Centenary of the Great War

MASKS ON: Always aware of the threat of poison gas, two Diggers pose for their photo at the front line. Photo: The Digger's View by Juan Mahony
MASKS ON: Always aware of the threat of poison gas, two Diggers pose for their photo at the front line. Photo: The Digger's View by Juan Mahony

Newcastle Morning Herald transcriptions and Hunter Valley enlistment and death details for March 4-10, 1918.


Mr Gordon Gilmour, special correspondent on the West Front for the Australian and New Zealand Press Agency, reporting on Monday, says: “I saw a big batch of Australians today, who are in training for a raid upon German positions, at a point where it is known that every blow is particularly harassing to the enemy.

The boys are taking a fiendish delight in the operation, proof of which is given by the fact that out of a body of troops exclusively from the New South Wales country districts and northern towns, three times the number required volunteered for the raid, such is the universal keenness to get a real slap at the Bosches. Among the most enthusiastic are many young arrivals, who have not yet had a real chance in the open. When I entered a hut full of chosen raiders behind the lines, the moment for action was drawing near on Sunday. Most had already taken the precaution of writing letters to those at home, leaving them to be forwarded in the event of mishap; but the hut resounded with laughter, despite which some were sleeping soundly, and others playing cards. There was not a gloomy man among them. Having made up their minds for the job, and being determined to carry it through thoroughly, they had learned every detail by heart, so that a mistake was impossible. Now they awaited the order to go forward, and were supposed to be resting, yet some outside were exuberantly kicking footballs. Indeed, the whole team of raiders seemed to regard the event much like a football match. Those men were not recruited by promises of rewards. They explained to me that they only wanted an opportunity to kill Fritz, because a Newcastle man added:- "It's got to be done, if we are to get back to Australia before we are old men."

When General Birdwood addressed the group of raiders as "cobbers" he was proud of, they were pleased, but listened stolidly to the reference to their bravery. They did not think it brave. It was just a job, and a job worth doing. Earlier successful slaughtering raids made them eager to participate. The raiders included several Gallipoli men and others who had been three times wounded.


Mr McRae, of Cardiff, has received the following letter from his son, Corporal Norman McRae, dated from Rhyl (Wales) Military Hospital, December 31, 1917: “Tomorrow is New Year's Day, and to me it will be a lot different to the one I experienced 12 months ago. Then I was up to my knees in water and mud, with shells whizzing about, but this time - well, you know what civil life is; and that is practically what it is for us now. I have often made up my mind, since I got wounded, to let you know a little about my experiences in France, I don't suppose you will know, but, at the time I went to France there was a whole division (3rd), including artillery, engineers, pioneers, A.M.C., etc., went across, so you will see that we were all fresh troops, hardly any of whom had ever seen a shell. We landed in France on the 22nd November, and on the 27th we were in the firing line, having relieved an English regiment, in front of Armentieres. We stayed there until two days before Christmas, when we were relieved by our next brigade. We marched back to a small village a few miles from one of the most important towns on the Western front. Our parcels and mail arrived on Christmas Eve, and you can imagine with what delight they were received. I was lucky enough to receive my first mail from home. We had a fortnight at this place, then marched to "Jesus Farm," on the way back to Armentieres. From this time (19th January), right up till June, we were constantly moving from one sector to another, until we reached "Ploegsteert Wood" (or Plugstreet as the boys call it). This place was recognised as one of the liveliest places along the front at the time. This wood once belonged to King Albert of Belgium, and before the war must have been a wonderful place. As it was, the place was still beautiful, and hardly knocked about at all. However, it was full of guns, as preparations were going on for an offensive. On the night of June 6th we left __, about four miles behind the line, in battle order, to march up to the line, with a full knowledge of what we were going for. At 3.10 am on the 7th, we "hopped the bags," after the explosion of 19 gigantic mines, the like of which I had never heard before, and don't want to hear again. It was awful. We didn't meet much opposition, but what we did meet was finished in the usual style. We managed to hold what we had taken, and were relieved after putting in three days of hard work. We were given a fortnight's rest after this to recuperate and receive reinforcements, which were badly needed. After this spell, we "hiked" our packs back once more to the line, to the scenes of Captain Bairnsfather's first sketches. This was just behind Messines. It wasn't very long before we went into the line again, but it was 36 days before we got out again. Of all the bad days I have had on active service, I think those were by far the worst. We were under shell fire all the time. Night after night we had to wear gas masks, for old Fritz strongly believes in his gas shells. After this little lot, we were given two months' spell. During this time I got my stripes. From this place we went to Winnizeele, some miles behind Ypres, and after four days' rest were taken up in motor lorries to the line. We went into Zonnebeke, and put in a week. There were no trenches, only shell-holes half full of water. It was some place; both sides continually shelling. When we came back to Winnizeele, there was many an old face missing. We only stopped here a couple of days, and then once more motor lorries carried us back to Ypres, sadly under strength. We put up in tents for a night, and then once more prepared to go over the top. This was on October 11th. At 5.25 a.m., 12th October, after a night of constant rain and shelling, we hopped over, with Passchendaele Ridge as an objective. No sooner had our barrage opened than a veritable hail of bullets rained on us. We struck bogs, and trees joined together with wire, through which we had to force our way. On safely getting through this lot, I must have resembled some of the chaps who patronised the ‘Dudley Express’ (miners' train). I was covered in mud from head to foot. We had to fight our way right to our objective, using both rifle, bayonet and bomb freely. I managed to stay the distance, but was wounded shortly after arriving. To this day I can't remember how I managed to get back to the dressing station. Sufficient to say that I am In ‘Blighty’, having a real good spell, for the first time since leaving Australia. I have heard that reinforcements are not available to make up the battalions to their fighting strength. For my part, I am glad conscription has been rejected, but, on the other hand, we must have men to keep us going. Taking things as they are, at present, I foresee at least one of our divisions being broken up to reinforce the others, and one division less means more work for those remaining. God knows they have enough now to do, without more being put on their shoulders.


