Centenary of the Great War

Private Patrick Bugden VC: Killed in action September 28, 1917, at Polygon Wood. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Photo: The Digger’s View by Juan Mahony

Private Patrick Bugden VC: Killed in action September 28, 1917, at Polygon Wood. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. Photo: The Digger’s View by Juan Mahony

Newcastle Morning Herald transcriptions and Hunter Valley enlistment and death details for 1-7 October 1917.

THE BRITISH FRONT

London, Monday.

Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, the British Commandant on the West Front, reports: “Early on Sunday morning three attacks on positions at the Tower Hamlets and Polygon Wood were repulsed with loss. The first, southward of Reutelbeek, was beaten off by our fire before reaching the position. Shortly afterwards infantry advanced astride of the Ypres-Menin road, under cover of a thick smoke barrage, accompanied by flammenwerfer detachments, and drove in our forward post. An immediate counter-attack recaptured the post, and took a number of prisoners and machine guns. Later our artillery broke up an attempt to repeat the attack. The enemy raided trenches eastward of Loos, and when he was retiring across No Man's Land, we pursued him, and killed or took prisoner a number of Germans. Despite unfavourable weather our aeroplanes on Saturday and at night continued to vigorously bomb aerodromes, billets, dumps, and railways, releasing seven tons of explosives. Their chief target was the Gontrode aerodrome, where a large fire was caused”.

FIGHTING IN FLANDERS

London, Tuesday.

Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, reports: “The enemy launched a powerful attack on a mile front northward of Ypres-Menin road, eastward of Polygon Wood. Their infantry, advancing in three waves, were driven back in disorder with heavy casualties. We followed up, taking a few prisoners. The enemy twice strongly renewed the attack during the next three hours, and there was heavy fighting, but he was repulsed everywhere, except opposite the south-east corner of Polygon Wood, where he occupied two advanced posts. We have taken 5206 prisoners in September, including 146 officers, and also captured eleven guns, including three heavy guns, 57 trench mortars, and 377 machine guns. The visibility improved on Sunday, and there was much artillery and photographic work”.

THE BRITISH FRONT

London, Wednesday. Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, reports: 

There was only reciprocal artillery fire on Tuesday. A previous communique stated: On Monday and during the night the enemy made five counter-attacks, with fresh troops, between the Ypres-Menin road and the north-east corner of Polygon Wood. He also attacked Zonnebeke.

All six attacks ended in complete failure, with the exception that we lost two advanced posts at the south-east corner of Polygon Wood. The enemy suffered heavily and gained no advantage. We repulsed raiders south of Lens.

ON THE YPRES FRONT

London, Friday.

Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, opened an offensive on Thursday morning on a wide front.

A later report says: The British are winning all along the line.

The correspondent of the United Press at British Headquarters, telegraphing on Thursday afternoon, states that the new British advance in places is one mile deep.

Several villages have been taken, and the Germans are surrendering in batches. The prisoners already exceed 1000.

A high military authority states that Thursday morning's advance was on a front of 16,000 yards (about nine miles), and attained a depth of 2500 yards (about one mile and a half). All the objectives were secured.

The Australians participated in the attack. The correspondent pays a tribute to the steadiness and determination of their advance. They gained all the desired ground, equalling their achievements on September 20th and 26th.

Mr. Philip Gibbs telegraphs:- Nothing could stop our men. They swept beyond Gravenstafel and Abraham heights, and traversed the ruins of Zonnebeke, with great heroism, and gained the high ground about Broodseinde. English troops shared the honour of the day with the Anzacs, and all were splendid.

THE BROODSEINDE BATTLE

London, Friday.

Mr. Philip Gibbs describes yesterday morning's attack on Broodseinde. He states that the assault started from the ground captured on September 26th northward and southward of Polygon Wood.

We advanced upon Passchendaele Ridge, and apparently reached the Gravenstafel and Abraham Heights, which crown the western spur of the ridge, and Broodseinde, which is the high point and the keystone to the enemy's defence on the line beyond Zonnebeke. I saw hundreds of prisoners trailing back across the battlefield. Our lightly wounded men, despite their bloody bandages, speak of a smashing blow dealt against the Germans, and complete victory.

