Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales
Verdi George Schwinghammer diary, 6 May 1916-26 September 1919
With Best-wishes from
Compiled from the Diary of Verdi Schwinghammer (42nd Battalion, A.I.F.)
Enlistment – Page 3
In Camp – Page 3
On Troopship – Page 4
In England – Page 9
France – Page 10
Battle of Broodsiende (Ypres) – Page 13
Holding Line – Page 21
Hospital France – Page 21
Drilling and Holding Line – Page 21
Leave in England – Page 26
Battle of Somme – Page 29
Hospital France – Page 40
Hospital England – Page 41
Leave in England – Page 42
Back to France – Page 43
Battle of Hindenburg Line – Page 47
Out of Line – Page 49
Armistice Signed – Page 51
Visit to Battlefields – Page 52
Last Months in France – Page 54
Hospital England – Page 56
Last Leave in England – Page 57
Leave England for Australia – Page 59
Paris Leave – Page 61
Brussels Leave – Page 66
At the request of the Director of the Australian National War Memorial dated 17th June 1930, a copy of the following has been forwarded to Melbourne and will be deposited in the Australian War Memorial at Canberra, which is at present being erected.
Australian War Memorial,
February 11th 1931
V.G. Schwinghammer Esq.,
South Grafton, N.S.W.
I have to thank you for your letter of 1st inst, and to acknowledge receipt of the copy of the narrative of your experiences which you compiled from your war diaries and which at our request you have so kindly presented for preservation in the Australian War Memorial.
This document is of much interest and great value as an historical record and will make a welcome addition to the National collection.
Those responsible for the Australian War Memorial greatly appreciate your action in responding so generously to the appeal for the records of your war service.
(Signed) J.L. Treloar,
42nd Battalion, A.I.F.
The 42nd Battalion A.I.F. – which was known as the "Australian Black Watch" – (having its own pipe band), has a record in the great war of which it can be justly proud.
It was formed (with Northern Rivers N.S.W. and Southern Queensland men) in February 1916, embarked on June 5, arrived at Egypt on July 7, in England July 23, embarked for France on November 25, went into the front line on Christmas Eve 1916, and remained in or near the front line till October 2, 1918, during which time it took part in twelve battles, and 450 of its members made the supreme sacrifice.
In 1920 a Reunion Committee (with Headquarters in Brisbane) was formed and is a very live body. Since then yearly reunion dinners have been held in Brisbane, the average attendance being 90. The Battalion presented to the 42nd Battalion A.M.F. a flag (bearing on it the names of all the engagements in which the Battalion had taken part) and also voted a sum of money for competitions, to encourage and foster the spirit of the Mother 42nd Battalion.
It also furnished a room for its own use in the Anzac Club, Brisbane and erected therein a fine Honor Roll containing the names of the 450 men of the Battalion who were killed.
A Union Jack Flag (presented to the Battalion by the citizens of Grafton in 1916 – and taken by the Battalion to England and France) together with a Battalion Colours flag, were handed over to the citizens of Grafton on Anzac Day 1930 and now hang in the Grafton Cathedral.
At present the Battalion history is being compiled.
Private Verdi George Schwinghammer,
42nd Battalion, A.I.F.
Enlisted (after having been previously rejected) 6th May 1916.
Sailed from Brisbane in "Kyarra" (afterwards torpedoed) 17/11/16.
Arrived in England (Plymouth) 30th January 1917.
Left England for France on 23rd June 1917 in "La Maguerite" and arrived in France (Le Harvre) 24th June 1917.
Left France finally for England in Hospital ship "St. Andrew" on 18th April 1919.
Arrived back in Australia (Sydney) 4th August 1919.
At Randwick Hospital and finally discharged on 26th Septr., 1919.
The following places were visited by me during my period of active service:-
Australia:- Brisbane, Fremantle, Perth.
South Africa:- Durban, Capetown, Sierra Leonne, St Helena.
England:- London, Dinton, Sutton Mandeville, Fovant, Tisbury, Swallowcliffe, Larkhill, Amesbury, Durrington, Shrewton, Netheravon, Figheldean, Salisbury, Plymouth, Stratford-on-Avon, Exeter, Stonehenge, Southwark, Holyhead, Isle of Wight, Manchester, Andover, Dozer, Southampton, Peterborough, York, Canterbury, Dartford, Liverpool, Winchester, Sheerness, St Albans, Folkstone, Weymouth, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Wilston, [Wilton ?] Chester, Portsmouth, Birmingham, Carlisle, Oxford, Rochester, Chichester, Warminster, Sutton Veny, Crewe, Reading.
Scotland:- Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leith, Perth.
Ireland:- Kingstown, Dublin, Killarney, Thurles, Dundalk, Belfast.
France:- Paris, Le Harvre, [Le Havre] Steenwerck, Jesus Farm, Hazebrouck, Messines, Neuve Eglise, Strazeele, Baillieul, Remilly, Lumbres, Wizurnes [Wizernes], St Omer, Popperinghe, [also spelt Poperinge] Ypres, Boulogne, Calais, Wimereux, Caestre, Sailly-le-Sec, Sailly-Laurette, Doullens, Amiens, Locre, Tilques, Bois Grenier, Armentierres, Kortepyp, Nieppe, Erquinheim, Waterlands, Romarin, Ploegg Steert, Eccke [Eecke], Albert, Heilly, Bonnay,
Corbie, Vaux-Sur-Somme, Tincourt, Bray, La Hussoye, Querrieu, Curlu, Bony, Bellingeglise, [Belling Eglise] Peronne, Airaines, Warlus, Avelesges, Abbeville, Alleray, Oisemont, St Maxent, Rambures, Ramburelles, Blangy, Suzanne, Morlancourt, Villers Brettenaux. [Villers Bretonneux]
Belgium:- Brussels, Mons, Waterloo.
Working Parties. Messines Ridge, 3rd – 13th August 1917.
Battle of Broodsiende (Ypres), 4th – 6th October 1917.
Holding the line (Bois Grenier) – Armentierres Sector – 23rd Decr. – 30th Decr., 1917.
Holding the line (Ploegg Steert). 29th January – 1st March 1917
The Somme (Stopping advance and holding the line) 23rd March – 15th May 1918.
Battle of Tincourt. 3rd – 5th September 1918.
Battle of Hindenburg Line. 28th September – 4th October 1918
In between these dates we were in the danger zone, either in forward or back areas.
1 year 9 months in France (less nine weeks in Hospital, England).
Armistice signed. 11th November 1918.
Left France sick (stretcher case) 18th April 1919.
Three years 73 days full Military Service.
Two years 261 days service abroad.
Discharged from Army (from Military Hospital, Randwick, Sydney) on 26th September 1919.
Admitted to Military Hospital, Brisbane 6th June 1923 and discharged on 26th September 1923, being granted a war pension.
On 6th May 1916 I signed the enlistment papers (after having been previously rejected in 1915) and on 20th June went by train from Byron Bay (where I was then working) to Lismore for medical examination. On this occasion Dr Bignell passed me without even examining me, as he could see that I was eager to enlist and men were badly needed. On 14th July I again went to Lismore and was sworn in. Resigned my position in N.C. Co-Op Coy Ltd Byron Bay and was given various farewells and presentations by my friends. Then went home to South Grafton and spent a few days with my parents and afterwards went by steamer to Sydney and down to Jervis Bay Lighthouse for a week to spend a holiday with the Lighthouse keeper and his family. Afterwards took steamer from Sydney to Byron Bay and then train to Brisbane.
I reported at the Drill Hall Brisbane and next day (10th August 1916) went by train from Brisbane to Enoggera and marched into camp at Fraser’s Paddock. About sixty of us marched in that morning – dressed in our civilian clothes and carrying our ports &c. We were greeted from the men in camp as we marched in, with various welcomes, such as "you’ll be sorry you joined the army" &c. I didn’t know anyone but soon made friendships, some of which will remain for life. Our civilian clothes were taken from us and we were each issued with a suit of blue dungarees, flannels, blutcher boots, white hat, two blankets, and knife, fork, spoon, plate and mug. We were then portioned out into tents (twelve in each) and our names entered down, each of us losing our identity and in future being known as a number. I was "J" 16242 of "A" Company. We were given our first inoculation and then allowed to roam about the camps for two days. The various camps (Fraser’s paddock, Bell’s paddock, and Rifle Range) were well laid out. Huts to sleep in were under construction, which eventually did away with the tents and we had large sheds (holding 300 or more) in which to have our meals. There were good recreation huts in which were pianos, billiard tables &c (managed by the Y.M.C.A., Salvation Army and Church of England). A White City was constructed for the troops’ amusements. It had a picture show (free) boxing hall, resturants &c. Concert parties came out almost every night from Brisbane and we used frequently to get leave to visit Brisbane. After three days in camp I was appointed a clerk at the Quarter Master’s store, which of course exempted me from guard and drilling. I spent three weeks here (during which time I got vaccinated) and I took sick and was removed to Hospital where I remained a fortnight and was then sent to the Convalescent Hospital – "Staghorn" – on the beach at Southport, to recuperate. Returned back to hospital again and was discharged and sent back to camp on 12th October. On 20th October my brother Charlie entered camp and I was glad to see him. I was then given final leave and left for Grafton, arriving there on 3rd November and returning to camp again on 13th
November. As my brother was sailing on 16th November I applied to get away on the same transport and was successful. He was attached to the reinforcements of the 41st Battalion. Next day I was appointed to the 5th Reinforcements of the 42nd Battalion (No. 2642 of "C" Company) and we were very busy getting ready for embarkation. Were reviewed by the Governor of Queensland (Sir Goold Adams) and that night we all had our last night in Brisbane.
On 16th November 1916 we were up early and with our packs, marched to Rifle Range Station, amidst the cheers of the men in camp, and entrained for Pinkemba – 14 miles away. Our transport was awaiting us which we boarded immediately and sailed away. It was a memorable sight. The steamer was crowded with soldiers, who were up the rigging and everywhere. The wharf was packed with relatives and friends and various coloured paper streamers were thrown over to us. The band was playing and the steamers close by sounded their sirens. We then sailed down Moreton Bay and entered the ocean. Our troopship was the "Kyarra" (7,000 tons) an old but good seaboat. There were 961 troops and seven nurses aboard. Some of the men had never been to sea before and got very sick but I was a good sailor and never got sick. We were shewn our quarters (each company drew lots for positions on the steamer) and our company was lucky to draw the best deck, which was "A" deck – the first one below and had portholes. We were each given a hammock, but after the first night I preferred to sleep on the floor of deck as I was too tall and couldn’t sleep comfortable in a hammock. We passed quite close to Cape Byron and Yamba and could easily distinguish the various well known landmarks. The sea was also very calm. Twenty sat at each table for meals and I was one of the two orderlies for our table. That meant laying table, clearing away and washing up, going to cook house for food &c, but had its advantages as we were free from guards, drill and fatigue. When the calm sea permitted drill was indulged in and there was always picquets and guards posted on various parts of the steamer. We also had to attend the many lectures &c that were given us. After leaving the N.S.W. coast we kept a good way out and saw very little land. Had a calm trip across the Great Australian Bight, which is very unusual. On the tenth day out we sighted the Westralian coast and early next morning entered Fremantle Harbour and anchored in mid stream. Went ashore in launches and I was on picquet duty for two hours. Had a look over Fremantle and then took train to Perth (Twelve miles away) which is a very pretty city. Sent a telegram home from here. Returned to steamer at midnight. The guard searched us as we went aboard to see if we had any liquor in our possession. We weren’t issued with any vinegar on the steamer, and as I was craving for some, bought a bottle at Fremantle and had it on me when I boarded the steamer. The guard, when searching me, thought it was liquor and took it from me (even though I told him it was vinegar)
handing it in to the orderly room and reporting me. Next morning, when at breakfast, our Lieutenant came and handed me back my bottle as he had opened it and found it wasn’t liquor.
We had no piano aboard when we left Brisbane so at Fremantle we put in two shillings each (most of us) and bought a piano. We placed it on the main top deck, strapping it down, and it afterwards gave us much pleasure.
Early next morning we sailed out of Fremantle Harbour and land was soon out of sight. Now commenced our long run across to Africa. We were hoping to go via the Suez Canal, but our instructions proved to be via the Cape.
Every night we had sing songs or dances on deck. I was one of the pianists and the dances were all "buck" ones – sometimes one of the nurses might be off duty, in which case she joined us. Every Friday was Sports Day and we had some very good deck races and games. Every Saturday night we had a big concert. We used to print the programmes of our concerts on our printing press which we had aboard. There were 22 men from the Clarence River aboard the "Kyarra" so we got our names printed on a card and sent it home as a souvenir. A newspaper was also printed at intervals – the "Dryarra Wail" – all troopships were "dry" (no liquor aboard). Wireless news was posted up on deck every morning so we knew how the war was progressing. Church was held on Sundays as usual as we had three Chaplains aboard. The food wasn’t as good as we had been used to in the camps in Australia, and on one occasion when rabbit was served to us, we refused to eat it and threw it overboard. Thereafter no more rabbit was issued to us. The canteen was open every day but it soon ran out of biscuits, chocolates, tinned fruits &c.
Meningitis broke out and we were fumigated and had our throats sprayed. Three died and were buried at sea. A burial at sea is very sad. A board is attached to the side of the steamer on which rests the body sewn in canvas, weighted, and covered with the Union Jack. The steamer is stopped, the chaplain reads the prayers, the body is thrown overboard, the steamer resumes her journey and life aboard ship goes on as usual. That night we had a memorial service on deck and most of us wrote letters of sympathy to the boys’ parents in Australia. Luckily the outbreak was quelled and no more deaths occurred.
After being eighteen days without seeing land, at daylight on 15th December we sighted the African coast and soon afterwards entered Port Natal and tied up at Durban. Miss Ethel Campbell – "The Angel of Durban" – welcomed us with her flags as we entered the Harbour. We stayed a week here and had a very happy time indeed. We marched to the Town Hall and were welcomed by the Mayor. Durban is a beautiful city and is the most loyal part of South Africa and the people couldn’t do enough for us. The trams were free to soldiers, free meals were provided for us every day, the people were always inviting us to their homes.
The niggers coaled the steamer here – no machinery – every bit of coal was carried aboard in baskets. Had several visits to the
Zoo (which contains the finest collection of African wild animals and snakes in the world). Surfing on the fine beaches was a delight, especially as the weather was very hot.
I went to the "Messiah" in the Town Hall, and saw, in the Museum, the German flag that General Botha hauled down, when he captured German East Africa. The niggers (Kaffirs) here are in the majority and are kept in their places by the whites. They are only allowed to walk on the footpaths in certain parts of the city (must keep to the streets) and only allowed to travel on the four back seats of trams. A common notice to see up over shops, resturants, theatres &c is "Europeans only admitted". The natives do great business with their rickshas, and for sixpence we could get a ricksha ride all over the city. The ricksha men are fine big chaps. They paint their bodies (only have a loin cloth on) with various designs and have a large head dress of horns and feathers. When pulling a ricksha along, they rear up and shy at other rickshas, just like horses.
We left Durban on 22nd Decr., accompanied by the transports "Port Napier" and "Hororato". We followed close to the coast, passing East London and Port Elizabeth. Passed over the spot where the "Waratah" was lost with all its hands. Spent Christmas Day at sea and had a good dinner supplied by the Australian Comforts Fund. Entered Table Bay at daylight on Boxing Day and was lucky to see Table Mountain in all its grandeur and beauty. Table Mountain was covered with white clouds which gave it the appearance of a huge table covered with a white cloth – hence its name. We tied up at the docks and had the day free in Capetown. This is the oldest city of South Africa and very interesting. The people are mostly of Dutch descent. The city is not so up-to-date as Durban and the niggers are not so plentiful either – there are no rickshas. Saw all the interesting sights – the Museum containing the Boer War relics, the Cathedral (which contains a book in which are written the names of every soldier who died fighting for the Empire in the Boer War), Rhodes Monument &c &c. When one is walking down the main street of Capetown if you look up, Table Mountain appears to be right on top of one hanging over the street, whereas it is many miles away. Fruit was plentiful here and we got well stocked up. Several other Australian troopships were also in the Harbour. Whilst we were here a troopship laden with English soldiers from German East Africa arrived in port and it was pitiful to see the men, most of whom were suffering from malaria and other tropical diseases.
On 27th Decr., seven troopships, ("Kyarra", "Wanganui", "Tahiti", Hororato", "Suevic", "Beltana" and "Borda") escorted by H.M.S. "Glasgow" left Capetown. It was a fine sight to see us all steaming together. The warship was ahead, then the "Kyarra" – we were the slowest – then three on either side about two hundred yards apart and we kept in this position until we arrived in the English Channel – three weeks later.
All sorts of rumours were now going round. Some said that we were going North to Egypt, others that we were bound for Nova Scotia
via New York – America was not yet in the war. The sea continued calm.
On the seventh day out from Capetown without seeing land, we were told that we were going to call at St Helena, and all were very excited at the prospects of seeing this historic spot. On New Year’s Eve (1917) [1916 ?] we stayed up on deck and ushered in the New Year by visiting various parts of the steamer and singing "For he’s a jolly good fellow".
On the morning of 3rd January 1917, as the fog was lifting, we sighted the Island of St Helena and an hour afterwards anchored off Jamestown – the tiny capital of the Island and its only town. The Island is very mountainous at one end (it is seven miles long by three across) and slopes towards the sea at the other end. It is surrounded by deep water with not an inch of sandy beach and is 1250 miles from the nearest land (West Africa). It was indeed a privilege to gaze on the spot where the great Napoleon lived for seven years and where he died. We could see the house (Longwood) in which he lived and died, and his grave (where he was buried before being transferred to Paris) is in the centre of the island. Many of the Boer Prisoners were interned here during the South African war. The population is only 3,600, mostly half castes. The island is strongly fortified and is an important British coaling station.
Boats came out to us selling us fruit and souvenirs, such as leaves from a tree growing on Napoleon’s grave.
We picked up the South African troopship "New Britain" here and the next day we all left St Helena and resumed our voyage. The weather was now getting very hot. Crossed the Equator on 8th January and had the usual Father Neptune Sports. A large canvas tank was erected on deck filled with water and everyone was dipped. On the seventh day out from St Helena we sighted the African coast and entered Freetown (the capital of British Sierra Leonne) Harbour and anchored. Much to our disappointment we couldn’t land here. Crowds of steamers (mostly captured German ones) were anchored in the Harbour. From our deck the city looked beautiful – white buildings with red tiled roofs nestling amongst the palms and cocoanuts. The heat was terrific, and the pitch was oozing from the cracks in the decks. Natives came out in their canoes selling us oranges and cocoanuts, which were relished by us on account of the heat. We used to get a billy can, lower it down through a port hole with money in, and draw it up full of fruit – the natives were not allowed on steamer. The natives were stark naked and used to go through all sorts of antics in their canoes. They were expert divers and if we threw a coin overboard they would dive and get it before it sank. Our captain bought one of their canoes and took it to England as a souvenir. The cruiser "Switfsure" was in the harbour and sailors from her came and mounted an anti-submarine gun on our ship. Stayed here four days (taking on fresh water, coal and provisions) and escorted by the auxiliary cruiser "Almazora" (the "Glasgow" having left us to return to Capetown) we put to sea again. We now commenced the most dangerous part of the journey as we were
in the submarine zone. All the portholes were darkened and we travelled without lights. If anyone wanted to smoke at night they were not permitted to do so on deck, but had to go down to the bottom deck. It’s a wonder that there weren’t more accidents of a night, as the ship was packed, we were in pitch darkness and there were so many steps and stairs and the ship rolled &c.
