When Australian troops landed in Marseilles in March 1916, many direct from Gallipoli, they may have thought the worst of the war was behind them. Gallipoli had been a grinding, brutal campaign and the Australians felt they had acquitted themselves well. But the Western Front was to be different in everyway - carnage, appalling mud, incessant rain.
In the Dardanelles there were two casualties to every nine men, on the western front in France and Belgium there were five casualties to every nine. As a rough guide about one third of casualties were men killed in action. Chances of becoming a casualty depended on the fighting arm in which a soldier served, 86% of all casualties were soldiers in the infantry. Artillery 7.5%, the Cavalry had approx. 1% casualties.
Fighting in Europe took place in three main areas - the Belgian battlefields around leper (Ypres) and as far south as Fromelles; the area from Bullecourt to Villers Bretonneux; and a third, eastern area around Peronne. Within these areas are seven main battlefields: Fromelles, Bullecourt, Pozieres, Passchendaele, Messines, Villers-Bretonneux and Mont St Quentin-Peronne.
Battle Of The Somme
The Battle of the Somme was planned as a joint French and British operation. The idea originally came from the French Commander-in-Chief, Joseph Joffre and was accepted by General Sir Douglas Haig, the British Expeditionary Force commander, despite his preference for a large attack in Flanders (Belgium). Although Joffre was concerned with territorial gain, it was also an attempt to destroy German manpower.
At first Joffre intended to use mainly Trench soldiers but the German attack on Verdun in February 1916 turned the Somme offensive into a large-scale British diversionary attack. General Sir Douglas Haig now took over responsibility for the operation and with the help of General Sir Henry Rawlinson, came up with his own plan of attack. Haig's strategy was for an eight-day preliminary bombardment that he believed would completely destroy the German forward defenses.
In the weeks before the Australians arrived the British had mounted four major attacks on a village called Pozieres, all at a terrible cost. Pozieres was an ongoing battle, which occurred as part of the great British Somme offensive of 1916. During the period of 1915-1916 the Germans turned the high ground around Pozieres into an extremely strong defensive area. From their vantage points they could see any possible allied advancement and in the village was the fortified strong point known as "Gibraltar".
This little village of Pozieres that commanded the high ground, was one of the major objectives of General Haig's disastrous July 1 attack along 30 Kilometers of the Somme Front resulting in 60,000 allied casualties in a single day. 20,000 of these killed.
It was in July 1916 that Australians faced their first major engagement - to attack the heavily defended positions along the Aubers Ridge. It was somewhere along this ridge that a young German corporal, Adolf Hitler earned an Iron Cross.
At dawn on the 23 July 1916, Australians went into action in this little-known village of Pozieres in northern France. The 1st Division attacked Pozieres village. In this battle the 1st Division lost 5282 officers and men. In a little over a day the Australians suffered 5533 casualties including 1917 killed, 3146 wounded and 470 captured; a devastating introduction to the Western Front, given that eight months of fighting w Gallipoli cost 7600 lives. After 3 days of intense fighting, the village was taken. However, the real struggle had only just begun.
A soldier who was killed on the 23 July 1916 was Constables Thomas Dedman a 33 year old Constable from the Childers area, born in Victoria, AIF No. 2592. He was from the AIF's 1st Division. After a short period of enlistment, Dedman with his police experience and mature age was promoted to corporal. During the 1st Division's Pozieres offensive, he, like many others on that fateful Sunday in [uly 1916 was reported as missing in action. Officially his file is marked Missing in Action between 23 to 26 July 1916 he has no known grave.
Another Queensland Police Officer killed during this 3 day period of intense fighting of the 1st Division offensive was Joseph Sylvester Thompson, 31 years of age who was born in Barraba New South Wales, AIF No. 2883A. He was also a mature aged soldier who was also rapidly promoted to corporal because of his police experience and age. Thompson like Dedman was killed during the start of the 1st Division offensive. He was killed during the same period, sometime between the 23 and 26 July 1916. He like many other Australian soldiers involved in the battle of the Somme has no known grave.
