Centenary of the Great War

PREPARED: Away from the front line, a soldier takes time to clean his rifle for his next battle. Photo: The Digger’s View by Juan Mahony
PREPARED: Away from the front line, a soldier takes time to clean his rifle for his next battle. Photo: The Digger’s View by Juan Mahony

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


Gordon Gilmour, special correspondent of the Australian and New Zealand Press, telegraphing on Wednesday, sends the following message: The Australians raided Warneton on two successive nights. On the second night the guns were so firing as to cut off the retreating Bosches, and this resulted in the greater killing when the raiders reached the trenches and dug-outs. Apparently the Germans could no longer bear the humiliation of those rude shocks on their front systems. They, therefore, decided upon a stronger resistance at all costs. While a large Australian raiding party was assembling and awaiting its protective barrage on Wednesday night, it was pretty certain that the enemy was aware of their presence, because it was difficult to prevent the men coughing, and the lines were only 70 yards apart. Scouts preceding the stronger bodies of bombers had a tussle in the front line, while minenwerfer were bursting with a terrific roar across No Man's Land. Despite the enemy's utmost efforts to annihilate the raiders the latter penetrated deeply into their lines, killing every German they encountered.

At one point a party of Germans was seen kneeling in a line across a roadway among the bursting shells, and doing rapid fire as though on a parade ground. The Australian bombers came near enough to make a sorry mess of them. An officer describing the raid, summed it up accurately. "We stoushed 'em well." Hardly had the guns settled down to sleep when the Germans retaliated in a small way farther north. Our guns came down heavily within a few seconds, but the Bosches succeeded in approaching to speaking distance of an advance post, where there were about 20 men, and these energetically bombed them back.

I have a vivid first-hand description of the previous night's raid by New South Wales men still further to the north, in the same sector. This was carried out simultaneously with the first raid against Warneton. A young officer who won the DCM as a sergeant at Fromelles chose a score of boys from his unit, the whole of whom volunteered. They stole out and effectually dealt with three pillboxes. The Germans gamely defended their positions and the gun crew of one actually fired their machine gun from the top of their pillbox. The Australian officer worked round behind and shot two men serving the gun with his revolver. In the meantime his lads, approaching the front, accounted for the others, actually tackling two with their fists. They made a prisoner of one, who was brought in weeping. The Australians gave him cocoa and toast.


The Defence Department has issued a return of Australian casualties, which shows that since the day of embarkation there were 43,157 dead, 908 missing, 3011 prisoners, 115,841 wounded, 67,767 sick, and 214 casualties unspecified, making a total of 230,898. The figures for dead, missing, prisoners, and casualties not specified represent the actual totals after all corrections have been made. The figures for wounded and sick represent the total reported by cable and are in excess of the actual number of men affected, as many are admitted to hospital more than once.


Gordon Gilmour, the Special Correspondent of the Australian and New Zealand Press Association, telegraphing on Friday, says: One of those who are accustomed to reading signs at the front, tells me what the probabilities are regarding an early enemy offensive. I have taken pains to visit every part of the Australian front, and had explanations of the defensive schemes. Everywhere I found officers and men ready, not to say eager, for an attack, giving them an opportunity, perhaps on a colossal scale, of killing Bosches. The other night certain Australian units carried out a relief, which is usually sufficient occupation for one evening, but the outgoers undertook a patrol, taking four prisoners. The troops taking over the trenches promptly continued the alert scouting in No Man’s Land, and brought in a wounded Bosche. There were no Australian casualties. I saw a striking scene near the front line today. About twenty Australians were lying on the steep banks of an immense mine crater, filled with water, enjoying a sun bath. Many had not bothered to cover their faces, and others sheltered their eyes with their shirts, doubtless dreaming of the glorious days of the surf beaches. But for an occasional shell screaming back overhead one might have thought one was a thousand miles away from war. One was tempted to tip-toe along the duckboards in order not to disturb the peacefulness of this quiet hour.


The Postal Department notifies that it has been decided to prohibit the exportation to private persons in the UK of small quantities of foodstuffs. Parcels of this nature will not, therefore, be accepted unless accompanied by a permit issued by the Collector of Customs. This decision is not intended to apply to parcels for despatch to soldiers and sailors of the Commonwealth or to Australian munition workers in England.


