Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

A condensed history of the 5th Australian Pioneer Battalion, A.I.F., 3 March 1916-15 May 1919
MLMSS 8501/Item 2

[Transcriber's note: Written by Lt. Col. Herbert Gordon Carter, D.S.O., C.O. 5th Pioneer Battn. A.I.F.]

[Page 1]
Condensed History of the 5th Australian Pioneer Battalion, A.I.F.
March 3rd 1916 – May 15th 1919

H G Carter
Shirley Rd

[Page 2]
5th Pioneer Battalion
I Egypt
Like most other units of the 5th Division, the 5th Pioneer Battalion was formed at Tel-el-Kebir Egypt the actual date of the formation being Mar 3rd 1916. The early administration was under the Australian Provisional Formations commanded by Maj General Sir H.V. Cox. Three Coys & H.Q. were first of all formed each brigade of the division sending officers & men sufficient for one company; The 8th Brigade party formed A Coy under Major (then Lt) Morrison. The 14th Bde B Coy under Major Peters & the 15th Bde C Coy under Capt Dwyer. Lt Col (then Major) Carter was appointed to Command.

After preliminary training constructing a rifle range & some preliminary training the battalion moved by march route to Ferry Post on the Eastern side of the Suez Canal where it became a unit of the 5th Aust Divn.
The march occupied 3 days halts being made at Mahsama & Ismailia & was most successfully carried out. At Ferry Post the 4th (D) Coy was formed from reinforcements received with Lt McVicer-Smyth in command. The Battalion was then up to full strength & contained about 100 men who had seen "Gallipoli" service. In addition over 50¢ of the men were qualified tradesman of some kind.

Capt (then Lt) Helsham was appointed Adjutant & Major (then Lt) Wilkinson took command of ‘B’ Coy with Major Peters as Battalion 2nd in Command. After a few weeks solid training the Battalion repaired 4 miles of Desert Railway constructed a large portion of the main Canal defences. The weather at this time was particularly trying, the heat being not only severe (119°F) in the shade for three or four hours daily but the wind & dust added to the troubles. Work & training was carried out in the early morning & late evening only. It was a great relief therefore when orders were received for entrainment & embarkation for France. The battalion was entrained in open trucks on the evening of June 18th & embarked the following morning at Alexandria on the "Canada"

[Page 3]
II First French Experiences
The "Canada" arrived at Marseilles at noon on June 25th & by the same evening all were entrained for the long train journey North which occupied 4 days. The first real presentation of "La Belle France" to the eyes of all was deeply impressive and some conception penetrated the minds of the dullest as to what it was that France was fighting for.

After Detraining near Hazebrouck the battalion spent a few days at Lynde where final touches were added to the training within the sound of the guns. On June [July] 9th after a three days march the battalion took up its quarters near Bae St Maur some 3 miles from the front line. After a short spell at burying telephone cable the Battalion was ordered to build a mile of railway line to the front line in 3 nights. This seemed at first hopeless owing to the amount of material to be got forward & the number of small deep streams intersecting the country. However it was done in spite of the fact the during the second night the Hun carried out one of this periodical "strafes" then so common.

This line was to bring material up for use during the attack on July 19th which proved so disastrous. Two Coys (A & D) took part in this attack while a small party from ‘C’ Coy under Lt Whitfield maintained a supply of water to the attacking infantry. Major Scott with ‘D’ Coy completed a sap across No Man’s Land in the centre of the Divisional sector of attack while Lt Duke with a platoon of A Coy maintained a communication trench (V.C. Avenue) tho the work lay direct in the enemy barrage line. For the fortnight following this engagement the Battalion was fully occupied in repair work on the front line & communication trenches. ‘D’ Coy were then detailed to carry out a large drainage scheme, the work requiring careful grading throughout. The success of this scheme may be judged from the fact that during winter of 1916-17 tho’ far more severe, the water did not rise above the duckboard level at all.

