Centenary of the Great War

EXPECTED ATTACK: Posing for a photo, this Digger readies himself for a German poison gas attack. Photo: The Digger’s View, by Juan Mahony

EXPECTED ATTACK: Posing for a photo, this Digger readies himself for a German poison gas attack. Photo: The Digger’s View, by Juan Mahony

Newcastle Morning Herald transcriptions and Hunter Valley enlistment and death details for 27 May- 2 June, 1918.


The official correspondent with the Australian Forces states: Throughout the night the Germans, with slight pauses, bombarded Villers-Bretonneux Woods and behind with poison gas shells. Many thousands of these shells were poured in by special batteries. The enemy subsequently maintained spasmodic fire Sunday morning, for the purpose of keeping the fumes stirring in the gassed area. This action is less dangerous to our men than useful as an indication of the enemy's intentions. Some gas last night blew back to the Germans opposite the town, with the result that their front line suffered the same discomfort. Early this morning an attempted raid near the Somme, to the right of the locality gassed, was easily beaten back by the Australian machine gun and rifle fire.


The official correspondent with the Australian Forces, telegraphing on Monday night, states: Enemy poison gas shelling in Villers-Bretonneux Wood continued spasmodically yesterday and last night. This and other forms of enemy preparation here and elsewhere along the British front are constantly countered by our artillery, which at irregular intervals looses a hurricane bombardment of the German assembling positions. During the last few days of cool weather there has been a series of misty mornings, mist lying thickly in the valleys and woods, thus favouring enemy concentrations. Wherever he is preparing to attack his men are called on to withstand here and there and everywhere bursts of terrific gunfire, especially in the early hours before dawn. This is apart from the constant harassing fire by day and night on his roads, railways and transport. It breaks out in the dark hours without warning, with a mighty roar that can be heard many miles away. The preparations for the German assault are made uneasy. Their men do not sleep within the battle zone, and are unable, without frightful risk, to approach. If they are intending to attack we know it. Several times already we have caught moving and waiting masses intending minor attacks with terrible results, defeating the assault before they were able to begin. Meanwhile, the ground before the British lines is ceaselessly patrolled nightly. The Australian front is never empty of our scouting parties. Any enemy patrol daring to venture out is ambushed, chased, and driven off. No night passes without one or more German prisoners being brought in to our lines. As dawn after dawn breaks, there is still no German attack. His infantry is bound to another 24 hours' strain and doubt. Each day's delay is an Allied gain. Recent events emphasise the good relations between the Australians and the French people. Since the Australians came to France the civilians behind the lines have always been fond of our soldiers. Now the French soldiers are also displaying the warmest camaraderie. The French papers have published a number of glowing encomiums on the Australians' fighting spirit. One extract from the Paris Figaro especially has gone the rounds. Referring to the force generally, the Figaro said: “It is nearly four years, since they left their distant land. What losses they have sustained. And they have not had one single day's leave home. But their spirit remains the same as in the first days of the war. They could not defend their own villages more fiercely than they are defending ours. Our country becomes theirs. All the ideal nobility of our common cause dwells in the broad bosoms of these bronzed men, who came from the Antipodes, and resemble the warriors of the bas-reliefs of the Aegean.”


Replying to reports from Sydney that the authorities had arranged for special leave for the original Anzacs, and that the first batch had already arrived here, Senator Pearce, the Minister for Defence, said there was no question of granting leave to the original battalions. About 50 soldiers had been chosen by the authorities abroad to return to Australia on duty. They did not get leave in the ordinary way, but were told they could have a short spell in Australia before returning to France. They were selected by the oversea authorities, and preference had apparently been given to members of the original force. This did not mean that leave was to be granted to all the men who had gone away with the first contingent, and, as a matter of fact, they had advice that all leave had been stopped on account of the offensive.


A public meeting, convened by Alderman Kilgour, the Mayor of Newcastle, was held at the Newcastle Council Chambers on Saturday evening, to arrange for a welcome to the men who are taking part in the March to Freedom. There was a large attendance, including many ladies representing the different patriotic bodies. The Mayor said the volunteer soldiers were doing well in their march from Armidale. They would arrive here on June 6, and remain till the 8th. Mr Orchard, Minister for Recruiting, had advised that the troops would camp on the show ground during their stay in Newcastle. 


Newcastle continues to do excellently in recruiting. Last week 44 volunteers presented themselves for enlistment at the Newcastle recruiting depot, and 29 of them were accepted. On Monday of 14 who offered 10 were accepted. For this month up to Monday 120 fit men had been enlisted at the depot. 


In connection with the Empire Day celebrations at Boolaroo Public School, at which Mr W. E. Ball presided, the presentation of a large portrait of Sergeant Bert Foster and Private Warwick H. Foster (both killed in action) was accepted by the chairman, on behalf of the school honour roll, from the parents of the deceased soldiers, Mr and Mrs J. Foster. Both soldiers were formerly scholars of Boolaroo School. Sergeant Bert Foster fought on Gallipoli, at the Lone Pine, where he was wounded the first occasion. He was subsequently transferred to the Western front, where he was wounded on a second occasion, and returning to the front again, was killed in action in 1917, about the time of Bullecourt battle. His brother, Private Warwick Foster, was on the Western front, and was killed at Messines a few weeks later.


