Centenary of the Great War

SHOT DOWN: The grave of an Australian airmen who had died over the Western Front. Photo: The Digger's View by Juan Mahony

SHOT DOWN: The grave of an Australian airmen who had died over the Western Front. Photo: The Digger's View by Juan Mahony

Newcastle Morning Herald transcriptions and Hunter Valley enlistment and death details for 25-31 March 1918.


Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig's report, despatched from London at five minutes past one o'clock on Sunday morning, is as follows: The battle is continuing with the greatest intensity along the whole front, southward from the Scarpe River. Our troops have taken up their new positions southward and westward of St. Quentin, and are heavily engaged with the enemy. Strong hostile attacks during the night in the neighbourhood of Jussy were repulsed with great enemy loss. On the northern portion of the battlefront the enemy's attacks were pressed with the utmost determination, and regardless of losses. Our troops maintained their positions on the greater part of this front after a fierce and prolonged struggle. Great gallantry was shown by the troops engaged in fighting in this area and southward. The enemy's attacks continue with great violence. The thick morning mist on Friday prevented our aeroplanes leaving the ground during the early part of the day. When the mist cleared aerial activity on the battle front became very great. The enemy's low-flying machines were particularly active, machine-gunning our forward troops. The enemy massed troops offered a good target to our low-flying aeroplanes. The location of large bodies of troops in transport was reported by our machines to the artillery, and successfully engaged. Eight and a half tons of bombs were dropped on hostile railway stations at the rear of the battlefront, also on billets, high velocity guns, and troops in transport. Almost all the aerial combats took place between Arras and St. Quentin. We brought down twenty seven, and drove down twenty, and anti-aircraft guns shot down three. Eight of ours are missing. Our night-fliers dropped fourteen tons of bombs on billets and dumps in areas where the enemy's attacking troops are concentrated. All of our machines returned. Military experts consider that the battle will be decided in a few weeks. It is too colossal to be prolonged for months like that at Verdun.


The following telegram has been despatched by Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson, the Governor-General, to the Secretary of State for communication to Sir Douglas Haig on behalf of the Commonwealth Government and the people of Australia: “I desire to express our high admiration of the valour, and the heroism of the troops under your command, now engaged in the titanic conflict, and our unbounded confidence in their power and endurance to uphold the traditions of the British race, and come out conquerors in the fight for liberty.”

Mr Hughes, the Prime Minister, sent the following telegram to the Secretary of State: “The Commonwealth Government in this great crisis, desires to express its unbounded admiration of the valour and heroism of the troops now engaged in the titanic conflict now raging for liberty and justice, and absolute confidence in their courage and powers of endurance to uphold the traditions of the British race, and reaffirms Australia’s unshaken determination to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Empire in this supreme hour of trial, through good or evil fortune, to the end.”


Mr Cutlack, the Assistant Australian correspondent on the West Front, reporting on the 18th, says: German aeroplanes are appearing on the Western Front in larger formations than any seen since last summer's fighting. Nevertheless there is marked reluctance to visit our side of the lines. The Australian Flying Corps is well represented in a certain wing of the Royal Air Service, which has been doing heavy execution among the Germans during the past fortnight. In six days this wing shot down 61 enemy machines, which either crashed or were put out of control, and probably destroyed. As usual when our men are specially successful, the period of the avenging circus arrived a few days ago. This circus is selected from a number of crack airmen flying the type of machine each prefers, and in which each individual acts as a combination under a famous leader. The best-known enemy circus leader is Richthofen. His or another renowned enemy circus reappeared on the British front two days ago.

A patrol of seven Australian machines on Saturday met about 20 of this circus at 11,000ft. Ten of the enemy dived to attack our men, and a regular dog fight ensued for half a minute. Three of the enemy were shot down, two in flames, and another probably crashed down. Three others attacked one Australian machine, which descended with a spin, affecting to be out of control, and so escaped and flew home. One of our machines forced down nearly reached home, but was compelled to land between the enemy front and support lines. The other five returned after the enemy circus had broken off the battle and retired. Australian airmen daily patrol the enemy country, and where German machines can be brought to fight, the battle, almost invariably over enemy lines, ends in our favour. Our airmen say the Germans have not the guts to meet us unless at an overwhelming advantage.


Mr F.M. Cutlack, the Assistant Australian Official Correspondent, in a message despatched from London at 8pm on Monday, states: During the last two nights several half-hearted attacks on the Australian front have been repelled, in every case with enemy losses. Our Lewis-gun fire and rifle again manifested efficiency. The past few weeks have provided opportunities enough to try the Australians both in attack and defence, and to instruct the reinforcements in the reputation of the glorious battalions which they have newly joined. The fine fighting quality of the Australian infantryman was splendidly demonstrated in a strong German attack on the lines of a Victorian battalion early this morning. After half an hour's severe bombardment by artillery and minenwerfer, which smashed some outpost positions to pulp, a strong force of Germans, said by a prisoner to number 150, attacked under a barrage. Two German waves advanced, firing automatic revolvers, strapped to magazines, and containing 42 shots each. With these and bombs the German infantry attacked. They carried no rifles or bayonets, in which they are never a match for the Australians. The remains of the posts on the immediate front withdrew, while the flank posts raked the advancing Germans with Lewis-gun and rifle fire. The Germans entered the smashed posts, and captured one wounded and one unwounded men. The Australian supports in the rear immediately counter-attacked, drove out the Boches, and pursued them to the enemy wire, where they released the two prisoners and captured an escorting German besides. Twenty-four enemy dead are lying about our posts, and others are farther out. Apparently about half the attacking force was dispersed before reaching our wire.