[Page 4]
The remainder of the battalion in the meanwhile constructed what was known as the "Bois Grenier" Line a subsidiary line of defence about a mile behind the main front line. This work occupied the remainder of the battalion’s stay in this sector, the last week or so this line of defence was garrisoned by them. Towards the end of Sept ‘C’ Coy were ordered to Amentieres some 7 or 8 miles off where they worked as a detached unit. They were there employed in running a large timber mill, operating a plant for making concrete slabs known as "brusters", the control of trench tramways & general cleaning work. All these services were well organised & efficiently performed, and the ability of the Battalion to adapt itself to almost any class of work was well displayed.
On Oct 14th the Battalion moved to Neuf Berquin a village 9 miles back from the line & entrained a few days later at Bailleul to proceed southwards to take its part in the Great Battle of the Somme

[Page 5]
III The Somme
Only leaving the North, adverse conditions were experienced right from the outset; the train journey was exceptionally slow, the train was overcrowded & when the detraining station (Pont Remy – near Abbeville) was reached it was pitch dark & raining. The station yard was ankle deep in [indecipherable] mud & the unloading arrangements extremely crude. To crown it all it was learnt that the billets were 8 miles off, - when each man had a full pack, a full quota of ammunition & a second blanket in addition.

On arriving at their billets (Ailly-le-Haut-Clocher) therefore at 2 am everyone was thoroughly exhausted but a days respite soon corrected this. The battalion was then conveyed by a French motor convoy thro’ Amiens to Dernancourt & the following day marched to its first camp on the Somme near Montauban. Ones feeling on being shown a hillside of mud with a few dugouts & being told to "make yourself comfortable" can well be imagined for this was all that the camp amounted to.

The battalion was then ordered to maintain two long communication trenches, known as Turk Lane & Fish Alley – both were over 2 miles long & were the only two trenches leading to the front in the Divisional sector allotted. Fish Alley was incomplete Fish Alley moreover had the last ½ mile to the front line incomplete. This was first of all finished off by ‘B’ Coy & both trenches were beginning to get into shape when almost continuous rain set in. after two or three days of rain the sides of these trenches which were quite unsupported became so loose that they fell in & both trenches became quite impassable. Tracks were therefore made along the top beside these trenches but even these cut up badly & unduly fatiguing. Experiments were made to use sledges over the mud & some success was obtained in this direction for the carriage of wounded but no sledge was successful with loads owing to the wildly varying consistency of the mud.

[Page 6]
Troubles were not confined only to the work – our camps were becoming waterlogged & the incessant marching over the heavy country told on ones physical condition. To these must be added the continuous heavy shelling which was a marked feature of the Somme fighting. On Nov 5th the Division moved out of the line but not so the Pioneer Battalion which remained in its Montalban camp (with 2 Coys at Carlton Trench near Longueval) to carry out road maintenance. This altho’ heavy work was fortunately close to hand so consequently involved no long exhausting march.

After a fortnights work the battalion converted the Bernafay – Longueval road from a series of lakes & mud to a properly drained road with a fairly hard surface which traffic could negotiate without risk. On the Division returning to the line to take over the Guendecourt & Les Boeufs sector from the Guards Division the battalion moved to Waterlot Farm, the site of a sugar factory about half way between Longueval & Guillemont. Two Coys (C & D) were detached to construct trenches to the front line as none existed in this sector while the remaining two (A & B) constructed narrow gauge trench tramways.

The digging of the trenches was extremely arduous as they involved a three mile march to & from work over the sea of mud which constituted the battlefield. This march became easier as the duckboard tracks extended but at first they were few & far between. ‘D’ Coy under Capt Vidal completed a trench (Endless Alley) 900 yards long to the front line in the right brigade sector by Dec 5th while ‘C’ Coy under Capt Kerr completed the left brigade’s trench (Eternal Alley) which was 1500 yds long by Dec 6th - all work being carried out entirely by night. These two companies were by then quite exhausted & consequently they were relieved by A & B Coys and interchanged with them.