Mrs C. S. White, of Dora Creek, has received a letter from Signaller Kenneth J. Young, who was the recipient of a parcel forwarded to the front by Mrs. White, and in which she had enclosed a letter. Signaller Young gives expression to the pleasure which such gifts afford to the men at the front, and adds that before the parcels were distributed, the men gave three cheers for those in Australia who had not forgotten them. He refers to the fact that Mrs White has four sons at the front, adding, “I wish more of the mothers of Australia could say that. There would then be no need for conscription. Some people in Australia seem very selfish, and never look to the future as long as they are safe and sound, whilst everything is going pretty well, and other people's sons can do the fighting.”


Mr and Mrs Deakin, of Hamilton West, received information that their son, Lieutenant Dave Deakin, Royal Flying Corps, will arrive in Australia shortly after two years’ service. Lieutenant Deakin gained his commission early in March, 1917 after a course of training at Oxford University.


Private Keith Maher, who returned from the front a few days ago, was met at the railway station by the members of the Hexham Red Cross, and escorted to his home. On the following evening the Red Cross and the citizens took the advantage of according him a public welcome, when his brother, Trooper Raymond Maher, and Private Dan Curtis, who were on final leave, were being farewelled. A large number of friends met at the public school. Mr Brooks, chairman, on behalf of the gathering, extended a welcome to the returned soldier, and expressed the wish that he could soon be restored to health. Mrs Jones, president of the Red Cross, then presented the guest with an inscribed gold medal.

Mr Brooks, on behalf of the residents, presented him with a gold ring. Private Maher made a brief response, and thanked all for the gifts and kindly wishes. 


The Rev. L. H. Rolph, of West Wallsend, conducted a special Empire service, also in memory of the late Private Fred. Shears, in the Methodist Church, Minmi, on Sunday evening, in the presence of a large congregation. The preacher took for his text portion of the 12th verse of the 33rd psalm, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord”. On behalf of the congregation and himself, the reverend gentleman extended deepest sympathy to the bereaved family.

He also requested the congregation to stand in silence as an expression of sympathy to Mrs Burke and family, in the loss of their son, Private Edward Burke. At the close of the service, the “Dead March” in “Saul” was played by the organist, Miss May Odgers.


Alderman Kilgour, the Mayor of Newcastle, visited West Maitland on Friday, to confer with the officer in charge of the March to Freedom respecting the Newcastle arrangements. It was originally intended that the column should reach Newcastle on Thursday next, but as a result of the consultation, an alteration was made in the program. The column will now camp at Waratah on Thursday night, and march into Newcastle on Friday, reaching the municipal boundary at 2pm. The march will be continued to the Newcastle Post Office, where the official welcome will take place. The men will then return to the show ground, where they are to be entertained by the citizens' committee at luncheon. Later in the evening the column will return to the city, to take part in the official opening of the new recruiting depot in Newcomen Street. A meeting of the executive committee appointed to carry out the arrangements for the reception is to be held at the Mayor's private residence, Watt Street, at 7.30 on Saturday night. Secretaries of all Patriotic bodies are requested to communicate with the Mayor, or the honorary secretaries, giving particulars of possible numbers who are willing to parade from each body.


Alfred George Arnold, Waratah; Percy Vincent Archinal, Bulga; Swayles McIan Clark, Bulga; Stanley Douglas Cornish, Speers Point; Clifford William Halton, Howes Valley; Cyril Barnier Harris, Howes Valley; Thomas Arthur Hope, Wallsend; James Charles Howard, West Maitland; William Walter Kannar, Singleton; Arthur William Malone, North Rothbury; Charles Mason, Paynes Crossing; Victor James McDonald, Goorangoola; William Frederick Mertel, West Maitland; Henry Alexander Mutton, Hamilton; Stanley Joseph O'Keefe, Merewether; Geoffrey Dunsmure Raleigh, Jerrys Plains; Albert Robinson, Adamstown; Arthur John Smith, Cessnock; James Edgar Smith, Cardiff; Arthur Edward Wallace, Cessnock; Samuel Ernest Webb, Horseshoe Bend; James Edward Wooden, Wickham; George Woodman, Cessnock; Cecil Woods, West Maitland.


Pte George James Brown, Newcastle; Pte Thomas Fryer, Pelaw Main; CSM Harry Cleveland Goodsir, Toronto; Pte William Joseph Hughes, Mayfield; Gnr Alexander Kinghorn, Cessnock; 2nd Lieut Peter McFarlane, The Junction; Capt Duncan Victor Mulholland, Muswellbrook; Pte Scott Lionel Nicholson, Scone; Lieut John Roy O'Connell, West Wallsend.

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