Both Dedman and Thompson were part of the 7th training battalion and together completed their training before travelling to and disembarking in Marseilles, France in early April 1916. Both these police officers are listed as being killed in the Pozieres battle, at the Somme,
But during the July 1916 battle, Pozieres has been totally destroyed. This landscape was devastated. The soil was no use as farmland anymore after being gashed by trenches and craters. Men of both sides fought there, suffered there and died there in there thousands. The shelling had been so intense that when the 2nd Division look over from the 1st some couldn't tell that there had once been a village there.
During the battle, the nearby village of Pozieres had been all but obliterated. So concentrated were the artillery barrages? hundreds of thousands of shells?that much of the place had been reduced to the finest dust. This was now kicked up in huge clouds by further barrages.
The 2nd division took over from the 1st Division. On 26 July they fought to consolidate the ground taken and to extend toward further objectives beyond the Pozieres, It was during this phase of the battle that the Australians faced the heaviest and most prolonged series of artillery barrages ever experienced by the AIF. During this action the 2nd Division lost 6848 officers and men.
After that battle the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) would never be the same again, nearly two weeks of the most savage and bloody fighting were needed before the Australians took the high ground, known as the 'Windmill'.
On the left of the town was Pozieres Windmill it was the centre of a horrendous struggle in this part of the Somme battlefield.
The Windmill site was on the high ground above Pozieres. Here, set into the lawn is a plaque it is a poignant reminder of the nation's sacrifice, it reads: "The ruins of the Pozieres windmill which lies here, was the centre of the straggle in this part of the Somme battlefield in July and August 191 6. It was captured on August 4 by Australian troops who fell more thickly on this ridge than on any other battlefield of the war."
The 1st and 2nd Divisions were once more thrown into the battle and, although their numbers were severely depleted, they managed to hold the ground known as the Windmill. Another small section of land was known as Moquet Farm, this however was a different matter. After 7 sustained attacks, the area remained in German hands.
Moquet Farm was a key point for the German defence. It stood on the right of Pozieres. Its cellars were linked to a trench network. Each day opponents confronted each other in a nightmare landscape and under a deluge of fire. But gains were weak the ATF in all suffered 23,000 casualties in just 6 weeks of fighting, almost the same number as the whole Gallipoli campaign.
Exhausted, the Australians were brought out of the line in early September. Pozieres had been the AIF's stiffest test and it became the benchmark for future battles in terms of shellfire, conditions and casualties.
The 4th Division was brought into the line and fought to secure the nearby areas of the Windmill and Moquet Farm, The conditions were horrendous, though, and although some objectives were taken, little ground was captured.
George Dewhurst No. 616 was a 22 years old Englishman from Blackpool, he migrated to Australia, joined the Qld Police force and was a constable stationed in Cairns before joining the Australian Army. George was to survive the Gallopoli campaign. He had stopped over in Alexandria in the Middle East for additional training, but on 17 June 1915 was diagnosed with a social disease, he proceeded to join his unit in Gallipoli on 4 Sept 1915 by 24 Sept he was admitted to the field hospital with a 'Rash' by 26 Sept he was again admitted to another hospital unit diagnosed with Syphilis. As penicillin had not yet been discovered the recovery was not always complete, as he had found out. After 3 weeks of treatment in hospital he returned to his unit, on 12 November he was again admitted to hospital this time with Jaundice, he remained in hospital until 26 January 1916.
By this time the Galliopli campaign was now over as it had finished in December 1915. Dewhurst had been returned to the hospitals in the Middle East. Although his campaign in the Dardenalles was plagued by illness he was still alive. After performing light duties he was fit enough to join his unit on 30 September 1916. Because of the high mortality rate Dewhurst was soon promoted to Sergeant.