These two Coys then comparatively fresh, dug a new trench 1100 yds long (Eve Alley) in the left Brigade sector in 3 nights & trench boarded all by [but?] 200 yds! It was then found that Now that these 3 trenches were dug the next task was to keep them open for traffic – this proved an even heavier task than the digging for the trenches could only be kept open by propping or tying the sides back & this involved a large amount of material which all

[Page 7]
had to be manhandled. The weather improved somewhat & the trenches cleared that a fourth trench (Energy Alley in the right Bde sector) was attempted. The Germans apparently objected to this activity for no sooner was this trench completed than it was obliterated by shell fire. It was cleared again that night only to be again shelled the following day. A further attempt to clear the trench the next night drew the Hun’s ire once again for he blotted the trench out of existence again. Altho’ the Division again moved out to rest on Dec 24th the Pioneers were ordered to remain & look after the front line communication trenches.
By this time all trenches except Energy Alley were duckboarded throughout & it was decided to concentrate on these three which required all available labour even at the expense of the 4th trench. As it was seen that the Battalion stay at Waterlot Farm was likely to be prolonged improvements to the camp were made all round, a hot bathroom a medical dugout & a large drying room were constructed. However on 5th Jan [1917] after 46 days continuously on front line work the battalion was given a fortnights respite. 2 Coys going to billets in a village some miles back & the remaining Coys working on deep dugout construction near Flers.

On Jan 17th the battalion went back to front line work once more but the situation was eased by the fact that accommodation for 150 men was available in deep dug outs recently constructed right at their work. Also advantage was taken of a hard frost from Jan 20th to Feb 17th – the ground being frozen solid for about one foot deep – to get large quantities of material forward so that when the thaw on the latter date & the trenches got slippery once again material was available to meet the situation & work was consequently a good deal easier.

Previous to this the task was one continual plug against the efforts of both the enemy & the weather. Eternal Alley still gave a lot of trouble as it was marked by the Hun who shelled it was always shelling it. Early in March the Divisional sector was extended & the enemy trenches were captured all along one front which necessitated further extension of the communication trenches to meet them. The 2 Coys which had been working on the Flers dugouts & had driven about 200 feet of 9 x 7 gallery were taken off this work, one going on with the trenches

[Page 8]
& the other extending the existing narrow gauge railway system further forward. The enemy shelling increased in intensity at this time & consequently rendered the work more difficult besides increasing casualties. Needle dump where most of our material was stored & where the railway had terminated was a particularly nasty spot. In spite of this & the bad weather conditions which still prevailed excellent progress was being made with both trenches & railway when on Mar 17th the enemy suddenly withdrew all along our front.

This of course, for the Pioneers meant more hard work for the strip of country about 3 miles wide, either side of the front line was trackless & roadless, & had to be traversed by the Armies. This was realized but so great was the moral uplift given by this retirement that all cheerfully faced the new tasks ahead. For all the plugging & hard work of the past, some big tangible result was evident. In 2 days a duckwalk track 1 mile long was laid across this country for infantry use, & in 3 days the existing trench tramway was extended thro’ to Beaulencourt, an extension of some 3 miles – most of the rail for this purpose was taken from other tramways not now required. From Mar 24th the Battalion controlled a mule tramway, hauling stores & ammunition by this line by mules to Beaulencourt, 100 tons of material being shifted daily. This occupied 2 Coys, one conducting the operation & the other the maintenance. The other 2 Coys were employed in further railway extensions under the Corps. Battalion Headquarters had in the meantime moved from Waterlot Farm to near Gueudecourt, then on to [Reincourt?] (near Bapaume) & later to Fremicourt.

As the Railway work was completed, attention was diverted to Roads & among other works the Battalion filled a large mine crater (80 ft dia. x 30ft deep) in the Main Cambrai road & a brick & log road made over the top. A number of strong points, 18 in all, were also dug in the neighbourhood of Vaulx-Vraucourt. On 20th April the Divisional was relieved including the Pioneers who were sent back to repair the road thro’ Flers over which the Divisional Transport had to pass. This was done & on the afternoon of April 21st the battalion

[Page 9]
Vaulx-Vraucourt. On 20th April the Divisional was relieved including the Pioneers who were sent back to repair the road thro’ Flers over which the Divisional Transport had to pass.  This was done & on the afternoon of April 21st the battalion moved to the hutted camp near Bernafay Wood after exactly 6 months continuous work on the Somme in the Corps Area, most of which was at or near the front line. During this time the battalion suffered the following casualties

