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Sunday, 30 December 2012

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Diary Entry - 29th December, 1917

The Major went down to the wagon line soon after breakfast. Lambkin was at the OP, but it was very misty and he could not see anything to shoot on. The Hn was somewhat quieter and did not strafe our front as much as he has been doing just lately. The aeroplanes were very active, at least the Huns were, and one flew over just as our wagons arrived at the guns.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Diary Entry - 28th December, 1917

A very cold day with east wind blowing and the snow drifting very badly. Before lunch Lambkin, Vosper and I went up to the crest OP. I registered a house on the Cambrai Road for calibration purposes. After lunch, in the teeth of a young gale, Vosper and self walked up in front of the spoil heap to look for a forward gun position and we prospected two good positions, one in a sunken road, and the other on the side of a bank but slightly in view of Bourlon Wood.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Diary Entry - 27th December, 1917

Vosper and I walked to the OP, taking our lunch up and having it there with Nick. As soon as the small meal was over, we registered the house at the corner of Graincourt with all guns. The Hun was very active, bumping our line in enfilade with howitzers and high velocity guns, also firing on a new bit of trench we are building round Flesquiere.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Diary Entry - 26th December, 1917

A cold east wind blowing, Cruikshank and the Padre go off to the wagon line soon after breakfast, the latter on his way for leave. A very quiet day.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Diary Entry - 25th December, 1917

Lambkin and I set out for the OP at seven a.m The light was very good in the early morning but it blew up for snow and there were some very bad intervals. Of course, during the shiny moments the wire went. We managed to register one gun on the corner house of Graincourt and at twelve p.m., Lambkin having a good idea of the front, I came in during a young blizzard, arriving for lunch and in time to go round the dinners with the Major. The men's dinner looked very appetising and they all looked very comfortable in the cupola Mess erected at their end of the mine. Cruikshank and Nicholson who had arrived on the previous day off leave turned up for tea, the padre also joining us a little later. Our dinner was very good. The turkey bought at a fabulous price in Amiens was cooked to the minute by Gnr. Alcock and we were all very comfortable, with a good fire going. We all sat round a blazing fire after dinner and sang lustily till midnight, the Major leaving us early in the evening to go to infantry Bde HQ on a liaison ob.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Diary Entry - 24th December, 1917

A mild misty moring, the commencement of a thaw. We spend the day in getting into our Mess and driving forward from Hermies on a GS wagon for Christmas and eventually had the best fire I have seen out here, in the new Mess.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Diary Entry - 23rd December, 1917

A shocking cold night with temperature ten degrees below freezing point. I go to OP at seven a.m and there spend a bitterly cold day. Observation was only just possible to Graincourt and I tried to shoot a gun on the left hand house on the sunken road but the light was very bad. I also checked a few rounds of D36 as they had to strafe a TM emplacement.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Diary Entry - 22nd December, 1917

A splendid bright sunny day. It began to thaw a little but froze again in the evening. The Major set on zero during the morning, correcting the line of some of the guns. A gun was brought up from ordinance during the morning and Sergeant Harwood and Gunner Cox were unlucky in being wounded at windy corner in Hermes, being taken straight to the dressing station and then away. The wounds were not very serious in both cases, being in the leg, and caused by a 4.2 high explosive.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Diary Entry - 21st December, 1917

I go to the OP at seven a.m. but it was very misty and at twelve, on enquiring from brigade whether I could come in, got an answer in the affirmative and came in for lunch, but we had to man the crest OP in the afternoon. As we came in, the Hun started to pipsqueak the position and we were lucky in getting to it during an interval as he began again soon after we got back. No material damage was done. We retaliated on the Hun with 12 rounds gunfire, the whole brigade firing, and he did not bother us again. Barrett goes to the wagon line as he is to go on a course of physical training on 24th December so he misses Christmas with the battery.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Diary Entry - 20th December, 1917