We gave the Canary Islands a wide berth as the German submarines were just at this time shelling them.
One day we passed a suspicious looking steamer some distance away. The Cruiser signalled to her to stop, but as she didn’t do so, fired a shot across her bows, which had the effect of making her alter her course and come over to the cruiser. She happened to be a neutral (Dutch) ship on her way to America.
One day a target (a large floating box) was placed at sea and we enjoyed watching the gunners of the anti submarine gun, having target practise. They hit it several times.
One day we passed the fine battleship "Prince Alfred" and were drawn up on deck and saluted her as she passed.
We struck the first real rough weather on 24th January and the nine of us were tossing about like corks. We ran into rainy and cold weather. A few weeks previous we were sweltering in the heat of West Africa, now we were almost freezing. Submarine guard was on duty all the time – that is men posted on various parts of the ship and up the masts with loaded rifles in case the periscope of a submarine appeared.
We struck terrific weather crossing the Bay of Biscay and had a very unpleasant time.
On the afternoon of 29th January 1917 we sighted seven British Destroyers and they were up to us in no time. It was a fine sight to see them cruising amongst us. We were now in the English channel and knew that we were safe with the British Navy to guard us. We had been nearly eleven weeks at sea and hadn’t seen a single enemy ship on the high seas. That spoke volumes for the British Navy.
All the other troopships now put on full speed and left us, each being escorted by a destroyer. One destroyer stayed behind and guarded us – she used to circle around us all the time. We passed a lot of wreckage from a steamer that had been torpedoed only a few miles from us the previous night. Early next morning we passed Eddystone Lighthouse and sighted the coast of England, which we followed all day, and at eight o’clock that night (30th January 1917) entered Plymouth Harbour and anchored there. We were thankful to be safe after our long voyage of 16,000 miles (the route we came) which occupied ten weeks four days.
Next morning we could see the hills covered with snow (the first snow that I and most of the other men had seen) and at three o’clock tenders came out and we left the troopship, which had been our home for so long, and went across the Harbour, landing at the Princess Royal Pier and set foot on England. Long trains were drawn up on the pier, which we entered and then commenced our journey. We travelled 96 miles, passing through the beautiful English countryside and villages, which were covered with snow. At Exeter the Mayoress and ladies entertained us at tea on the railway station. We continued our journey and arrived at Dinton Railway station at midnight. Then marched five miles, through a snowstorm, to our camps at Sutton Mandeville. We were billetted here in large huts with plenty of blankets and a fire continually burning in the hut. The food was very good and we had the usual recreation huts. For several days we were off duty as our hands and feet swelled up with the intense cold. Then commenced drilling and route marching, through the snow. An aerodrome was next to our camp and some of us saw aeroplanes for the first time, as there were no aeroplanes near our camps in Brisbane.
Mumps broke out and we were isolated for a fortnight. When off duty on Sundays we used to walk to the interesting villages of Fovant, Tisbury and Swallowcliffe. Also went one day and saw Wardour Castle.
On 16th March we went by train from Fovant to Amesbury and then marched to the main Australian camp at Larkhill, Salisbury Plains, and was billetted in No. 11 camp. Eighty thousand Australian troops were camped here. There were hundreds of large huts, and through them ran a large street containing halls, picture theatres, recreation huts &c – also shops where we could buy almost anything. The drilling here was very severe and strenuous. We were up at daylight every morning and continued drilling till dark, with half a day on Saturday and all day Sunday off. On Sundays several of us used to walk all day through the interesting villages and explore them. Stonehenge contained much of interest, also Figheldean, which is famous on account of the poem "Under a spreading chestnut tree". We saw the original blacksmith’s shop and the tomb of the smithy (Shepherd) and his wife in the Parish churchyard adjoining. While here we were given four days leave to London. The night before leaving camp we couldn’t sleep for excitement at the prospect of visiting the world’s largest city. One morning we were up early and in heavy rain marched to Amesbury, where we entrained for London, arriving there at 11 a.m. It would take me days to describe the wonders of this great city. We stayed at the A.I.F. War Chest Club, which was run for Australian troops only, and managed by Australian ladies residing in London. The first person I spoke to in London was an old friend (Mrs C. Jones) who used to reside in South Grafton, where her husband had a chemist’s shop. Her son was in the A.I.F. in France and when he got wounded she left Australia and came to London to be near him, and worked
voluntarily for the soldiers at the War Chest Club.
We saw through St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, The Tower of London, Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, &c &c. Spent Good Friday and Easter Saturday and Sunday in London and returned to camp on Easter Monday after a very enjoyable four days.
Mid Summer was now on us and the beauty of an English summer was not to be forgotten. The beautiful trees, shrubs, flowers and birds were a revelation. It was light at three in the morning and at ten at night the sun was still up.
I had a touch of pleurisy here and was in hospital ten days, but my brother Charlie was very ill with pneumonia in Fargo Hospital for seven weeks. Concert parties used to come down from London nearly every night and we had some very interesting lectures given us by some of the leading University men (who were too old for active service).
Five months were spent at this camp and by the end of this time we were all fit and well trained soldiers. I myself weighed 12 stone. On 17th April we marched to Bulford and were reviewed by King George V, - a memorable occasion.
On 23rd June the majority of our reinforcements (also 41st reinforcements in which was my brother) left for France. Myself and two others were kept back in England till 23rd July as we were required as witnesses on a case where a soldier was knocked down by a motor car and badly hurt.
Departure from England for France.
Great excitement prevailed amongst us when we were told to get ready for France. A couple of days was spent in getting ready and on Monday morning 23rd July 1917 (to the cheers of the men in camp and the strains of the bands playing) we left Larkhill camp England and marched four miles to Amesbury. We then took train and journeyed to Southampton and embarked on "La Mauguerite" [La Marguerite]. It was a fine sight to see all the transports leaving, being escorted by destroyers and seaplanes. After a calm trip of nine hours we arrived at Le Harvre and set foot on French soil at daylight on 24th July. We were in France at last! The usual street peddlars besieged us selling us chocolates, fruit, and books (how to speak French &c). We then marched 7 kilos to the Australian Base Camp at Harfleur. This was a huge camp with every comfort and all were happy here as we were a safe distance from the line – couldn’t even hear the guns or bombardments. We were fixed up in Bell tents (eight in each) and the meals (served in large dining halls) were excellent. We stayed here a fortnight practising battle and trench warfare and going through rifle and gas drill. I was for three days guard at the German prisoners camp. Also went in one night (in by tram and back by train) with my pal and had a look over the fine city of Le Harvre.
Our way to the parade ground ("Bull ring" as it was called by us) was up a steep hill through a beautiful avenue of trees.
When everything was ready, we marched with full packs up (we were now carrying blankets, gas helmets, ammunition &c) to the railway station
at Le Harvre. As no train was ready for us we slept on the station that night, but there were plenty of canteens where we could buy food. After waiting on the railway station all the next day we entrained and left Le Harvre at 4 p.m. We were lucky to get ordinary French carriages to travel in – box carriages with wooden (no cushion) seats, and ten in each carriage, but when our equipment &c was in there wasn’t much room. Mostly the troops travelled in the famous (?) trucks "40 hommes 8 chevaux", which in English means "40 men or 8 horses". After travelling very slowly all night through the beautiful French countryside, and many pretty and interesting towns, we reached the large town of Hazebrouck next day at mid-day. We were now getting close to the line. While we were at the railway station here a daylight air raid took place. A German ‘plane flew very low over the station buildings, dropping bombs, killing and wounding many and scattering debris on to our carriage. This was the first bomb that I had heard and didn’t realize the danger of it then. Our train then steamed off about a mile down the line and stayed there for some time. We eventually continued our journey and arrived near the village of Steenwerck about four o’clock in the afternoon. This was as far as the trains could go as the line was not many miles off. We could now see all the baloons suspended in mid air near the line a few miles off and could hear the guns and also see the shells exploding in the air as they were directed at the baloons.
We disentrained and marched to some huts near the baths and after some tea we marched to our camp which was called by the religious name of "Jesus Farm", on account of a huge wayside crucifix nearby. Our Battalion was resting here after having come out of the Battle of Warneton in which they suffered heavily. The camp was comprised of about twenty small circular huts. Our pals gave us a great welcome and we were glad to rejoin them in France. After our names were registered we were distributed in the huts amongst our various pals, and at last became part of the 42nd Battalion A.I.F. ready for action. It was just twelve months since I had entered camp in Brisbane.
Just as we were getting fixed up a huge shell came over and exploded in an open paddock next to our huts. That night a big air raid took place and we enjoyed watching our guns shooting at the German ‘planes – which were caught and held in the searchlights – several close hits being secured. No bombs fell on us but one fell on the horse lines close by, killing and wounding several horses and mules. It was pitiful to hear the wounded animals groaning and several had to be shot out of their misery. The next day we marched to Steenwerck and were reviewed by General Plumer. We marched several times to the famous Palmer baths over the border into Belgium. One day we went on fatigue (in motor lorries 16 kilos away) to Strazeele where we were engaged stacking shells for our big guns. It took two of us to lift one shell. While here we saw several large holes in the ground which had been made by bombs from the German ‘planes, and which were large enough to hold a motor lorry.
Then the working parties up near the line at Messines Ridge were not to be forgotten. Every morning at 2 a.m. we were awakened and
given our breakfast of pork and beans and then went in motor lorries through the ruins of Neuve Eglise, up to Messines where we were engaged in making roads and digging trenches. We generally got in an hour or twos work because as soon as it was dawning day the enemy used to bombard our positions and then it was leave off work and get back to safety the best way one could. I remember one morning the enemy followed us with his shells right back to our motor lorries (which we had left on the cobble stoned road near the big military cemetery). We had several narrow escapes – some were wounded but none killed. I soon learnt to assume the "prone" position, that is fall flat down on one’s stomach as soon as one heard a shell coming over.
While here we had a good look over Steenwerck which contained a fine old church with a famous grotto. The Bishop of Armentierres removed to Steenwerck after his city was destroyed by the Germans in 1917, but he had to flee again from Steenwerck in March 1918 during the big German offensive.
On 22nd August we marched to Steenwerck Railway station and entrained. After a three hours journey we arrived at Wizurnes, [Wizernes] where we got out and then marched to the pretty little village of Remilly (near Lumbres) where we remained for several weeks practising for the Battle of Ypres.
Our stay here was very happy indeed. We were the first Australian troops to be billetted there and the people were very good and kind to us. Our platoon was billetted in a good barn with plenty of straw and Madame and her daughters couldn’t do enough for us. She had beautiful grapes growing, which we used to buy at a franc (tenpence) per lb. It speaks volumes for the Aussies here, when the peoples’ fruit was quite safe and none of it was stolen by the troops. The beautiful stream flowing through the village was great and many a good swim we enjoyed after coming back hot from the parade ground or a route march. No costumes were required and it was a common sight to see several hundred Aussies swimming in the stream near where the bridge crossed it in the main street. My brother’s battalion (41st) was billetted in an old paper mill close by and I often saw him. I also visited the towns of Lumbres, Wavrans, and Wizurnes and the fine old ancient and interesting city of St Omer. In peace time this city contained 90,000 inhabitants. Its Cathedral was majestic and was remembered by me for its famous clock inside over the main door. The Cathedral of St Omer many [may] bring back memories of other things to some soldiers who may read this.
One day we marched to Flamburelles and were reviewed by Sir Douglas Haig. We had plenty of severe drilling here and I was transferred to the rifle grenadiers section.
A regiment of Portuguese soldiers were camped close by. They used to walk through our village and some of our men used to call them "pork and beans". They resented this and reported it to our Commander so we were drawn up on the parade ground one day and given a severe reprimand – being reminded that the Portuguese were the oldest allies of England. However, they didn’t prove themselves very good soldiers during the big German offensive of March 1918.
Battle of Broodsiende [Broodseinde] (Ypres) 4th – 6th October 1917
Our five weeks happy stay in the village of Remilly came abruptly to an end one night when the Sergeant came and awakened us at about three o’clock in the morning and told us to get up and be ready to move off in a couple of hours time. This news had the effect of a general stir and we were busy packing our packs and getting things in general ready.
After a hurried breakfast and having said "au revoir" to the hospitable proprietress – Madame – of our billets (who brought us wine, apples &c as parting gifts) at daylight we started on our memorable march of 42 Kilos, which occupied three days and taxed our endurance qualities to the utmost.
Popperinghe (Belgium) was now our location and we remained here five days, resting our bodies and feet in particular, which latter suffered most through the long march.
Whilst here "Fritz" came over regularly every night in his aeroplanes and bombed the town and camps. One night he dropped two bombs close to our tents (fragments coming through the canvas) and also dropped a bomb on the machine gunners’ camp – which adjoined ours – causing the death of 36 Australians.
That night many bombs were also dropped on the town doing great damage and killing many civilians and soldiers. Every morning we could hear our guns bombarding the enemy’s positions prior to our troops attacking.
One afternoon our procedure in the battle was explained to us and we were shewn an aeroplane photograph (also a model) of the country we were to attack and advance over, and also our objectives, - the little woods, swamps and ruined buildings (which we afterwards found out) being very plainly shewn on the photograph.
On 2nd October we were told that our attack was to take place two mornings after – that was 4th October. The various Chaplains came and gave us church services in the open on the parade ground. Then, after a good meal, we began packing up. After all our extra "tools" &c were given us (such as 150 rounds small ammunition, bag containing 8 Mills’ Bombs, ten rods – I was a rifle grenadier – eight sandbags, shovel, two days rations &c) we marched to the Popperinghe Railway Station and entrained for Ypres.
An hour’s journey brought us to the ruined Asylum near Ypres (that was as far as the train could go as the Ypres railway station had been blown to pieces) where we disentrained and marched single file (on account of the huge amount of traffic on the roads) through the ruined city to an open piece of ground at the back of the Madeline Cemetery and where we bivouaced for the night. Just in front of us were our eighteen pounder batteries which kept "barking" (firing) all night and on our right was a huge naval gun which fired at regular intervals.
German ‘planes came over during the night dropping bombs and raining machine gun bullets on us but none took effect in our locality.
Daylight revealed that a great number of Australians were camped
on either side of us, and w
on either side of us, and we walked amongst the various battalions to see if there were any there that we knew. We were told to rest ourselves that day, which we did, with the exception of walking down to the water point at Ypres to refil our water bottles. This gave us an opportunity of seeing the ruins of that once famous and beautiful city and we walked through the ruins of the Cathedral and Cloth Hall (which was one of the finest buildings in Europe before it was destroyed by the Germans). The amount of traffic going up to the line was tremendous – a continual stream of ammunition lorries, food lorries, water carts, cannon (some drawn by mules others by motors) Red Cross Ambulances, &c &c and thousands of troops wending their way up. No wonder that some of the thoroughfares to the line were called after those of London, such as "Hyde Park Corner", "The Strand" &c, and, as far as traffic was concerned, they didn’t belie their names. At dusk we were given a hot meal, for some the last on this earth, for others the last hot one for four days, and, after a final talk given to us by our captain and the chaplains, we commenced the approach march to the line. It was now 9 p.m. and all were in good spirits and quite cheerful. Physically we were fit and alert and ready for battle – how different we were to be in less than twelve hours afterwards.
Men do not go into battle sad and gloomy (as many civilian people wrongly imagine). They are quite the opposite even though they know the dreadful things they have to face and that some of them are going to their death. We passed along, which seemed an endless track of duckboards, "keeping in touch" which was very necessary if we were not to get lost. We had our first rest (a few minutes halt) just in front of our batteries, which were firing spasmodically. After resuming the march again there were frequent stops, caused through broken duck boards, and slipping off the boards into the mud and getting bogged. At several of these unofficial halts the following, amongst other, remarks could be heard:- "Put out that … cigarette" the answer from the smoker being "Oh he’s windy" or "He’s got the wind up". I may say that we were previously warned not to smoke or talk during the approach march. I am a non smoker (the same as quite a number of the men were) so cannot describe the comfort or ease of mind which the men said that smoking gave to them when in danger or sitting under a bombardment. I always drew my issue of cigarettes and put them in my gas bag, and the men always knew where they could get a smoke when they ran out of cigarettes and which they very often did. A few shells were now falling pretty close to us, and the next stop was close to a "pill box" (captured German concrete dug out) near which, to my surprise, was a fire, from the light of which one could see several dead lying about. We were now on ground which a few days previously was in the enemy’s possession and the dead had not yet been buried. Machine gun bullets were now hissing overhead as "Fritz" occasionally "rattled" his machine guns.
We were told to keep quite still when an enemy very light went up, as it is practically impossible to make out stationary objects, when very lights are sent up, but the slightest movement is easily noticed.
After awhile it was found that we were on the wrong track, and the order "about turn" came along, which meant going back a considerable distance the way we came. Eventually the right track was found and we continued moving onwards.
Shells were now falling amongst us and we took shelter, that is huddled together in shell holes, until the shelling ceased. The next move brought us closer up and the enemy lights now seemed almost on us.
At last our starting off point was reached and we were, after much difficulty, placed in our appointed positions, our company being on the left of an old railway line, my platoon being about a hundred yards from it.
As we were getting into position a bullet got one of our men close to me, killing him instantly. We were all sorry that poor old "Brumby" (that was the name we called him) had fallen. He came from the back blocks of Queensland and was a rough diamond, but had a good heart and was very popular amongst us. He was uneducated and couldn’t write and I used to write his love letters to his girl in Queensland for him. He said to me, just a few minutes before he was killed, "Well I have been used to the bush all my life sleeping out amongst the dingoes &c and I was never afraid before but I feel frightened tonight". We assured him that he would be alright, but he fell dead soon afterwards. Such is war. The corporal in charge of our platoon told us to make ourselves comfortable. I said, "Where are the trenches" (having pictured in my mind well made and comfortable trenches which we generally occupied when holding the line). He replied "These are the trenches" which were merely a series of shell holes filled with water. Our tape was laid in a line in front of them. A white tape was generally laid down in front of the trenches to keep us in line so that we could all advance together when the battle commenced. We were glad to rest our weary limbs, even if it was only a muddy shell hole, it being now 3 a.m. – the approach march having occupied six hours.
In passing I may say that this was my first "Hop Over" (Battle) – although I had been up the line before on working parties – and I was quite fresh, in fact quite excited and had no idea of the dangers and didn’t realize what was ahead of us and what we had to go through.
