Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Smyth war narrative, 28 March-12 June 1919 / Alan McVicker Smyth
Private Alan McVicker Smyth arrived in France in July 1916 and fought on the Western Front until the Armistice in November 1918. This diary covers only the last assault on the Hindenberg Line in August 1918 by Australian Divisions with British and French Battalions alongside. He returned to Australia in 1919.]
Alan Mc Vicker Smyth
4th Battalion. A.I.F.
A Mc V. Smyth,
Avoca St., Randwick.
28th March 1919.
The Final Push.
This narrative includes only my own experiences with the 4th Australian Infantry Battalion, and dates only from the beginning of this last big advance on the 8th August 1918 until the Armistice, 11th November 1918.
All Australian battalions and units were in from the beginning of this push but held different sectors of the Allied front. I am only able to speak of those operations in which I took part, and hope that it will thoroughly interest those who read it.
A Mc Vicker Smyth
The Final Push
All eyes were on the news-papers about the time of which I am going to write. At this stage of the War, early August 1918, the German Army was further advanced than it ever was and from all appearances things were looking very bad for us. But then people, other than those actually engaged in the war operations, did not know the true conditions of things. They did not know that we were once more well organised & very strong. They did not know that in the first week in August thousands of guns, shells & soldiers were moving up towards the forward areas. They did not know our strength and that within a few days the greatest advance that was ever made would begin.
This advance commenced in the early hours of day of the 8th August 1918, right along the whole Allied front. A few days previous to this attack we
un knew something was coming off.
The roads were literally covered with traffic. Wagons loaded with stores &
of shells going up; empty ones coming back for more. This continual stream of traffic was going day & night amid air-raids by the Germans.
Noticing this enormous movement of traffic we began to anticipate things and by the time the attack started we all knew what was doing.
6th Aug. ‘18
On August 6 at 4 p.m. we marched from Longpre (near Abbeville) to Conde where we had a hot meal, which was a luxury I may state, and embussed at 8 p.m.
We were here able to get a few hours rocky
until about 1 A.M. sleep in the busses. This snooze had many interuptions, as we were packed 25 men to a buss.
The next morning, the 7th August,
At at 2 a.m. we debussed west of Daours and marched to the east of Dauors where we bivouaced. My bivouac consisted of a waterproof sheet tied onto two sticks, one at each end of the sheet. The top side of the sheet was about 2 ˝ feet above the ground and slanted down. The other side I tied to little sticks dug into the ground. One side of my "maison" of course was open, but then I had to get in somehow. As its height did not permit sitting or standing, I rolled in and there made myself comfortable at the "prone position."
That day we received the glad news and were fully instructed as regards our movements the next day.
8th Aug. 18
At 1.45 A.M. the next morning, the memorable 8th August, we moved from our position east of Daours to the assembly positions in reserve to the 4th Australian Division and there waited until dawn when the attack was to commence. No one was allowed to smoke and no light of any description were shown. As little movement as possible was made. Dozens of batteries of field & heavy guns were waiting patiently for the appointed time for the barrage to open. These guns which are moved up into position especially for an attack are known as "silent batteries." They never fire a shot until they open their terrific bombardment in support of the attack, so that German observation ‘planes will not know their presence.
One would hardly think that after four years of War soldiers would be enthusiastic but they were very much so and were anxiously waiting for things to
Time dwindled on and things were very quite. Just a few odd guns were firing and just a few odd shells were landing on our side. Suddenly we heard one huge gun in the rear boom, then in a second a most terrific bombardment of every kind of gun opened.
The attack had commenced .
85,000 Australians with Canadians on their right were walking towards the Germans, some walking casually, smoking as though they were having a morning constitutional at their own homes instead of following the greatest artillery barrage that had ever been laid down in France.
The noise was terrific. One could not hear one’s self speak. Apart from the noise of the guns, thousands of machine guns were rattling out their bullets.
We began to move forward and it was not long before prisoners, as white as death, came running towards us. They were terrified. The life was nearly frightened out of them. They were indeed a contrast to our boys, who were very cool, though perhaps a little flushed with excitement. Our sector of the attack commenced infront of Hamel.
As we moved on in reserve to our 4th Division, dozens of field guns were captured, hundreds of machine guns & lots of trench mortars. Eevery thing was on the move forward now. As we advanced, so would the guns and take up a temporary position prior to a further advance.
