Centenary of the Great War

Local hero: Former mining surveyor from Abermain, Captain Clarence Smith Jeffries VC killed at Passchendaele on October 12, 1917. Photo: The Digger’s View by Juan Mahony

Local hero: Former mining surveyor from Abermain, Captain Clarence Smith Jeffries VC killed at Passchendaele on October 12, 1917. Photo: The Digger’s View by Juan Mahony

Newcastle Morning Herald transcriptions and Hunter Valley enlistment and death details for October 8-14, 1917.

ADVANCE ON PASSCHENDAELE

Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, the British Commandant on the West Front, reporting on Friday, stated:- We attacked at 5.25 this morning on a six miles front north-eastward of Ypres. We are progressing satisfactorily. There was heavy rain last night.

A later despatch states: Notwithstanding the night of heavy rain the troops formed up for this morning's attack made progress along the entire front from the Ypres-Roulers railway to our junction with the French on the southern edge of the Routhulst Forest.

Throughout this front we captured many defended localities and fortified farms and woods and concreted strongholds, with a number of prisoners. The fighting was especially severe on the slopes of the main ridge itself southward of Passchendaele.

Heavy rain recommenced on the morning, and continued with increasing violence all day long, impeding our progress. Consequently, we decided not to make any further effort to reach the final objective. We have taken approximately 500 prisoners.

Our aeroplanes on Thursday took every opportunity to reconnoitre the enemy's positions in the intervals of clear weather. Many bombs were dropped on billets, and infantry trenches were machine-gunned from low altitudes. A German machine was brought down in a combat, and another shot down by our infantry. Two were driven down. Five of ours are missing.

A later message on Saturday stated: There was heavy rain all night long, and it is still continuing. No hostile counter-attacks have developed on the battle front.

A report received from Sir Douglas Haig early Sunday morning stated: It is wet and stormy. There is the usual reciprocal artillery fire. We took 741 prisoners yesterday, including 41 officers.

GERMAN REPORTS

A German official report, issued late on Friday night, stated:- The battle is still in full swing on the Langemarck-Zonnebeke front. The fighting continues at some places where the British penetrated our lines northward of Poelcapelle, and south-eastward of Passchendaele.

Saturday's report stated:- Between the Lys and the Ypres-Menin road (south-east of Ypres) the firing increased suddenly, to drumfire this morning. New enemy attacks then commenced on wide sectors. There is the most intense artillery firing north-eastward of Soissons and east of the Meuse.

The English yesterday penetrated between the station and the village of Poelcapelle. We drew back the enemy on both sides of Pendsbeck. The enemy directed strong pressure on Passchendaele, which we retain, the enemy gaining only a narrow strip of the forefield. The artillery increased in drumfire in the morning between the Lys and the Comines-Ypres Canal.

THE ATTACK

Mr. Philip Gibbs, telegraphing on Friday, says: "We struck north-eastward today towards the village of Passchendaele, the ruins of which, looming through the mist resemble the battlements of a mediaeval castle purched high on the crest of the ridge.

It is a day of the heaviest fighting. Prisoners say that they expected the attack, and the quickness with which the enemy sent up a defensive barrage and shelled our back area were unmistakable signs of their readiness. The last attack proved that not even a gale of wind and the mud would safeguard them. The British commanders made a remarkable effort to save the men, some of the horrors of spending the night in the sodden fields. By a great stroke of daring, carriers and transport officers, risking their lives in the task, bivouacs were put under the very nose of the enemy. The Britishers, therefore, escaped the pouring rain. The bivouacs were taken away before dawn, so that the Germans did not know that these assemblies were there. There was also food and hot drink near the fighting line.

The enemy was busy throughout the night, trying to catch any of our men on the move. Some late-comers had grim adventures, groping their way through the wild downpour of rain, lugging each other out of bogs, and floundering through mud and shell fire from five in the evening to a few minutes before the attack. The German shellfire made the Britishers angry to the point of wild rage. Sometimes small parties of men had to jump into shell holes five feet deep in water in order to escape instant death. They used ravage, flaming words, cursing the enemy, the weather, the shellfire, and the foulness of everything. They said: "We won't spare the Huns when we get over. We'll make them pay for this night." I watched the fight from a pillbox, famous in the recent fighting. Things are going well. On the right we are within a few hundred yards of Passchendaele, after a lot of bayonet fighting and killing. Directly the advance commenced the Germans sent up flares. The blockhouses and the concrete streets poured out a sweeping barrage of bullets. The swampy ground was also a terrible handicap. We had the most difficulty on the left, particularly at Wolf Copse. Our airmen have so far been unable to bring back exact news owing to the mists, but the enemy is fighting hard.

