Centenary of the Great War

SEEKING GERMANS: Aussie troops move alongside a stream, ready for their next engagement. Photo: The Digger’s View by Juan Mahony
SEEKING GERMANS: Aussie troops move alongside a stream, ready for their next engagement. Photo: The Digger’s View by Juan Mahony

Newcastle Morning Herald transcriptions and Hunter Valley enlistment and death details for 29 April-5 May 1918.


The United Press correspondent on the American front, in Picardy, states that the Americans have taken over a sector east of Amiens. They entered their new positions at nightfall under heavy enemy fire. A French General issued the following order: “We congratulate the Americans, who are now writing their first page in the history of the battle. The battalions of America will play a glorious part in the battle for the triumph of liberty.”


The Defence Department on Sunday issued an official summary of the casualties of members of the Australian Imperial Forces reported by cable, and showing the totals from the date of embarkation of the forces up to and including the week ended Sunday. Dead, 44,650; wounded, 120,447; sick, 70,323; missing, 531; prisoners, 2933 ; unspecified, 214; total, 239,098.


Private Wal Bartley, writing to a Newcastle friend from “in the field,” France, under date February 11, says: “Life over here goes along much the same, and war seems to have become more of a permanent occupation than ever. Doubtless the end is approaching, but business is being carried on as though 1950 will see us still at it. When we were battling through that 1916-17 winter on the Somme, l don't think there were many who did not expect to spend their Christmas in their own sunny land; but after being disappointed so badly, there aren't too many sanguine of hitting home, even for Christmas, 1918. Most of us were wondering how we would fare during this winter, and had it been anything like as severe as the Somme winter, I believe it would have found a good many of us out. However, this winter has been wonderfully mild, in comparison, and our lads, undoubtedly now thoroughly acclimatised, have weathered through splendidly. Again, conditions are a great deal better on the front, that has been the Australians' sector for some time past, than has previously fallen to their lot, and living conditions, when out of the line, make all the difference between actual hardship and comparative comfort. One can take all that is coming along in the shape of bad weather, etc., with the knowledge that he will sleep in a dry bed, but it is harder to be cheerful when he knows, perhaps, from previous experiences, that the odds are greatly against such a happening. In our present locality the arrangements for troops when out of the line are far in advance of anything we have met with previously; although this can be accounted for by the fact that the advances made on the Somme necessarily meant everything being of a temporary nature, and again, the .tremendous bombardments that all the villages for many miles back of the line were subjected to, put the idea of living in huts, etc., quite out of the question. Here, however, only a visit from Fritz’s 'planes, or a very occasional "strafe" from his artillery, disturb matters, and therefore it is possible to live under greatly improved conditions, which we do.

“I think I have told you one or two little items concerning the French and Belgians in previous letters, and I don't know that I can add much to that I've already mentioned. however, it must be a little surprising to a newcomer in some of the little towns and villages where England has had her troops quartered since August, 1914, and where Australians have been coming and going for well-nigh two years, to be greeted by some French kiddie of about eight winters – (summers don't count much in France) – with a remark such as “Hullo, digger, plenty mud compree,” or something to that effect. There isn't a great deal of French spoken in conversation between our boys and the French around these parts. All the folk understand English just a little, unless the remark happens not to be to their liking, in which case they very promptly “No compree,” and all, or nearly all, speak a kind of soldiers' jargon, which they have picked up, Also the “Entente Cordiale” is further developed with the arrival of each fresh unit. Some of the shop signs in Cairo used to make us smile in bygone days, but there are one or two over here that are nearly as funny. As, for instance, that of a little restaurant in one town often visited by the “Aussies” when out resting, where one is gravely informed that steak and ships eggs can be purchased. (Eggs by the way cost half a franc each.) And the proprietress to this day wonders why everybody has a laugh when they pass her way, and why she has so many inquiries from anxious Australians concerning the number of eggs her ships lay in a day.

“Newcastle is still well represented at the big game, and we meet each other from time to time. I often see Norman Morriss, and met his brother Ernie a few weeks back. They both look well, and are evidently thriving on it. The latter is now in 3rd Divisional Headquarters. I used often to meet Harold Miller before he got a 'whack' from Fritz. Am told he is on his way to Australia, and if so, he will probably be home before this reaches you. My brother Jack came to see me a few days ago. I happened to be ‘coal-heaving' at the time, but after I had removed my Kaffir disguise we recognised each other and had quite a chat. Jack isn't looking as well as he might, has a very worn-out appearance. Well, it is a pretty strenuous game, and Jack has had his share of it, like all the rest.”


