Centenary of the Great War

GRIM WAIT: German troops around a wrecked British tank, await their orders to attack the Allied front lines. Photo: The Digger’s View by Juan Mahony.
GRIM WAIT: German troops around a wrecked British tank, await their orders to attack the Allied front lines. Photo: The Digger’s View by Juan Mahony.

Newcastle Morning Herald transcriptions and Hunter Valley enlistment and death details for 11-17 February, 1918.


Field-marshal Sir Douglas Haig, the British Commandant on the West Front, reports: The enemy on Saturday morning raided a post north-westward of St. Quentin.

We drove off raiders who were attempting to approach our line north of Arras.

The Australians raiding on Sunday night south-east of Messines took 37 prisoners, three machine guns and trench mortars, and inflicted heavy casualties. It is estimated that the raiders killed 100 men, apart from the losses caused by our preliminary bombardment. We successfully repulsed a counter-attack.

Hostile artillery has been intermittently active south-east and west of Cambrai. Our batteries in this area effectively engaged working parties.


Mr. Percival Phillips, telegraphing from the West Front, says:- It is clear spring-like weather. The ground is drying steadily, yet our front is unnaturally calm.

The ostentatious German idleness is intended to deceive us, but our aeroplanes see the "storm troops" rehearsing open warfare behind the German lines, and it is impossible to conceal the steady stream of fresh German divisions and new concentrations of heavy artillery.


Mr Philip Gibbs telegraphs: The Australian raid near Warneton was the fiercest affair. The bombardment was followed by violent fighting in trenches and dugouts, which was responsible for the heaviest casualties. The Germans, holding the sector strongly, met the Australians with a sweeping burst of machinegun fire.

Though the Australians sustained some casualties, they were nothing like those Inflicted on the enemy. This body-grabbing business is keeping both sides alert all day long and all night long. The Germans are nervous, and are lavishly using rockets, and sudden spasms of machine-guns whenever their sentries see visions in No Man's Land.


Senator Pearce, the Minister for Defence, has arranged with General Birdwood to have the leave for England for members of the Australian Imperial Forces increased from ten to fourteen days, preference being given to those longest without leave, and each division receiving its proportion according to the tactical situation.

Senator Pearce wished that special arrangements might be made for men who left with the first division, but General Birdwood points out that the reorganisation of this division in Egypt involved the distribution of those men equally between the first, fourth, and fifth divisions. Under the arrangement now made the division out of the line of action receives the largest share of leave in turn, and during the winter months 12,000 men have had leave each month in England. This is quite apart from eight days Paris leave given to good conduct men, which is not counted against leave to England.


In consequence of the lull in the fighting, and the mild weather, the number of Australian Red Cross patients and convalescents at French depots during January showed a marked falling off.

The Australian Red Cross Commissioner in France, after a tour of 760 miles, reports that the depots are being run on businesslike lines, and are satisfactorily attending to Australians in the Imperial hospitals.

The Commissioner visited Paris, and handed over to the French Red Cross £1158. A portion of this amount will be devoted to an annexe to the sanatorium for French military consumptives as a tribute by the Red Cross to the Australians for their unwearying generosity in assisting France. The Commissioner said he was thankful for everything that helped to augment the efforts to combat tuberculosis.


The latest Australian reinforcements have made an excellent impression. A system is now in full swing by which experienced Australian officers, assisted by Imperial instructors, many Mons men, command the training depot on Salisbury Plain, and put the final polish on the reinforcements under war conditions.

Many drafts have gone to France during the past two months, a considerable proportion being recovered men, who had been in England in some cases for twelve months undergoing a slow hardening process.

The recruits have great respect for the men who have been through the fighting in France, and many warm friendships spring up with the instructing commissioned officers. When the latter are ordered to France they are besieged with appeals for recruits to be allowed to accompany them, notwithstanding that their period of training is not finished.

Some even willingly forego disembarkation leave if they are permitted to go to France with a popular officer. As an instance of the general keenness, the latest arrivals, a batch of artillerymen, offered individual bonuses to their instructors to give them extra instruction in gun laying, including night practice.