Later in the day my battalion was moved round to the left flank and took up a position guarding part of that flank of the
Australian Corps. The advance continued right on to the end of the day. The situation was absolutely in our hands. Dead Germans were everywhere. Prisoners and wounded were continually passing through to our aid posts and back areas. Great numbers of guns of every description were captured. Large quantities of material, stores and ammunition were captured. The Germans were running as fast as they could. German machine gunners put up resistance in many places but were quickly dealt with in the "usual way," and their guns captured.
That day the German lines were penetrated a depth of eight miles.
When things had settled down a bit for the day and our positions consolated, the Germans began to shell which inflicted casual
ities. We must expect to have casualties in an attack. The Germans did not counter attack, they were too much shaken up.
That night things were fairly quiet. Except for German ‘planes, which came over on their usual bombing stunts, nothing unusual happened.
9th Aug. ‘18
Again the next morning at dawn the attack was renewed and advance continued. This, I think, was a greater surprise still for the Germans because he did not think us able to make another attack so soon after the big one of the previous day. Practically the same thing happened this day. Prisoners, guns of all calabre and material of every kind were captured. At dusk my battalion moved to the vicinity of Harbonnieres in reserve to 1st Australian Division and kept that position until next day.
The attack was renewed
again on the morning of the 10th August, when an advanced of 11 miles was completed by the Australian Corps. This day my battalion moved again to the vicinity of Vauvillers.
That day finished the attack as far as we were concerned and
11th Aug. ’18 and the next day we moved near Lihons and took up a position in support of 1st Australian Brigade.
This attack was the greatest success that has ever been made.
The estimate of prisoners captured is about 24,000. 400 guns of every kind and thousands of machine guns and trench Mortars.
A german canteen was captured. It contained a lot of drink which made some of our men very merry.
At 6 p.m. on the 15th August my battalion moved to Vauvillers and stopped there that night.
The next morning at 8 a.m. we marched back to Vaux sur Somme, for a few days spell, and made our camp on the banks of the river.
It was a treat to get back out of shell range where we could have rest and get cleaned up a bit. Fortunately about this time the weather was good and as the river was so handy we spent the next few days in practise for more attacks and swimming. The first thing to do was to get clean shaven & wash some under clothes. That done we were comparatively clean & felt something like ordinary human beings once more.
We were in the river each day & swimming races were got up which gave us interest. Bathers of course were an unknown identity.
On out third day there we began to get wind of another attack. At this time there was also a large movement of traffic.
There had been no rain for a few days and the dust simply covered anyone who was walking on the traffic roads.
We fully realised we were in for another attack when on the afternoon of the 20th August we were marched to a hill in front of Hamel, or what was left of it after the bombardments, for the purpose of witnessing a practise attack in conjunction with Tanks.
We watched the practise and learned the different Tank signals then marched back to our bivouacs.
The next morning there was a company parade in clean fatigue dress. We knew when there was a parade in this dress that it was for a lecture of some sort, so we fully expected to hear something about an attack we were going to make. We did. Instructions, as far as was known, were given to us. Our packs were handed into the transport. We went a bought what cigarettes we could from the canteen, which were not many. Later rifle and machine gun ammunition was issued. Mills bombs & S.O.S. signals were also issued. Rations were drawn & we packed up our havisacks & got equipment together ready for the fray.
We then struck camp and everything that was not needed was packed on the transport limbers and left in rear at the transport lines.
The hour to move off was 8.30 p.m. All movements of troops near the forward areas is done at night.
In the meantime we spent time cleaning our ammunition and rifles and machine guns.
At 8.30 p.m. we fell in and moved off.
We started off in the direction of the front line and marched with
intervals of 50 yards between companies. After a certain distance we extended further with intervals of 20 paces between each platoon. When we got into the vicinity of Morcourt we extended even further with intervals of 10 paces between each ˝ platoon.
Then we got up into front line supports & here we were walking single file. No lights were shown & no smoking was allowed.
Our position for the remainder of that morning (we arrived about 1 A.M. after a long march heavily loaded) was spent in an old French trench, we had an old dug-out which served as shelter.
A drink of cocoa & an issue of rum were brought up and then we slept ‘till morning about 7 A.M.