An official report from Palestine states: In the early morning on Monday our forces eastward of the Jordan attacked the enemy holding the foothills southward of Es Salt. Our mounted men, moving northward along the east bank of the river, and turning eastward, were within two miles of Es Salt by nightfall. We took 260 prisoners. By noon we advanced our line westward of the Jordan to a maximum depth of one mile, in the vicinity of Mezrah, occupying the village and the high ground westwards, after slight resistance. During recent attacks in the Maan area the Arabs took 550 prisoners. A later official report states: We resumed operations eastward of the Jordan on Wednesday, May 1st. Whilst the infantry attacked the enemy in the foothills south-westward and southward of Es Salt, Australian mounted troops entered the village, taking 33 Germans and 317 Turks prisoners. During these operations a mounted brigade, which watched the crossing of the Jordan at Jiaraddamie, was attacked and forced back by a superior enemy, who crossed the river during the night. Horse artillery batteries supporting this brigade in the most difficult broken country were obliged to abandon nine guns. The necessary support for the detached brigade was immediately forthcoming, and operations are proceeding. We repulsed local attacks at several points westward at the Jordan.


Mr Orchard, the Minister for Recruiting, will return to Sydney tomorrow from Melbourne. In the afternoon, accompanied by Mr W.J. Howe, honorary managing representative for the military route march from Armidale to Newcastle, the Minister will leave for Armidale to be present at the inauguration of the tour. He will remain in Armidale over Sunday for the military services to be held in the Central Park there. Part of next week will be spent by him in Brisbane.


The following letter has been received from France: “France, 1st February, 1918. Mrs John Gray, Branxton Street, Greta, New South Wales.

On behalf of the officers, NCOs, and men of this battalion, I would like to express our sincere sympathy in the loss of your very gallant husband, Private Matthew Gray, who made the supreme sacrifice in the third battle of Ypres for the Heights of Passchendaele on October 12th, 1917. The attack was made under the very worst climatic conditions, and it was entirely due to the superb determination and bravery of men like your husband that the operation was a success. Sympathy is difficult to express on paper, but we would like you to feel how greatly we appreciated your husband as a comrade and a soldier. Such men, the regiment and the nation as a whole, can Ill-afford to lose.

Yours sincerely, W. Leroy Fry, Major, for officers, NCOs, and men of 34th Battalion AIF.”

Mr Thomas Black, Greta, has been notified that his son, Sergeant-major Thomas C. Black, has been awarded a Military Medal for conspicuous conduct at the front during the engagement at Bullecourt, May 1st, 1918.


Mr H Wilkinson principal of the Dudley Public School, has received a letter from Major W. Leroy Fry, who writes from France, on behalf’ of the officers, NCOs, and men of the battalion, in sympathetic terms of the death of Corporal V. B. Wilkinson, son of Mr. Wilkinson. Major Leroy Fry speaks of the gallantry of young Wilkinson, who met his death in the third battle of Ypres for the heights of Passchendaele, on October 14, 1917. Major Fry says that the success of the operations, which were carried out under the worst possible climatic conditions, was entirely due to the valour of men like the deceased soldier, whose death was a loss to his regiment and to the nation.


Parents, relatives, and friends of Old Boys of Wickham School are requested to send in names of all Old Boys who have enlisted in this present war, in order that the names may be inscribed on the Roll of Honour, now under construction. F. Neal (Principal), Wickham S.P. School.


An appeal is made by the committee of the Newcastle and Hunter River War Chest Fund for assistance in a special effort to obtain 150,000 pairs of socks for New South Wales men on active service. It is particularly desirable that as many pairs as possible should be completed by the end of the present month.


A meeting will be held at the Newcastle Council Chambers at eight o'clock Saturday evening, to further the movement initiated by the Highland Society of New South Wales for the formation of a Scottish kilted brigade for service abroad. Mr. John Mitchell, who has convened the meeting, was actively associated with the Scottish Regiment in Newcastle prior to the introduction of the Defence Act, when the old national regiments were abolished. He was among the first men to enlist in Newcastle on the outbreak of the war, and was in the landing at Gallipoli. He served in France, and returned invalided a few weeks ago, but he says that nothing would please him better than to be passed fit for service with the kilted brigade, in the formation of which he is anxious for all Scotchmen in Newcastle to co-operate.


Charles Thomas Abbott, Dungog; Ernest Bailey, Hamilton; Martin Carlson, Scone; Norman Edward Chappell, Abermain; Augustine George Davis, Newcastle; James Henry Dee, Newcastle; Richard Alexander Frith, Holmesville; Cecil James Gilbert, Islington; Harold Giles, Hamilton; Norman Maxwell Gunn, Barrington; George Hind, Stockton; Leslie Leonard Hines, Abernethy; Abraham Kersh, Merewether; Charles John Lantry, Carrington; Thomas Edmund Long, West Maitland; William Frederick Madden, Newcastle West; William Herbert Morrissey, Denman; Charles Scott, Newcastle; Arthur Streeter, Cardiff; Robert John York, Abermain.


Pte Austin Claude Bourne, Cessnock; Pte Archibald Brown, Cooks Hill; Lieut Russell Stanley Brown, East Maitland; Pte Percy John Cummings, Mayfield; Pte William Evans, Greta; Pte Cecil Clifford Everett, Muscle Creek; Pte Henry John Fullick, West Wallsend; Pte John Samuel Niau, Newcastle; Spr Cyril Hubert Todman, Abernethy;  Pte Charles Henry Williams, Newcastle; Dvr Wilfred Skinner Witney, Merriwa; Pte John Leslie York, Bellbird.

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