A major of the 2nd Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Middlesex, writing to his father, of Newcastle, says: “I am still alive and kicking, and my spare time I am devoting to ophthalmic work at the Royal Westminster Hospital, where, for two afternoons a week, I do the work of assistant clinical surgeon. A rumour has been going the rounds that Sydney was bombarded the other day by a raider. I cannot help but think that it will do the people a vast amount of good if such a thing has happened, because, in a very small way it will make them realise what war really is, and might be the deciding factor at the conscription polls. I have heard from a more or less reliable source that a few mail boats have lately come to rest on the sub-aqueous terra firma by reason of having met torpedoes half way. I hear that the result of the conscription poll is wrapped in the folds of doubt. That should not be, methinks, and personally I know quite a number of young men and younger medicos who should be forced to do their little bit. After all, it is hardly fair to send men into the firing line again and again. The strain is a thing not lightly to be passed over, and when you have to stand that strain again and again — well, I have seen men go mad, and it was not nice. Sad to relate, most all of my old friends have gone on their last route march, and many of them were fine lads, and clean. So I think that it is only fair that the gaps should be filled by fresh men, who have not had to keep constantly in the cauldron of things. This will be my third Christmas on active service; first one on Lemnos, second one in a mud-hole in France, and this last in England. I believe I could get home now if I tried, but honestly, don't you think it only decent when other families are making such huge sacrifices, that one of our lot should keep on facing the music. General Howse was very decent to me when I came over after that big stunt at Messines. He saw my face, which was blistered by that mustard gas of Fritz's, and gave me a week's leave, for which I was not sorry.”


Mr. James Dart has received a letter from his son, Norman, who is in the Australian Navy. He is at present on his ship, in the Mediterranean Sea, watching and waiting. The letter is dated 7th November last, and in it he writes: "We are on rations for the first time during the war, the whole of the ship's crew from the captain downwards. Our flotilla has a lease of an island here, and when in from the sun and off duty, we are tilling it, growing potatoes and pumpkins, etc. Each area of ground has a name. I am working in the ‘Kookooburra Estate;' the next place to mine is called the ‘Kangaroo gardens,’ and the next the 'Emu's retreat,' and so on. We are not the only ship's crew tilling the soil here. When are you going to make a start building those ships at Walsh Island we hear so much about? We want tucker. You have plenty of it, do send us some. Hurry on with the ships and when finished load them up with good things and send them along. By so doing you will be helping us boys to win the war for you. I'm only 16 years of age, and doing my bit for Australia. Remember that you cannot fight on an empty belly. The commander of the torpedo destroyer I am on is a Newcastle boy, and he takes kindly to us all. I think he has a special regard for me, perhaps because I remind him of his home and mother. His mother lives in Newcastle, and is a daughter of a well-known and respected family resident there. I am looking forward to Christmas. There is going to be something doing on board the ship."


On Saturday evening the residents of East Greta assembled in the local hall to extend a welcome to three of the local boys who have returned from active service, Privates W. Rix, C. Bunn, and C. Hoskings being the guests of the evening. Mr. J. Coulton occupied the chair, in the absence of Mr. M'Coy, president of the patriotic committee, and said that he was delighted to welcome the three heroes home again. They had done their duty as far as they had been permitted by circumstances, and their friends were proud of them. He was pleased to hand to each of them, on behalf of the residents of the town, a gold medal, suitably inscribed, and trusted that the three would soon be restored to good health. Private Bunn, who was present at the famous Messines battle of June, 1917, thanked the speaker for his welcome, and said that whatever they had done had been a duty that was required of them by the Empire. He spoke of the comrades they had left, and trusted that some of the residents would be welcoming them home. He also told how the parcels of comforts which leave the town monthly for the boys, were appreciated in the trenches. Private Rix thanked the people sincerely for their welcome, and said he had done what he could and was sorry that it had not been more, but fate had willed it otherwise. Private Hoskings said it gave him great pleasure to be with the people of East Greta once again, and thanked them heartily for their reception. He had received a medal departing and one on returning, and prized them both, knowing the spirit in which they were given. During the evening songs were rendered and dancing was indulged in. The evening was brought to a close by the National Anthem.


Private Maurice Gray returned home from the front on Thursday evening. He was met at the railway station, Newcastle, by the Mayor, Alderman Charlton, and Alderman J. J. Fitzpatrick, representing the Lambton Soldiers' Welcome Home Committee. After a few words of welcome, he was driven to his home in Young-street in a motor car, a large number of relatives and friends awaited his arrival. After partaking of refreshments, the Mayor proposed the toast of our guest, and expressed his pleasure at his safe return. They were proud to know that he had done his duty, and they hoped he would soon be restored to his former health. The toast was supported by Alderman J. J. Fitzpatrick, Mr. T. Smith, and Mr. D. Mason. Private Gray, in responding, stated it was difficult to explain the pleasure of once more meeting his friends and associates. He related some of his experiences, and made reference to the engagements in which Private Gibbs, Pease, Corporal Allsop, and Captain Jarrett, all Lambton soldiers lost their lives. He spoke of the esteem in which Captain Jarrett was held, and characterised him as a brave and fearless soldier.  The Mayor stated that a public welcome would be accorded Private Gray, and other Lambton soldiers, who were expected to return at an early date.


George Wingfield Mason, Newcastle; John Llewellyn Pitt, Cessnock; Robert Harry Tricker, Georgetown.


Pte John Brenell, Cessnock; Cpl James Mackie, Homeville.

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