Killed 1 officer 44 other ranks
Wounded 2 officers 98 other ranks

IV Summer 1917
After one day only at Bernafay a move was made to a comfortable camp at Fricourt. Here a small amount of training was carried out but attention was chiefly devoted to sport. Football & athletics were the order of the day, a fine [boxing?] stadium was built & a ground prepared for a Divisional Horse Show near Albert. The Battalion also constructed its own rifle range. However all these preparations were cut short by a sudden order to move to the front once again, & on May 9th the men were conveyed by Light railway to Bapaume, marching on to a camp near Vaulx.

Here D Coy were heavily shelled, one of their tents receiving a direct hit. The Battalion casualties that day were the heaviest then recorded, 12 men being killed & 23 wounded. The camps were immediately moved to better positions. The stay in this sector lasted a fortnight only but during that time the Battalion constructed a trench tramway from Vaulx to 600 yds beyond Noreuil besides carrying forward 8000 yds of rail for further extensions; 5 deep dugouts were built near battery positions for shelter for the gun crews; 2 communication trenches running to the Hindenburgh line were maintained & a large quantity of mining timber man handled from Noreuil to the Hindenburgh Line.

On 24th May move was made to the villages of Thilloy & Ligny Thilloy just behind Bapaume. While specialist training such as bombing, signalling, Lewis Guns &c was indulged here, the main body of the Battalion was ordered to dig trenches defences for the villages of Baucourt & Reincourt. These were completed by June 12th. The internal organisation of the Battalion was improved at this time by

 [Page 10]
 the addition of tailors & additional bootmakers & the formation of bugle band. The Battalion moved on June 17th partly by train & partly by march to "Midland Huts" Camp near Albert. Here a more complete training programme was [indecipherable] & put into practice. This was somewhat interfered with by various jobs which were ordered to be carried out, such as cleaning the bed of the R.[river] Ancre, the construction of a field firing range near Thiepval & of a large divisional sports ground near Henencourt.

The first named task was extremely popular, as the weather was hot & the work had to be carried out with (or without) bathing costumes. In spite of this interference a large musketry &bombing programme was carried out by all ranks in addition to regular drill. ‘D’ Coy represented the battalion at a Divisional Assault at arms coming 3rd in the Divisional Drill competition; this Coy also took part in a display before King George V on July 12th. On July 7th the Battalion moved to Corbie a small town on the junction of the Somme & Ancre Rivers where a delightful 6 weeks was spent partly in training & mostly in swimming. The Training too was The former being mainly pontooning also involved the latter.
This village was then far removed from the scene of warfare & little did one think that it would a year later be reduced to a state of ruins. On July 28th the Battalion moved from Corbie & entrained for the North. The next camp was in the neighbourhood of Blaringhem quite close to Lynde, the first resting place in France. Here further training was carried out, & the battalion took part in various reviews before visiting Generals including one by Sir Douglas Haig. After a long spell of nearly two months in this area, sudden orders were received on Sept 7th to move by motor lorry to the Ypres district to take part in the large offensive that was in progress.

 [Page 11]
5. Flanders, Ypres & Messines
The battalion’s camp for the next two months while the Ypres offensive was in progress was at a ready made camp known as Pioneer Camp; this was situated some four miles to the west mid way between [indecipherable] & Dickebusch. To enable the men to get to their various tasks which lay to the east (often 4 or 5 miles to the east) of Ypres, 10 motor lorries were attached to the Battalion for general use, these carried the men as far forward as was possible to their work & reduced the marching to & from the jobs to an absolute minimum.

‘D’ Coy were first of all split up among the various Heavy Artillery groups to assist in constructing gun positions – the remainder of the battalion were ordered to construct a road running from Birr Cross Roads (on the main Menin Rd) to Zillebeke. This road was directly behind a series of battery positions & consequently was heavily shelled. The most difficult position, however, was with material for all dumps & cross roads, were the subjects of much attention from the Hun’s artillery, so that it was frequently difficult to get at the material and when loaded it had then to be got to the job.