On 4 October 1916 he was charged with neglecting to obey an order in the field and reprimanded on 9 October by his CO. This did not appear to cool his amour because on 31 October he was again charged this time with neglect of duty in that he allowed guards to dismount not properly dressed and was severely reprimanded by his C.O. Within a week he was dead, Killed in Action on 5 November 1916, whilst part of the 2nd Division duties at the Somme. He was buried in the Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, 9 km from the small French town of Bapaume.
Dewhurst was in Queenslands 25th Battalion. Also part of the 25th Battalion was another police officer named William Edward Bishop, AIF No. 2118. He also was born in England (Bristol) and at the time of enlisting into the AIF was 23 years of age. Bishop had nearly 3 years in the Queensland Police, and before migrating from England he had spent 2 years in the Gloucester military regiment. He disembarked in Marseilles France on 19 March 1916. He was admitted to an Australian Field Hospital with a nasal obstruction, he performed entrenching duties after being released from hospital before rejoining his unit in July but by the end of the year he was dead, also killed in action at the Somme on 5 November 1916.
The 4th Division of the AIF played a major part in the first battle of Bullecourt on 11th April 1917. Tanks had not been used before in battle and as a result of poor planning and the failure of these new tanks to arrive to support the 4th Division soldiers, the attack was a failure. Due to the failure of the arrival of the new tanks, men had no support so the Germans counter attacked. As at Fromelles the stray and wounded soldiers had to fight and work their own way back to their lines. This action cost the Australians 3,400 men.
From the 3rd to the 17th of May 1917, the Second Battle of Bullecourt took place. The 1st, 2nd, and 5th Divisions were heavily engaged in the attack. Due to better planning, this attack was a major success. The 2nd Division's initial attack was very thoroughly planned and therefore was a success. On the 4th of May the 1st Division took over and managed to hold positions through fierce fighting. Finally on the 17th of May, the Germans withdrew their positions and all territory taken by the Australians was held. The total casualty list was 2250.
Another Queesnland Police Officer named Archibald John Curvey a 30year old private born in Tenterfield NSW number 4675 had arrived in France. In early October 1916 and after spending two months in France he was promoted to Lance Corporal. He was a member of the AIF 2nd Division. Due to the conditions and diet the soldiers lived on, in March, he was admitted to the casualty clearing station with boils where he remained in hospital for two weeks. On returning to his unit, three weeks later he was involved in the Bullecourt second offensive, on that first day 3 May 1917 he was killed in Action. His body was never recovered.
The war in Europe was unimaginative Australia had 331,814 enlistment's or 13.43% of Australia's male population of 2,470,000. During the whole war some 170,385,295 shells were fired by the Allied forces alone. Thus as the average cost of each round fired was 15, the total expenditure on shells alone was about ? 852,000,000 an astronomically large amount even by today's values. To imagine a similar number of shells fired by the German army the number is mind boggling.
John Warfield AIF No 4267, he enlisted at the age of 22 in October 1915 he had previous experience in the Citizen Forces Australian Light Horse. His father was John senior of the Railway Hotel, Hendon via Warwick. After training he arrived at Marseilles in June 1916, on the 6th of August he received multiple, gun shot wounds to his back, buttocks and thigh, he returned to England and admitted to hospital until November of that year. He was given light duties, until the 23rd of June 1917 where he performed duties in Belgium at the end of July he was promoted to corporal and two months later he was promoted to Sergeant. Early the following year Warfield was detached to the Infantry school in France until the 22nd of February 1918. Warfield was to enjoy one month of recreation leave. After returning to duty within one month he was killed in action, the whereabouts of his grave is not known.
Other Queensland constables who suffered a similar fate were John Fitzgerald 23yrs, Walter William Dumbrell 33yrs, Thomas McGillycuddy 33yrs, Fredrick Alexander White 33yrs, David O'Donoghue 23yrs born in Ireland, Claude Edward Castree 24yrs, John Herbert 28yrs all killed in action.
All these men mentioned above were wounded and hospitalised before going back to the front where they were eventually killed most by artillery fire at the Somme tragic battle field in a land so far from Queensland.