That day we did nothing except keep out of sight as much as possible. A hot meal was brought up during the day and that night another issue of rum came along, which was very acceptable indeed.
Things were fairly quiet that day except that there was some shelling back where the cookers were, A few casualties were inflicted.
That night in the dugout final instructions were given us so that we would know exactly what was doing. Maps and aireal photos were shown to us. After regarding those maps we knew the country we had to advance over and all prominent land marks. The time appointed for the attack was 5.15 A.M., about dawn. There was nothing to do now but wait.
Some men got in a little sleep. Four of us played bridge & smoked. Some sang. Others told yarns. From appearances a stranger, could it be possible for one to be there,
th would not think that an attack was coming off in the morning, in a few hours.
It made me think as I looked round the dug-out: which of us are coming out of this? Who is going to be killed or wounded? Some of us must get it, but who will it be?
Men were joking, laughing, singing and yet for all they knew in a few more hours they may be dead.
Numbers of men have wished for a nice little wound to get out of it and to Blighty. It is very amusing to hear them speak of the hospital they will be in and where they will spend their hospital leave.
In many cases it has happened so but a lot of poor chaps who have spoken thus did not have the luck to get even as far as a hospital but were just covered over where they were hit and a little wooden cross put above them.
That is all their is to signify what that man has done for his country.
About 2 a.M. a rum issue came up and we got ready to move up to the assembly point for the "hop over". We started off in single file at intervals of 20 paces between each platoon and went down through the village of Proyart until we came to the white tape which was lying on the ground for the purpose of direction. We followed this tape along for perhaps half a mile until it came to an end. We stopped and those behind us along the tape stopped also. This was to be our position to hop over from. The position was along a railway line about 3 hundred yards in front of the village of Proyart.
We were laying down on the grass patiently waiting for zero hour- 5.15 A.M. We had about 20 minutes to wait like this. As little movement as possible was made and no one was allowed to speak- only in a
whisper. These precautions had to be taken because if the Germans knew that troops had been brought up for an attack they would immediately shell the place heavily causing a great number of casualties & may make it unable to attack at all. We were laying on open ground with no shelter at all & no protection from shells.
A few minutes before zero hour I heard the low rumble of a tank moving very slowly up. As the noise became louder I distinguished two of them. They came just along to where my platoon was sitting down and then turned in front of us up a little slope
towards facing the German s lines. Going up this slope the engines of the tanks made a lot of noise as it rattled on. The Germans would hear this for certain and know what was going to happen, but before one could count 10 a big gun in the rear boomed out.
In a moment there was a terrific blast. Hundreds of field guns, 4 inch, 6 inch, trench mortars and machine guns opened as one gun. It was a wonderful feat. The shells were now bursting and flaming on the Germans. It was time to move forward. We did not advance then as in the earlier days of the War- in waves, but did so in single file, each section, so that enemy machine guns could not get such good targets. When we came into close quarters we then extended round into line with an interval of about 2 paces between each man, each platoon having its Lewis guns on the flanks so as to cover the advance of the bombers, rifle grenaders, and riflemen.
It was a beautiful morning with a slight breeze which ran with us. The "erupting" barrage
was moving slowly forward and, with the tanks just in front of us, we kept up behind it.
Dawn was breaking and the barrage looked very pretty.
10 percnt; of the shells used were Smoke shells (used for the purpose of camouflage) and the breeze being with us sent all smoke towards the Germans, making the barrage appear similar to a huge white screen.
We had not gone very far before prisoners began to flock in. Dozens giving themselves up without the slightest resistance.
The Germans here were also a very terrified lot of men. It was very amusing to see them running out of the barrage into the open, towards us, with their hands up in the air.
We had gone about a mile and a half without trouble of any description when we came to a rise with a deep gully on the other side. On the other side of the gully there was another steep rise with barbed wire entanglements on the crest of it and also a trench which was occupied by the Germans. I anticipated a lot of trouble and casualties here but our Company Commander was quick to notice this and had a machine gun barrage put down on the Germans at the other hill which kept their heads down while we went over the crest of the hill and down into the gully.
Though recognized by very few, this initiative on the part of the Company Commander was the means of saving many lives perhaps, because while coming over the crest of this hill we were on the skyline and the Germans, not more than 300 yards away, would have had excellent targets for their
machine guns. Once down in the gully we were out of range of the Germans from the trench on the hill but we were now at the bottom end of St Martin’s & Matto Woods, and between the two.