At times too the task was unapproachable & as much time was occupied in the repairing the shell torn parts of the road already made as in forming the new road surface. However by the splendid cooperation of all ranks and particularly the Transport section the work was completed in 9 days & the road left fit for traffic throughout. For the next few days, odd jobs were more or less the rule, such as duck walks, road work & digging trenches for pipe lines. Each of these tasks, tho’ perhaps small in itself all presented difficulties quite as severe as the larger jobs. For instance in one case orders were received at 4 pm to make a road that night passable for artillery between two points on the

 [Page 12]
map about 400 yds apart, in country that was new to everybody. This meant immediate reconnaissance as it was impossible to rely on finding any given spot at night time without previous reconnaissance especially when guiding 150 men. At 11 pm on the night of 20th Sept an urgent message was received for the whole battalion to construct a plank road leading off the Menin Road near Hooge, the following morning accordingly at 3 am the battalion turned out & commenced clearing the track – ‘B’ Coy being detailed to take charge of all transport & to bring material forward.
These ‘plank’ roads were constructed with 3" thick beech slabs each slab being from 10 to 12 feet long & averaging 9 inches wide; according to the character of the ground two or more bearers were laid longitudinally & a solid plank road constructed by laying slabs across these & nailing them thereto. By noon sufficient planks & material to complete the whole of this road had been brought to the site & 500 yds of road laid; the work was them handed over to a relieving unit who were able to complete it the same evening & thus the guns got forward that night. The next day a second road was started from Chateau Wood to Glencorse Wood, about a mile long which was completed in 5 days; and was one of the main means of communication during the attack on Polygon wood. Lt Tidwell was badly wounded while engaged on this work.
‘D’ Coy in the meantime rejoined the battalion after constructing 18 battery positions; 3 group head quarters besides a great deal of road & water supply work. Following the attack on Polygon wood they were engaged with ‘C’ Coy wiring the front line, two belts of wire being constructed in 4 nights but not without fairly heavy casualties. For the next few days odd jobs were again the rule the battalion being engaged in the improvement and maintenance of the roads already made – this in itself was no light task as daily great gaps were blown in them by direct hits from the enemy’s shells – the construction of duck

 [Page 13]
tracks, laying pipe lines, escorting convoys of motor lorries over the roads – this being necessary as the roads got so knocked about & frequently blocked not only by shells but by debris of the shattered wagons which had to be cleared. The whole of this work lay in what was termed the "battery areas" – ie that portion of the battlefield where all the guns lay situated roughly from one to three miles behind the front line. This area was perhaps the worst for heavy & continuous shelling & the weather conditions greatly added to the difficulties The plank road got very slippery &

The battalion camp, too, altho some 8 or 9 miles from the line was by no means free from enemy vindictiveness. All the back areas from Poperinghe forward were nightly (sometimes daily) visited by squadrons of enemy aeroplanes. It was a continuous speculation as to whether your camp or somebody else’s would get the bombs they dropped. On the night of Oct 18 the battalion ‘got it’ resulting 43 casualties – 10 of which were killed outright. Early in Oct the mud difficulties became most acute but the large quantities of material that had been got forward eased the situation somewhat. The battalion was at this stage ordered to direct its attention to trench tramway systems.

A line that had already been started near Westhoek was pushed on towards Zonnebeke & in 4 days the whole of the formation (some 1½ miles) was completed. Owing to the 5th Division then coming into the line, the Battalion again came under its orders & was consequently moved from this line to the construction of a new line branching off this & leading to a point some 800 yards from the front line. This line was 2 miles long & was completed right out in 10 days by 3 Coys working in relays. This line was built with 20 lb rails throughout on steel & timber sleepers & had two sidings – one midway & a second at the railhead. The task of the formation was heavy enough the ground being thoroughly sodden & of little holding power but to get the rails & material forward was an infinitely greater task & too much stress cannot be laid on the splendid work performed

 [Page 14]
by the Transport section & the various escorting parties under Lt Bailey accomplishing this task. It might be mentioned that owing to the heavy shell fire, no fish plates were used on this line the rails being butted together; when a shell struck the line it only blew away the particular section struck whereas with fish plates several lengths of rail either side of the crater would be bent & twisted. On completion of this line It was almost as equally as heavy a task to maintain this line as to build it – the number of direct hits averaged from 10 to 12 per night. Besides this maintenance more plank roads were built, mule tracks made, duckwalk tracks.