CAPTURE OF PASSCHENDAELE

Mr Percival Phillips, telegraphing on Saturday morning, states: The fifth battle on the slopes of Passchendaele ridge resulted in fighting as determined as any in the war. The enemy made a superhuman effort to prevent our taking any more ground, and met our attack on a six-mile front with an abundance of picked infantry, supported by a bombardment of the heaviest character that the troops have yet been confronted with in Flanders.

Although some of our men seem to have reached the edge of Passchendaele village, the forward slopes of the ridge still bristle with unsilenced strong posts. The houses of Passchendaele shelter many other machine guns. The attack commenced at 5.25 am, and the German batteries immediately redoubled their fire, laying a curtain across our front, while other groups of German guns sought to break the infantry who were storming the outer redoubts.

There was sharp fighting in the Augustus Wood, which was defended by young and well-trained Jaeger troops, who stuck to their posts. We also had a hard time trying to get forward along the flooded banks of the Lekkerboterbeke, which flows alongside the road from Poelcapelle to the village of Westrozebeke. It is a stretch of open country, commanded by a few redoubts and machine gun barrage from Passchendaele.

We went easily through the village and retook the brewery ruins, and then pushed along the road to Westrozebeke. As I write the battle continues on the entire front, and we are everywhere attacking with unabated resolution. The Germans are fighting better than usual, and all the wounded state that there has been a great amount of bayonet work.

ENLISTMENTS

Alexander Andrews, Kurri Kurri; Thomas Robert Furey, Newcastle; William Arthur Gill, Merewether; Stanley Hughes, Hamilton; Albert Masson, Wickham.

