Centenary of the Great War

YOUNG GUNS: Australian field gunners enjoy a lull in proceeding of their barrage on the enemy lines. Photo: The Digger’s View by Juan Mahony.
YOUNG GUNS: Australian field gunners enjoy a lull in proceeding of their barrage on the enemy lines. Photo: The Digger’s View by Juan Mahony.

Newcastle Morning Herald transcriptions and Hunter Valley enlistment and death details for March 18-25, 1918.

LUCKLESS GERMAN RAID

Mr. Gordon Gilmour, the correspondent of the Australian and New Zealand Press on the West Front, telegraphing on Thursday, says:- The continuance of the harassing raids is clearly demonstrating the Australian ascendancy in this sector.

During the early hours of this morning they undertook three more annoying little pushes into the enemy's forward positions. Two northern parties belong to a unit whose commander has been fighting since Gallipoli, and whose gallantry has earned for him many distinctions. One party found its objective untenanted, and the second party surrounded and brought back a garrison of four huddled in a small advance post. A third raiding party, numbering 60, did considerable killing, and took prisoners. Our casualties are a few slightly wounded.

The prisoners reported various rumour of the coming German offensive. They were led to believe that they would shortly attack the Australian front, to relieve them from their present, low-lying positions, which last night's rain again converted into mud swamps. The Australians, who are holding dry, dominating positions, do not expect that the Germans will be so foolish to attack Messines.

An unsuccessful raid against the Australian troops further north, near the Ypres-Comines Canal, attracted considerable attention. It was noteworthy in several respects, mainly because it shows the attacking troops' utter lack of morale. Sixty Germans and three officers entered No Man's Land, and split into two parties, with a view of surrounding three of our posts. There was comparatively little bombardment immediately prior to the attack, but the Australians were ready with machine-guns. The Germans blundered, and probably lost their way in the fog. They came straight for the posts, instead of outflanking them, with the result that they were met by a terrific fire. Not a single German entered the posts. The Australians jumped up and attacked the raiders, who then showed every willingness to surrender. Fourteen were brought in, eight of whom were wounded. It is believed that the haul of prisoners will be larger, because other wounded are being brought in. There are many dead, including two officers, proving that the raid was completely dispersed.

AUSTRALIAN RAIDERS

The praise which is being bestowed upon the Australians at the front will create a feeling of pride throughout the Commonwealth, and perhaps also lead to more young men joining their comrades. It must be remembered, however, that the doings of the Australians receive probably more prominence at this end of the world than those of the other troops, from the fact that the Australian official press correspondents naturally devote much attention to them. It can be gathered from the brief references by Sir Douglas Haig in his daily reports that Canadian and British troops are carrying out their raiding work with equal courage and determination. The British performances receive but scanty notice, although it may be taken for granted that they cover a much greater extent of the line than the Australian or Canadian troops, and carry out raids as dangerous as any on the rest of their front with equal determination. Bearing these points clearly in mind, and not attributing too much honour to the Australians, it is never the less clear that they are earning very high distinction. Leaving Australian correspondents out of the question, Mr. Philip Gibbs describes the Australians as "raiding experts," and says that "most of the Germans hate the thought of having the Australians along their front." The Australians are brimful of courage, nerve and determination, and are reported to be eager for those midnight expeditions. Yet the conditions are such as to make Mr. Gibbs describes these occurrences as "frightful little dramas." They are small and insignificant, no doubt, when compared with the big and dreadful battles that have been fought, but at the same time they demand the coolest and rarest kind of courage. It is satisfactory to know that there is no monopoly of this kind of bravery, and that it is manifested by all the troops alike. But the tributes of Mr. Gibbs show that the Australians are keeping their name well to the front.

The continuous successes of the Australians and Canadians against German troops of all kinds, and the contempt with which these men regard their enemy, is in itself a very significant commentary upon the Kaiser's first impressions of the value of the "colonial" soldiery. It may be said that the open air life of many Australians naturally fits them for enterprises of this kind, but it has to be borne in mind that many of these troops do not come from the bush or outdoor occupations, but from the mines, the workshops, the offices and mercantile warehouses of all kinds from the greatest to the humblest. It is therefore the natural spirit which leads them to give so good an account of themselves. While no details are available, it is apparent that there must be continual losses. In very few instances probably have raids been carried out without some casualties. The wastage of the Australian troops is therefore going on all the time. The thought should cause the young men who are available in Australia to consider their duty to their fellows, to their country, and their own manhood. The value of troops such as these to the Imperial cause, despite their comparative numerical smallness, is great, and that not only on account of their own work, but the fine example which they set to other bodies of troops. It is not sufficient for Australia to announce her pride in the bravery of her lads at the front. It should also be made manifest that there are many more young men of equal bravery and determination in this part of the world, who are ready to take the places vacated by those who have fallen in the brave execution of their duty, and to help to maintain the splendid reputation which these young men are earning for the soldiers of Australia.