A misty, cold day, with a strong, bleak wind blowing from the east. Still freezing hard. We concentrate the work on the Mess end of the mine and get four sections of cupola well-covered in. In the afternoon Vosper and I visited the battalion and then went on from there to the front trenches and machine gun emplacements to see if we could gather any information as to where our bit of front could be seen from. We never learnt any more than we already knew and eventually turned home down the Havrincourt Road after having rather an anxious time with our own machine gun bullets which were just clearing the crest by inches.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Diary Entry - 19th December, 1917

A misty,cold day. Barrett goes to the OP but could not see anything for the fog. The men carried on getting the cupolas covered and had about six feet of chalk on them by the evening.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Diary Entry - 18th December, 1917

A hard frost and very cold morning. We carry on with the work in the position and get six sections of cupola sunk down into the ground at the men's end of the mine. The miners start driving a 9-foot chamber downhill to meet the other shaft and all that comes out goes on top of the cupolas.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Diary Entry - 17th December, 1917

I go up to the OP near Hesquiers at seven fifteen, walking via Havrincourt down the sunken road past what was our old wagonlines then into the trenches. It was snowing and blowing a young blizzard when we set out and continued all day. As a result of this, we saw nothing. The signaler and self half stood and sat in a mine shaft used by the infantry who used it as a cook house, so we were kept warm by the fumes and smoke from it, which at times almost gassed us. We came in at one thirty pm as it was still snowing hard and, as we approached the guns, the Hun shelled the position and vicinity with pipsqueaks. One gun was unfortunately pitching in the right end of the position and the first round got Gunner Watts of E subsection. He was in a very bad state and before he reached the dressing station died. That same evening we located the battery and the whole brigade kept shelling him in turns through the night. He answered the first burst of fire but was completely silenced by crashes of fire in return and I think he must have had a very thick night of it.

Gnr. Watts - killed in action
Gnr. Sharps - wounded in action.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Diary Entry - 16th December, 1917

The officers all arose at six a.m. as the staff expected an attack and we were to be ready sitting on the triggers. It was very hazy all day and so we took a rest at the guns, having done a fair amount of wandering one way and another in the last few days. After lunch it clears a little so Major, Barrett and self go up to the front crest and have a short joy shoot then we go round the old Hun trenches and find a whopping big 10-inch minnie emplacement. We brought back a sniper's suit of armour which we were all rather taken with as on swinging a pick hard at it we could only raise sparks and did not succeed in denting it.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Diary Entry - 15th December, 1917

A sunny day. Major goes up to the OP after breakfast to join Barrett, who had gone up early in the morning. The OP was just north of Flesquiere and meant that we had to maintain about four miles of wire. The Hun seemed to choose the country the line went over to fire on and consequently we were only through for a few minutes during the day - he broke it as soon as we mended it. Major came back about one forty-five p.m. and sent me up to the rear crest to register the guns on zero and calibrate on a house on the Cambrai road, he coming up to join me a few minutes later. It was a perfect light and we just finished No.6 as it grew dusk.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Diary Entry - 14th December, 1917

A very hazy day. Vosper and I arrange to go to battalion with Major Claudet at eleven a.m. Battalion was reached without incident and we found them very crowded there. At their directions we set out for the front line, down the main road, but, just as we were topping the crest, Claudet and I jibbed at going down the road for about a quarter mile in full view of the Hun, so we turned back and up towards a trench running over the crest of the 47th Div's front. We found, as is usually the case, the men very ignorant about their front, so we blundered on till we reached an old Hun 5.9 gun position, now occupied by our Stokes guns and they directed us to Company HQ. While inspecting the Hun gun and shells, Claudet and I lost Vosper, taking the wrong turn in a trench, and eventually reached Company just after Vosper left. We were directed to our division from there and had to proceed over the top, as the trenches were not joined up. Neither of us liked this but we wasted no time over it. We eventually found our own division and spoke through from Company HQ, telling our people to fire on SOS lines, three or four bursts battery fire. When we sallied forth to observe our rounds, the Hun started bombing our post just about 20 yards down the trench and, amidst the bombing on one side and one of our guns – No. 2 - dropping short, life was not extra pleasant. It was almost dusk when this was over and we walked along the front line to the canal and came home along through No. 7 lock. I found on reaching home No. 2 gun had the wrong range on, having put on 3,800 instead of 4,800 s,o as the No. 1 was a young NCO, we let him off with a strafe. On reaching the Mess found Vosper had only just got back, he having seen the shoot from the OP and nearly received the shorts on his own head.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Diary Entry - 13th December, 1917