The sad part of war is that soldiers die, the families are left grieving and hoping that a mistake has been made. There is evidence that this occurred to Walter Dumbrell and Joseph Thompson who are mentioned above. Dumbrell's wife wrote the following letter.
I saw in the Morning Bulletin some time ago, that the Base Records Melbourne is the receiving station for Australian casualties. I was advised on May 1st by Lieut. Col. Luscombe from George Street, Brisbane that my husband Sergt. Walter Dumbrell No. 248 was killed in action April 19th. The number is wrong, and I was wondering if it is a mistake, and it may not be my husband at all, but I suppose I must not build up my hopes in that direction. Some time ago my husband informed me that there was a Soldier in his company an A W Dumbrell and I thought perhaps the names got mixed, and as mistakes are often made, I thought it no harm to enquire. Kindly let me know as soon as possible, any further word you have received about Sergt. Dumbrell.
This terrible war has hit hard to some of us. We have lost us, three fine men, as ever walked the face of God's earth, and still have six relatives serving the colours. It's hard to part with those we hold so dear, but we can hold our heads up with pride and be consoled by saying "They died a glorious death by fighting for King and Country".
(Mrs) Grace I. DUMBRELL
Many Peaks. Boyne Valley Line, Queensland.
It appears that, Joseph Thompson may have been incorrectly advised his mother of his rank, she also wrote in hope that the death of her son was an error.
"I have been informed through your office that Corporal I.S.V. Thompson 2883/A of'25th has been killed in action in France. The advice given is that of my son, only he was never Corporal. He enlisted as a Private at Ennogera and rose to Sergeant then to Sergeant Major and thence to Company Sergeant Major before leaving Australia. I have known the reports to come through a little incorrect, and in this case do you think there would be any chance of it being a Corporal killed and a Sergeant wounded? If you think your report is quite true, will you kindly furnish me with a Death Certificate as to him being dead as I am told to apply to you for one before I can proceed with his business matters by letting me have same by return mail."
Mrs. H. J. Thompson (nearest of Kin).
An audit on 17 November 1918 showed what the British army had available on the Western Front. At the end of the war they had 7,578 artillery guns, 15,790,023 shells, 694,575 mortar bombs, 52,358 machine guns, 7,191,763 grenades, 343,037,061 rounds of rifle and pistol ammunition.
The medical corps had 1,088,000,000 drugs in tablet form. In August 1914, hospital accommodation for soldiers in the United Kingdom amounted lo about 7,000 beds in some 200 hospitals. By November 1918 this was increased to 364,133 beds in 2,426 hospitals occupied by 333,074 patients.
By the last few months of the War, the financial cost DAILY was about ?7,500,000. Yearly (he costs were estimated thus:
|Year||Cost (Million ?)|
All in all, 30 Queensland police officers died in Active Service during the Great War. 8 died during the Gallipoli campaign, (2 from illness and 6 by enemy gunfire). 14 died in the Somme Area of France, 5 in Belgium, 1 in Palestine, l in Egypt, l as a POW in Germany.
Australian National Memorial
Throughout the Western front, there are many memorials dedicated to particular Nations that were involved in World War One. The Australian memorial is appropriately located on the outskirts of the small French town of Villers-Bretonneux; a town that Australian soldiers liberated on the 25th April 1918.
The memorial itseif is an opposing tower that is surrounded by a huge wall with the names of 11,000 Australian soldiers who died on the Western front, but have no known grave.
This town has several AIF memorials, the most important of which is a small memorial park in which stands a major sculpture in bronze - the "Digger". The park's commemorative plaque reads:
Sacred to the memory of the 10,000 members of the Australian Imperial Force who were killed or wounded in the two battles of Bullecourt, April-May 1917, and to the Australian dead and their comrades-in-arms who lie here forever in the soil of France. 'Lest we Forget'
Bullecourt has a private World War I Museum and in the main street is the "Australian Slouch Hat Memorial," a felt hat bronzed for durability. Today, the bronze statue of the Australian "digger" symbolises the nations' sacrifice and a generation that gave its all.