The new plank road leading from the Menin road to Westhoek was duplicated & a road built from Zonnebeke about one mile beyond that village besides another leading from Zonnebeke southwards parallel to the front line. The Battalion camp was again bombed on 21st Oct causing casualties among the animals but no men altho’ Major Morrison had an extremely narrow escape. It was with considerable relief that orders were received on Nov 5th to hand over all forward work. The battalion had them been working for 2 months continuously on the forward lines of communication during one of the periods of heaviest fighting experienced thro’out the war. The continuous strain was having its effect all round.

The battalion marched on Nov 9 by march route to a new sector & took up its quarters at [Spy?] Farm near the village of [Luidenhoek?] quite close to the foot of Mt [indecipherable] - Two Coys & Battalion HQ’s were established at this camp while two coys camped in good quarters further forward. There were also a few detached parties including the Lewis Gunners who were employed entirely on Anti Aircraft work & had been fulfilling this function for some little time. To describe in detail the various works carried out by the battalion for the next six weeks would take a lot of explanation. The area was a quiet one shelling was spasmodic & confined to more or less particular areas while enemy aircraft

 [Page 15]
seldom made their unwelcome visits. Work could therefore be carried out much easier & with less strain than before. Trenches leading to the front system were first taken in hand & put in good repair – duckwalk construction – screens put up to0 hide movement – trench tramways maintained – and as these works were cleared up more & more attention was given to the main roads in the forward areas. A saw mill plant was run at [Luidenhoek?] where a large quantity of timber was cut for the division. The battalion too was excellently quartered & a fair amount of respite was given. The conditions were therefore good & contrasted very much with what the Battalion had experienced the previous year on the Somme. On Dec 15th the whole unit moved with the rest of the Divn for a thorough rest to Hesdigneul; a small village 8 miles south of Boulogne, on the main railway line. Here liberal leave to Boulogne was available & everyone led a life of comparative ease. An excellent Xmas was [indecipherable] spent & the battalion band, which had only recently been formed, began to make its presence heard.
At the end of January the battalion returned to its old camps in the Messines area & returned to former tasks. By the middle of February most of the March the whole of the roads in the neighbourhood of Messines which had previously been impassable were open for traffic & were much made use of. A large number of entrenched strong posts were built & miles of barbed wire constructed. Early in March however the enemy shelling became more active & on March 21st the storm burst further south which closed for the battalion activities in this sector. Orders were received on that day to withdraw all detached parties & to have everyone in readiness for any emergency. On March 26th the Battalion moved to Reninghelst on the first stage of its journey to the scene of the German attack.

 [Page 16]
VI The Somme once again – Villers Brettoneux.
After 2 days at Reninghelst the Battalion moved southwards by train – a tedious journey as usual but the monotony was considerably relieved by the excitement at the time, all were warned to be ready for instant action. At Doullens the battalion detrained & marched 10 miles by night to the village of Arqueves. ‘D’ Coy however travelled in a separate train & detrained at Mondicourt. At Arqueves the whole battalion rested but were under orders to be ready to move at one hours notice – consequently no transport could be unloaded. Regular parades were held when possible to keep everyone fit. While at Arqueves an unfortunate accident occurred resulting in the death of Lt. R.W. Palmer.
This village was picqueted every night to limit the action of spies & one escaped German prisoner was thus captured. On Apr 5th the battalion moved on very short notice by motor bus thro’ Amiens to the village of Daours on the somme; thence by march to Blangy- [Trouville?] where they billeted. The battalion lost no time in reconnoitring the Divisional area so as to be prepared for emergencies. Work was commenced by burying 2½ miles of cable 3ft 6 ins deep in one day & next in establishing roads across the marshes alongside the river to provide means of retreat should such action be necessary. 1000 yds of corduroy road was thus built. Trench systems were next tackled and a series of strong posts being first dug which were subsequently connected. The battalion’s camp was shelled on the evening of Apl 17th & that same evening detachments on duty guarding road mines in the village of Villers-Brettoneux were gassed & had to be replaced. Owing to a slight change in the Divisional sector the battalion moved to near the village of Bussy les Daours & dug in on a large bank on the slopes of the R[iver] Hallue. Trench digging was still the order of the day until Apl 24th when the battalion was kept in readiness for instant action owing to the capture of the village of Villers Brettoneux by the Germans fortunately for one day only. The situation