Have rather a cold night in a small cubbyhole behind the parapet and am roused at five forty-five by a lot of our guns firing and, on getting up to investigate matters, find the Hun is taking it all very quietly. About six thirty a.m. the signaller comes up to tell me we are expecting an attack at Bullecourt, just to the north, a deserter having come over in the night and told us. Everything quietened down by seven fifteen a.m. I did not get away till eight fifteen a.m - the seven o'clock seemed to be very late in reaching the OP, or else the brigade signallers were too lazy and did not let me know when he had arrived. They knew I was putting in a strafe about them and probably were retaliating.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Diary Entry - 12th December, 1917

Start for brigade OP at five thirty a.m. with two signallers and an intelligent infanteer from 99th brigade HQ. We had rather a difficult walk, crossing trenches and wire in the dark. The latter is very difficult to see against the brown soil. The light was fair throughout the day and plenty of movement could be seen on the German side, also a TM firing from Kangaroo redoubt. We fired a few rounds HE bursts of fire on them and they stopped movement and all. Towards dusk a few machine gun bullets began whistling over the crest, very persistently We left after a burst of bullets at four thirty p.m., carrying two stoves. We had not gone very far before we had to fall flat for the machine gun bullets. However we soon got over the crest and away from the bullets. Then the fun commenced. We got into a maze of wire and trenches in the dark and eventually got into the canal by the ramp and walked right back through the cutting to the railway bridge. It took us two and a quarter hours to come back and we were just about beat having crawled over so many trenches and through so much wire.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Diary Entry - 11th December, 1917

Vosper and I again go to the OP where we run into the Colonel and the new orderly officer, Lieutenant Farr a, very bumptious individual. The Colonel asked us to shoot on our SOS but we could scarcely see them for the crest. We come back for lunch and I spend the time in the afternoon building a hole in the ground to sleep in, as our Mess is too congested, being a trench 4 feet by 12 by 6 1/2 in height

Monday, 10 December 2012

Diary Entry - 10th December, 1917

Beautifully clear day. Nice sun shining. I went up to the OP just over the crest with Vosper and had a splendid view. The light was perfect and Cambray/in[?] looked within reach of our guns even. We walked across the canal and got along the sunken road where there was a hung trench mortar still in its emplacement, no one having moved it since its capture. It looked a nice little toy and was the same type as our Stokes. We then turned off the road into a trench and got another good glimpse of the country from there. Not very far on to our right we could see the famous Scottie of TM registering the seven ones. We got back about ten forty-five a.m. and Major Mills and Captain Heebit called, staying till nearly twelve, imbibing much whiskey to keep the cold out. Woolsey, the gas officer, also turned up. In the afternoon Barrett and Siggers turned up – at least they came for lunch. In the afternoon, the Hun shelled a six-inch howitzer battery down near the spoil heap behind Havrincourt and funnily enough was enfilading them with a 10-centimetre gun but never hit them, always dropping over them or just short.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Photographs from France

My grandfather did not make a diary entry on this day in 1917. Instead, I thought it worth including this story from yesterday's Australian newspaper:
HUNDREDS of young Anzacs posing for pictures to send home to loved ones nearly a century ago have helped create an extraordinary window on to life and death on the Western Front.

In 1916, the Diggers were pulled back just a few kilometres from the bloody battles in France in World War I for a rest in the French village of Vignacourt on the Somme.

There they posed for French photographers Louis and Antoinette Thuillier. Their images, extraordinarily clear and detailed and startlingly warm, were captured on glass plates.

With the end of the war, the couple stored the plates in the attic of their farmhouse, where they remained for nearly a century.

Hearing that the treasure trove of antique glass photographic plates had survived, journalist Ross Coulthart began a hunt for them across northern France last year that led to an ancient metal chest.