The officers and N.C.O’s were now busy seeing that the various sections were all in order and in their proper positions. The Germans were only about two hundred yards in front of us and they were continually firing flares (very lights) which lighted up nomansland splendidly. Its a wonderful and very pretty sight to see the many coloured lights which the Germans (and we too) used to illuminate nomansland with, and also for signal purposes. We used to say that the Germans had the contract for lighting up nomansland thereby saving us the trouble and expense. White and gold lights were used for illumination and red and green for signals. A civil display of fireworks could not equal the "free" exhibitions we used to nightly witness, and it would have gladdened the hearts of many children to have seen them.
A corporal and I occupied a shell hole between us. He said to me "I am going to have a little snooze
wake me up about 5 a.m." This appeared to me to be very brave to even think of sleep under such conditions, but he was an old soldier and had been in several battles.
However, he didn’t get his desired snooze. The shells were now falling more oftener and getting uncomfortably close. One burst not very far from us giving us a shaking and covering us with mud, so we crept further out into another shell hole. As the lights went up I could see figures moving in single file in front of us, whom I thought were Germans, but who were only the British troops then holding the "Line" being relieved by us preparatory to our attack. About half past five I saw many red and green lights go up from the German positions and remarked to the Corporal how pretty they looked. He said "Now we are in for it". "The Germans have taken a tumble that we are going to attack them and they are sending up their S.O.S. (Save our souls) signals to their gunners". Almost immediately a heavy barrage (many cannon firing together) descended on our positions and continued until our barrage opened up half an hour later. The corporal remarked that "Minnies" (nick name for German trench mortar – a dreadful weapon) were coming over, which at that time I didn’t know anything about – now I do.
We could hear "stretcher bearer" being called out as casualties occurred, those close to the railway line suffering heavily. The last half hour previous to hopping over seemed to me the longest that I have ever experienced, and I was continually looking at my luminous watch to see the time. All one’s past life seemed to be pictured in one’s mind during that short time, and our thoughts were naturally of home and our loved ones and also what the future would bring forth.
Just as day was breaking Zero hour (5.55 a.m.) arrived, and, as if by magic, our guns opened up and we rushed forward and commenced the attack. It was said that we had one eighteen pounder battery to every twenty five yards, on a front of several miles, besides many larger guns and hundreds of machine guns and lewis guns that morning. Imagine all these firing together. Our barrage seemed to almost silence the German guns. For the first five minutes or so I could remember nothing, but after I had collected myself, found myself automatically going forward with my section. After hopping over I saw no more of my corporal but afterwards learned that he had his right leg blown off and I am glad to say that he recovered and returned to Australia. It was now pretty light and the scene which confronted us I will never forget nor could I adequately describe it.
It seemed as if hell had been let loose on earth. The ground was shaking and the air hot and full of the smell of powder from the guns. The noise was terrific. Dead and wounded were lying about everywhere and as far as one could see on either side was a mass of soldiers moving forward behind the barrage. Shells were falling in front and amongst us and earth was being thrown up in the air. In front of us our barrage was slowly creeping forward, the sight of which was one of awe inspiring grandeur. Behind and amongst us a few "shorts" (our own shells which fell short amongst us) and some German shells were falling. I saw one shell fall amongst a group of our men, seeing human limbs &c being
hurled into the air.
After I had gone a few hundred yards I came across a group of our "C" Company men who were lying in a group, all badly wounded. I knelt down and found one of them to be our Lieutenant whom I made as comfortable as possible, and gave him some whisky which he carried in his bottle. He afterwards died (Lieut Ballard). Also gave the others some water emptying my own water bottle in doing so, but we could always get plenty of water after a battle, by taking the water bottles from the dead soldiers. Whilst I was thus engaged our Captain happened to pass by and sharply told me to advance and get on with our platoon and leave this kind of work to the Army Medical Corps. However, this rebuff, which was quite military and correct, did not prevent me from assisting some more of my wounded comrades further on. We were now getting close to a German pill box, which was rushed and captured. By now Germans were running towards us surrendering (from the various pill boxes that had been captured). A lot of them put up their hands and shouted "Mercy Kamerade". Some of them were waving Red Cross and white flags, and, as they passed us, they were relieved of any valuables that they possessed, souveniring the enemy being a strong characteristic of the Australians. One German ran out of a shell hole to me and handed me his watch, which on the spur of the moment I took, but was afterwards sorry for taking it, because I felt if ever I was taken prisoner I would not like my watch to be taken from me.
I came across several of our men badly wounded (some with legs, arms &c off,) but the way they bore their pain was wonderful – no complaining or grumbling. It was a frequent sight to see a wounded German and a wounded Aussie helping each other to get to the advanced dressing station. A shell burst near us and a piece cut through my puttee and made a small flesh wound as big as a sixpence. It was hardly worth taking notice of and it eventually healed up, but afterwards gave me a lot of trouble, breaking out, as it was poisoned, and I had a lot of hospital in France and England with it. It still breaks out occasionally and I receive a war pension for it.
By now I had lost my section, in fact had got quite away from my Battalion, which I could tell by the various distinguishing marks (generally coloured patches on the backs of our tunics) that each Battalion wore. In my endeavours to find my battalion I got bogged in a small swamp (where there were many others – some of them wounded too – bogged). However, I managed to free myself and found my battalion again.
During all this time we were gradually advancing, and shell fragments and machine gun and rifle bullets were flying all around us. When one considers the amount of material that is hurled about in a small space in a battle, it is surprising to see the number of soldiers who come out alive and unwounded.
At last we reached our objective and on looking at my watch found it was now 9 a.m. – three hours since the attack commenced, but it didn’t seem that long. Ours was the second or middle objective, the 41st
Battalion advancing through ours and going forward two hundred yards and the 44th Battalion digging in three hundred yards behind us. The platoon sergeant shewed us where to dig our trenches and told us to hurry, as our barrage was only timed to "play" in front of us just long enough to give us a little protection while digging in. Digging our trenches proved very easy as the ground was soft, in fact too soft – used to fall in – and when we were down three feet we came to water, so the trenches were soon quagmires and we were wallowing in them like a lot of pigs. while digging in several were killed and one of our young officers (Lieut Hart – one of the most popular and best loved men in the battalion) was killed by a bullet only a few feet from me. His parents have erected a fine memorial to him in the Southport School Chapel – where he was educated – and which I have seen. Our trench was right in front of a pill box which was made into Company headquarters. Several of our men were not now with us, many having been killed, others wounded.
Our contact aeroplane flew overhead and we lit the flares (which had been supplied us) so [to] shew our positions to the ‘plane. After our barrage ceased intermittent fire was carried on by the artillery of both sides all day.
The first counter attack was made by the Germans at 7 p.m. which was repulsed by us without us even leaving the trenches. When he attacked we put up our S.O.S. signals which brought forth from both our batteries and machine guns a wonderful barrage. Runners were busy throughout the night keeping in touch with the different companies and platoons, and also carrying important messages. I couldn’t help but admire their coolness and bravery in doing their work under a continual bombardment.
About three o’clock in the morning a pal and myself were detailed to carry a dead Aussie from the pill box into a shell hole, and which we did.
On our return we were sent to help carry a stretcher case to the advanced dressing station, which was a captured pill box about 100 yards behind our trench. This proved very difficult as the night was dark, the mud very bad, and shells bursting all around us, but we succeeded alright. On our way back we were told to go over near the ruined Zonnebeke railway station and get the rations, but as we couldn’t find any rations there, went back to our trench and found that the rations had already arrived by the ration carriers.
It was now daylight – our second day. A German ‘plane flew over our trenches, so low that we could see the face of the aviator as he looked over from his machine. He dropped lights to shew his artillery where our positions were and that night the Germans put down on us a terrific bombardment.
About mid-day the Sergeant came to our trench and asked for two volunteers to carry a serious stretcher case from the 41st Battalion (in front of us) to the dressing station. A pal and myself went and safely arrived at the trench. Enquired about my brother and was told he was safe and well. We started to carry the wounded chap on an oilsheet, but
eventually had to wait for a stretcher. After arriving at the dressing station we sat down to have a drink of tea and eat some biscuits, which the gunners had given us. Our eighteen pounder batteries were firing close by and whilst we were watching one fired a shell burst prematurely close to where we were, killing an English officer and wounding several mules. Nothing is perfect and a lot of our shells used to explode prematurely.
I consider that stretcher bearers generally speaking are the greatest heroes in a battle, they, in my opinion, having the most dangerous and strenuous work to perform and too much praise cannot be given them for the noble and excellent work which they perform. It was dusk when we arrived back at our trench and we were told to get ready and pack up, as we were to be relieved that night. But we weren’t relieved that night and I think that we ought to have considered ourselves lucky that we weren’t. The Hun that night put down a terrific bombardment on us which lasted all night and very many of our men were killed and wounded. A shell burst on the top of our trench, blowing it in, and buried my body – my head was just protruding. A couple of pals (one since killed) dug me out and freed me. I escaped without a scratch, with the exception of a severe shaking, but after this my nerves went to pieces. Sitting under a bombardment plays havoc with one’s nerves and a good rest and quietness away from the line is the only cure for this. At last daylight dawned and we prepared to move out. Started at 9 a.m. and hurried past a corner of the road, which was continually being shelled and where many casualties occurred. Each side of the track was strewn with hundreds of dead Tommies – and equipment – the latter being discarded by the wounded as they evacuated – who were killed going in to relieve another company the previous night and which would also had been our fate had we been relieved the previous night as originally intended. In places the dead were piled several feet high – so great were the casualties. Tired, hungry and sleepy (having had no sleep for three days and nights) we struggled along, through the mud, slush, and dead, not resting until we got back a considerable distance and then fairly safe. Coming out of the line is not the same as going in. When going in we are in order and kept together, but coming out, its every man for himself to get along the best way he can. We were now on the never-to-be-forgotten Menin Road which was strewn with thousands of dead soldiers and mules.
After several rests another digger and myself reached the outskirts of Ypres where the Y.M.C.A. gave us hot cocoa, biscuits, chocolates and cigarettes. Strengthened by this we continued on and eventually reached the ruined asylum, where the rest of the Battalion had already arrived. We were given a real good hot meal of bully beef stew, which made new men of us.
It was not raining heavily and a seven kilo march was ahead of us. Our Captain very kindly and thoughtfully gave myself and mate a "lift" on one of the cookers.
Huts (on the outskirts of Popperinghe) were reached at dark, when we were given another hot meal, our packs, and several
blankets – one doesn’t take blankets into battle with them, only when holding the line.
Then followed two good days rest (we slept most of the time) before going back again – this time to hold the line. The roll was called and shewed to what extent the battle had cost us in wounded and valuable lives.
In conclusion I may say that the battle was a success, that is all our objectives were gained and held, and the total number of prisoners taken by we Australians that day, amounted to over four thousand.
The foregoing is a description of the Battle of Broodsiende (Ypres) written by No. 2639, Private Verdi G. Schwinghammer, "C" Company, 42nd Battalion A.I.F., and which was awarded the third prize of 100 francs at the Third Australian Divisional Essay completion held after the Armistice at St. Maxent near Abbeville, France. There were eighty three entries.
Holding the line
On 18th October 1917, we marched to Abraham Heights and held the line for several days. We were under a continual bombardment all the time and many were killed and wounded. It was cold and wet weather and we were all "fed up", but nothing out of the ordinary routine of trench warfare happened.
I got quite sick and knocked up and was ordered out of the line to the details camp near the Ypres Cemetery for a day or twos rest. As I got no better I was sent to the Field Ambulance in the ruins of the Cloth Hall and the Dr who examined me said that I was suffering from shell shock, although not very serious, and required a few weeks’ rest. We were sent, in Red Cross Motor Cars, to the Canadian Hospital at Popperinghe. During the night the Germans bombed the hospital and one sister and a couple of patients were killed. After a couple of days here we were taken in Red Cross train through Calais to the British Red Cross Hospital at Wimereux, Boulogne. This was a fine hospital beautifully situated near the beach. They gave me a good hot meal, then a hot bath, and after being given a pair of pyjamas was sent to bed, where I remained ten days sleeping most of the time. It was just wonderful to be clean and get a good rest in bed with pyjamas and sheets and good food and quietness. The sisters were very good to us. I picked up wonderfully and was soon on the road to recovery again and was then sent to the Convalescent Hospital on the hill adjoining Napoleon’s great Monument. This was a statue of Napoleon on a column 100 feet high. He was facing Europe – looking at all the territory that he had captured. Had his back to the English Channel and England. It was Napoleon’s intention to have this statue erected facing England when he conqueored it (he designed this monument before Waterloo) but the French were honest, and when he didn’t conqueor England, they erected the monument with his back to England.
After a week here I was sent by train to Le Harvre for a day, then by train to Caestre, where I rejoined my Battalion, which was out of the line resting.
Drilling and holding line
It was now snowing continually and bitterly cold. One day my cousin (Bernie Johnson) came up from the 25th Battalion to see me. He was afterwards killed in a raid at Morlancourt on 10th June 1918. I received a large Australian mail here (over 40 letters and several parcels).
Working parties (digging trenches for cables) now occupied our time. Shall we ever forget the frozen ground when the ice had to be broken with a pick, before we could start to dig. The one bright spot here was the Y.M.C.A., in charge of that fine man Presbyterian Padre Clark.
While we were here the news came through that the Australians had captured Jerusalem and we celebrated the event.
Part of the Battalion now went to a small village called Tilques (twenty kilos distant) for a week’s rifle practise. While we were away at Tilques, one day a German ‘plane dropped bombs on the parade ground killing many – also one of the bombs dropped near the Y.M.C.A. hut, blowing off the end of hut and damaging the piano beyond repair. We got another piano and on our return had sing songs here every night. We used to get a free cup of cocoa or coffee and some biscuits before we went to our huts to sleep.
Much to our regret we marched to Waterlands on 20th December and stayed at this cold miserable camp for a few days. We went into Nieppe several times. This place was in ruins. Then on Christmas Eve we marched into the line at Bois Grenier (Armentierres) and it was a fairly quiet sector here. Everything was covered with snow. On Christmas Eve night we could hear the Germans singing and playing their musical instruments in the trenches. Very few shells came over for a couple of days. On Christmas Day the C. of E. Chaplain in our Brigade – we had no C. of E. Chaplain in our Battalion – came into the front line trenches and gave us Holy Communion.
We were each given a tin of fruit and a tin of preserved sausages for our Christmas dinner. My pal and I were hungry, so we both opened our tins and ate half the contents for breakfast, putting the remainder in the tin on a shelf in our dugout – covering them with a board with a stone on it. The rats were very bad in the trenches and dugouts. As we were off duty, we went to sleep for a couple of hours and on waking and going to get our dinner found that the rats had knocked off the coverings while we were asleep and had eaten everything. So we had dry biscuits for our Christmas dinner of 1917. Christmas night in the trenches was quiet with the exception of an amusing episode. It was moonlight. One of the men thought he could see Germans creeping towards us in front of the trench. Of course when one saw anything we all could. So we all threw several bombs over in the direction of where we thought we saw the Germans, and also fired several shots in that direction, but nothing happened. Next morning, through the periscope, we could see the tops of several stumps. These were what we thought were Germans the previous night. When we first occupied the trench the stumps were completely covered with snow, but as the snow melted it left the tops exposed – and these looked like men.
On Boxing night I had a narrow escape. One of the men was cleaning his rifle on the step of trench. I was on duty standing up close by. He thought his rifle was unloaded (but it wasn’t) and the trigger caught and it went off, the bullet whizzing just past my left ear and grazing it – a narrow escape!
We used to have different pass words every night. One night one of the men on duty guarding the communication trench got windy and nearly killed an officer. The guard called out to the officer for the pass word, but as he didn’t reply quick enough, the guard thought he was one of the enemy and fired at him. It took effect in the neck just missing the vein. It was only a slight wound though and the officer recovered.
Our officer on many occasions told me not to put my head too far over the trench when on duty on moonlight nights, as I was liable to be sniped, but I liked to know what was going on in front of us when I was on duty. I had the reputation of having good sight and good hearing – very little escaped being seen or heard by me. One night I thought I heard a noise in the wire in front of the trench, so when the officer came along I reported it to him. He and I then crawled out over the top of the trench and crept towards the wire when all of a sudden several large rats rushed out of the wire. It was the rats who were making the noise.
On New Year’s Eve we were relieved and marched back to Waterlands camp. Had a good New Year’s Dinner here, supplied by the Australian Comforts Fund.
Nearly every night we used to go up to the line on working parties. The tramp through the great deserted city of Armentierres every night got very tiresome. We used to march through the deserted city (which was not damaged very much – the inhabitants had evacuated it) with the grass growing in the streets and tramcars &c rusting on the trucks, [tracks] to the ruined lunatic asylum, and then, after a rest, go single file to the line a few hundred yards away and start to work and dig trenches. Several of our men were wounded on these parties, but none killed.
On 12th January 1918, we marched, over the frozen cobble stoned roads (many were the spills and busters we got through slipping on the ice) to Locre and were billetted here in circular low roofed huts. We could lie in our huts here and see the huge square tower of the church with its great chiming clock, so always knew the time. There were some good estaminets (hotels) here, also eating houses with the usual eggs and chips and coffee, and which was much sought after by the troops. The few civilians who had remained in the town done great business with the troops. We were in Belgium now and some of the civilians would do anything for money. They used to charge us exorbitant prices for anything we bought and were real profiteers. When we used to remonstrate with them about the prices, their invariable reply was "O’ est la guerre" (it is the war). A lot of them were spies. Some of them used to lock their pumps so we couldn’t get any water, but we soon got over that difficulty. We used to get a Mills Bomb and blow the lock off and get the water that way! Of course the Belgians made a great fuss of this and reported us to headquarters, but the officers took no notice of them. Some of the Belgians here were caught as spies and shot. They used to plough in the fields with one black and one grey horse &c. On different days they would change the position of the horses, thereby giving signals to the German ‘planes, which flew over very low while our planes were away.
We used to go into Baillieul [Bailleul] a lot. This was a large town and then not shelled. During the "break through" of March 1918 Locre was (also Baillieul) in nomansland, and very heavy fighting took place here.
Working parties at Whychattie [Wytschaete] Ridge (daylight working parties) were performed by us for a week, and then all one week we were on fatigue unloading trucks of coal and stone.
Near to Locre was a large Convent where about fifty orphan Belgian children were looked after by the Nuns. We used to go down here of a night and in the big school (with its darkened windows and a few candles to light it up) have quite a happy time. The nuns could speak English and they taught the orphan children to sing "God save the King" and "Tipperary" in English. Some of the men taught the orphan boys to box and they used to give us some fine exhibitions. Food was very scarce but the nuns would never let us go away without giving us a drink of wine or a glass of light beer, and we returned their kindness by giving them many little things that we could spare and which were luxuries to them. A piece of white bread was worth is [its] weight in gold to them.
Major Willie Redmond (who died of wounds) was buried in the convent grounds and we saw his grave.
It snowed nearly all the time we were here. I was then transferred to Lewis Gun Section.
On 26th January we marched up to the front line again to near Ploegg Steert Wood. We occupied the line here for nearly four weeks without a break.