The enemy prepared a great attack, in order to regain the ground lost on the 26th September, or at least check the advance until our armies should become choked with the mud. His local counter-attacks had failed, and his persistent hammering on our right wing southward of Polygon Wood did not bite deeply into our line, though he caused us anxiety on the 25th, and made an attack on the following day the more difficult; but now the German High Command decided a big blow, timed to seven o'clock yesterday morning. It was an hour too late. Our attack was fixed an hour before his. Hence our attackers had to pass through his barrage, in order to follow under the protection of their own barrage.

Although the barrage fell upon our men before they leapt up to assault, it happened terribly for the enemy, that our men were not stopped, but went through the zone of German shells without disorder, and swept over the German assault troops, annihilating them, and crushing their plan of attack. Those German troops did not attack. Their defence was broken as our lines of fire crept forward and reached them, and broke the second and third waves of men who were intended for attack, and caught them in support and reserve positions. We can only guess what the slaughter has been.

There was slaughter in which five German divisions were involved. The battle looks like one of the greatest victories we have had in the war. It was being prepared on a big scale as soon as the last was fought and won. The Tommies worked feverishly carrying up to the mountains ammunition to feed the guns. Thousands of shells, new from English factories, were unloaded, and lay bright and glistening in the waste ground of the old battlefield near Ypres, ready for the greedy guns. Here was food for a monstrous appetite. The pioneers continued repairing the roads, laying tracks, always astoundingly unconcerned.

Rain again fell on Wednesday, and the ground was sticky. Our boys cursed the rain, which might mean the difference between a great success and a half failure. When the men went forward the rain was glistening on their steel helmets. They had already passed through a great ordeal. Some were unable to rise and go with their comrades. The stretcher-bearers were already busy in the darkness, where thousands of men were waiting the attack. The enemy put over a heavy barrage at half-past five as a prelude to his attack. Knowing that the old methods of defence, in pill boxes, is now useless, the Germans hurriedly prepared a new plan, and moved guns, registering them upon our own trenches, and fearing to lose them assembled the best troops, hoping to wind us before our attack started.

The German barrage was beginning his new plan, which failed, because of the great courage of our troops, and because the German infantry attack was timed an hour late. If it had occurred two hours earlier, it might have led to our undoing, and might have prevented anything like real victory. Fortune was on our side. The wheel turned round to crush the enemy main force. In the German attack the Fourth Guards' Division and two others were ready to assault the centre of our battle front at Polygon Wood and down from Broodseinde crossroads, but we fought the German assault divisions at Broodseinde crossroads, taking many prisoners, before they had time to advance.

The enemy heavily shelled Inverness Copse and Glencorse Wood, where there were frightful heaps of German dead a week ago, also wide areas of Polygon heights, and the low ground at the front of Zonnebeke. The shells did not greatly harm our men, plunging deeply, and the soft earth bursting upwards in tall columns. Many shells missed the advancing waves, which moved forward under our enormous annihilating barrage. The Germans in some places were occupying a kind of trench system where the craters were linked together. The Germans were seen lying dead in any craters. From others, men and boys, including many boys of eighteen, rose, and stretched up their arms.

Other Germans came running forward across the frightful fields. It was not to fight, but to escape from shellfire. Many were streaming with blood, with broken, bleeding arms, and head wounds. The scene of the battle in the early morning hours was a great and terrible picture. The ruins of the once fair city of Ypres appeared vague and blurred, lit up by the red light of our flaming gunfire, which shone into unearthly brightness. Our guns were everywhere. It was impossible to walk anywhere and avoid the blast of their fire. There was never a moment within the range of vision when a hundred guns were not firing together, shaking the earth. The enemy was answering, but no great threat to our batteries. German shells came whistling and bursting on either side of the mule tracks.

