain, may console you. He was a favourite with all, and everybody regrets his death.”

Captain-chaplain A. S. M'Cook, who conducted the burial service, writes: “The spot where he lies beside some of his young comrades will be marked and kept in order, and the battalion has already taken steps to have a suitable memorial erected over it. Truly, he was a game old soldier, and deserved to win through, but it was willed otherwise, and he must be included among the heroes who have not shirked their sternest duty, and who have yielded their lives in defence of a great cause. But we know that your heart will be sad, especially as I understand that this is your second loss in a short time.”

Other letters speak of the dead soldier's anxiety lest he should be deprived of associating with his comrades in the danger zone, because of his age. He was a gallant old soldier, and a loved comrade.

ENLISTMENTS

Arthur Frederick Biggers, Cessnock; David Broadley, Cessnock; Roy Brough, New Lambton; George Roland Evans, Islington; Albert Evans, Weston; Alfred James Fordham, Newcastle; Andrew Geysen, Anna Bay; Neil Larsen, Muswellbrook; James Marshall, Cessnock; Edmund Soloman Polak, Lambton; Leonard Wallace Solman, Singleton.

DEATHS

Pte Frederick Rodford, Blandford, Hamilton; Pte Harry Wallace Brokenshire, Bishops Bridge; Pte Alexander Charles Cameron, Hinton; Pte Percy Chapman, Newcastle; Pte Alfred Reginald Clarke, West Wallsend; Pte George William Cockburn, Dudley; Pte John Cognet, Minmi; Pte William John Cram, Hamilton; Pte Aubrey Claude Dare, Gloucester; Pte Henry John Darwood, Cessnock; Capt William Thomas Dick, Newcastle; Pte George Doncaster, West Wallsend; Pte Harlie Muir Eckford, West Maitland; Sgt Robert Elliott, Newcastle; L/Cpl Peter Feenan, East Maitland; Sgt James Ferguson, Merewether; Sgt Francis Ronald Fleming, Muswellbrook; L/Cpl James Joseph Gillies, Newcastle; Pte George Milne Greig, Scone; Pte George Halliwell, Stockton; Pte Thomas Hamer, West Maitland; 2nd Lieut Charles Thomas Heath, Merewether; Pte Herbert Hicks, Muswellbrook; Pte Frank Hill, East Greta; Pte Thomas Hudson, Myall Creek; Pte George Arthur Jones, New Lambton; L/Sgt David Reginald Lewis, Boolaroo; Pte Donald McDonald, Kurri Kurri; Sgt Joseph Earle McKinnon, Weston; Sgt George William McRae, Barrington; Pte John Neilson, West Wallsend; Pte Herbert Henry Parish, Berrico Creek; Pte Arthur Ernest Piper, Forster; Pte Frederick Alexander Poole, Newcastle; Pte Horace Ralph, Cooks Hill; Pte John Herbert Ravell, Forster; Cpl George Henry Ruddy, Merewether; Sgt John Patrick Ryan, Singleton; Gnr William Rupert Scott, Aberdeen; Pte Thomas Tait, Weston; Pte Herbert Lewis Taylor, Blandford; Pte John Waugh, Barnsley; Cpl Robert George Way, Hamilton; Pte Jack Williams, Warnervale; Pte Thomas William Wilson, New Lambton.

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