A party of us were sent out of the line one day back to Romarin camp on fatigue. We halted for a rest on our way out at a post known as Lancashire Farm. Met some Aussies here who were coming in. Got in conversation with them and they proved to be Sir William (General) Birdwood and party. Birdwood didn’t look much like a General. He had old clothes on covered with mud, with his steel hat and gas helmet strapped on. We saluted and had a few words with him and told him it was quiet up the line and only a few shells coming over. I believe that he spent the whole day in the trenches inspecting and visiting the various headquarters. Some people said that Generals never exposed themselves to danger but here is one instance.
For a week I was one of the food carriers up to the front line. We (eight of us) had a dugout in the reserve trench. As soon as it got dark we went to the cook house, where large dixies of stew and tea were strapped on our backs, and we trudged up to the communication trench about 300 yards to the front line. At midnight we had to bring hot coffee up and again at daylight the troops’ breakfast. Then we could sleep or rest in the dugout all day. We couldn’t move about in daylight as the position was too exposed, and the men in the front line had to do without any hot food from sunrise till sundown. One night we went up to the front line before it was quite dark and had a narrow escape. There was an opening in the communication trench (not noticed by us at the time) on which the Germans had one of their guns trained. this particular night, as we were passing they put a burst of shot into us. We ducked in all directions and one of the bullets hit the steel hat of my pal, but bounced off. Thereafter we went up no more till it was quite dark. The cook houses were always shifting their possies, as very often the smoke would put them away and they would be blown up by the enemy shells trained on them. It didn’t matter how careful they were, the smoke from them could very often be seen by the enemy.
One of the Battalion cooks was "Bony" Ford from South Grafton.
who often gave me a dixie of tea and a little tin of fat (which was much relished by us to put on our bread) when we were out of the line.
One day a huge shell fell within a short distance from us, but luckily it was a dud and didn’t explode – otherwise we would have all been blown to pieces.
We then went to the front line again and held it for ten days and some of the other men had a turn at food carrying. Some of us were picked for patrol duty at night, but I always missed this.
There was a little stream at the back of our trench with beautiful running water and we used to enjoy the water from it – washing and drinking – but one day we found several dead Germans and Aussies in it (who had not been buried) and thereafter we always waited for the official army water which came up to us in benzine tins, but nearly always tasted of benzine.
As I had been in France nine months without leave and had the necessary money to my credit in my pay book I was granted fourteen days leave to England. The last night in trench (before going on leave) we were hoping not to get killed or wounded and it was with light and thankful hearts that we got clear of the trenches and danger, the morning we started to go on leave.
Leave in England
On March 1st 1918 four of us left the trenches for fourteen days leave to England. We went to the Red Cross Dressing Station with our leave passes and were examined by the Dr and certified as being free from vermin and scabies. Then marched to Romarin Camp. Slept there that night with some New Zealanders in their tents. We were up early next morning and marched to Steenwerck. Had to wait all day here but in the afternoon got a troop train (which was literally packed) and travelled through a snowstorm till midnight, when we arrived at Calais. Marched to the great concentration camps there and reported ourselves. We were given a tent and had a good night’s rest. Next morning we dumped our rifles and packs and were given our steamer passes to England. But a terrific gale had been raging in the channel, lashing the sea and washing a lot of the stationary mines away from their moorings, which of course constituted a great danger to our shipping. So we were delayed here three days while the mine sweepers (steamers) cleared the Channel of them. In the meantime we had a good look over the fine old city of Calais, which at one time belonged to England, and we saw all the historic places associated with Joan of Arc &c.
On the morning of the third day we marched to the pier and boarded a steamer. It was crowded with troops going on leave and we had a fine run across the Channel of two hours. The great British warships were cruising about and Destroyers were flitting everywhere. We travelled a "zig zag" course through a "lane" of battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. Saw the "Queen Elizabeth" which at that time was the largest battleship in the world. Arrived at Dover at 1 p.m. and took train to London, arriving there at 3 p.m. Went to the Australian Army Headquarters where we were given a new suit of soldiers clothes, boots, hat &c., and after a shave, hot bath and good meal, booked our beds at the A.I.F. War Chest Club (where I always stayed when in London). The A.I.F. War Chest Club was a large building in Westminster – near the Australian Headquarters – and was run by the English and Australian ladies in London for the Australian troops. It had 500 in large dormotories and had every convenience, and good meals could be obtained cheaply by the troops – mostly food supplied by the Australian people.
We were very happy as we were away from the trenches and had fourteen days leave ahead of us and I myself had £25 in my pay book which had been cabled over from Australia by my Mother. That night we went to the "Maid of the Mountains" in Daly’s Theatre – seeing Jose Collins in the name part. Coming home from the theatre an air raid on London took place. We heard the anti aircraft guns booming and saw the people rushing about the darkened streets to the tube stations for shelter. The church bells were ringing (signals for people to take shelter) and trains, ‘buses and everything came to a standstill. Police were patrolling the streets on bicycles with an electric placard on their back – "take cover".
We walked to the War Chest Club where we found a lot of the staff
(women) huddled together in the basement, but as we were tired we went to bed and slept soundly through it all. Next morning we read in the papers that 178 people had been killed the previous night by bombs from the German ‘planes.
In passing I may say that London was only dimly lit at night. No lights were exposed in shop windows and all blinds were drawn. A few street lamps at long intervals were alight but with a pale blue light shaded downwards and ‘buses carried no lights at all. Its wonderful how the traffic used to get about in the darkened streets. Of course the tubes (being underground) were brilliantly lit up.
The next morning we went to the Westminster Roman Catholic Cathedral and saw the body of the great Irish patriot – John Redmond – who had died the day before and whose body was lying in state in the Cathedral, before being transferred across to Ireland for burial. This is a modern cathedral built from 1900-1905 and costing £250,000, but a very imposing structure of Byzantine architecture (with a campanile 295 feet high). The Duke of Norfolk provided most of the money for its erection.
For three days we were busy seeing the sights of London and one night left London in the "Flying Scotsman" and arrived early next morning in Edinburgh – a 400 mile non stop run. The water is scooped up as the train travels along and the mails were caught from hooks as the train passed through the stations.
Edinburgh is a very beautiful city and the Scotch people were very kind and couldn’t do enough for us. Saw the great Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, John Knox’s birthplace, and went by ‘bus one day and saw the great Firth of Forth bridge. The North Sea squadron of battleships were at anchor here and we saw H.M.A.S. "Australia", which was amongst them.
Left Edinburgh and took train back to York where I spent a day and night the guest of Sir Charles Milner. His sister (Miss Edith Milner – Sir Charles was a bachelor) did the entertaining for him and she was called the "Soldiers’ Mother". She wrote my own Mother a beautiful letter concerning me. Saw through York Minster and all the interesting and historic things of that ancient city.
Then took train back to London.
The same night a pal and myself went to Headquarters and got a pass to visit Ireland. We left London at 8 p.m. and arrived at Holyhead at 3 a.m., where we boarded the Irish Mail steamer and travelled a zig zag course – with all lights out – over the Irish Channel, arriving at Kingstown at daylight. Then took train up to Dublin – fourteen miles away. Had three days in Dublin seeing all the sights there. It was a fine city and brilliantly lit up – quite a contrast to the English and Scotch cities – as Ireland was too far away for air raids. Food was very plentiful as the Irish people were not rationed. The Irish people were also very kind to us. We were invited one afternoon to a large private mansion and had tea there, being received by butlers and waited on by many servants. We saw all the ruined buildings of the 1916 rebellion.
Stayed at the Four Courts Hotel.
We were shewn through St Patrick’s Cathedral, Trinity College (where we saw the famous Book of Kells – one of the oldest books in existence and which was written by the monks) the crypt of St Michan’s church &c.
Spent one whole day at Guinness’s brewery, being the guests of the management for lunch, and saw the famous stout being made and bottled and casked. We were given booklets as souvenirs, as well as samples of the stout.
We returned to Kingstown and then took steamer across to London by the same route and after another two days sight seeing in London (visiting Madame Tussauds famous waxworks, Whitehall, St James’ Palace, &c &c) my leave was finished.
I was lucky to have had my leave because the day it terminated all leave from England France was cancelled, on account of the German break through.
I reported at Headquarters and left Victoria Station London next morning for Dover.
Battles of the Somme 1918
We left Dover by steamer on 20th March and had a calm passage across the Channel to Calais. Stayed the night in the rest camp there. That night one of the biggest air raids on Calais took place. Our camps at Calais received a telephone message to say that the German ‘planes had flown over Dunkirk on their way to Calais to bomb it. The signals in camp were given to take shelter and we could hear the church bells in Calais ringing and the guns booming – signals to the inhabitants that an air raid was imminent and to take shelter. It was a beautiful moonlight night, with no chance of our searchlights picking up the ‘planes. Air raids very seldom took place on dark nights, and we used to dread the moonlight nights. On a dark night the searchlights sweeping the skies could nearly always pick up a ‘plane and hold it in the rays, thereby enabling our anti-aircraft guns to aim at it and probably get it, but on a moonlight night a ‘plane could be a few hundred feet up and couldn’t be seen – although the noise from the ‘plane could be heard. At night, in the moonlight, an aeroplane is like a silver butterfly in the sky and cannot be seen. This night the German ‘planes came over in two relays and bombs were dropped on the Chinese Labor Camp (only about a hundred yards from our tent) killing 40 Chinese. They were too engrossed in playing pak-a-pu or some other gambling game to take shelter when the signals were given. We had a narrow escape, as the concussion from the bombs which fell on the Chinese camp, blew our tent in, and it was covered with mud and debris. Many civilians were killed in Calais. One bomb that night fell on the beautiful Cathedral of Joan of Arc, badly damaging it, and next day as we marched to the railway station we picked up pieces of stained glass as souvenirs.
Early next morning we marched to Calais railway station and entrained – travelled all day and arrived at St Omer at dusk. We marched to the barracks for the night and this city was also heavily bombed during the night, but no casualties occurred. The civilians took shelter in the basement of the Town Hall and the crypt of the Cathedral and the troops in the basement of the barracks.
Next morning I made enquiries and found that our Battalion had been relieved during my absence and was resting for three weeks at Lottenheim, [possibly Lottinghen] near Boulogne.
The R.T.O. (Railway Transport Officer) directed us what train to take and we arrived at Lottenheim at 1 p.m. Here we found our Battalion on the station ready to entrain. The air was full of rumours. We hadn’t seen any papers for several days but were told that the enemy had broken through on a wide front and was advancing on Paris and Amiens and that the Australians were to be sent to the Somme (the French were defending the roads to Paris) to stop the advance there and prevent the enemy capturing Amiens and the Channel ports. The Battalion had barely had a week of the three weeks rest, but nevertheless all were in good spirits and excited at the prospects of getting to the Somme and seeing new country as our Division (the third) had never been to the Somme – up till then all its fighting having taken place on the indescribable mud swamps of Northern France and Belgium.
We left Lottenheim at 4 p.m. and arrived at Caestre at 9 p.m. Then marched several kilos to a farm near Steenvorde where we camped for the night. The next day we marched through Eccke (remembered by many of us as the place we once stayed a night at on our way to the Battle of Ypres), and Mont des Cats. After a day’s rest we marched all the following night and entrained for the Somme on the morning of 24th March. We travelled all day through devastated country (the result of the 1916 Somme offensive) and arrived at Doullens at 4 p.m. Great and feverish activity prevailed here. Trains were arriving with troops every few minutes and the inhabitants were evacuating the town. We marched through the town and halted at an estaminet (hotel) where the French proprietor gave us all the beer and wine he had in stock, before he left the town, and it was much appreciated by us.
That afternoon at the Doullens Mairie (Town Hall) a conference between the various Allied Generals and Premiers – Foch, Haig, Orlando, Clemenceau, Lloyd George &c took place and the Unity of Command was achieved, Marshal Foch being appointed Commander-in-Chief of the whole of the Allied forces. From now on the tide of the war changed in our favour and we commenced to push the enemy back, after we had broken his last great effort.
About six kilos from Doullens we halted for a rest and were given a drink of tea.
Just after we left Doullens Railway Station a German ‘plane flew over and bombed the station, killing and wounding a great many.
After resting till midnight we boarded motor ‘buses, travelled all night and reached the village of La Hussoye at daylight. We then started on the march again and knew that we must be getting close to the enemy as the horizon was lit from the flashes of the guns. Many rumours were now going around and great excitement prevailed everywhere. I shall never forget the sight of the refugees fleeing from the villages. Some of them had carts, others wheelbarrows, containing their belongings, whilst in many instances cows, pigs, and sheep were being led or driven. Sometimes a white haired aged cure (priest) would lift up his hands and bless us as we marched past – a touching and pathetic sight.
We eventually arrived at Heilly. Passed a few stragglers – Tommies – the remnants of Gough’s British Fifth Army, which had been overtaken by disaster. The citizens had evactuated Heilly before we arrived. Here we dumped our packs and belongings and got into battle order. Whilst here we went into several of the houses and refreshed ourselves with what food we could find, and wine &c of which there was plenty.
Everything was as the people had left their homes – tables being laid ready for a meal &c.
We continued on from Heilly and crossed the river Ancre getting into the valley of the Somme itself. The engineers were busy mining the bridges in case occasion arose to blow them up. About mid-day we arrived at the pretty and peaceful village of Sailly-le-Sec, and our Commander decided that we should entrench here and make a stand against the enemy. Scouts gave us the information
that the enemy advance guard had reached to a position about three miles in front of us and was resting and reorganising. Scouting ‘planes of both sides were now active flying about getting information.
An old trench system (made by the French at the beginning of the war) was converted by us into fairly good trenches but our dugouts were very rough and crude – a sheet of tin or a door from one of the houses in the village with plenty of straw on the bottom of the trench – these were our shelters. Later on we made several visits to the houses and had our trenches decked up with cushions, window curtains &c. Our trench was only about 100 yards in front of the town.
In the afternoon Germans were observed in the village of Sailly Laurette (about a mile in front of us) and a patrol of British cavalry was sent out to dislodge them, which they did with only one casualty to themselves. It was the first and only time that we saw cavalry in action during the war and it was a fine sight. The country where we were was really beautiful. It consisted of green fields and crops of wheat &c. Flocks of sheep and cattle (which the French hadn’t time to take away when they evactuated the village) browsed on the hills just in front of our trenches. The ground was free from shellholes and the absence of noise gave the place more an aspect of peace than of war. This was all to be changed within forty eight hours. We were very tired after our five days marching &c., and all slept well that night – not a gun being fired (we or the Germans had no big guns up ready to fire). Of course we kept watch as usual.
Next day we explored the village which contained some fine houses well kept and beautifully furnished. The lovely clothes and family treasures (paintings, statues &c) were fine. The Mayor’s house was very nice and contained a fine piano. The cellars were also full of wine – we filled our water bottles with it and also brought many bottles back to the trenches. Nothing to my mind is more refreshing than sweet red wine, especially when our drinking water was generally bad. We got back to our trenches when it was dark and time for business. Had a quiet night.
The next day was also very quiet and we could walk on top and in front of our trench without being fired on by the enemy.
Four days had now elapsed since the Germans had sat down to rest and reorganise after their great advance and victory. If they had kept going, instead of resting for these few days to reorganise their army, they very probably would have captured Amiens (which was their objective – 11 miles away) as there were practically no troops to block them. But by this time we had many guns up ready to fire and also plenty of troops. The Hun now thought that he would resume his victorious march and capture Amiens, but he didn’t succeed as his opponents were Australians who repeatedly hurled him back as he made his attacks. It was Easter Saturday, 30th March 1918, the nicest day that we had had for over a month and the sun was shining beautifully. All the morning things had been very quiet – not even a gun being fired. The only noise was from the aeroplanes as they cruised about the skies.
All my section were asleep in the rough dugouts and I happened to be on duty – that is keeping watch in the trench. About mid-day the enemy suddenly opened up on us – putting down a terrific bombardment on a front of several miles – and commenced his attack.
We were all rather surprised at his audacity in attacking in broad daylight but he was evidently suffering from a swelled head owing to his previous great victory – an advance on a wide front several miles deep, capturing thousands of prisoners and much material and guns.
Of course the noise form the guns woke everyone up and there was a rush to the different positions in the trench. Our rifles were always ready for action (bayonets fixed &c) leaning against the parapet of the trench.
In less than two minutes our machine and lewis guns were at work sweeping with bullets the ground in front of our trench, and as usual our gunners in reply to our S.O.S. signals put down a great barrage on the German positions. The enemy didn’t exactly know where our front line was, and the shells directed against our particular trench fell wide of the mark but he put down a terrific bombardment on Saily-le-Sec, and the town soon became a mass of flames and heap of ruins. He also heavily bombarded the back areas to try and prevent reinforcements coming up to our assistance. Our trench was slightly sheltered by a rise in the hill and was not so exposed as other parts of the Battalion front, but nevertheless bullets were whizzing around our heads the whole of the time that the battle was raging. From a point in our trench the observer could see the Germans massing ready for attack. They came in mass formation to the top of the hill in front of us, and then spread out into single file shoulder to shoulder in a wave rushing forward towards our trenches. When they came over the rise of the hill they were excellent targets for our machine and lewis guns, which mowed them down like flies. About two o’clock the battle had reached its highest, but we were holding our own and hurling the enemy back as he repeatedly made fresh attacks. There were many thrilling airfights during the progress of the battle and we saw several German and some of our own ‘planes come down in flames. About three o’clock he made his last attack and was again pushed back. From then onwards just a few shells came over. We were still in our trenches and hadn’t lost an inch of ground although of course we suffered heavily and very many of our men were either killed or wounded, but the enemy losses were appalling. As the evening sun shone on the hills one could see even with the naked eye (but with glasses very plainly) thousands of dead Germans strewn on the side of the hills. Australians from every part of Australia took part in this engagement and many brave and heroic deeds were done by them that day. This was one of the decisive battles which saved Amiens, the others being fought around Villers Brettenaux, notably the battle of the 24th April 1918. We remained in these same trenches until we took up the offensive and commenced to push the enemy back – on 4th July. Next day (Easter Sunday) was quiet and uneventful and I was one of a patrol party that night.
Easter Monday again broke fine and the Germans bombed our trenches from aeroplanes in daylight. They flew that low that we could easily distinguish the faces of the aviators as they peered over from their machines, and on one occasion actually saw the bomb leave the ‘plane. The enemy used to come over while our ‘planes were away. That night I was again on a patrol. Our work was to get out to an unoccupied post near Sailly Laurette Cemetery (which our men had dug the previous night) and see if the enemy had found and occupied it – a trap we laid for him. We crept out and when we got close to the post lay down (with our rifles loaded, bayonets fixed &c and a Mills’ bomb in one’s pocket. Stayed in this position until midnight but saw no sign of the enemy, and were then relieved by another patrol.
We then marched back to a hill a couple of kilos behind Sailly-le-Sec, arriving there about 2 a.m. We were very tired and just lay down on the ground covered with oilsheets, and slept soundly till morning, although it rained heavily all night. Three of us kept watch in turns, in case gas shells came over. Next day we dug little holes in the side of the hill and made ourselves as comfortable as possible. Walked into Vaux-Sur-Somme, and got as much cider as we could carry. It was nice and refreshing. Stayed here two days – it raining all the time.
