Pozières (World War 1, 23 July 1916 to 4 September 1916)

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About This Campaign

 Pozieres / Mouquet Farm, the Somme Valley, France 

This series of actions elicited the greatest quantum of Australian sacrifice of any single campaign in our military history.  In five weeks of fighting in mid 1916, the Australian First, Second and Fourth Divisions sustained 23,000 casualties, 5,000 of whom were killed.

There were two British Divisions involved in the near vicinity but the task of capturing the village itself (or rather its ruins) fell initially to the 1st Division and then in succession, the 2nd and 4th Divisions.  This sequence was repeated when the axis of advance shifted north to Mouquet Farm (know to the Diggers as "Moo Cow" Farm), later in August.

Pozieres Village             

  • The Australian 1st Division attacked here in the early hours of 23 July 1916.
  • The task was difficult -  they had to capture (3) three objectives, the first: The Pozieres Trenches; the second: the outskirts of the village; the third: the main Road which ran straight down the middle of the village.
  • Recently arrived at the front, this was the Gallipoli veteran Division’s baptism of fire in France.
  • By this stage of the battle, the village had been completely obliterated by shellfire.
  • The Germans defended the ruins of Pozieres tenaciously, often to the last man.  In the face of heavy resistance, the Australians moved through the shattered remnants of the village, overcoming machine-gun posts and wresting trenches and strong points from the Germans in savage close quarter fighting.
  • The 1st Division successfully captured the 'OG" (or 'Old German') line and the "Gibraltar" blockhouse which these days is the site of the 1st Division Memorial.
  • It was during the course of this phase that Lieutenant Arthur Blackburn of the 10th Battalion won his Victoria Cross for leading a relentless series of attacks which eventually resulted in the capture of a large stretch of the  OG1 trench.
  • Over the next 36 hours, progress would be measured in metres of ground gained and thousands of men would die, the village was captured.
  • The Australians took the first four lines of the trenches and penetrated into the village of Pozieres, with some of the advance parties gaining a foot hold on the road to Bapaume.    It was during this action that the Australians were subject to a large number of gas shells which they nicknamed “Gassy”.
  • After 3 days and 5,000 casualties mostly due to enemy bombardment, the 1st Division was exhausted.
  • One of the innumerable acts of individual heroism is described in a letter about "the Pozieres runner"  - see the accompanying slideshow.

The Windmill            

  • 2 Div relieved the 1st on 29 July, it attacked twice, pushing the Australian line beyond the village.
  • In a night attack on 4 August the dominating feature of the windmill was taken; a further grenade attack took Hill 160.
  • The Germans counter attacked but the Australians held.
  • By 7 August, 2 Div had suffered 6849 casualties, again mostly due to the incessant bombardment by the Germans.  It was relieved by the 4th Division.

The immediate vicinity of the Windmill was particularly strewn with South Australian sacrifice.  The 27th Battalion actually captured the Windmill due to their position in the 2nd Division attack.  They held it in the face of ferocious shelling, and were relieved in place by the 48th Battalion, which reported when they were relieving the 27th that there was no one left alive in the forward positions.  They too were subjected to horrendous shelling to the extent that the Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Raymond Leane, refused to put two companies forward as directed by the Brigade Commander, believing quite rightly that they would likely all become casualties.  Instead he put two platoons forward, and a series of forward posts.

The 48th Battalion's experience at Pozieres is described in detail in an excellent narrative HERE (www.ww1westernfront.gov.au)

One of the forward posts was held by Sergeant David Twining and nine men.  After ferocious shelling and several German counterattacks, and surrounded by his dead and wounded colleagues, Twining sent a walking wounded man back to the battalion command post with a message;  "I am the only unwounded man left.  I have the Lewis Gun.  Do you still want me to hold the position?".  He and what was left of his men were retrieved.  Twining was wounded in the process. For their action in holding the Post, Sergeant  David Twining and Private Hugh Davoren were awarded the Military Medal.  The Lewis Gunner, Private Charles Tognini, wounded in both legs and an arm, had beaten off a series of attacks before becoming incapacitated.  He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

The Battle of Pozieres was the toughest task faced by the AIF in the First World War.  The remains of thousands of Australians killed in the fighting were never found and still lie beneath the fields in this tiny corner of France.  Today Pozieres is a shrine to the bravery of the original Anzacs.