Gordon Gilmour, the special correspondent of the Australian and New Zealand press on the West Front, telegraphing on Monday, states: The artillery facing the Australian front is warming up. The Australians, during their occupation of this part of the line, have been busy tidying up the trenches, and making the whole sector secure. The quietness of the sector enabled the Australians to build up their strength, and indulge in rests after the shocks of the last fighting, and got their reinforcements into fighting trim. Nevertheless, the past few months have not been without strain. The bravery necessary for holding a long line satisfactorily is rather different from the bravery of a dashing offensive, yet I am inclined to believe that this sitting tight bravery is a higher sort. A hundred varieties of work is being carried on steadily without interruption. Watching the working parties in the midday sunshine, one might imagine it was a scene under the peaceful Australian sky, until the shrill scream of a heavy shell burst nearby reminds one of the war. The Australians seldom look up, except when the shell comes unusually close. These are brave men, who plod along carefully, thinking nothing of the fact that for many hours daily they are the target of the enemy's guns. Perhaps sooner than they expect, the Australians will have the opportunity of adding laurels in another department of war. The desperate enemy may hurl masses forward, and then the Australians will know the full quality of their bravery in their grim tenacity, holding shattered positions, and shooting down the enemy's hosts. There is not the slightest doubt that if such an occasion should arise, the Australians will inflict terrible slaughter. Every man knows his rifle as well as he does his knife and fork, in addition to which they have Lewis guns in such numbers as to do incalculable killings. The boys in the front line are saying, “If only he will give us the chance.”


A high military authority says: There is great aerial activity on the West Front. It may be taken as an indication that an offensive is imminent. Half the strength of the German forces are concentrated on the British front. There have been several attempts to make out that the British are not holding up their proper share of the line compared with the French, but in war distance in yards is not everything. The important thing is the strength in which the various armies are employed, but for the necessity for combating propaganda let us draw comparisons between our forces. The Allies could not forget how gallantly France bore the early stages of the war, but no member of the Entente has borne the burden to such an extent as the British Empire.

“The most hopeful augury for the future for the Etente,” he says, “is that another fresh Anglo-Saxon Power is preparing to tread the path we have trod, and is coming into the field to relieve us of some of the burden. There is no field so promising as the air. If we now, without America's assistance, are steadily developing our air supremacy, and more than holding our own, no imagination can picture the result when the full American air force is in the field alongside of the British and French.

“Practically the whole of the burden of the war against Turkey has fallen on us. The difficult terrain in Palestine precludes any dramatic coups, but General Allenby is continuously pressing the Turks.”


An Amsterdam message says that the Kaiser, the Crown Prince, Marshal von Hindenburg, and General von Ludendorff are coming to Brussels at the end of the week on a visit to the Flanders front in connection with the impending offensive, which will probably be the most violent since that of Ypres. Germany's next objective is the French port of Dunkirk.


Private George Steel, a former railway porter relieving at this station for a long period, has returned from the front wounded through the shoulder. He resumes work in the railway service at an early date. His brother, who left for the front with him, died from wounds received in France.

Letters were received by last mail from Sapper H. Robertson, Trooper W. Evans, Private Percy Fisher, and George A. Thompson, son of the station master, who is with the Royal Flying Corps in France. He states having met Lance-corporal G. E. Penfold, who was looking well.


Over 30 residents of Charlestown journeyed to Newcastle on Thursday to welcome Private Francis Pearson, and although not arriving home until midnight, quite a crowd of people congregated at his home to bid him welcome. On Saturday night the patriotic committee arranged a public welcome, which attracted a very large attendance, the president, Mr A.W. Garratt, opened the function by remarking how encouraging it was to the committee, and gratifying to the returned soldier, to witness such a large concourse of people. He presented. Private Pearson with a gold medal, suitably inscribed, as a memento from the public of Charlestown, as an appreciation of his actions and sacrifice. Messrs. Merritt, M'Geachie, Brokenstein, Dr Watson, and Rev. Reid each gave appropriate addresses, welcoming Private Pearson home again to relatives and friends, and trusted that he would soon recover from his injuries. Ex-privates Boyd and Broadbent were also upon the platform. Private Pearson returned thanks, and said he appreciated very much the kind reception given him, and the kind remarks. He thanked the committee for the present and kindness. He had done his bit to the best of his ability, but was thankful to be home again.


A social evening was held by the Speers Point Sunshine Girls on Thursday evening for the purpose of welcoming home Stoker Hubert Stenton, who has returned home on leave. The function took place in Watkins’ hall, and was largely attended. Dancing occupied the major portion of the evening, and musical and vocal contributions were rendered.  Stoker Stenton was presented with a pocket wallet from the Boolaroo District Soldiers' Reception Committee during the evening. Councillor T. C. Frith, in making the presentation, expressed the best wishes of all present for the guest's future welfare. Mr. A. Jenkins invested the recipient. Subsequently the Sunshine Girls entertained the sailor and his friends and relatives at supper.

Private W. Johnson, who returned home last Friday evening, was met by a large number of residents and tendered a public welcome. Mr. W. J. Oswald extended a welcome on behalf of the Boolaroo Soldiers' Reception Committee and the Boolaroo Brass Band played several selections. 


John Sylvester Brennan, West Maitland; Gordon William Brown, Newcastle; Bryan William Gabriel, Hamilton; Anton Wickton Henrickson, Newcastle; John McCormack, Branxton; Lillian May Settle, Denman; Roy Edward Williams, Merewether.


Pte Roy John Driscoll, Newcastle; Pte Arthur Charles Metcalfe, Cooks Hill.

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