I was just coming off gas guard at daylight on the third morning when the Germans attacked the 5th Australian Division, who were then holding the front line. He shelled the back areas, where we were, very heavily and we had a rough time of it, many casualties occurring. Several of us went along a gully (afterwards called by us "Shrapnel Gully" – which he was then not shelling) for shelter. Just as we got there a huge shell burst about fifty yards from us, covering us with debris and mud, and a fragment of the shell flew past my face and cut the top of the nose off the chap next to me!
The order now came for us to get ready to go up to the front line and reinforce our troops. Some of us marched as far as the canal when we were told that we would not be required as the 5th Australian Division had pushed the enemy back without further assistance.
That night several of us were detailed to cross the canal and look for any Tommy stragglers. Many amusing incidents occurred in crossing the canal in the flat bottomed punts, several of them capsizing – but the canal was not deep, although the water was very cold.
The next day we rested and at dark shifted further up on to the flat where we dug fresh trenches (reserve line) and occupied them. Stayed here three days, resting and sleeping during the daytime and digging trenches at night. One afternoon we were heavily shelled with whizz bangs (so called by us because when they were fired by the Germans we could hear the whizz and before we knew where we were they had exploded – they travelled that quickly) and an officer and private were killed. They had only that day returned from leave to England and hadn’t been two minutes in the trench when they were killed.
Whilst here we had working parties of a night digging trenches on the hill near the great brick chimney, which was a well known landmark to all Australians who were in these parts.
One night a pal and myself were detailed to go to headquarters for the rum issue. We didn’t know the way and it was raining and pitch dark, but at last we found Headquarters and brought back the large jar of rum. The officer gave us the compliment of telling us that he trusted us, as he knew that we wouldn’t drink the rum, as some of the other men might have done if they had been sent for the rum issue. I never refused my rum issue in the trenches. We didn’t get very much and I am sure it done one good, although very many refused to take it.
On Saturday night 7th April, we went to the front line again, occupying as a dugout an old tunnel, which the French had constructed at the beginning of the war. It was deep, with a small entrance (one had to crawl on hands and knees to get in it) but was shell and bomb proof and accomodated about fifty. One drawback it was very dark and damp. We stayed here seven days, resting and sleeping during the daytime and patrolling every night. The nights were dark and the mud bad, but nothing eventful happened, although we had very many narrow escapes from being sniped by enemy machine gun bullets. Also had our clothes torn to pieces as we were continually falling over in the dark amongst the barbed wire. We could hear the Germans talking and singing out every night and I suppose they could hear us too. We couldn’t emerge from the tunnel during the day time (the position was too exposed) and food could only be brought up to us of a night. Altogether we spent a very miserable week. We were all wet and soaked through, food was scarce, no cigarettes were available, and as we had neither matches or candles were always in the dark. I remember producing four packets of cigarettes from my gas bag on this occasion and handing them around amongst the men, and they were appreciated. It was pitch dark in the tunnel, even in daytime. I myself got very knocked up and our officer told me and another chap who was also pretty sick, to go out to the village of Bonnay and rest there for a few days. As soon as night came on we started and walked till midnight, when we lay down in a gully near one of our eighteen pounder batteries, and slept till daylight – even though a few enemy shells fell in the gully close by. Of course our guns were firing most of the night, but one soon gets used to noise and when one is war weary we could sleep under any conditions and any amount of noise. At daylight we continued our journey but had very little strength left and no food. However, we struggled on and eventually reached Bonnay at mid-day. This town was very busy – being crowded with soldiers. Up till then the town (the civilians had evactuated it) – it was about five miles from the line – had not been shelled and we had great nets thrown across the streets to hide all the troops, lorries, guns &c passing through, from the view of the German planes. I had three real good days rest here with plenty of warm food, which gave us fresh strength.
On Monday night 15th April a party of us marched back to our Company, which during our absence had been relieved and gone back to Shrapnel Gulley. Several shells fell amongst us on the way
back and two were killed and several wounded. That night I was one of a covering party for a fatigue which was digging trenches. The next afternoon a German ‘plane flew over (while our ‘planes were away) and discovered where we were camped, although we had camouflaged our "possies" with green bushes &c. He signalled to his artillery by means of lights, and for two hours we were subjected to a dreadful bombardment, many being killed. About six o’clock he ceased shelling and we emerged from our dugouts to get some tea. As soon as we did he sent over his last salvo of shells, which were whizz bangs, and which I am sorry to say killed one of the best pals I ever had (Private Allan Tanner of Chinchilla, Queensland). He was standing up about ten yards from me holding his dixie of stew, and just about to enter his dugout, when a shell burst near us, portion of the shell flying up and piercing his steel helmet and going through his head. He was killed instantly. We buried him in Bonnay Military Cemetery and a cross was erected on his grave.
On Friday 19th April at dark we marched to the front line again and took over a sector near Corbie – the twin towers of the Corbie church being easily seen from our trenches. Went out on patrol that night. Next day was quiet and uneventful, but at midnight another chap and myself were detailed to go to the 44th Battalion on our left, report "all well" on the right (where we were) and bring back word to our officer whether the 44th was alright or not. I may here say that we weren’t holding a continuous front line, but a series of posts from one hundred to two hundred yards apart and we used to keep in touch with each other by patrolling between the posts. My mate was a Queensland bushman and said he knew his way and wouldn’t get lost, so off we started. After falling in many shell holes and over several dead Australians we reached a machine gunners’ post and they gave us the right direction to go. We eventually reached the 44th Battalion post, reported "all well", found that they were alright and started back to our own post. But a heavy fog was now on us and the moon had also gone down. We kept on walking too much in one direction in nomansland without finding our trench. The German very lights seemed to be going up all around us and we were afraid that we would walk into the German trenches. Heard some voices, which proved to be a German patrol. We lay down and kept very quiet and the next few minutes seemed an eternity and we were very windy as we thought we would be discovered and taken prisoners. However, they crept past us (only a few yards away) without seeing us, and our luck was in. After waiting for a good while to make sure that they were a good way off, we started on our way again and eventually found our trench and our hearts were light once more. Our officer thought that we had been taken prisoners because we had been over two hours away, whereas had we not got lost, we could have done it in half an hour.
Next day (Sunday) was quiet with the exception of the great airfights that day in which the great German aviator Baron Von Richoften was shot down. We often used to see him and his ‘planes
come over. The bottom of Richoften’s aeroplane was painted red and we used to call them the red bellied circus. Early in the morning Richoften and several of his planes came over, and engaged a large number of Allied ‘planes. It was a great sight to watch them fighting – chasing each other like a lot of swallows in the skies. About mid-day (after he had disabled and brought down many British ‘planes) Richoften was flying very low over our trenches chasing a ‘plane, and himself being pursued by another ‘plane if I remember rightly. All the anti aircraft guns and lewis guns &c were firing at him from the ground, when suddenly his machine burst into flames and crashed to the ground, about a third of a mile to the left of us. He was buried in Bertangles Cemetery and the air force made a cross from the propeller of his machine, and placed it on his grave. After the Armistice his body was transferred to Germany. One doesn’t exactly know who fired the shot that brought him down – the English, Canadians, New Zealanders and Australians all claiming the credit for it. Some say that he was killed from the air and not from a land machine gun.
A British ‘plane crashed just in front of our trench that afternoon and as soon as it got dark we crawled over the trench and got some of the wings as souvenirs and which I still have.
While on duty that night I challenged two persons coming down the communication trench, who proved to be two Aussies. They were carrying a large wooden cross, which they intended erecting, whilst it was dark, over the grave of one of their men who was killed when their battalion was holding this part of the line and who were buried in nomansland in front of the trench. These two Aussies (whose battalion was out in the reserve trenches) risked their lives by coming up to the front line in order to put a cross on a pal’s grave, thereby shewing the spirit of comradeship that existed between very many of the Australian troops.
At midnight we were relieved and marched back to the outskirts of Bonnay and dug ourselves in on the side of the hill. We had a beautiful view from here. The river Ancre (tributary of the Somme) was on one side of the valley and the town of Bonnay on the other.
Next five nights were occupied in working parties. I never worked so hard in all my life. Every night as soon as it got dark we put rifles on one shoulder and pick or shovel on the other, and off we marched to dig trenches. We were each given a certain amount of trench to dig, but very often my mates, who finished theirs first would come and help me finish mine. Often when engaged on these working parties we were shelled and had to take shelter in our hastily dug trenches. One night a shell fell amongst us wounding the officer in charge and three others. It was quite a common occurrence to hear a bullet hit the shovel as we were digging, and we generally cursed our luck if that happened, as a bullet wound in the leg was considered a very good "Blighty".
We had a very big chap in our Battalion called McKenzie ("Mac" as we used to call him) weighing about 17 stone. The stretcher bearer used to say that they hoped he would never get wounded and require a stretcher bearer to carry him out. But strange to say he
was wounded in the leg in the line one night and the stretcher bearers had to carry him out. His wound wasn’t serious but of course he couldn’t walk. We believe that the stretcher bearers indulged in plenty of swearing and cursing that night – in a jocular way.
Early on the morning of 24th April about 4 a.m., when we had just returned form our usual working party up the line, had a drink of tea and were getting into our shelters, a sudden enemy bombardment came down upon us. The Germans were attacking the front line at Villers Brettenaux (held by Australians) and put down a terrific bombardment on the back area (where we were) and also on the town of Bonnay, to try and prevent reinforcements being brought up to the front line. Shells were falling in and around us for five hours and we were wearing our gas helmets most of the time as much gas was sent over. The soldiers in the village of Bonnay suffered terribly. They were trapped, when he started shelling the village, and hundreds were killed and wounded while they were fleeing form the village, it afterwards being jokingly called "The Retreat from Bonnay". From our positions we could see the shells falling on the village, which soon became a mass of flames and heap of ruins. One shell fell on the Red Cross Hospital in the village (which was a disused school) killing the doctors and everyone in the building. Some of the shells fell in the river and volumes of water many feet high were thrown up. Our Battalion suffered heavily. Twenty men were killed and over fifty wounded – which was a heavy loss for us. About mid-day the shelling ceased and dead and wounded soldiers – also horses and mules – were lying about everywhere. One shell burst a few feet from our dugout, covering it with dirt, but, with the exception of a severe shaking, all escaped unhurt.
The next day a German aeroplane flew over our positions, only about a hundred feet above us, and rained machine gun bullets on us – the cook and a few others being slightly wounded. I was going down to the river at the time for a wash, and as I heard bullets whizzing around my head – didn’t know that they were coming from the ‘plane at the time – fell flat down. He came over again in about an hour’s time and this time our antiaircraft guns got him, and he crashed in flames – the airman of course being killed instantly.
On 27th April we went up to the front line again at Sailly-le-Sec, where we stayed three days, things being fairly quiet and nothing interesting happening.
On the night of 30th April we were relieved (getting lost coming out – walking about most of the night) and went back to the hill near Bonnay. The next day I was on a salvage party in Bonnay and saw the great damage done there by the bombardment.
That night we marched to La Hussoye (four kilos further from the line than Bonnay). This town up till then hadn’t been shelled, although the inhabitants had evactuated it. Whilst here the billets I was in were photographed by the official war photographer. He took a photo of the men in billets (an old barn) – some of us shaving, some "chatting" (that is removing body lice from one’s clothing &c) and playing poker &c. I afterwards saw the photo, which was published in a book.
The next five days we were on working parties at Heilly, constructing a huge bomb proof and shell proof dugout in an old wall there. One afternoon I had just emerged form the dugout with a bucketful of earth, when a shell fell close by – a large piece of the shell flying past my head and knocking a stone out of the wall – a narrow escape!
The weather was now beginning to get nice as Spring was coming. I often used to go into the little Church at La Hussoye and play the organ. Every time the guns were fired the building would shake (our batteries were close by). Everything in the church was as the people had left them. The decorations and beautiful vestments were much admired by all the soldiers who visited it. Every night the German airmen bombed the town, but no damage was done, the bombs falling into open fields.
On the night of 5th May, just after midnight, the enemy commenced to shell the town for the first time, but all the shells fell into a paddock only about a hundred yards from our billets, killing many. While here we had several good concerts which were held in a large aeroplane hangar.
On the morning of 6th May we marched five kilos further on to the important juncture town of Querrieu (also evactuated) and great activity prevailed here, there being thousands of Americans (as well as Australians) camped here. The Americans amused us by their sayings – used to ask at the canteen for a can (not tin) of cigarettes, or a bunch, (not packet) of cigarettes &c.
Whilst here we were given hot baths with fresh clothes (free from vermin) which made things more pleasant and comfortable for us.
We were also reviewed one day by Sir Douglas Haig and one day when we were all in swimming, one of the men from the 33rd Battalion was drowned.
The trying times that we had been through were now telling on us and we were all knocked up and in need of a rest. We had been forty two days in or near the front line continuously.
Many were now ill with trench fever, being evactuated daily, and on the morning of 8th May I was myself removed to Hospital (which was several tents erected in the convent grounds) suffering with trench fever and a poisoned thumb – the latter being caused through enemy barbed wire.
I remained here three days being very sick with fever and having no sleep. Every night we were heavily bombed – many bombs falling quite close to us – although we had large red crosses painted on our tents – but luckily only horses and mules were killed.
As I got no better I was taken on 8th May in Red Cross Motor Ambulance (via the outskirts of Amiens) to Allonville Field Hospital. As we passed through Amiens it was being shelled and shrapnel was bursting over the city.
At Allonville Field Hospital my thumb was lanced and the nail removed (without an anesthetic of course, as they hadn’t any – naturally I fainted). I lay on a blanket on the ground here for two days (all the stretcher beds being occupied by serious cases). My hand was placed in a splint and sling and we left here one afternoon and went by Red Cross Train to Rouen where I was admitted to the Red Cross Hospital. The Hospital train was crowded. We were in ordinary box carriages. Eight walking patients were sitting on the seats (four one each side) and two rows of bunks on top of us containing serious cases. There was a passage right through side of train. The nurses were very good and used to come and see us regularly and bring us hot soup, cocoa &c. There was a canary in a cage hanging up in the corridor near our compartment. The nurses had put it there to cheer the men up. The nurses used to come every half hour or so and ask how we were and it was great to hear an English girl’s voice again after several months. Some of the wounded men in our train had been in or near the front line for twelve months without any leave and hadn’t seen an Englishwoman for that length of time. I remember one of the sick men saying that he didn’t care how many times the nurses came and asked us how we were, as he liked to hear the voice of a woman.
In passing I may say that the Ambulance that brought me to Allanville [Allonville] Hospital had a brass plate attached inside with the following inscribed on it:- "Presented to the British Red Cross Society by the Terania Shire, N.S.W., 1916". It was appropriate that I a Northern rivers soldier, who enlisted in Lismore, should be carried in an Ambulance presented by a Northern Rivers Shire. Crossing the river Seine at Rouen reminded me very much of the Clarence River. The river Seine here is very wide – the rivers we saw when away were generally very small and nothing like the Clarence in width.
This was a huge American Hospital at Rouen. I was the only Australian in my ward, all the others being Americans. When the Americans were calling out to the nurses for candy I also used to get my share of same – also chewing gum – and as I didn’t smoke enjoyed it immensely. The Americans chew more gum and eat more sweets than we do – and the chewing gum and lollies were their regular issue – the same as cigarettes were to us.
Near to our Hospital were camped a lot of Indian Troops (Ghurkas) and they were a fine body of men.
There was also a big W.A.A.C. (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps) camp close to us. I wasn’t well enough to get leave to see the city of Rouen which would have been very interesting.
I was very pleased one day when the Dr said it would be some time before my thumb would be healed up enough to allow me back in the line and that he thought he would send me across to England till I got better. This was great news as I had only been four months back in France from my previous leave to England.
One night at midnight we were awakened, given a hot cup of coffee, and taken in Ambulance cars to the Railway Station at Rouen and entrained for Le Harvre – travelled all night and arrived at 8 a.m. We were driven to the pier and boarded the hospital ship "Albassisi", and after a nine hours journey (being escorted by two battleships – we had large red crosses painted on the sides of the ship, but all the same the Germans used to submarine hospital ships) arrived at Southampton at 5 p.m. Then took train and arrived at Portsmouth at 9 p.m. and was admitted to the British Red Cross Hospital there.
After I got better I had a good look over Portsmouth and had the great privilege of seeing the "Victory" (Nelson’s flagship) which is permanently anchored in Portsmouth Harbour.
After ten days here we were sent across to the Isle of Wight to a convalescent hospital at Ryde. It was a beautiful trip across of five miles. The hospital was a magnificent building, being the residence of Sir Charles White, a millionaire and who was a great friend of the late King Edward VII. It was furnished beautifully and we got every care and attention and the food was good. Mid Summer was now approaching and the beauties of the Isle of White [Wight] were wonderful. The green fields were covered with buttercups and daisies and the flowers in bloom were a revelation. Ryde was a very pretty and up-to-date town. From our hospital (which was on a hill) we could obtain a great view of the Solent (the passage which separates the Isle of Wight from the mainland) and could see the battleships and submarines entering Portsmouth Harbour.
We had many excursions to several places of interest in the Island and saw Osborne House (where Queen Victoria died) and the famous Cowes, where the regattas and Naval reviews were held.
Also saw Quarr Abbey with its Benedictine Monks in their brown costumes and pepper and salt hats. In 1905 the French Government expelled all the monks and nuns. The Benedictine monks came across to England settled in the Isle of Wight and built this huge modern Abbey.
We were then sent back to Portsmouth Hospital for a couple of days and then went by train to Dartford Hospital. This was a huge Australian Hospital situated near Dartford sixteen miles from London. There were hundreds of huts, always full of wounded and sick Aussies. Matron Bessie Pocock from Copmanhurst was in charge of this hospital for nearly two years.
My thumb had now quite healed up and I was feeling ever so much better so I was granted fourteen days leave before going back to France.
On Leave England
One morning we took train from Dartford and went to London. Stayed at the A.I.F. War Chest Club as usual. Spent three days in London seeing various places.
Then took train to Birmingham which is the great inland commercial city of England. Saw all the great steel works here and then took train on to Manchester where I stayed two days. Then went by train to Liverpool, which is a huge city. Took the overhead electric train which follows the river Mersey for fourteen miles to its entrance. The whole of this distance is occupied by wharves and piers with large steamers at them and one could go from here to any part of the world. Then took train to Carlisle where I was shewn through the Castle, Cathedral &c. Then went by train into Scotland and arrived at Glasgow, which is the second city in the Empire. Saw all the sights including the great shipbuilding yards. One day we went all over the Scottish Lakes (Loch Lomond &c) in a steamer. The scenery was grand. Then took train back to London. That night attended the Royal Opera at Covent Garden ("Rigoletto").
The next afternoon a party of us were present in the House of Commons and heard Mr Ramsay MacDonald, Mr Philip Snowden, Mr McNeill and Mr Balfour speak. Lloyd George was present but he didn’t speak. It was very interesting indeed.