Here we met trouble with machine guns. This is where I saw a tank do good work. A machine gun post in a little log cabin at the foot of St Martins Wood was giving us trouble. We were firing into it but could not silence it. We were in the open with no protection so we just signalled to one of the tanks. It got our signal and came over, wobbling like
and an old duck. Bullets could not harm a tank so it went up within about 40 yards of this machine gun post, turned broadside and sent in a salvo of small shells. This process soon finished the Germans. What were not killed immediately came out with their hands up. Then there was a rush by our men. Not to kill them, oh no, just to "souvenir" them. So their pockets were soon emptied in the usual Australian manner. It’s a most amusing seen to see men, in the middle of an attack, right in the open, rush prisoners for souvenirs. Glasses, revolvers, watches, numerous things are collected and then they go with the work until some more are met, when the same thing happens again.
Well, after dealing with those troublesome Germans on the right of the gully we then changed our direction left to the foot of Matto Wood. We intended rising the slope on the other side immediately in front of the German trench, so as to deal with it quickly. Just as we were a little way up the
rise men were getting sniped. A Corporal got one bullet through his hat, another penetrated my ammunition pouches but fortunately did not go any further. This was strange because there was only the slope in front of us. There must still be a machine gun in the rear of us. Attention was immediately turned to the wood. Some were advancing towards this wood to try and dig him out when suddenly someone perceived leaves fluttering out from a tree. That told the tale. Only bullets could make leaves rush out in that manner.
The men who were going up to the wood withdrew a bit and several machine guns got going and sent a burst of bullets into that tree. We had not long to wait for suddenly out toppled the German and his machine gun after him. Both hit the ground with a thud.
Needless to say he never fired a gun again.
That ended our trouble there so we turned our attention to the hill once more and began advancing up it. We had another little hold up on the
hill top with a machine gun but our Vickers Gunners in our support silenced it from the near crest. The trench on the hill was filled with German dead & wounded, rifles, material, etc. The barrage had finished them.
Further on we came to
our a battery of evacuated field guns. The dugouts attached to the gun pits were full of material, clothing, blankets, rifles, revolvers, glasses & black bread. A lot of prisoners were also captured in these shelters. The One which was afterwards used as our head quarters (company). All the country from here to our objective was
open, flat ground. We advanced about another 500 yards passed these field guns then halted. That was our objective for the day. There we dug in. Later a hot meal was brought up and also some rum. Then we had a bit of a spell and smoke and souvenirs were inspected & exchanged. Very few spoke about the War. Other things seemed more important. The chief topic was how to get the souvenirs to Blighty without carrying them about for months.
Altogether my battalion in this attack captured 6 field guns, 7 trench mortars, 64 machine guns & over 450 prisoners apart from those who were killed, which numbered quite a few also. This was not bad considering that the number of prisoners captured numbered many more than the number of Australians who were in the attacking party.
Although the actual attack was over, the worst trouble for the soldier, individually, had not yet come- enemy shelling.
The best part of that day was spent consolidating our positions & preparing for counter attacks. Fresh supplies of rifle & machine gun ammunition and Mills bombs were brought up to our outposts, which we had dug that morning. After we had camouflaged our newly dug "holes" we set too and cleaned rifles machine guns etc. so that every thing would be in good working order should a counter attack be made. None however was made on us, he was evidently well satisfied with the doing he received that day.
As we expected, later, he started shelling us. Enemy ‘planes had been about through the day and obtained as much information as possible as to our positions
After about 1 p.m. he started shelling us. We kept low during the shelling but unfortunately two of my platoon were killed during this little bombardment.
When the shelling had subsided a bit, a bombardment by our artillery opened up on the left once more. An attack was being made to wholly capture a small village and wood in the hollow on our immediate left. It was then we realised we were much further advanced than this flank on our left. We had noticed that we were previous to this being shelled from the flank. The shells seemed to be coming from our side, but we took no notice as shells were liable to come from anywhere at the end of an attack.
As soon as this bombardment on our left opened I turned my attention in that direction and witnessed a very interesting sight. Our men (the 3rd Australian Battalion) were advancing into the village. From where we were situated we could see the whole battle. There were Germans running through the village with our boys after them.