AUSTRALIAN GUNNERS

Mr. Gordon Gilmour, telegraphing on Saturday, states:- The Australian guns are certain to take a considerable part in repulsing any German offensive operations. Even in these quiet days, when the absence of raids leaves the infantry inactive, as far as fighting was concerned, except for occasional patrol encounters, the artillery continues busy.

Shooting has become a fine art, assisted by the latest instruments of science and the most devastating explosives. The heavy guns, guided by aeroplane "spotters," daily harass the enemy's batteries. Asked regarding the recent results, no Australian battery commander said that his heavy guns, during the counter battery shoots of the past three months, had never had a failure - meaning that on every occasion they had knocked out the German guns. Some of the latter remained silent and unreplaced for as long as three weeks.

Our guns are not receiving the same straining as they suffered during the heavy fighting at Passchendaele, when the desperate enemy threw thousands of shells, the marks of which are today upon some of the Australian guns.

Most of the gunners who became casualties in September and November are recovering now, and are returning to their batteries, together with considerable reinforcements, whose physique is equal to that of the veterans. Thus, the Australian artillery faces the enemy with strength renewed, and an abundance of ammunition, and is able to punish the opposing batteries whenever they seek to become troublesome. It is two years today since the heavy battery sustained its first casualties.

During a long period, the Australian gunners assisted in all big battles, from the Somme to the coast. There was a particularly warm moment at Cambrai. A gunner had to remove a piece of German shell from the muzzle of his gun before firing. The Australians are proud of the fact that they did not lose a single gun at Cambrai, due to the splendid courage and co-operation of all hands.

The Australian Field Artillery plays continuously on enemy positions. In the event of the recurrence of operations requiring "creeping barrages," which were a feature of the Ypres offensive, the Australians will show the perfection reached in their gunnery.

Some soldiers, noting the comparative inactivity of the German aeroplanes, suggest that the enemy is preparing a stupendous scheme for the summer. They forgot that the enemy's aeroplane losses are compelling him in some sectors to almost abandon artillery observation work.

GUNNER EDMUND HUGHES

Sergeant and Mrs. B. Hughes, of Alexander Street, Hamilton, have received a letter from Sergeant Frank G. Cornish, relating to their son Edmund, who was killed in action in France. After offering his sympathy, Sergeant Cornish says:- "No soldier ever had a truer comrade. I feel that I have lost the only link between me and home. We first met at a camp in England, about 18 months ago, and later spent a very happy time in Ireland together. We were not separated until about two months ago, when Ted was sent to another battery, but we were told that it was only a temporary arrangement, and we would soon be together again. However, such was not the case, for no doubt the new O.C., realising Ted's good qualities, had no desire to transfer him back to the old battery. In all the heavy fighting during the past nine months, Ted took a full part, enduring bravely - and, of course, had many wonderful escapes. Though in different batteries we still kept more or less in touch in action. We were generally quite close to each other, often in the midst of danger. When a stray letter would reach one of us we would have a few heart-to-heart words about the folks at home, too. At length, we each believed we knew the whole family. With Ted, no doubt, the home fires were bonfires. Recently from one position our battery moved forward some distance further than Ted’s, and 3 or 4 days passed since hearing from him, and then the news was of a very discomforting nature. One of our drivers had seen him as he was being carried to an outpost suffering from the effects of gas. A gas shell, I believe, had burst in the gun pit, killing one of the crew immediately, and wounding another. Ted was in charge of the gun, and was therefore some feet away, but not far enough to avoid the gas. I received no tidings of Ted until the battery received notice from Brigade H.Q. of his death from the effects of gas poisoning. His name will long be revered by the boys of his old battery, where his whole-hearted readiness to stand by the man who needed assistance, together with his cheery nature, and clean sportsmanlike ways, had made him a man beloved by all who knew him."

ESCAPED FROM GERMANY

Private Henry Thomas, of the 30th (Newcastle) Battalion of the Australian Imperial Force, who was taken prisoner in France, and to whom a parcel was sent, writes by the last mail from South Wales stating that he had escaped. Acknowledging a letter received in England from Mr. Shea, he says: "On the morning of October 30th (the day your letter was written), at about 3 o'clock, we crossed the frontier line of German sentries, on our hands and knees, and entered Holland. With another Australian and a Russian, I had managed to escape from the German prisoner of war camp on October 26th. The parcel, however, will not be taken by the Germans, as the British Prisoners' Help Committee established at each head lager, will receive the parcel and distribute it among needy British prisoners."

ENLISTMENTS

Albert Ernest Spinks, Cessnock.

DEATHS

Capt Edward Adams MC, Newcastle; CSM Charles Harvest Andrews, Singleton; Cpl Vivian Robert Bailey, Cardiff; Pte William Blackburn, Newcastle; Dvr Leslie Walter Day, Hamilton; Capt Richard Watson Howard MC, Hamilton; Pte William Miller Jarvie, West Wallsend; Dvr Robert Kirk, Cooks Hill; Pte Eric Larson, Carrington; CSM Joseph Bernard McGowan, Mayfield; Pte James Ryan Denman.

David Dial OAM is a Hunter-based military historian. facebook.com/HunterValleyMilitaryHistory