The next day we went to Buckingham Palace Gardens and saw the King decorating V.C. heroes.
I was invited to several private places for teas and evenings. Took train to Sheerness (at the mouth of the Thames) where I spent two days with friends. Then back to London and went by train to St Albans where we saw the wonderful Abbey.
My fourteen days leave was then up and I was sent to the Overseas Training Battalion at Longbridge Deverill near Warminster, where I stayed a fortnight. Whilst here I missed a very great honour. Sixty men were required to go to London to form a guard of honor for the King when he opened Australia House. All had to be six feet in height so I was eligible. We drew lots to go but I drew a blank. The men who did go had a great time.
I made some English friends at Warminster who were very good to me and with whom I still correspond.
Back to France
We left the Overseas Training Battalion on 22nd August 1918 at 6 p.m. and marched to Warminster where we caught train. Travelled all night and arrived at Folkstone at daylight. Then took steamer from Folkstone at 11 a.m., crossed the Channel and arrived at France (Boulogne) at 1.30 p.m. Marched up to One Blanket Camp. This was so named because it was a very cold bleak camp and only one blanket was issued to each soldier who stayed there, whether it was winter or summer. In the afternoon got a pass and went in and saw all over the very interesting city of Boulogne. That night the air raid warning was given but no damage was done by bombs.
We left Boulogne by train at 9 a.m. on 23rd August and arrived at the Base Camp at Le Harvre at 11 p.m. This camp was well known to me now and was like "home" in France. We were equipped, and on Sunday 25th August marched to Le Harvre Station, entrained (this time in trucks "40 hommes, 8 chevaux") at 8 p.m. and travelled all night towards the line. Passed through Amiens at daylight and arrived at the ruined town of Corbie on the Somme at 9 a.m. Camped here in one of the ruined houses. The next three days we were engaged harvesting the wheat for the French. Early every morning we went in motor lorries out to the fields, some distance away, and worked hard all day, returning to billets at night. By doing this we saved the French a lot of their harvest, as there were no civilians available to harvest it.
We had a good look over the ruins of Hamel one day and enjoyed ourselves of an evening at the Y.M.C.A., with music, games &c interspersed with cocoa, biscuits &c. Whilst here we were visited by that fine man Padre Gault, who was well known to thousands of Australian soldiers.
We left Corbie at 9 a.m. on the morning of 30th August with full packs and marched 15 kilos to Ettenheim [possibly Etinehem]. Stayed here a day, having a swim in the Somme, and viewing the ruined villages that a few weeks before were in the Germans’ possession. Needless to say that everything was stolen or smashed to pieces. Several of these small towns were not bombarded much or damaged by shell fire. Even the bells from the churches had been taken down or removed to Germany.
On Sunday 1st September we marched to the reserve line and spent the night there. Coming up we passed through Bray and had a good look over this town where heavy fighting had occurred a few weeks previously. The Church was used by the Germans as a Red Cross Hospital and the large red cross painted on its roof was visible for many miles away. Coming up we passed a lot of dead and wounded who were being brought down from the line. That night we were heavily bombarded in the back areas, and our Battalion had a successful "Hop Over".
The next day our Battalion came out of the front line and I rejoined them again after an absence of nearly three months. Needless to say that many old faces were missing, through being killed or wounded.
Next day we moved out of reserve and camped in a gully of the Somme. I went down and had the pleasure of seeing Lieut Colonel
(Dr) McCartney, who was attached to the 10th Field Ambulance close by.
That night we went to a concert given by the Pierrotts Concert Coy in an old shed, but in the middle of the performance an air raid took place and as usual the show ended and we went back to our dugout.
On 5th September we left our dugouts and started marching to the front line, as we were to hop over the following morning. We got into position at midnight and lay out on the grass all night. The Germans were now retreating, leaving machine gunners in strong positions to harry us and give us trouble as their infantry retired. Also of course their artillery was giving us a bad time as it also retreated. The Germans were now well on the run. At daylight we started to advance without any barrage from our artillery and the German machine gunners gave us a hot time but there weren’t many troops in front of us to impede our progress. I never remember hearing so many machine gun bullets whizzing about before. Of course not having any noise from our artillery seemed to magnify the noise form the machine guns. We had very many narrow escapes but only lost a few killed and wounded. My pal (Bob Ward) had his steel helmet knocked off by a machine gun bullet, but escaped injury. He has his steel hat, with the dent in it plainly shewing, hanging up in his home in Brisbane. By twelve o’clock we had advanced 2,000 yards and then dug in. At three o’clock we got the order to advance and we pushed through the village of Tincourt, which was in flames – the Germans having set it on fire before retreating. We established ourselves in temporary trenches in front of the burning village. A few of the enemy, who were hidden in dugouts, came and surrendered themselves to us. They were starving and ate ravenously of the food we gave them. Their clothes were in rags and their boots worn out – no soles &c in them – and they were also very dejected and downhearted. They knew that they were losing the war. What a contrast to our troops. We were well clothed, well fed and full of optimism as to the result of the war.
The next morning we were relieved and marched back to the reserve line. That night we were heavily shelled with gas shells and had to don our gas masks.
The next day we marched back to the line near Tincourt and I had an opportunity of exploring the ruins of the town. We were warned against German treachery when inspecting a village that had been evactuated by the Germans, but not much of Tincourt was left standing, nearly all of it having been burned.
We weren’t allowed to take water from the wells until the Army Medical Corps had tested it and pronounced it fit for drinking (as very often the Germans poisoned the wells before retreating). Once when some of our men were drawing up a bucket of water from a well in the captured village of Suzanne, an explosion occurred, but luckily no one was killed. The Germans had a mine hidden in the well. When opening the doors of houses very often explosions occurred as the enemy had contrivances fixed so that the opening of a door or the moving of anything would explode a hidden bomb. Also near Peronne when some of our men went to bury the dead after the Battle of Mont St Quentin (which I was not in) when they were
lifting up some of the dead bodies, bombs would explode and many of our men were killed this way. He laid these traps for us – placing a bomb under a dead soldier and when the body was lifted the catch from bomb would be released and the bomb explode. These were only a few examples of Hun treachery which we saw for ourselves. My pal picked up a silver crucifix in the ruins of the smouldering church at Tincourt. He afterwards got it mounted on elm by a Frenchman and brought it back to Australia where it hangs in his room. There was a big British sausage baloon here and we gave them a hand filling it with gas and holding it down.
The next day we marched back to the ruined village of Doingt, about fourteen kilos behind the front line. Hardly a stone of this once large and prosperous town was standing. It was a puzzle to find out where the large church once stood – all one could see was a heap of stones. We were billetted in "Nissen" huts here (so called after the Arctic explorer – the roof was rounded to let the snow fall off) which had been constructed for us. Our huts adjoined the cemetery. The Germans had opened most of the vaults and taken the lead and brasswork from the coffins and the jewelry and trinkits which were buried with some of the dead. It was a gruesome sight to see the vaults open – the coffins smashed and bones &c lying about. We had to walk through the cemetery of a night to get from our huts to the Canteen and Y.M.C.A. The enemy had also constructed a tunnel under the cemetery and had it mined, but when the village was captured the engineers found this out and made it harmless. We stayed here over a fortnight and had rather a happy time. On several occasions walked into Peronne and had a look over the ruins of this once famous city.
One day here we were reviewed and addressed by the Prime Minister of Australia – The Right Hon. W.M. Hughes – just before his return to Australia. He made a great speech and was well received and cheered by the soldiers.
Working parties here were pretty frequent, also drilling and battle practises. A casualty clearing station was also established here, as this was as far as the Red Cross trains could get to the line – the railway line having been temporarily repaired this far. Crowds of German prisoners marched through the village every day so we knew by this that our men in the front line were doing good work. Two concert parties (the "Cooes" and the "Kookaburras") were giving us concerts alternately in the horse sheds every night., One night I was at a Cooes concert when the usual air raid took place and we had to abandon the concert and go back to our shelters. The horses and mules would be put outside and after the concert brought back to their stables again.
We witnessed several enemy ‘planes and one of our own come down here that night. One night one of our anti aircraft guns scored a hit at a German ‘plane (which was held by our searchlight) which burst into flames and in so doing caught the coloured lights he carried for signal purposes, and it was a beautiful sight to see a mass of various coloured lights rushing from the sky earthwards. Whilst here we had a sports day between the 41st and 42nd Battalions and had a great time. There were prizes for best dressed man, turnouts and mule races &c. We had impromptu bookmakers and the boys
put their money on the mules for the races. A mule will not (or cannot) run in a straight line, but generally runs sideways and they used to sometimes finish the race from where they started. The 41st Battalion was camped in a wood about a mile from us. While here I received word that my brother Charlie, who was badly gassed at Villers Brettenaux and had been several months in hospital in England had returned to Australia.
One beautiful fine day when we were drilling in a field a German ‘plane flew over very high up (just like a speck in the sky). Our antiaircraft guns ("Archies") were firing and we left off drilling to have a look at the ‘plane. Whilst we were so doing one of the nose caps from one of the shells fell amongst us – falling on one of our men and killing him instantly.
That night we had a terrific thunderstorm – the worst that we had experienced in France.
A good supply of chocolate came to hand here which was rushed by us and the canteen sold out in no time. I was one of the chocolate fiends of the Battalion. Once a pal and I walked 15 kilos (10 miles) away to a neighbouring village where we were told that we could buy chocolate. We bought the chocolate alright (quite a quantity of it before tasting it). It was manufactured in Paris and called "Melba" but we were taken in. It was mostly sawdust and grit with a little sugar and cocoa mixed with it. Sugar was very scarce and very few sweets were obtainable so we used to look forward to receiving parcels from Australia containing lollies and chocolates.
I saw several Grafton boys who were camped near to us here. One day we marched to Cirquevelles for a bath, and saw a very ancient and interesting water wheel working. There were plenty of windmills here and they were used to crush the wheat &c. These windmills are a common and familiar sight in rural France.
Whilst we were here the authorities tried to disband the 42nd Battalion and distribute us in other battalions, but we had a meeting and refused to be disbanded. Each man was very proud of his own Battalion’s record in the war, and this spirit amongst the Australians helped to make the army the great success it was.
We were now practising in earnest for the great Battle as the Germans had retreated to their wonderful stronghold the Hindenburg Line and from which they thought that they would never be expelled.
On 27th September we marched from Doingt at sundown and went 14 Kilos to the reserve trenches. During one of our rests for a smoko a bomb fell from a German ‘plane quite close to us, and killed a few mules but no men, only slightly wounded a couple. The next day we were preparing for the battle and getting everything ready. The Americans were to attack first and take the front German line and we were then to advance and relieve them. That night enemy ‘planes came over all night long dropping bombs and several of the men at the rear of us were killed and wounded, by long range shells. Sometimes one was safer in the front line trench than in the back areas.
Battle of Hindenburg Line
At 6 a.m. on Sunday 29th September 1918 our barrage opened up and the Americans attacked, followed two hours later by we Australians. It was a wonderful sight to see everything (even the baloons) as day was dawning and our barrage opened, going forward. Foch was now in supreme command of the Allied troops and the idea of everything advancing with the Infantry was his strategy. A fog came up and impeded our progress for a short time, but didn’t last very long. We advanced 2,000 yards through terrific bombardment and shell fire, but the Americans didn’t follow out their instructions and mistook signals, with the result that they were held up after capturing some of the line, and suffered terrible losses. After we started to advance a bullet struck my officer (who was a few yards ahead of me) in the stomach and he fell down. I immediately went to him and took off his equipment and called to a stretcher bearer to come to him. They took him to hospital but he died that night. He was a fine man (Lieut Brown of Toowoomba, Q.) loved and respected by all and was one of the last officers killed in action in our Battalion.
The Americans captured the main Hindenburg trench alright, but didn’t "Mop up" (that is look down and explore all the captured dugouts and either take any men in them prisoners or kill them) properly. Consequently when the Americans advanced in front of the Hindenburg Line trench, the Germans came out of their dugouts (hundreds of them) and mowed down the Americans in front of them. This caused great confusion as the enemy was now entrenched between us and the Americans and the line had to be attacked and retaken again. So it was decided that the 44th Australian Battalion should attack and capture the line next morning – it was afterwards changed to that night – which they did with success but great loss. That night we advanced in the pitch darkness to near the front line and lay down in shell holes in company of hundreds of dead soldiers. The dead Americans were piled feet deep here. It was now raining heavily and we experienced a terrible night and I thought we would never see morning. Shells were falling thick amongst us and we were covered with dirt from the shells as they exploded in the mud. We lost a great number of wounded and killed that night. Towards morning we advanced through the outer Hindenburg Line up to near the front line. This trench was the biggest I had seen up till then. It was fully twelve feet wide and twelve feet deep but nothing to what the main Hindenburg Line proved to be. At daylight we crept up and occupied the main Hindenburg Line. Just before we occupied it the Germans had evactuated it and retreated and some of their wounded were still in the trench – they hadn’t time to take them with them as they hurriedly retreated. These wounded Germans were looked after by us. Our artillery was now making it too hot for the Germans, and the French had already captured the Western end of the Hindenburg Line in this sector, so the Germans had to retreat or else they would have been in a big salient here.
The Hindenburg Line was indeed a revelation to us. It was a great feat for the Americans and the Australians to capture the sector we were on. The line here was on top of the old St Quentin Canal.
The machine gun emplacements on top of the trenches were fixed on to solid concrete foundations and proof to withstand any bombs and shells. We were tired and knocked up and all lay down in our safe shelter to rest and were soon fast asleep. At dark the Sergeant came and woke us up and asked for twelve volunteers for patrol duty. As none of us volunteered we drew lots and I was very lucky this time drawing a blank, allowing me to remain in the dugout and sleep. The patrol was out for several hours and had excitement. Ran into a German patrol, and one of our men was grabbed and taken prisoner. The rest of the men returned safely.
The next day we explored the canal. It was a wonderful sight. Picture to yourself a large underground river with tow paths both sides. It was pitch dark of course but the Germans had it electrically lit – they destroyed the plant before retreating. We used candles. The Germans still occupied part of this tunnel about three miles up, so we had our machine gunners on sentry at the end we occupied. Large barges were on the canal and on these the Germans could billet hundreds of their men in perfect safety.
We also saw the large vats where the Germans were supposed to have boiled down their dead to obtain fat, of which they were very short. But this was not correct. The large vats were used by the Germans to cook food for their troops, and during the battle many of them were killed as they were coming out of the entrance of the tunnel, and some of their legs, arms, bodies &c were blown into these vats amongst the food, and were there when the Allied troops entered the canal – hence the false stories that got around.
There were hundreds of dead Americans and Australians lying about and the grave parties were very busy burying them. The dead were buried with their uniforms on (it was disrespectful to take it off) – the only things being taken from the dead were their identification disc, pay book and any private papers to be forwarded to their relatives.
Most of our men souvenired the Americans before they were buried and some got great hauls of money (in French notes of course) as most of the Americans were wealthy and had plenty of money on them. This was quite alright as we may as well have had the money and made use of it (which we did) instead of burying it with them. I found a very good silver German revolver in a dugout, which I exchanged for an American watch, as I had lost my wristlet watch when on patrol one night, and I felt lost without the time on me.
Out of Line
That night we were relieved and left the Hindenburg Line (the last time that we were to be in the trenches – but we didn’t know it then). Marched back to the outskirts of the village of Bellingeglise, being heavily shelled of course coming out. Next day we marched to the ruins of Tinecourt [Tincourt], and rested here two days. Then, with full packs up, we marched through the ruins of Peronne to a railway point and entrained. On our way down we passed thousands of American soldiers marching in on their way to the line. America by this time had over 1,000,000 troops in France and more were arriving daily. In passing I may say that collectively the Americans were not popular with us. They "bragged" too much and were know alls, although as regards fighting they knew very little, having had no experience. But of course their bravery was not to be questioned. Individually they were alright. We struck some fine Americans and made many friendships.
After a five hours journey in the train, passing through the country that a few weeks before we were fighting over – Villers Brettenaux, Amiens, Corbie, &c &c – we arrived at the fair sized town of Airaines at sundown where we disentrained, and after a short rest and some tea, marched till midnight to our billets, which were in the pretty little village of Vergies. We stayed here a fortnight, during ten days of which time I was in the Red Cross Hospital (an old French Chateau) at Warlus with an attack of influenza. On my return to Vergies from hospital my pal and I explored the villages of Alleray, Oisemont &c.
Another attempt was now made to break the Battalion up but we again refused to be broken up. Thereupon the "big guns" (General Gellibrand, &c) came and lectured to us on the parade ground one day. They told us, that owing to lack of reinforcements from Australia, it was imperative that we be broken up as we couldn’t keep our Battalion strength up, so we gave in, and on 19th Octr 1918, the 42nd Battalion A.I.F. ceased to exist as a separate unit, and what was left of us (half the original battalion and reinforcements having been killed or wounded) was incorporated in the sister 41st Battalion, and of which we became its "A" Company.
As we were known as the Australian Black Watch we were allowed to retain our pipe band so still had the old pipe band to march to occasionally.
On 21st October we left Vergies and marched to the little village of Avelesges, where we billeted. We enjoyed the apples from the fine orchards here. For half a franc (fivepence) we could get a large bagful. On 21st October we were inspected by the Colonel of the 41st Battalion and on 27th October we marched to and billetted at Warlus. Had a few happy weeks here until the Armistice was signed.
This place will be remembered by the "Mad Mile". Every morning we had to march, with full packs up and in battle order, at quick pace through the streets of the village to the strains of "Blaze
Away" march played on the battalion brass band – so it was nicknamed the Mad Mile.
While here my pal and I had several days off duty and visited and inspected the ancient and interesting cities of Amiens and Abbeville.
Amiens was a fine city and in peace time had 150,000 inhabitants. Its wonderful Cathedral is regarded as the finest specimen of Gothic architecture in the world. From our trench, when in the line we could see the great Cathedral standing up against the sky line, above everything else. Thousands of sand bags protected its beautifully carved doors, statues &c, and everything moveable (including the great organ) was taken down and stored away in the crypt.
The French had important German hostages (prisoners) continually in the Cathedral, and let the Germans know of this, so if they shelled the Cathedral they would kill their own men. Only a couple of stray shells fell on the Cathedral during the war, so very little damage was done to it. A fine memorial, erected by the citizens of Amiens, now stands in the Cathedral, to the memory of the Australians who gave their lives to defend the city. At Amiens we also saw the tomb of Jules Verne. This consisted of two marble statues (of a boy and girl) sitting down reading a book, and underneath are written the names of some of his books – "Twenty thousand leagues under the sea", "From the earth to the Moon" &c, &c. The Germans had occupied Amiens for a few weeks at the beginning of the war (after the battle of the Marne they retreated from it) and we saw several of the notices that they had affixed in the Town Hall – giving orders to the French civilians what to do &c. Abbeville (from which city William the Conqueorer sailed in 1066 to conquer England) is also very interesting. This part of France belonged to England till we lost it in Queen Mary’s reign and the hatred of the French to the English in this part of France had been most marked until the present war.