Three parts of the village was burning but this did not hinder them. While the fighting was on it the village we could distinctly see Germans hauling away some of their field guns at the gallop. This was going on right in rear of the village on a hill. We lost sight of a lot of our men for a while as they were in among the ruined buildings. Then we perceived them coming through the other end of the village and up the hill, with Germans away
in front of them going for their lives. We had a few shots at them but they were too far off to do any damage.
At last the advancing men got right over the hill at the rear of the village & through the wood. We knew the the attack had been a success. The heavy bombardment had subsided and things were comparatively
quite quiet again. This advance on the left made our position much better as it stopped us being cross-shelled, and also deprived the Germans of many very fine observation posts. We now commanded two large hills and a large wood.
It was in this wood that the big 15 ins. gun was captured.
All newspaper were speaking of the large gun captured which was used or to be used for the bombardment of Amiens.
All that night, 23rd Aug., we had slight shelling, mostly gas apart from causing a few casualties & making things uncomfortable for us, no material damage was done.
There was not much trouble all through this stunt. Altogether we had the position absolutely in our hands.
Daylight patrols went out the next day and advanced without trouble. That night a line was established where they had advanced to.
The next day patrols in daylight again went out and a line was again established at night. Through this patrolling we extended our line a further two thousand yards and had positions in good order for the relieving troops who took over from us this night of the 25th August 1918. These three days were
days of great success with comparatively few casualties. On account of our advancing so it often made the work very hard in digging in. By the time we had finished our last "dig in" if the other men felt as I did they were about none.
We were relieved about midnight and did not take long to get back to Battn. H/Qrs. and from there the whole battalion started of back for a few days spell & clean up. We went to Morcourt which was about 5 miles. Although everyone was pretty tired out after the three rather strenuous days, no one objected to this march because they knew they were going back out of shell range where food & sleep can be had in comfort compared with a hole in the ground. That is where on[e] lives in the line.
We arrived at Morcourt about 3 A.M., were shown to our billets (amont the ruined houses, the ones that were not knocked about so much) and then that welcome call of "hot meal on" met our ears. Everyone was hungry and thirsty and the thought of a hot meal put new life in the troops. They willingly lined up and waited their turn, with "dixies" in hand. The meal was hot stew containing meat and potatoes & good hot tea. That meal I thought was one of the best I had ever tasted in my life and I did not leave an ounce of it over. Once our stomachs were
sta satisfied the next thing was sleep, so we all turned in. When I say "turned in" I mean that we slept in our clothes less boots and putties, on a stone floor less with two blankets and an overcoat; but to me it was
A feather bed and I did not rise until well into the morning of the 26th August. You will understand what a treat a sleep like this is when I say that in the line [one] has no blankets, no roof to his "house" if is rains he gets wet through and he never sleeps at night. Nights are spent "stand too" , keeping his eyes wide open for Germans. In an out post, containing perhaps 15 or 20 men, one or two men are always on sentry during the day. Their duty is to look out over the top & note all movement, shelling etc. If the enemy is not shelling too
many heavy the rest of the men get what sleep they can at the bottom of the trench which generally contains mud or water. Shaving & washing is out of the question and dug out in open warfare are only used by aid posts & battalion and company headquarters.
Our stay at Morcourt lasted
lasted 11 days. We moved our billets from the village buildings and bivouaced in a field a few hundred yards away. In the mornings we did parades with rifles. These parades mostly consisted of practising attacks.
A football field had been rigged up near by and the afternoons were spent in football & swimming in a canal close handy. Our canteen was well supplied with cigarettes etc. so we did not fare too badly.
We were soon feeling in pretty good condition once more.
As the noise of the guns gradually became more indistinct we knew that the troops who relieved us had also advanced and were continuing to do so.
On the night of the 5th September we were warned of our moving the next morning.
We knew that something else was coming off shortly.
Early next morning we pulled all bivouacs down and packed up. We then had about 3 kilometres to march where busses were waiting for us. We were most of that day in buses which took us through Broy & round to Clery sur Somme. We debussed there and marched to the outskirts of Peronne, near Mont St Quentin where we bivouaced for the night. Here a lot of dead were still lying who had met their fate two days previous in the capture of Peronne & Battle of Mont St Quentin. These bodies we set too and buried which kept us going until dusk.