Lieutenant T. Laurie Adam, of Wickham, writing from Third London General Hospital, Wardsworth, under date 10th November, 1917, speaks highly of the great work of the women of England.

“Last Friday was Lord Mayor's Day. There was a naval, military, and civil procession. In the morning a wealthy businessman, Mr. Howard Williams, came to the hospital with a number of motor omnibuses, and took us away into town, gave us a luncheon, and then arranged seats for us in his shop window.  This gave us a view of the whole procession, and it was some procession, too! Sailors, soldiers, munition girls and girl farm workers. We cheered those girls! The work they are doing is absolutely wonderful. Some of the munition girls are quite yellow through working so constantly among explosives, and they cannot live much longer. And yet they had to adopt conscription in a country like England, where more girls are dying a slow death, that we might have sufficient shells out in France. My God! It hurts! And in Australia, the country of which we have all boasted over here, turned conscription down, while the women of England are giving their lives that we might be saved when out on the battlefields of France and Belgium. I wonder what has become of our manhood. Knowing these things, you can quite imagine the pity we felt for these great, grand women, and the spirit we put into that cheering. I hope they understand.”


There was a large gathering in the Belmont Hall on Saturday night to welcome home Private Walter Marks, who has returned from the front. Private Marks left Sydney on May 1, 1916, and landed In England on July 9th, where he remained for four months. He proceeded to France on 21st November, and took part in the big push at Messines, where he was seriously wounded in the chest. After remaining in hospital at Abbeville, on the Somme, for three months, he was transferred to Notley, near Southampton, England on August 8, 1917.

Private Marks speaks highly of the attention he received from the doctors and nurses. It is a very large hospital, a quarter of a mile in length, and accommodates 5000 patients. He left England on December 17th, and arrived in Belmont on February 16th. The hall was nicely decorated with foliage and bunting. The welcome home, which took the form of a social, was presided over by Mr. W. G. Hall. Private Marks was carried on shoulder high by two of his old school mates, Messrs Norman Campbell and Jack Lunn (the former being a returned soldier), the audience singing "Home, Sweet Home." Mr. Hall said Private Marks had played the man, and on behalf of the residents of Belmont asked his acceptance of a gold medal as a token of their appreciation. Private Marks said he appreciated their action in welcoming him home. He had done his best while away, and would, in the near future, if his health permitted, and his services were required, be willing to again fight for Australia. Refreshments were served by the Red Cross ladies. Votes of thanks were accorded to all who had assisted. The remainder of the evening was spent in dancing.


Mrs Bond, the Mayoress of Wickham, has received the following brief letter from Trooper Terrance J. Ganger, Second Light Horse, Palestine, under date January 3: “Just a line of thanks from my comrades and myself to you and the Wickham Patriotic Committee for the Christmas gifts, which we received. I may say that we were all delighted with them. The boys are exceedingly pleased to see that they are not forgotten by the folks of bonny Australia. Best wishes from all.”


Stanley Vincent Baker, Tomalla; Ulick Lancelot Bourke, Merewether; Joseph Jacobs, Newcastle; David Haddon McNair, Islington; Basil Wynne Spring, Newcastle.


L/Cpl Herbert Leslie Elvin, Cessnock; Sapper Robert John Hampton, Dungog.