In the Cathedral of Abbeville there is a stuffed alligator hanging on one of the pillars of the nave. This was brought back from Australia by Admiral de Coubert in 1820 and represents a dragon that legend says was killed by the men who founded Abbeville – Wulfrun. He was afterwards made a Saint and the Cathedral of Abbeville built and called after him – St Wulfrun.
The Museum at Abbeville contains a relic which was of interest to we Australians. It contains the ship’s bell from the ship "Hebe", which accompanied Admiral La Perouse when he sailed into Botany Bay to annex Australia for the French – just six weeks after Captain Cook had landed and taken possession of Australia in the name of England.
The nights (Winter was now on us) at Warlus were spent in an old building, which was converted into a Y.M.C.A. The Parish [Paris] edition of the London "Daily Mail" (half of which was printed in English and half in French) was tacked up on the wall every night so that all could read it. One of the men had to go to Abbeville on his bicycle – 14 kilos away – every afternoon when the train
arrived from Paris to get the paper.
We managed to get a picture plant and for several nights had pictures, for which I played on an old piano.
We also had the snake expert "Rocky Vane" (from Mullumbimby) in our Battalion and one night he gave us a lecture on Australian snakes, which was very interesting.
One night Monsieur Le Sage (a Professor from the Paris University – who spoke French beautifully) gave us a lecture on "France and the French", which was very interesting indeed and wherein we learned a lot about the country and people whom we had been living amongst for several years, and he exploded many wrong opinions we had of the French people and their customs &c.
We could now tell by the news in the papers that the war was practically over although we (The Third Division) was told to hold ourselves in readiness to proceed to the line again – the 1st, 4th, and 5th Australian Divisions being already on their way back to the line. On Monday 11th November 1918 (the day the Armistice was signed) we marched to Alleray for a hot steam bath and on passing through Airaines found all the houses decorated with tricolours and the church bells pealing and the Frenchies running about like madmen. We wondered what was wrong and halted in the main street for a rest. The Captain then told us (he had interviewed the Mayor who had received a telegram saying that the Armistice was to be signed) that the Armistice was to be signed at 11 a.m. that morning – it was then about 10 a.m. We gave three cheers and could scarcely realize that the war was over. When we arrived back at Warlus the news had already reached there and the town was decorated &c. Next day we had a holiday from drill to celebrate Peace. The bells of the old French church chimed day and night for several days. Most of us attended the Victory Mass at the Roman Catholic Church and we also had a great Thanksgiving service out on the parade ground. Some of the men broke camp and went to the neighbouring cities and some got as far as Paris. Many were "pinched" and put in clink (gaol) as they had no leave passes – others were caught and sent back to the Battalion.
On 25th November we had a parade and lecture from the Colonel as it was the second anniversary of the Battalion’s landing in France. A few of the French, who had been prisoners of war in Germany – some of them since the beginning of the war – had now returned to the village and it was touching and pathetic to see the reunion with their loved ones and made us homesick and wish we were back in Australia. The French children had written with chalk all over the walls of the village houses "La guerre napoo" or "La guerre fini".
On 10th December we marched with full packs up, through the snow, 24 kilos to the village of St. Maxent, where we billetted. We made ourselves comfortable (our platoon) in an old barn and "pinched" some of the Frenchies’ straw for beds, for which of course they made a great fuss and put in a claim to the Military.
Winter was now on us in earnest and the weather piercing cold. St Maxent was nicknamed the "Venice of the Somme", because of the muddy and wet streets. These were almost impassable and every morning a fatigue had to clear the roads of the mud before we could march over them.
Our billets were over-run with rats. I remember one night when we were all asleep, the rats were scampering along the rafters and one overbalanced and fell down on to my face. It almost stunned me – stunned the rat also – (we killed it) and I thought that the war was on again and that a bomb had struck me.
We now refused to drill as the war was over, so every morning we had to do route marches through the snow for exercise and in the afternoon play soccer in the snow. We also used to make great snow men and pelt each other with snow balls.
Whilst here I received twelve parcels from Australia in one mail (received some of my brother’s parcels as he had returned to Australia) and of course shared them with some of the unlucky ones who seldom or never received parcels.
The influenza epidemic now broke out amongst us and it was sad to see so many of our men dying with the ‘flu – ones who had gone all through the war without a scratch. Strict precautions were taken. Our clothes were put through fumigators &c. For a few weeks it was very severe – everything was disorganised, no drilling &c, and many were sent to hospital, several of them dying. The man next to me in my billets (Charlie Godden) a fine big strapping chap, died from it. After four weeks the severity of it seemed to have spent itself and we soon forgot all about it.
Visit to Battlefields
I had three days leave granted to me to go to the Battlefields and try and find the grave of my cousin (Private B.G. Johnson) – 25th Battalion A.I.F. – who was killed in a raid at Morlancourt on 10th June 1918. My aunt had written to me from Australia and asked me to try and do this for her.
On Monday 23rd December I left St Maxent and walked through pouring rain and sleet to Abbeville. Caught train from there to Amiens. At Amiens I got a lift in a British Motor Lorry and went to Corbie where I stayed the night, camping under the lorry with the Tommies. It was piercing cold and we lit a fire to keep us warm. A lot of soldiers were billetted in Corbie (none of the civilians had returned as yet) and we walked up to the Square that night and the famous Grenadiers Guards Band (whose unit was billetted there) played some fine music, which is still fresh in my memory. Next morning (Christmas Eve) I was up at daylight and armed with a map of directions, a pass to visit the battlefields, and some food – food was unobtainable in the devastated areas – I walked along the canal past "Circular Quay" (which name was painted on the landing steps – some of the Aussies had done this when billetted there) through Vaux-Sur-Somme and came to Sailly –le-Sec, or what was left of this once large town. It was quite different to the day we entered it first (nine months previously) to stop the German advance.
Now it was a heap of ruins and as I walked through it to our old trenches it brought back many memories to me. Thousands of German prisoners were at work here clearing the battlefields of debris and filling in trenches. I walked for four hours looking at every cross I came to and at last came across a large wooden cross on the top of a ridge. It had a map of Australia worked in tin, on it, and on which were written the names of fourteen Aussies who were all buried in the one grave. My cousin’s name was amongst them. I buried a little bunch of pressed flowers, that his Mother had posted over to me, on the grave and got a little tobacco tin of earth from the grave and which I posted back to my aunt in Australia.
There was a big dump of eighteen pounder batteries close by with thousands of empty shells lying about and I picked two of them up, strapping them across my shoulder and walked back to Corbie where I was lucky to catch a train for Amiens – arriving there at 8 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
I kept these shell cases on me and when I took sick and was sent to Hospital one of my pals packed them up and posted them back to my Mother in Australia, and she received them safely. I afterwards got one made up into a font ewer which I placed in South Grafton Church of England to her memory. The other one I got made up into a coffee pot and which I still have.
A few civilians had returned to Amiens but the huge city was practically deserted and in pitch darkness. I slept the night in the Military Barracks (a large convent) opposite the station. An English soldier and myself walked about the darkened city and at last found a small Y.M.C.A. where we got some coffee and biscuits. Returned to the barracks and lay down in our clothes with overcoat on and as we had neither blankets or a fire in the room, and it was snowing, didn’t sleep much.
Next morning – Christmas Day 1918 – (the second Christmas Day that I had spent in France) I went to Holy Communion in the little English Chapel attached to the Y.M.C.A.
At 11 a.m. we went to High Mass in Amiens Cathedral. It was crowded with soldiers of all nations (English, French, Australians, Canadians, New Zealanders, Americans &c) and a few civilians. The interior was still sandbagged up, the organ dismantled and a temporary Altar had been erected near the West doors – over which occupying places of honor being the Union Jack and Australian flags. The music was supplied by a fine orchestra and the sermon that morning was preched by the Bishop of Amiens (who subsequently wrote that fine letter to the world, thanking the Australians for saving Amiens and his Cathedral) but, as he spoke very rapidly, which is the custom amongst the French, we understood very little of what he was saying.
At 1.30 p.m. I caught a train and arrived at Abbeville at 3.30 p.m. I went and had a rest at the Church of England hut there, where one of the ladies gave me a cup of coffee and some cake (my Christmas dinner) and I afterwards walked back to St Maxent, arriving just in time for tea. I was very tired after my journey but felt pleased that I was fortunate enough to find my cousin’s grave.
Last Few Months in France
On Boxing Day we went to the "Cooes" Concert.
One of my favourite walks from here was to Abbeville. We generally walked in, but very often got a lift back in one of the lorries. Whilst we were here I inspected very many of the ancient churches in these parts. The Church at St Riquier was famous on account of having relics of the great King and Emperor Charlemagne.
During most of the time I was in the Battalion in France we had two Pardres attached to us – Padres Wood (Roman Catholic) and Mills (Methodist). Padre Wood was very popular and loved by all. If I remember right it was he who used to come to our billets and call out "Any rough carpenters or ration carriers in here" (meaning R.C’s). Much to our regret Padre Wood left us and was succeeded by Padre Jones, who was also a fine fellow. He gave me a pair of Rosary beads, which had been blessed by the Bishop of Amiens.
Padre Mills was also very popular and was awarded the Military Cross.
While here we inspected the beet sugar factory and the glass factory at St Martainville which were very interesting. Saw them making "Roger and Gaillett" and other perfume bottles. We used to take the rising suns and Australias from our tunics and the factory girls would pour melted glass on them, making glass rising suns &c – which were good souvenirs.
We also went to Oisemont several times. Near here was the house in which the Black Prince of England slept the night before the Battle of Crecy. We visited the house and saw the room he slept in. Our parade ground here was on very part of the battlefield of Crecy. In 1875 the French gave the British permission to erect a statue on the battlefield in memory of the British soldiers who were killed in the Battle of Crecy, but this was destroyed by the French in 1896 during the Fashoda trouble, when feeling ran high between England and France and these two nations nearly went to war.
I now got transferred to Rambures (12 kilos away) and was attached to Brigade Headquarters as clerk, but didn’t like being there and after four weeks went back and rejoined the Battalion at St Maxent. Rambures is noted for its fine 13th Century Chateau, which, when it was erected, was impregnable, being surrounded by a moat and drawbridge. When we were billetted there the occupants were Royalists – of whom there are very few in France now.
I had a great place to billet at here. The old French lady wouldn’t let me billet in the barn but made me sleep in her house and I appreciated it, as the weather was very cold. She even used to give me a hot brick to take to bed of a night and warm water of a morning to shave and wash, which was indeed a luxury. Her son had been a prisoner of war in Germany for three years (his wife lived with her) and they were expecting him home any day. Many were the happy evenings we spent here, around the old French stove – Madame, her husband, daughter-in-law, a couple of officers and a few of we men – talking about Australia &c.
We asked them why they had never visited England (they had only been once to Paris even though it was only 200 miles from them) and they said that they couldn’t think of taking such a long sea journey – twenty miles across the Channel!
The old lady said that she remembered the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. She was then a girl of 15 and remembered the Germans occupying her village, and after the war said she remembered her late father taking the gold Napoleons to the Bank of France after the harvest, every season, to help pay the indemnity which Germany then imposed on France.
They would listen, with their mouths open in amazement to us talking about Australia. We couldn’t speak much French or they much English but we generally managed to understand one another. After my return to Australia, every Christmas – until the old lady’s death – I always sent her a Christmas cake. I used to get the cake soldered up in a tin to make it airtight.
At St Maxent we erected a large marquee, which was floored, and here we used to hold our famous dances. It was continually snowing so going out of doors was almost impossible and the officers devised this way of keeping the men occupied and out of mischief. Every afternoon from two till six and every evening (Sundays included) from seven till midnight, dancing was indulged in. It was all "buck sets" with the exception of a few of the French village girls occasionally. The officers also took part in the dances and we had some very happy times indeed.
On several occasions an English lady came up from Abbeville and taught the men new dances – "Maxine", &c. Once we had a big dance for the W.A.A.C.S. from Abbeville, who came up in motor lorries in charge of their lady officers. One night we also entertained the French girls from Doudainville to a dance. The French girls are very good and light dancers.
I was pianist for all these dances and one night I took suddenly sick while playing, and had to return to my billets. My leg – where the piece of shrapnel had got in twelve months previously – started to swell up, as it was poisoned through long exposure in the trenches. For several days I was very ill and delirious and was taken in Red Cross Motor Ambulance to the big hospital on the outskirts of Abbeville. When I took sick I was in billets on the top story of an old barn. They had to put me on a stretcher and lower it down through a large outer door into the Ambulance underneath. This Ambulance was driven by a girl driver. The Doctors at Abbeville diagnosed my case as Thrombosis of right leg. German prisoners waited on us in Hospital and I got some very good souvenirs from them – which they made in their spare time – small carved wooden tank, paper knives &c. I used to give them my cigarette issue in exchange for souvenirs. After I left our Battalion our dances lapsed for a week until another pianist was secured from the 43rd Battalion. Several of my pals used to walk into Abbeville to Hospital to see me, but they all returned to Australia before I did.
Abbeville Hospital was the one that was bombed several times during the war and many of the nurses were killed or wounded.
I spent four weeks in Abbeville Hospital and was then sent by train to Wimereux Hospital near Boulogne. I had previously been in this Hospital after the Battle of Ypres. Stayed here two days and on 18th April 1919 (Good Friday) I was carried on a stretcher by Herman prisoners to the Hospital ship "St Andrew" and crossed the Channel to Dover and then went by hospital train to Dartford where I was admitted to hospital there. I had also previously been in this hospital. Our names, battalions &c were written up at the head of our beds. The first morning I was there the sister in charge asked me if I came from Grafton and I said I did. She was Sister Meares (whose father many years ago was C.P.S. at Grafton) and she knew my parents and several of the old Grafton residents. I remained here a month in bed and was then able to get about on crutches. Used to go into Dartford for walks and for many motor rides. Once I was fortunate to be included in the Duchess of Westminster’s motor party.
We had two never-to-be-forgotten visits from here to London. On the first occasion thirty of us went to London by train and then took train to Windsor (twenty miles away). On arrival at Windsor we were met by ‘buses and taken to the Castle where we were received at the gates by the Keeper of the Castle and the guards in their quaint costumes. Spent the whole day inspecting the castle. The magnificence of it is beyond description. Saw the bed the Kaiser slept in when he came over to London to attend King Edward VII’s funeral, and many other interesting things. One of the rooms contained all the curios and souvenirs that the present King brought back from Australia when he visited Australia as Duke of York in 1900 to open the first Commonwealth Parliament. The stuffed kangaroos, boomerangs &c made us think of home.
We had dinner in Queen Victoria’s dining room.
Also saw through the wonderful St George’s Chapel and the magnificent Mausoleum which contains the tombs of the Prince Consort and Queen Victoria.
Princess Alice (Countess of Athlone) received us and shook hands with us and also autographed our cards of admission to the Castle (which had the King’s Crown on them and signed by the Lord Chamberlain – Sandhurst). We returned to Dartford after a really splendid day.
The next occasion we visited London from here was to view the great Victory March through London of the Dominion troops on May 3rd 1919. We went up by motor ‘buses and had excellent seats to view the march in front of Buckingham Palace – only about fifty yards from the dias where the King, Queen, Prince of Wales and other members of the royal family were. We were afterwards taken and given lunch, then to a theatre, and after tea motored back to hospital.
Last Leave in England
On 5th May 1919 we left Dartford by train and went, via London, to Weymouth where I was sent to Convalescent Hospital at Monte Video Camp. Stayed here a fortnight and was then given fourteen days leave. Left Weymouth and took train to London. Stayed there a day and then went by train to Winchester (the ancient capital of England – before London became the capital). Saw the great Cathedral (containing the Black Prince’s tomb &c) the Palace and the Castle. Then went up to Oxford where I stayed two days the guest of Rev and Mrs Collins. Mr Collins was a Padre at the war and after the armistice he went to Oxford to study for his B.A. degree and Mrs Collins left South Grafton and went to England to be with him. He had a nice little cottage near the river. Oxford is the greatest seat of learning in the world – a city of colleges and churches. Saw through several of the famous colleges (Magdalen &c). Then took train back to Eaton [Eton] where we were shewn through this great and famous school. The boys were attired in their quaint dress &c. We saw, carved on the desks, the names of the great men who were educated there (Captain Scott, &c) – their names being carved on the desks by themselves when they were attending school there.
Next day went up to Stratford-on-Avon and saw the tomb of Shakespeare in Holy Trinity Church. Hundreds of people were visiting it this day (a great number of Americans &c) and we had to wait our turn and file past in a queu. Saw Ann Hathaway’s cottage, the Sheldonian Theatre and Marie Corelli’s home. Returned to London.
Then took train from London to Canterbury and saw through this great and ancient Cathedral. Also visited St Martin’s Church, which is the oldest Christian church extant in England.
Whilst at Canterbury we saw the ruins of the first German Zeppelin which was brought down in England.
Returned to London and then went across to Ireland again by the same route. Stayed a day in Dublin and then took train to Killarney. I palled up with an American soldier and we had a very enjoyable three days stay here. Saw all the famous and beautiful sights and went all over the Lakes in boats (shooting the rapids &c). It was midsummer and everything was green. No wonder Ireland is called the Emerald Isle. The fresh bread, bacon, butter, potatoes &c was great. We saw them cutting peat blocks in the bogs and sat before a peat fire. The Irish people were very kind to us also.
Returned to Dublin and then took train North to Belfast. This is the largest city in Ireland and a fine place it is too. Saw through the largest shipbuilding yards in the world (Harland & Wolffs). The "Majestic" (40,000 tons) was in the stocks being built when we were there. The City Hall Belfast is a magnificent building. Came back to Dublin and then took steamer back to England and train to London.
Went several nights to the Opera at the Royal Opera Covent Garden, and had the great privilege of hearing Madame Melba sing in the Opera of "Faust". On this occasion I formed up in the queu outside the opera
at eight o’clock in the morning and waited until the doors opened at 6 p.m. – the performance starting at half past eight. It was a very interesting day and pleasantly spent. We bought boxes from the Covent Garden Market boys to sit on, and it was an unwritten law that if one went away for lunch &c no one would "jump" their claim. The street musicians put on records of Melba on their gramaphones and every hour or so the newsboys would sell us the latest editions of the papers. At 4 p.m. Melba arrived at the stage entrance in her car and made a speech to us. It was a wonderful and memorable performance.
I also heard Madame Clara Butt sing in the great Albert Hall London (which holds 11,000 people) one Sunday afternoon for one shilling.
Next day went and saw the Crystal Palace, a huge building built of glass. A lot of German prisoners were interned here during the war.
Then went and saw the British Museum (most of the treasures were removed for safety – against damage from air bombs), Kensington Museum, The Art Gallery and Bow Street Church with its famous bells associated with the legend of Dick Whittington and his cat. Also saw the Monument (commemorating the great fire of London) and the only wooden house in London.
London is a wonderful city of 7,000,000 people and it would take months to see everything interesting in it. Also visited Carlyle’s house in Chelsea.