On the 8th Sept. we marched cross country to Courcelles where we stopped for the night in what was left of a few huts. Next morning we marched to Roisel. We got into single file here, this was supports and we were supporting the 40th Aust. Battn.
Next day we were informed that we were going into the front line and that night we did so, taking over from the 40th Battalion. The position my platoon took over was at the top end of a long wood which [had] a lot of gas clinging to it. It was in an old tank-proof trench. Very wide & very shallow, No protection at all from shells. It was raining all the time & the bottom of the trench had about a foot of loose mud which made things very uncomfortable. Sleep was impossible for me at any rate. We had no overcoats either, which made it rather uncomfortably cold.
Nothing in particular happened that night except that five of us about 2 A.M. started back to get rations and got lost. Took us until daylight to find our way back to the front line again and without the rations. Someone else had, however, brought them up. Some breakfast had been brought up about 6 A.M. We eat it and the carriers went back again to Company H/Qrs. Then
about 7 A.M. "A" and "D" Companies made a very game advance. They were very few men. It was broad daylight, open flat ground. They had very little artillery with them.
They advanced about 1000 yards and met very strong opposition.
Soon after their advance the Germans made a heavy bombardment on us which lasted about 3 hours heavily & kept going not so heavily until about midday. It inflicted a lot of casualties and some very good men were killed here.
He The Germans were not to get off scot free however for the next night.
"B" and "C" Companies went out took the 1000 yards with very little opposition. Each platoon had covering patrols. I was one of the patrolling party and we had very little trouble. Pioneers came up and dug in for us and the next morning found us a good way ahead of our position the previous of day.
This day, 13th Sept., our line was straightened by pushing forwards some out posts.
Things were now fairly
quite quiet and the next night we were relieved by the 7th Aust. Battn.
We marched out of this trip "in" a very weak battalion. Bivouacs were made in reserve at Tincourt.
On account of the battalion’s weakness, "A" and "D" Companies amalgamated, forming four platoons and "B" & "C" each formed three platoons. This made in all 10 platoon instead of 16 which we had always had, previous to this. We were at this time well under
full half full battalion strength which is considerably weak for a battalion to be. However the grit was still in it and that was the main thing. In this way the battalion was reorganised.
On the afternoon of the next day, 17th Sept., rather unexpected news was given to us. That night we were to move up and another attack was to be made the next morning. These attacks were rather frequent but we were advancing and winning, which was something to know.
Maps and airial photos of the ground, over which we were to advance, were distributed among the N.C.Os. and showed to the men. An account and instructions of the procedure of the attack were given. After that we all had a good look at the maps & photos and we then knew as much of the country as it was possible for us to know. This idea of absolutely conviding in the troops, which was adopted towards the latter end of the War, proved to be a very good thing because every individual soldier knew approximately what to do and where to go without having to always depend on officers or N.C.Os.
After having tea that afternoon we
st set too and got things ready. Ammunition, bombs, sandbags, etc. were issued out and we put our equipment together.
Our packs and other bits of clothing etc. which we had in them were packed away in the limbers to be left at the transport lines, so we went into action as light as possible only carrying what was absolutely necessary. That lightness I may state is rather heavy. The following is what was carried. The equipment which contains havisack, containing bread, butter or jam, waterbottle full, entrenching tool & handle, bayonet, and ammunition pouches containing 120 rounds. Apart from this we also carried a spare bandolier of 50 rounds, 3 Mills Bombs, 3 sand bags and rifle. So the load, although as light as possible, was not very light at all.
We were to move off to the front line at midnight, the appointed time for the attack was 4.45 a.m.
About 9 p.m. a rum issue came round and was very acceptable as the night was fairly cold & wet. Not very ideal weather for an attack.
Midnight arrived and off we started with about 6 kilometres to march before reaching the "hop off point." About half way we halted, had a hot drink of cocoa and another rather large issue of rum. Several were in rather good spirits, not withstanding the conditions, when this last lot of rum
with was drunk. We kept to a road until our direction turned across country where we came in contact with the white tape. Here we were in single file. Not a word was spoken above a whisper & everything as far as we were concerned was very quiet. It did not matter how much you wanted to smoke it was impossible until after the barrage opened.