Charles Bean's epitaph to the fallen is inscribed on a stone plinth at the site of the Windmill;

"The ruin of Pozieres Windmill which lies here was the centre of the struggle in this part of the Somme battlefield in July and August 1916. It was captured on August 4 by Australian troops who fell more thickly on this ridge than on any other battlefield of the war"

 

 Steve Larkins 10 July 2013

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Stories

"Corpse Avenue, it was a very appropriate name......."

Private J.A.C. Stuart wrote:

‘We spent most of our time deepening and widening the sap and it was sickening as we were digging up Australians and Germans all night and the stench was murder. There are dead lying around everywhere…Got relieved this morning by the 46th Battalion. We got shelled all the way out. We had to go through Corpse Avenue, it was a very appropriate name, as we even had to walk over dead men lying in the bottom of the sap.’

"...the 28th had ceased to exist...."

Private F.A. Mauger wrote:

'In about fifteen minutes the 28th had ceased to exist as a Battalion. We rushed through a machine gun fire that was absolutely terrible. It swept us away by dozens. Men were dropping all over the place, but the others didn’t check. The Germans had a perfect barrier of bursting bombs all along their wire, and in a few minutes it was all over. We never had a chance.’

"I would sooner be on Gallipoli........"

Sergeant L.A. Parsons wrote:

‘We have just come out of the firing line, it was absolutely the worst experience I have been in. In fact, I would sooner be on Gallipoli for another six months than spend a week more where we have just come from in the Big Push.’

NB - Parsons was fatally wounded at Mouquet Farm the following week. With the last of his strength he wrote a short note in his own blood to his brother - also in the 51st Battalion. The note was found on his body and passed to his brother. The family still has the note.

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Victoria Cross Winners at Pozieres

There were 5 VCs won by the Australians at Pozieres.

Pte John Leak 9 Bn, 3 Bde 1 Div. Audacious individual bombing attack under fire.

Lieutenant Arthur Blackburn 10th Bn, 3 Bde 1 Div. Personally led four successive bombing parties to drive enemy out and capture and hold 350m of trench in support of 9 Bn

Sgt Claud Castleton 5th MG Coy 5 Bde 2 Div. Recovering wounded under fire (KIA)

Pte Thomas Cooke 8Bn 2 Bde 1 Div. . Defending his post until killed.

Pte Martin O’Meara. 16 Bn 4 Bde 4Div. Stretcher bearer recovering wounded under fire.


On 7 August, Capt Albert Jacka, VC attacked a party of Germans conveying Australian prisoners to the rear and in a tenacious stand-up fight for which he should probably have been awarded a second VC (his first having been won at Gallipoli), he was wounded 7 times.

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Perhaps the most famous quote from Pozieres

"We are lousy, stinking, ragged, unshaven and sleepless. Even when we’re back a bit we can’t sleep for our own guns. I have one puttee, a dead man’s helmet, another dead man’s gas protector, a dead man’s bayonet. My tunic is rotten with other men’s blood, and partly splattered with a comrade’s brains. It is horrible, but why should you people at home not know? Several of my friends are raving mad. I met three officers out in No Man’s Land the other night, all rambling and mad. Poor Devils!."

Lieutenant John Raws, 23rd Battalion, 4 August 1916

John Raws was killed in action near Mouquet Farm on 23 August 1916. He has no known grave

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Names

Showing 8 people of interest from campaign

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CLARK, Albert Edward

Service number 1733
Lance Corporal
10th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 10 Aug 1886

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CAMPBELL, Gordon Cathcart

Service number Officer
Captain
10th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 4 Jun 1885

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HAY, Percy William

Service number Officer
Captain
4th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 14 Sep 1894

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CHALMERS, Thomas McKenzie

Service number 4397
Private
27th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 2 Aug 1884

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JAGO, Leonard Francis

Service number 2494
Private
26th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 9 Aug 1896

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SHERBON, Ivan Brunker

Service number Officer
Major
19th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 16 Feb 1893

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BROWN, Clarence

Service number 1242
Private
16th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 16 Aug 1888

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INGLEFINGER, Leslie Conrad

Service number 5113
Private
57th Infantry Battalion
AIF WW1
Born 1898