There are no trams in the city proper – only ‘buses (two storey). The tubes are wonderful. One can travel for miles, hundreds of feet underground, even under the river Thames.
Next day I saw the Prince of Wales perform the ceremony of the Trooping of the colours in Hyde Park.
My leave was now up and next day I returned to Weymouth.
Leave England for Australia.
After I returned form leave spent a few happy weeks at Weymouth Hospital. Every night the nurses and Doctors used to have private dances and I was their pianist. The night before I left England for Australia they gave me a little send off and presented me with a very nice pocket wallet.
The Doctors often used to take me for motor rides to the various camps they visited, and one day we had a picnic to the Upway Wishing Well.
On 16th June 1919 we left Weymouth by train and travelled through the beautiful South of England arriving at Plymouth that night. Next morning we boarded the "Ormonde" and that afternoon set sail and the shores of England were soon out of sight.
The "Ormonde" was a fine new steamer of 15,000 tons and had not been altered into a troopship. We had 2164 persons aboard, the majority of us being hospital cases. Included in this number were 145 wives of Australian soldiers coming out to Australia. What a contrast going over to the war in the troopship "Kyarra" was to coming home to Australia in the "Ormonde". On the "Ormonde" I was in a four berth cabin on the top deck with port holes, electric light, electric fans, with a fine bunk (with sheets &c) and the food, served in large dining saloon (with stewards to wait on us) was excellent.
We had the whole run of the steamer – no part of the ship was out of bounds. The first few weeks on the boat I wasn’t able to get about very much on account of my leg, and had to go to the ship’s surgery every morning to have it treated. We had a delightful and very pleasant trip back to Australia, the only disappointment being that we returned Via The Cape – the same way as we went over. We were a hospital ship with a lot of serious cases aboard and we came this way to avoid the heat of the Red Sea.
Our first port of call was Capetown where we spent two happy days. I sent a cable home from here.
Then called at Durban where we were again welcomed and entertained by these hospitable people. Only had one day here this time. Then sailed across the ocean and after fifteen days arrived at Fremantle and set foot on Australian soil again. We were given a rousing reception here and entertained to tea and motor rides up to Perth. The Post office here was besieged with the men sending telegrams home.
Left Fremantle next morning and after another calm trip across the Great Australian Bight arrived at the beautiful city of Adelaide. Here we were again feted and next day left for Melbourne where we arrived after a two days journey. Cars met the steamer at Port Melbourne and we were taken to private houses for lunch. In the afternoon we were taken for a long car ride, then back to tea, and afterwards to Her Majesty’s Theatre, where we witnessed a performance of "Going Up" – having seats in the reserved circle.
Then, after supper, we were driven back to the steamer again. By now over 1000 of the troops had left the steamer – some at
Westralia, others at Melbourne and Adelaide. The Tasmanians also got off here as we were not calling at Hobart.
Left Melbourne and continued the last part of the journey, the sea being very rough. The night before we arrived at Sydney we couldn’t sleep for excitement and were on deck most of the night. Early in the morning we sighted Sydney Lighthouse and the lights of Coogee and Bondi soon came into view. We entered the Harbour at about seven in the morning and shall never forget the welcome we received. The big steamers in the harbour and the ferry boats, blew their whistles continually, and we anchored in Watson’s Bay. The pilot and doctors came aboard and after giving our ship a clean bill of health we proceeded up the Harbour and tied up at the docks at Wooloomooloo [Woolloomooloo] Bay.
We then filed off the steamer and was given a great welcome back. It was two years nine months since I had left Australia. My relatives and friends were there to meet me and I was then taken to Randwick Hospital where I remained seven weeks before being discharged. Had a happy time here. We had free tram and rail passes and nearly every night were taken to some theatre or picture show.
Was finally discharged from the army as "Medically unfit" (being granted a war pension) on 26th September 1919.
After the Armistice our Division, the Third, was camped in various places around Abbeville and Amiens. I then applied for leave to visit Paris and Brussels, which was granted to me whilst I was at Brigade Headquarters at Rambures.
On March 1st 1919 I received my pass and went over to St Maxent and stayed the night with my Battalion. My pals lent me some of their clothes (mine were old and worn out) such as a new hat, tunic, breeches, puttees &c. I had £25 paid to me out of my credit in pay book. That afternoon walked into Abbeville where I had a hot bath at the Municipal Baths and feeling fresh and happy caught the midnight train to Paris. My pass didn’t date till the next day, but the M.P’s (Military Police) let several of us on to the station and get away by the midnight train. The Military Police had a very bad name but this instance shews that they weren’t all as bad as they were painted. Travelled all night and arrived at the great Railway Station of Paris (Gare du Nord) at 8 a.m. We were met by an Aussie leave sergeant and taken in a motor lorry to the British Headquarters in Paris. Were then given a lecture on how to conduct ourselves and told of many of the doubtful places not to visit. We then went to the Hotel Moderne and booked up. This was a huge hotel run by the English ladies in Paris for the British troops. There were 500 beds in large dormotories. The prices were reasonable 4 francs (3/4) a night for a bed and we could also get a very good meal for 3 francs (2/6). Food in the city was very expensive and a decent meal in a good resturant would cost up to 8 francs (6/8). All the time I was in Paris I never touched meat. I was told that the Parisians ate all horse flesh and as I had a horror of eating same, abstained from meat all the time I was there. We saw the Parisians eating stewed frogs’ legs. Only the high class Parisians eat frogs – the feet only – the bodies are not eaten. A certain kind of brown frog is cultivated for this purpose. The ordinary French peasant would no more eat a dish of frogs’ legs than an ordinary Englishman.
Sight seeing parties, in charge of the various English ladies, would leave the hotel every morning, afternoon and night. Paris is a wonderful city of 5,000,000 people. It is not as large as London but more beautiful, being built for show and spectacular purposes. The city proper was remodelled and rebuilt by the last of the Emperors – Napoleon III. The streets (they are called boulevardes) are fine. They are very wide with trees on either side and in the centre plots with gardens and flowers, statues and water fountains. The Boulevarde of the Italiens is one of the finest streets in the world – three miles long.
The buildings are marvellous. The city is full of small parks and large squares. The Place de la Concorde is half a mile square, with trees, fountains, and statues in it. The shops were a revelation. We saw the famous stores of Au Printemps, Worths and Paquins and
Madame Louise’s Milliners shop.
The Paris women are the most beautifully dressed women in the world as Paris is regarded as the fashion centre of the world. There are no trams in the city proper (the same as London) only ‘buses. The Tubes and the Metropolitan Underground are the same as London.
The first afternoon we had a look over the city on various ‘buses. That night we went to the National Opera House and witnessed a performance of the Grand Opera – "Othello". This is the most famous Opera House in the world. It occupies a whole square and the magnificence of it is wonderful. It is situated in the centre of the city and all the streets radiate from it (Place de l’Opera). The exterior is grand. Great statues of musicians adorn every vantage point. The wonderful marble staircase inside is world famous and we walked up it to our seats. Then the magnificent chandelier is world famous also.
Next day a party of twenty in charge of an English lady, went by train to Fontainbleau – 40 miles from Paris. Saw all through the great Castle there. The great courtyard in front of the building is known as the Coeur des Adieux, being the spot where Napoleon bade farewell to his generals before his abdication to Elba in 1814. One ascends the famous horseshoe staircase and passes through rooms (with magnificent ceiling, frescoes, and furniture) where our guide points out the table on which Napoleon signed his abdication in 1814. We see his throne room and the magnificent bed chamber of Marie Antionette [Antoinette] and the room set apart for Pope Pius VII who was kept prisoner here for eighteen months, because he refused to sanction the divorce of Napoleon and Josephine, and also a lock of Napoleon’s hair and many other things of historical and artistic interest.
We returned to Paris and on the following morning (Sunday) a party of us went to the British Embassy Church and were seated in the front seat where the Prince of Wales had sat the previous Sunday when he attended Church there. It was quite nice to hear a proper church service in English again, and the sermon was preached by Bishop Gwynne of Khartoum. In the afternoon went to the Pantheon where we saw many ancient and interesting things and then went on to the Hotel des Invalides to see Napoleon’s tomb. After passing through many ante chambers one ascends a broad flight of steps and is quickly in a circular chapel. The remains of the great Napoleon are in a red marble tomb – the gift of the Emperor Nicholas of Russia (said to be carved out of the largest single block of marble in the world) which reposes in the centre of a sunken crypt, surrounded by twelve massive figures, representing his chief victories. Only by paying a silent act of homage can one view the tomb, for in looking over the marble balustrade, it is necessary to bow the head.
The tomb of Napoleon II is nearby, and an empty niche is also there. This was ready to receive the tomb of Napoleon III, but after his abdication and flight to England – in 1870 – he died there and is buried, together with the Empress Eugenie, at Farnborough Roman Catholic Church, and which I have seen.
The French people will not allow his body or that of his wife to be transferred to the Invalides to the empty tomb that was prepared to receive them.
The remainder of the building is principally a museum. We saw the coffin (they removed his body from St Helena to Paris in – 19 years after his death) also his Will (which was in a glass case) an extract being:- "Je desire que mes cendres reposent sur les bords de la Seine au milieu de ce people francais que j’aitant aime" – also his general’s hat and soldiers clothes.
We then visited the cyclorama and saw the famous war painting. It was painted on 4,000 square feet of canvas and occupied the whole wall around the circular building, depicting the whole of the battlefields of the Allied armies.
In the evening went to a concert, which are held in Paris on Sundays the same as week nights.
Next morning we took train to Versailles. One enters the Palace grounds by the spacious Cour Royale, lined with its majestic looking heroic equestrian bronze statues, fountains, &c, &c. The furnishings and paintings of the interior one couldn’t adequately describe. We visited the Galerie des Glaces (Room of Mirrors) and this was of especial interest for here Wilhelm I was proclaimed German Emperor in 1870, and in it the Treaty of Peace between the Allies and Germany was signed on 28th June 1919. Also saw all the interesting things connected with King Louis and Marie Antionette. The Palace is indeed a marvel with its hundreds of magnificently furnished and decorated rooms, and the wonderful terraced grounds with artificial lakes, statues and fountains.
That evening a party of us went, accompanied by a guide, unofficially, and saw "Paris by night".
The next day with some American soldiers we went and saw the great Cathedral of Notre Dame, which is on an Island in the river Seine – several beautiful bridges spanning the Island to the mainland. It is a wonderful building and being a Saints’ Day, High Mass was being sung, and we saw the unusual but touching sight of the soldiers in the Chancel presenting arms to the Host, after the consecration.
After leaving Notre Dame we went through the city, passing the famous Rat Mort (Dead Rat) Café – then the great cemetery famous for the illustrious men whose remains are there, and also for the rich monuments and statuary it contains.
The various mill wheels here do not let us forget that we are in Montmartre, and we pass the Moulin de la Galette – a picturesque old place dating from the 12th Century.
We then ascend steep stone steps and emerge from a clump of mean looking houses and suddenly rises in front of us the mighty church that we have trudged to see – Sacre Coeur. It is built of grey stone and white marble and is of Byzantine architecture, being surmounted by a huge white dome. We go inside and drink in the beauty of its lofty marble arches and pillars. This church was built after the Franco-Prussian War as a thank offering and in
memory of the French soldiers who feel in that war.
We next visited the Church of St Denys (The Westminster Abbey of France) where all the French Kings and Queens were crowned and buried.
The next building we visited was the great Quai D’Orsai (where the Peace Conference was sitting) and we saw the Australian Prime Minister (Mr. W.M. Hughes) – the second time that I had seen him in France – President Wilson, Clemenceau, &c, &c drive away in their cars for the lunch adjournment.
That night we went to the famous "Follies Bergeres" – which is looked upon as rather risqué, but no one is considered to have "done" Paris without visiting this theatre.
The next morning went and saw the Madeline [Madeleine] Church. This was originally built by Napoleon for a Temple of Reason, but after his downfall it was converted into a Roman Catholic Church.
Then went and saw the Church of the Holy Name. This was the Church that a huge shell (fired by the Germans thirty miles from Paris) fell on, on Good Friday 1918 killing many people who were worshipping there.
The next place we saw was the famous prison of the Bastille, the storming of which is considered to have been the beginning of the French revolution.
The next morning was occupied in visiting the great wheel of Paris and having a ride on same. This was a huge affair built for the Paris Exhibition of 1897. Each compartment held about twenty people. The great wheel used to revolve slowly (forty minutes for a complete circuit) and when one was right on top a wonderful panoramic view of Paris could be obtained.
Had afternoon tea with some English people, whose address had been given me. They gave me a Bible (printed in French and illustrated) as a souvenir of my visit to them. That night we went to another concert.
Our next visit was to see the Eiffel Tower. This wonderful tower is immense. The base covers two and a half acres and its height is 975 feet. Planes have flown through its spans and on the first of the three stories is a resturant and theatre &c. We couldn’t go up the tower as it was closed, being the headquarters of the French wireless stations during the war. Continuing along the boulevarde we approach the great resturant of the Trocadero, which is guarded by great animal statues. The Salles des Fetes will hold 5,000 people.
We then go to the Avenue Des Champs Elyssees [Elysees]. The Avenue, beginning at the Arc de Triomph [Triomphe], is one and a half miles in length and was begun by Napoleon in 1806 as a memorial of triumphs. The Arc de Triomph is the largest triumphal arch in the world and is adorned with wonderful sculpture. The body of the unknown warrior now rests in a chamber above and the Flame of Remembrance continually burns over the tomb. In graceful compliment to the British armies the chains across the gateway were removed for the first time since 1870 when in 1918 King George V visited Paris.
We then entered a beautiful tree lined street, which was named by the French Rue Edourd VII (after King Edward VII) and saw the
beautiful equestrian statue of the King erected by the French nation in memory of King Edward VII, whom they adored.
The next day we visited the Louvre with its wonderful collections of art treasures, paintings, sculptures &c. The guide informed us that the eleven collections of art treasures in the Louvre form one of the most magnificent and complete displays in the world. These works of art were "conveyed" (not stolen) from different countries by Napoleon during his many campaigns and never restored to their rightful owners.
Having been introduced to Miss Lily Butler – that fine English lady who kept the "Corner of Blighty" in the Place de la Vendome – she undertook to take a party of us to Malmaison next day.
This beautiful place was Josephine’s (Napoleon’s first wife – whom he divorced) favourite palace, and we saw all the historic and interesting things connected with this unhappy woman. We saw the carriage she drove through the streets of Paris to the divorce in, and Napoleon’s love letters to her after he divorced her. Even though he divorced her he loved her to the end.
In the afternoon went and saw Miss Ettie Rout, that New Zealand lady who did so much for the Anzacs in Paris. She had a room in an hotel opposite the Gare du Nord, and always had an Australian flag flying from it, and if any of our men were in trouble or difficulties and went to Miss Rout, she would do what she could for us. She afterwards married Sergeant Hornibrook and is the author of many books written since the War – on sex and other matters.
The last night in Paris we visited the famous Bohemian quarter of Paris.
So finished my leave in Paris.,
I had now seen everything of interest in Paris so we left Paris in the Continental express (which had just resumed running after five years) at 11 p.m. one night. We were a happy party in our carriage – two Aussies, two Canadian nurses and a Frenchman, his wife and two children who were returning to what was left of their home in a ruined village in the devastated areas. We travelled without a stop all night and early next morning entered the battlefields. Thousands of German prisoners were engaged repairing the railway line, and we crawled along – on either side of the railway line being the trenches and ruined villages. Passed through the famous lace city of Valenciennes, which was in ruins. The Frenchman, his wife and children now left us, so we had more room. Crossed the Belgian frontier and came to Mons. The train stayed here three quarters of an hour and we had a good look at this fine city which became famous on account of the Retreat from Mons, at the commencement of the war. The city was not damaged as no fighting took place within miles of it. We continued our journey over the flat country of Belgium and arrived at Brussels at 2 p.m. Stayed at the Y.M.C.A.
Brussels is a beautiful city – "A miniature Paris". It is of course smaller than Paris – has 2,000,000 people – but rivals the French capital for beauty and life. The Germans had occupied Brussels for four years and the civilian people told us some interesting stories of the German occupation. The city was not damaged as the Belgian army merely retreated from Brussels in 1914 and the Germans occupied it without any fighting. The people of Brussels were the real genuine Belgian people (not like some of the mongrel Belgians we encountered near the line) and couldn’t do enough for the Allied soldiers, whom they called the "Deliverers". We travelled free on the trams and were admitted to the theatres &c at half price. The people were always inviting us to their homes and even though they were short of food they gladly shared what they had with their soldier guests. The people knew what it was to want during the German occupation of the city, as they had very little to eat and many died of starvation.
I bought two pieces of music at a little shop in Brussels. The lady told me that she had the music hid in a large case underneath the floor of one of her rooms during the time of the German occupation so that they wouldn’t take it.
One incident I remember well that they told us of. When the Kaiser was to pass through Brussels on his way to the front, an order was issued to the inhabitants that they must remain indoors. If any were found in the streets during the prohibited hours they were shot dead. I had a good look over the city, seeing the Cathedral, Hotel de Ville (Town Hall), and the Palis de Justice, which building (built of white marble) is regarded as one of the finest buildings in the world.
Went to the beautiful Opera House (de la Monnaie) – which is smaller but nearly as beautiful as that of Paris – on two nights
and saw the operas of "Aida" and "Thais". This is the Opera House where Madame Melba first sang in Opera, having created the role of Gilda in "Rigoletto" in 1888, so it was of interest to we Australians. A brass plate on the wall of the Foyer of the Opera records this event.
The next day we went by tram out to Waterloo (fifteen miles from Brussels) where we spent a whole day seeing all over the historic battlefield. It was indeed a great privilege to have done this. The guide took us to the top of the famous lion monument, from where a great view of the Battlefield can be obtained (it is almost a mile square) and he explained the whole battlefield, also the Battle of Waterloo to us, pointing out the various positions that were occupied by the English, French and Germans.
I had now seen where Napoleon was exiled and where he died (St Helena), his tomb in Paris and where he was defeated in Battle (Waterloo). The next day we saw the King’s Palace (which was the German Military Headquarters during the occupation – the spot where Edith Cavell was shot, the famous Manniken monument in the gardens and many other sights. To give one an idea of how expensive things were here, I remember paying a franc (tenpence) for two oranges.
I would have liked to have gone on to Antwerp, but my leave was up and I was also short of money, so one morning we left Brussels by train and arrived at Paris next day.
Spent another day and night in Paris and next morning at 9 a.m. left the Gare du Nord by train and arrived at Amiens late that afternoon. Caught a train from Amiens and arrived at Abbeville after a two hours journey and walked from there to St Maxent.
Stayed the night with my Battalion telling the boys of the great time I had (very few had the luck to get to Paris or Brussels). Next morning walked over to Headquarters at Rambures and took up billets again with Madame, after my very enjoyable holiday. Came back with just enough money left to send a cable home to my parents telling them I was well and had been on leave to Paris and Brussels.
[Transcribed by Judy Gimbert for the State Library of New South Wales]