"It seemed Incredible that many should have lived through it all, and yet along the pathways between the deep shell craters came a stream of prisoners, and the trail of our walking wounded. It was a tragic sight, despite its proof of victory, and the valour of our men, and the spirit of our wounded, who were bearing pain with stole patience. They were overheard saying it had been a good day. The prisoners were haggard, white-faced, thin, worn, weary, and frightened. Many were badly wounded. The high ground of Broodseinde is a dominating position. It has been a wonderful battle in the fullness of success, and if we can keep what we have gained, it will be the biggest victory of the war on the British front. Nothing stopped our men."

ENLISTMENTS

Leendert Baart, Anna Bay; Frank Edward Duck, Cooks Hill; William Charles Jones, Wickham; Joseph Walter Knight, Newcastle; William Daniel Lincoln, Carrington; Thomas Parrish, Boolaroo; Richard Lumsden Simpson, Merewether; Henry Sydney Windred, Aberdeen; Keith Roy Woodman, Dungog.

DEATHS

L/Cpl Cecil Claude Allen, Glen William; Pte George Bebbington, Newcastle; Pte Gustav William Benson, Forster; L/Sgt Samuel Duggan Bland, East Maitland; Pte Samuel George Bowman, West Maitland; Pte Joseph Briddick, Adamstown; Pte Cecil William Brooker, Paterson; Pte Norman Reginald Cassells, West Maitland; L/Cpl Wilfred Shepherd Chapman, Stroud Road; L/Sgt Albert Henry Clark, Muswellbrook; Pte Albert Corkett, Cessnock; Pte Justus Frederick Darr, Underbank; Pte Frank Leslie Dean, Stockton; Pte Thomas Evans, Dunn, West Wallsend; Sgt James Fisher, Adamstown; Pte Dalrymple Gilmour, Newcastle; Pte John Stewart Godfrey, East Maitland; L/Cpl John Arnold Gorrick, Kerrabee; Pte William Oscar Gorton, Washpool;  L/Cpl Alfred Stuart Gray, Scone; L/Cpl John Joseph Gray, Merewether; Pte Austin Griffiths, Rutherford; Sgt James Ham, Denman; Cpl Edgar Camille Hamonet, West Maitland; Pte Eric James Hanshaw, Morpeth; Pte John Thomas Harpley, Homeville; Pte Herbert Harvey, Fullerton Cove; Pte William Edward Hepple, Lambton;

Pte Percy Hinton, Chichester; Pte Richard Samuel Hughes, Merewether; Pte William Frederick Ingle, Weston; Pte Charles William Ingram, Islington; Pte Edgar Jarvis, Wyee; L/Cpl Felix Kennerley, Merewether; Pte Robert Keese Lambert, Kurri Kurri; Pte Victor Samuel Lawrence, Lostock; Pte Charles Edward Lee, West Wallsend; Pte John Tillie Lockhart, Kurri Kurri; Pte James Thomas Love, Cessnock; Pte James Lyall, Clarence Town;

Pte William Rodgers Mathews, Charlestown; 2nd Lieut Victor Cleveland McKell, Newcastle; Lieut Walter John McMullen, Upper Rouchel; Pte John Richard Murray, Vacy; Pte Leslie Mutton, Aberglasslyn; Pte Charles Bartholomew Newman, Stockton; Sgt John Nicol, Murrurundi; Pte Thomas Joseph O'Donohue, Branxton; Pte Roy James Moorecroft O'Neill, Singleton; L/Cpl John Edward Patterson, Newcastle; Pte Hugh Pillans, Wallsend; Pte Frederick Rees, Minmi; Lieut Francis Joseph Ryan, Newcastle; Pte Albert Scanlon, Ash Island; Pte William John Scott, West Maitland; L/Cpl Robert William Solman, Bulga; Pte William Claude Stephens, Cessnock; Pte George Stewart, Hamilton West; Pte John Thomas Tonetti, Singleton; Pte David Samuel Trundle, Singleton; Pte Ashleigh Robert Verdon, Singleton; Pte Charles Wattus, Raymond Terrace; Pte John James West, Newcastle; Pte Jack Alister Whitelaw, Singleton; Cpl Reginald Wilfred Williams, Newcastle; Pte Herbert Wilson, Maryville; Pte Ernest Joseph Wright, Greta.

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