Nearly 4000 fragile glass plates were discovered and bought by media magnate Kerry Stokes, who presented them to the Australian War Memorial. They are on display in an exhibition entitled Remember Me: The Lost Diggers of Vignacourt.

This image is is one of several from the collection published by The Australian in August but lacking details of what happened to the men it portrayed.

In his new book The Lost Diggers (published by HarperCollins), Coulthart notes that the individual fortunes of the soldiers in the photograph illustrate the extremes of the war and what it brought out in the men who fought in it.

At least four of these young men served in Gallipoli as well as France. Standing on the left is Lieutenant Harold Maurice Griffiths. He joined up in August 1914, soon after the outbreak of war. He'd been a cadet sergeant and was immediately made a sergeant in the 5th Battalion.

Griffiths became ill at Gallipoli and spent considerable time in hospital but he had clearly impressed his superiors and was quickly promoted to lieutenant.

The young officer saw an extraordinary amount of combat. He was promoted to captain and was wounded in the bloody Battle of Pozieres, but was back in action in time to be wounded again during a raid on an enemy trench. This time he remained on duty.

In April 1917 he took part in the Allied attacks on the Hindenburg Line at Bullecourt and was awarded the Military Cross for leadership as he moved from post to post under heavy fire, encouraging his men to drive off an enemy counterattack.

In May 1917, at the so-called second Battle of Bullecourt, the Australians endured 48 hours of furious shelling and beat off as many as 13 German counterattacks.

Among the 7000 Australian casualties was Captain Griffiths.

The battalion history describes how "the death of this beloved officer roused the men to such a pitch of cold fury that they took unusual risks in getting at the enemy during the counterattack. When the company left the trenches, tired and spent as they were, they insisted they should carry Griffiths's body away for a decent burial, so, through the night from Bullecourt to Vaulx, they formed a reverent cortege for this man's brave remains."

Griffiths was killed in action six months after the picture was taken. At the time, his younger brother Howard was just 14. Twenty-six years later, Howard was killed in action in New Guinea.

Seated on the left is Captain Thomas Karran Maltby, a self-made man who left school aged 11, after his father died, and worked three jobs to get himself through night school. Maltby worked as a battery boy in a Victorian goldmine while he studied for his mining engineer's certificate, and then as a tramway labourer and as a clerk for a sugar refining company.

He was promoted to captain after service in France in 1916 and was awarded the Military Cross for leadership of his company and for organising daylight raids on enemy positions.

During a stint as an instructor he was injured while experimenting with ways to fire grenades from a cut-down rifle.

Maltby survived the war and returned home a hero in 1919. He was later elected an MP in the Victorian parliament and became a minister, Speaker and deputy premier. In 1949, he was knighted. Sir Thomas Maltby retired in 1961 after 32 years in politics.

Seated next to Maltby is Captain Eric George De Trembley Permezel, another Military Cross holder who survived the war.

Permezel was a 20-year-old insurance clerk when he enlisted as a second lieutenant on November 11, 1914, never dreaming that the war would end exactly four very bloody years later in 1918.

He was hit by shrapnel in his arm, chest, thigh, back and shoulders during a bombardment in June 1916 and was out of action until September.

On August 23, 1918, Permezel was awarded the Military Cross for heroism. The citation said that when his unit was held up by several enemy posts, he worked his way around behind the German positions to capture three machineguns and 12 prisoners. Apart from stints as an instructor and time away while sick with tonsillitis, he remained with his battalion until the end of the war.

Seated on the right is Lieutenant George Leslie Makin, who joined up as a private, aged 20, in August 1914.

He was quickly promoted through the non-commissioned ranks and then, after service at Gallipoli, to second lieutenant. He lamented that it was "rotten" to leave Gallipoli "after all the men we lost there. I suppose it was the best thing to do after all the blunders were made. People don't realise how close we were to getting through."