We at last came to a halt after slipping and sliding all over the
wet ground in the dark. We got into our various position, sat down and waited. The ground was very wet. I was sitting in a pool of water. It was raining all the time and most of us were
for wet through & pretty cold. I was rather tired and despite my condition I doozed dozed off to sleep in the little shell hole. It must have been the rum.
The next thing I knew I woke with a start to hear a terrific roar of guns & violent rattle of machine guns. I was then wide awake and fully realised where I was and what was doing. It was a foggy, dark, wet, miserable morning. In front, in fact it seemed all round us, nothing could be seen but the flaming flashes of bursting shells and behind the tremendous rattle of machine guns. We had a machine gun barrage supporting us which was the greatest that has ever been fired. 6,000,000 bullets were fired in that barrage and in support to our battalion alone we had 4 brigades of field guns artillery apart from other bigger guns. The noise was awful. One could not hear one’s own voice, much less anyone else’s. This barrage was not only in front of us but also on left and right. The attack was being made along a 15 mile front. We had English on our left and French on our right.
10percent; of the shells used that morning were smoke. The morning being damp and foggy kept the smoke down. We had not gone far when it was almost impossible to see more than a few yards. A slight breeze was blowing towards us,
which which brought the smoke and fumes of the exploding shells back on us. It was not very pleasant stuff to swallow.
Nothing much happened until it got a bit light when we were nearing wire entanglements & trenches. At this stage of the War we were just on the Hindenberg Line and the wire entanglements were immense. However the shells had broken a lot of it up and with the aid of wire cutters we got through it alright although putties and trousers were torn a bit. The barrage by this time was a good way ahead. A lot of men were more or less lost in the dark but found their way along somehow. We got a bit mixed up at one stage. Some Tommies & other battalion men were mixed in among us. About half a dozen of us were with another company altogether but it did not matter as long as our objective was taken.
We could each find the position of our particular crowd afterwards. Later the day began to brighten. The fog lifted & smoke cleared. We then perceived we
were we were approaching a village, which by the map was Hargicourt, a little bit this side of our objective. We had to dig in three hundred yards the other side of this village.
We could not see anyone on our left and right flanks but trusted that the rest of our battalion were up with us so we started off to the village numbering about 13 in all. Approaching the village we met with no trouble but were expecting it all the time as machine gun posts were in this village we knew. Coming to what appeared to be a main street, we started on down it which took us into the centre of the village. We advanced right into the centre to another larger street which crossed the one
on which we were walking. Arriving at the corner where the two streets crossed, we began to investigate the remains of buildings around about when suddenly, out of what appeared to be a heap of ruins, a large white dog started running off in the direction of the retreating Germans.
It slipped passed where two of us were standing and down the road towards two or three of the other fellows who were in front of us. We were frightened to fire incase one of the other men were hit. We shouted to them but the noise of shells & guns was too great and they did not hear us. The dog slipped passed them, among some ruins and away. It evidently had a message so we started off very carefully towards the spot where the dog had come from. We were now right on the corner watching both roads when a burst of machine gun came from a spot about 40 yds in from the roads. We motioned to the other fellows to come up to us and we started off among the ruins to find the gun. After going about 20 yds we spotted movement in among the debris. We were round behind them and all there attention was directed on some of our men advancing further over on the right. We all halted and with our one machine gun, a few bombs and rifles, open a volley into them. That did the trick, they then knew they were surrounded. There was a stampede among them. We immediately made a rush towards this post. The boys over on the right saw what was happening and they made a bit of a
charge from the other side. We rushed their position and up went their hands. In about two minutes there were Australians coming up from all directions. This post had evidently been holding up a bit and we being able to get behind it fixed the Germans up quickly. They had a splendid position with a very good out look. They could fire without being observed and numbered 25 with 3 machine guns. These men had evidently been left behind to try and hold
up us up while the main body on that sector got away.
The Germans were immediately taken prisoners and "souvenired," some being rather severely dealt with, and were then marched off the our back area with someone in charge of them. They were also used in carrying wounded out.
That little job done we started off again to our objective, and went through the rest of the village without further trouble.
We halted at the far edge of the village and started to dig in behind a thin row of small trees. The barrage was about 200 yards in front of us. It was playing on the same area of ground for about 1 ˝ hours when it lifted and the 3rd Battn. advanced through us and continued on for about another 1 ˝ miles.