 [Page 17]
relaxed somewhat on Apl 28 & trenches were captured. Companies were occasionally moved from Bussy when their work lay too far from the camp for instance ‘D’ Coy were camped for a period at Vaux sur Somme, ‘B’ Coy near Aubigny & ‘C’ Coy were camped all along the River Somme acting as bridge guards to the various crossings from dubigny to the front line. Trench digging in the meantime was proceeding rapidly the battalion moving from one job to another, each trench after being dug was defended by barbed wire entanglements. A large number of bomb proof shelters (50 in all) were also built for various batteries.
On 31st May all forward work was handed over to the 4th Pioneer Battalion – by then in addition to other work such as bridge guards, bomb-proof shelters & roads some 13 miles of trenches had been dug to a depth of 4’ 6" and effectively wired. The Lewis guns Special attention was paid to the Lewis guns at this period & up to 40 men per Coy were trained in the use of this weapon. A battery of 4 guns was kept regularly on duty & proved very effective.
After a fortnights spell during which ‘A’ Coy dismantled a rope conveyor near Bonnay & a certain amount of rear trench work was carried out the battalion moved northwards to a camp behind La Houssoye, the divisional sector included the portion of ground between the Ancre & the Somme & about ½ mile to the north of Ancre. Here trench digging was the main item but as the area was already well provided with trenches, attention was paid to improving & deepening these. The battalion H.Q. were moved to near Heilly as the quarters near La Houssoye proved too far back. this village was fairly heavily shelled during the first week or two but fortunately few casualties resulted. On July 4 ‘D’ Coy took part in a small operation at the village of Ville-sur-Ancre & successfully dig communication trenches to the

 [Page 18]
captured positions. As before Coys were moved in accordance with the location of their work. By end of July 3½ miles of trench was deepened to 5’ 6" deep & 5 feet wide while 1½ miles of new trenches were dug. A saw mill at Heilly was operated by the battalion under Lt Hassall – timber being felled near the river floated down to the mill broken down & sawn into suitable sizes in all some 40,000 lineal feet was thus dealt with. Just before leaving this sector ‘B’ & ‘C’ Coys took part in another operation near Morlancourt where trenches leading to the captured positions were again successfully dug - ‘C’ Coys work under Capt Buchan on this occasion being particularly fine. On the 30th July the battalion moved out of this sector back & after one night at the to its old camp at Bussy-les-Daous. after one night
Here a thorough rest was indulged in, bathing concerts, & sports meetings being regularly held. It was evident however that from the amount of movement of guns, tanks & transport generally that was taking place at night that some big movement "stunt" was pending. Rumours of all sorts were naturally current but strict secrecy was kept & all ranks were much relieved on Aug 7th when it was announced a move forward that night was announced to a bivouac just behind Villers Brettoneux which was to be the assembly position for an operation on a unprecedented scale to take place at dawn the following morning.