The correspondent of the United Press states: Marshal von Hindenburg is playing a leapfrog game with hordes, driving forward perhaps thirty divisions or more in thick masses, until they are exhausted. He then thrusts another similar force through the first until these are spent, whereupon the first troops, somewhat refreshed, pass through the second division. These, too, badly mauled, continue fighting, fresh reserve divisions then being substituted. The methods are little changed from the tactics on the Marne. The Tommies stick to their positions frequently to the last man. Thin lines fall back in good order, fighting every step. The German prisoners include reserves from Flanders, Leon, Rheims, and Verdun. The Kaiser is not sparing lives. He is putting his all into the melting pot.


Paris reports that the long-range gun is bombarding Dunkirk. Twenty six shells fell in three days. There have been five victims. The Kaiser telegraphed to Krupp's, congratulating the firm on the new gun, which, he said, brilliantly stood the test of bombarding Paris from a distance of over a hundred kilometres, adding a new and glorious page in the history of the house of Krupp, and demonstrating the mastery of Germany over science.


Reports from the front indicate that the threatened danger has been averted. Heavy fighting continues, but the enemy has only succeeded in effecting small gains at great cost of life. The British are now counter-attacking fiercely, killing numbers of the enemy, and taking prisoners and guns. The Allied aviators are achieving sensational destructive results, fiercely bombing enemy troops at the front, and harassing and delaying the enemy. French troops, counter-attacking, drove back the Germans for three miles, southward of Noyon. A new German attack has developed on the Arras front, to the eastward. All assaults were repulsed, with heavy enemy losses. Fighting is proceeding.

Mr Percival Phillip says: “The present situation does not give the slightest cause for anxiety. The gravest crisis is thought to be over.” The German efforts to turn the flank of either the British or the French have failed. Strong Allied reinforcements are now coming up. There are indications that the Germans are pushed for reserves, and have thrown in a naval division, while they are recruiting men from their gaols. Amsterdam reports that the German newspapers, apparently inspired, emphasise the difficulties on the West Front, and warn the public to expect slower progress.


Private Edward Downing, son of Mrs H. Downing, of Glebe Road, Adamstown, returned home on Saturday night. He was met at the Newcastle station by the Mayor, Alderman Cameron, Mr W. Brown, town clerk, president, and secretary, respectively, of the Patriotic Committee, and Alderman Robin, Alderman Saunders, and other members of the committee. On arrival at his mother’s residence, he received a very hearty reception from a very large gathering of citizens, over which the Mayor presided. Appropriate addresses were made front the verandah by the Mayor, and Aldermen Robin, Saunders, and Thompson, and Messrs. W. Brown, Bloomfield, Bockenstein, and W. D. Angus. Private Downing was loudly cheered. He thanked the friends for the welcome given. He was pleased to be home again, but was sorry to leave his mates in the trenches. If he recovered all right he would return to the front, to give them a hand to finish the job. (Loud applause.) The proceedings closed with cheers for Private Downing, and the boys at the front. Subsequently Mrs Downing provided refreshments for between 300 and 400 friends in a large marquee, which had been decorated by Mrs Eli Davis and Miss Stynes. The Mayor, Alderman Cameron, presided, and a lengthy toast-list was gone through. Private Downing looks well, and returns suffering from the effects of a wound on the back. He was struck by a fragment from a high explosive shell under the left shoulder-blade. He is making satisfactory progress towards recovery. He left with “Newcastle's Own” Battalion.


A public welcome home and presentation was recently given to Private Thomas Farinden in the school of arts hall. Mr Merritt, president of the Patriotic Association, welcomed the guest, and those present gave him a hearty greeting. Addresses of welcome were given by Mr Merritt and Rev. Reid. In making a presentation of a gold medal to Private Farinden, on behalf of the citizens, Mrs Beath spoke of what the soldier had done for his country, and trusted he would long be spared to wear the slight token given by his Dudley friends. A pleasant evening was brought to a close in dancing to music supplied by Messrs. H. Morgan and W. Greener.


John Clements Blackwell, Cardiff; Cecil David Daly, Cessnock; Cecil Harris, The Junction; Arthur Joseph Sales, Gresford; Michael John Walsh, Cooks Hill.


Pte Thomas Anson, Main Creek;  Dvr James Boyd, Hamilton; Gnr George Byrne, Tighes Hill; Pte Norman Harold Campbell, Scone; L/Cpl Stanley John Campbell, Scone; Pte Allan Cormack, Newcastle; Pte Harry Dale, Broadmeadow; Pte Robert Charles Daly, Greta; Pte Charles Wilfred Forster, Kurri Kurri; Cpl Clarence Galloway, Merewether; Pte Ralph Hope, Broadmeadow; Pte Stanley James Kirkham, Newcastle; Pte Joseph John Phelan, Murrurundi; Pte Thomas Ramsay, Cessnock; Pte George Richard Reynolds, Hamilton; Pte Joseph Miller Stubbs, Hamilton; Cpl Frederick Arthur White, Singleton.

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