DEATHS

Pte Frederick James Albert, Merewether; Pte Albert Sydney Aley, Dora Creek; Pte Arthur Robert Allen, Muswellbrook; Pte David Anderson, Cessnock; Pte Charles Askie, Cessnock; Pte Francis Hampton Atkinson, West Maitland; Pte Robert Atkinson, Weston; Pte Matthew Herbert Austin, Kurri Kurri; Pte Thomas John Bald, Waratah; Pte Clarence Leslie Bird, Raworth; L/Cpl George Bowie, Cessnock; Pte Herbert James Brunker, Waratah; Pte Cecil William Buckley, Merriwa; Lieut James Clement Burges, East Maitland; L/Cpl Benjamin Burke, Minmi; Pte John Burnley, New Lambton; Pte William Henry Burt, Martins Creek; Capt Henry Charles Dight Cadell, Barnsley; Pte Alphonsus Cahill, Lower Belford; Pte Wesley Greta Callender, Dudley; Pte Robert Hector Campbell, Newcastle; Gnr Joseph Leo Carney, Boolaroo; Pte Harry Charlton, West Wallsend; Pte George Clark, Cessnock; Pte James Mather Coe, Singleton; Pte, Arthur Ernest Cooke, Newcastle; Pte, David Baker Cooper, South Maitland; L/Sgt Ernest Walter Corrie, Scotts Flat; Pte Lancelot Crebert, Mayfield; Cpl Rupert Milton Cross, Sparkes Creek; Pte Garnet Cyrus Crossing, Moonan Flat; Sgt James Dalton, Stockton; Pte Horace James Dann, Muswellbrook; Pte George Davies, The Junction; Pte John Richard Dean, Carrington; Pte Donald Peter Dempsey, Carrington; Pte George Dickinson, Weston; Cpl William Alexander Diplock, Wattagan; L/Cpl Arthur William Dodd, Cooks Hill; Cpl Reginald Oscar Dunning, Hinton; Pte John Edward Embleton, Broadmeadow; Pte Andrew Leslie Englebrecht, Muscle Creek; Cpl Alexander Morson Fisher, Munnie;  L/Cpl Frank Fleming, Hamilton; Pte Robert Foley, Mayfield; Sgt William Foulkes, Wallsend; Pte William Foxford, Hamilton; Cpl Donald Robert Fryer, West Maitland; Pte William John Gamble, Muscle Creek; Pte William George, Stewarts Brook; Pte William Thomas Gill, Catherine Hill Bay; Cpl Thomas Gilmour, West Maitland; Pte Horace Leslie Gough, East Maitland; Pte Matthew Gray, Greta; Pte William Harold Griffiths, Cessnock; Pte William Henry Grills, Abermain; Pte Richard Clarence Gunter, Scone; Pte Lawrence Halpin, Abermain; Pte John Barton Hardy, East Maitland; Pte Charles Marsden Harris, Kerrabee; Pte Alexander Harrison, Wallsend; Pte Arthur Oscar Harvey, Scone; Pte Robert Hennessey, Weston; Pte Jack Henney, West Maitland; Pte Wilfred Vivian Hetherington, Cessnock; Pte Kenneth Charles Hill, West Wallsend; Pte Augustus Hinds, Merewether; Pte Albert Henry Hitchcock, Kurri Kurri; 2nd Lieut Gordon Cyril Holt, Broadmeadow; Pte George Houston, Stockton; Pte Hugh Hughes, Kurri Kurri; Pte John Richard Hughes, Newcastle; Pte Joseph Edward Hughes, Hamilton; Pte James Frederick Hughes, Linwood; Pte John Husband, Aberdare; Pte James Inman, Tighes Hill; Pte Earl Athol James, Wickham; Capt Clarence Smith Jeffries VC, Abermain; Pte Samuel Jenkins, Jesmond; Pte Henry Johnson, Wallsend; L/Cpl Hercules James Johnston, Scone; L/Cpl Herbert Jones, Denman; L/Cpl Harold Kay, Boolaroo; Pte William King, Maitland; Pte Thomas William Kinneaird, Abermain; Pte Roy James Knight, Cessnock; Pte George Knowles, Pelaw Main; Pte Edward Laidler, Seahampton; L/Sgt Walter Herbert Laman, Nelson Bay; Pte Roy Edward Lambert, Tarro; Pte James Largin, Newcastle; Pte Roy Stanley Lenholm, Cooks Hill; Lieut John Abbott Longworth, East Maitland; Sgt Cornelius John Mahony, Hamilton; Sgt Herbert Arthur Mannall, Hilldale; Pte Claude Leslie Marler, Port Stephens; CSM Arthur Ernest Marshall, Waratah; Cpl George Robert McBean, Weston; Cpl James McCormack, West Maitland; 2nd Lieut Bruce Gray, McKenzie, East Maitland; Pte John Francis McQuillan, Merewether; Pte Percy Roland Mears, Branxton; Pte Samuel Mitchell, Pages Creek; Pte Walter Mitchell, Aberdeen; Pte John Moffat, West Wallsend; Pte Frank Montgomery, Singleton; Pte Reynard Morrow, Mayfield; Pte James Muir, Singleton; Sgt Winsleigh Alexander Murray, Toronto; Pte Robert Samuel Naylor, Dudley; Pte Charles Henry Neilen, Cessnock; Pte John Neilson, West Wallsend; Pte Charles Robert Newton, Smedmore; Gnr Eric Kenneth Nicoll, Newcastle; Pte Frederick William Page, Seaham; Pte Leslie James Pardey, Wickham; Cpl Herbert Ephram Parkinson, Weston; Pte Edward Charles Peachey, Aberdeen; Sgt Frederick Ernest Phillips, West Maitland; Pte Frederick John Pilgrim, Lorn; Pte Joseph Ironside Pirie, Bandon Grove; Pte Robert Plain, Cessnock; 2nd Lieut Frank William Putney, Carrington; Cpl Michael Joseph Quinn, Scone; Pte Thomas Emlyn Rees, South Cessnock; Dvr George Robbins, Wallsend; Pte Alfred Herbert Ross, Dartbrook; QMS Frederick Rowley-Collier, Maitland; Pte John Henry Royde, Forster; Pte Elijah Vincent Savage, East Greta; Sgt Phillip Stanley Schubert, Greta; Pte Stephen Scott, Wickham; Pte William Scott, Kurri Kurri; Pte Andrew Seath, Kurri Kurri; Pte William Lester Seymour, Wickham; Pte Job Sheldon, New Lambton; Pte George Simmons, East Branxton; Pte Hedley Hinton Smith, Carrowbrook; Pte Alfred Anthony Smith, Bulahdelah; Sgt Joseph Stewart, Killingworth; Pte John Thompson, Dudley; Sgt James John Thomson, West Wallsend; Pte William Lily Thomson, West Wallsend; Sgt Kenneth William Tilburn, South Cessnock; Pte John Tobin, Glendon Brook; Pte Albert Joseph Wailes, Abermain; Pte Henry Thomas Walden, Newcastle; Pte William Hay Walker, Cessnock; Pte Samuel Wallace, Middlebrook; Pte Garforth Walton, Newcastle; 2nd Lieut William Wand, Reedy Creek; Sgt George Wanless, Wallsend; Pte William Francis Warren, Abernethy; Pte Edwin Herbert Watson, Blandford; Pte Arthur Edward Watters, Muswellbrook; Pte George Joseph Webber, West Maitland; Pte Thomas Weir, Dudley; Pte Clarence Weismantel, Merewether; Cpl Vincent Brown Wilkinson, Dudley; Cpl John Cannon Wilson, Cessnock; Pte Robert Douglas Wilson, Cessnock; Pte Robert Wilson, Abermain; L/Sgt Thomas Cornelius Wilson, Kurri Kurri; Dvr John Woods, Smedmore; Pte Oliver John Wright, Weston; Pte Norman Kelso Henry Yeates, West Wallsend.

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