While we were here waiting at this point five of our little party were wounded by shells which landed immediately behind us. Fortunately
not none of the party were killed. We dressed the wounds of these men and sent them back to the aid post which was a couple of miles back.
The appointed time for the barrage to lift arrived soon after our wounded had been got away. The 3rd Battalion then advanced through us in good style. Right ahead of them we could see Germans running for their lives. We had to stop where we were, that was our objective.
Our little party was rather mixed so we all went off in different directions to find our platoons. Mine was only about 200 yds away so I had no difficulty in reaching them. They were occupying a little trench infront of a grave yard. There were only 15 left. I got a position in the
spell trench and sat down for a good spell.
Although a lot of digging was to be done everyone was very tired and thought a spell would not do any harm first.
In this way the covering defences of the Hindenberg Line were broken after about 4 hours work. The wire was enormous but they all got through it. Nothing stopped the boys at this stage. That morning on
aur our sector along we went through 2 villages, numerous trenches and machine gun posts and ten belts of barbed wire in less than 4 hours. Our little spell at the end was rather well earned I think.
We occupied this position for three days & nights. It was raining all the time which made things more uncomfortable because we had not dugouts for shelter.
Two of us dug a little "funk-hole" in the side of the trench which served as a more comfortable sitting posse & also
shelterdsheltered our bodies from the rain, our legs
of course had numerous baths. As I stated before we broke the defences of the Hindenberg Line and of course our exact positions were known to the enemy having just evacuated. This resulted in
in a "dinkum" bombardment. Fritz shelled us without ceasing for the three days & nights. Our little trench was only about 2 ˝ feet wide by about 20 feet in length something after this shape.
[See images for diagram]
Apart from the hundreds of shells that landed all around our posse we had one right on our parapet & two right in the trench which unfortunately was the means of killing a couple of poor chaps & wounding several the rest of us were rather shaken up with the concussion because the shells (one in particular) were large. Our trench was blown about a good deal but we did not trouble to build it up again on account of the heavy shelling.
This was a very successful stunt & below is a rough sketch of where we advanced.
[See images for map.]
In the map names of villages are shown of course I mean what is left of them. The crossed denote barbed wire which are of course bigger in proportion to the size of the map. But that is to give some idea how they are laid.
German machine gun positions & gun emplacements I cannot give these. They were everywhere.
Well, on the third night we were relieved & the other Australian battalions carried on until the 6th October 1918. Then all Australian divisions except some artillery came right out of the front line for the long promised spell. I might state also that on the 6th of October the German nation made a final application for an armistice; in fact for peace. The Hindenberg line, their last resource, was thoroughly smashed, & from that date until the 11th Nov. 1918 there was very little fighting it was mostly following a quickly retreating army of very tired, demoralised & beaten soldiers.
That completed the Australian offensive.
Now the following are figures which were published by the Australian General Headquarters and of course are authentic. This will give people who do not know what the five little Australian Divisions did and well under full fighting strength most of the time.
We "led" the allied offensive from 8th Aug until 6th October, 1918. In that push we alone captured (apart from killed which amounted to thousands) 610 officers, 22,244 other ranks, 332 guns & thousands of trench mortars & machine guns.
We advanced 37 miles, captured 116 towns & villages and recaptured approximately 250 square miles of ground.
Between those two dated we engaged and defeated 30 separate enemy divisions, making a total of 70 German
s distinct different divisions we engaged and defeated since we landed in France in 1916.
Those 70 divisions comprise more
than 1/3 of the total German Army.
These are figures given out. From this people will realise what five Divisions of men from the Southern Cross have done.
The most pitiful part is that we cannot replace or bring back those 50,000 poor lads who lay there for ever.
This little narrative has only dealt with the war, & between certain dates of the war. After 6th October we went down to Abbeville foe a good spell & then followed with other armies up into Belgium after 11/11/18 where we remained in occupation until such time as we were sent back home.
I would like to state that every word of this narrative is absolute fact & truth & not in any way exaggerated. In fact a lot has not been mentioned & a lot not spoken of enough.
Commenced in Bouffoulx, Belgium on 28th March, ’19 & completed on Salisbury ‘Plains 12th June 1919.
A Mc Vicker Smyth (Pte)
[Transcribed by Lynne Palmer, Betty Smith for the State Library of New South Wales]