 [Page 19]
VII The Advance along the Somme - Bellicourt
On the battle that took place on Aug 8th the battalions main task was to make good the main road leading due east thro’ Villers Brettoneux & Warfusee – this road was to be passable for armoured cars within 4 hours after zero & to be fit for general traffic as soon as possible afterwards. Other tracks had also to be cleared for which ‘A’ Coy were responsible – the main road being allotted to ‘C’ & ‘D’ Coys - ‘B’ Coy being in reserve. As much as possible was done in the way of repair prior to the battle; the road generally however was in better condition than expected – only two really bad patches were encountered & a large amount of debris in the village of Warfusee.
A number of contact mines were discovered which the engineers removed. By 7.40 am (3 hours & 20 mins after zero) the first armoured car entered Warfusee & by 10 am the traffic along the road was in full swing. Throughout the day no traffic was held up thro’ road troubles. ‘A’ Coys road to Marcelcave was also completed & was largely availed of. For the next few days road maintenance was the chief consideration. A field dressing station was built by ‘B’ Coy near Bayonvillers on Aug 11th & on the 12th the battalion commenced repairing the main railway line & carried out 1½ miles of this in conjunction with the 1st Canadian Railway Coy.
A few days later the battalion a move was made to near Morcourt, the battalion camping in a large hillside. This lasted After a few days work on communication trenches & road maintenance another move to Vaux sur Somme was ordered. This involved about a 10 mile march along a very dusty road on a somewhat trying day. At Vaux sur Somme the battalion enjoyed a 4 days rest which was most welcome. The battalion then moved back to Morcourt where road maintenance & deep dugout construction occupied its attention. However on Aug 29th the enemy retired to the head of the Somme by Peronne so a rapid move forward

 [Page 20]
to Belloy-en-Santerre was made on that day & to Flaucourt on day following. The main roads were still maintained & in addition a large quantity of light bridging material was carried forward for the field Coys – this latter was a particularly nasty job as all the river approaches were heavily shelled, but in spite of this several wagon loads of material were delivered at the bridge sites each evening. On the capture of Peronne on Sept 1st everyone was concentrated on load & bridge work, roads were the main road thro’ Peronne was cleared on the day of its capture, mine craters were filled, debris cleared, bridges & approaches generally cleaned up & put in order.
By Sept 7th the infantry had advanced 7 or 8 miles beyond the Somme and the extent of new road that this entailed can well be imagined. The quarters of both Coys & Battalion H.Q. were changed continuously. On the 9th Sept a move back to Peronne for a spell was ordered but the first few days of this were fully occupied in building & repairing huts for the infantry. This included a large hall for the Divisional Concert party which was christened the "Pioneers Palladium Palace".
On Sept 24th orders were received on an operation to be carried out against the Hindenburg Line, thro’ Bellicourt & beyond – two Coys were allotted each road, & a platoon of U.S. Engineers being attached each Coy. Battalion H.Q. were established in a large quarry near Hargicourt on 27th. The assembly was successfully carried out & all men were at work on their jobs shortly after zero. At Bellicourt A heavy ground mist made it extremely difficult to know what was going on & on approaching Bellicourt, the battalion found itself among

 [Page 21]
German infantry & consequently were drawn into the fighting. The Huns, however, surrendered without much effort but in Bellicourt itself stiff opposition was encountered. Thanks to the Battalion Lewis Gunners who outfought the German machine guns this village was successfully mopped up, 6 officers & 201 other ranks being brought in as prisoners. As the infantry had moved up & taken charge the battalion withdrew. The casualties for that day being one officer (Lt Hassall) & 5 men killed while 2 officers & 56 men were wounded. Further work on the roads was carried out beyond Belllicourt on Oct 1st & one platoon exploited the St Quentin tunnel. On Oct 4th the battalion moved back to Roisel which subsequently proved, as many felt, to be its last day in actual warfare. After a few days first at Roisel & subsequently at Peronne the whole division was withdrawn to an area near Abbeville for a thorough rest. Here training was carried out & a large amount of time devoted to athletics & sport amusements. Orders were received to be ready to move on Nov 10th to further take part on the fighting – this move was postponed to Nov 12 but the armistice being signed on Nov 11th this was again postponed indefinitely. The battalions war career was now over; a move by very tedious stages was made at the end of Nov to Hautrepe & a fortnight later to Beaurieux. At the first named place demobilization began & from then onwards the battalion dwindled; the last 130 of the unit embarking for England on May 15th [1919]
[Transcriber's note: See also ‘The Story of the 5th Pioneer Battalion, AIF’ by F. H. Stevens. 1937]

[Transcribed by Peter Mayo for the State Library of New South Wales]