Later in France, despite lengthy spells in hospital being treated for paratyphoid and trench fever, Makin led his company in several fiercely contested battles until he was badly wounded by an exploding artillery shell in August 1918. He died two months later in a hospital at Rouen just before the war ended.

Standing on the right is Lieutenant John William Dwyer.

Dwyer was sent to hospital from Gallipoli suffering from appendicitis and from there was posted to the Western Front in France. He was eventually "relieved of his post" and sent home. In much harsher times, his papers were stamped: "Services no longer required - inefficient".

Coulthart comments: "Knowing what we know now about post-traumatic stress disorder, there should have been no shame for him or his family in what came to pass."

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Diary Entry - 8th December, 1917

I come up to the guns at ten a.m. to stay, Siggers and Cruickshank going down in the afternoon. We worked hard on the Mess in the morning, getting the trench well covered with both large and small cupolas. It was just as well we had completed the job too, as it began raining steadily about six p.m. There was great activity going on at two mineshafts and they had already made very good progress in the afternoon. It was a rotten light but smoke shell proved excellent stuff to do the job with. Well we did not attack in the afternoon; it was put off, being such a rotten day.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Diary Entry - 7th December, 1917

A cold cloudy windy day and inclined to thaw. I rode out after breakfast with Bombardier Nichol to find RE material, going round to the outskirts of Havrincourt wood, where there have been a lot of 18-pounder gun positions. We find a lot of stuff and not far from a bridge which just crosses the canal below the position. Siggers and Nicholson arrived at the wagon lines for lunch, the latter going on leave in the evening.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Diary Entry - 6th December, 1917

Ride Ethel over to Haplincourt to see Pelham about cupolas and am lucky in being able to get a chit for 28 pieces of the large kind, to be drawn from ammunition refilling point at Ruyaulcourt. We sent up another eight wagons of ammunition to the guns.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Diary Entry - 5th December, 1917

Down tents and March at nine thirty a.m. for Bertincourt. I go on with Hewitson to see the new wagon line site. The road was like glass and one had to be very careful that our horses did not come down. We found ourselves bunched up into a small bit of ground and it was a tight fit for the whole brigade. Water was two miles away

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Diary Entry - 4th December, 1917

We go to the new wagon lines, leaving at one p.m. and getting onto good ground down near the canal just between Ruyaulcourt and Bertincourt. But, unfortunately, we were not stopping there. Pelham came round and told us we were to move on to Bertincourt in the morning. As we marched into the village, I was somewhat surprised at meeting Dixon of the 15th battery taking an officer from each battery and two NCOs to reconnoitre the new gun position to the rear of Hermes near Square Copse. Evidently, we were to come back there and drop into action at a range of 6,500 yards. Siggers luckily arrived at the wagon lines at three thirty, just as we were getting the lines up, and told us all that was happening so we were able to send off limbers and GS wagons straightaway to move the guns that night. I also got McLean of the second section DAC to send up 10 wagons.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Diary Entry - 3rd December, 1917

Very cold morning. Barrett goes to Ruyaulcourt to meet the staff captain and have wagon lines allotted. Shapland goes out to look out a new road back from the new gun position down near the canal. In the middle of sending up gun limbers and ammunition at three p.m. Vaisey, the adjutant, came along and told me that the guns would not be moving, so I sent up the ammunition and cancelled the gun limbers, 10 wagons of ammunition in all went up.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Diary Entry - 2nd December, 1917

Began to rain late on Saturday night and continued heavily all night. We had rather a damp sleep as a bivouac cover we had over the entrance formed itself into a tank and came down with a rush early in the morning. It proved rather nerve wracking to me as I had been expecting the wall of the trench to fall in on us as it was taking a great deal too much weight. We all had to register a spoil heap just this side of the Cambrai road as the infantry allowed the Hun to walk over and collar it at dusk the night before. As is usually the way, our people suddenly realised they wanted to keep it, so we had to register and be prepared to put down a barrage.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Diary Entry - 1st December, 1917

Rise at five forty-five. See the horses watered and fed then hit out for the guns at about six a.m. I was somewhat surprised to find two batteries of 60-pounders down the road all pointing due south and on getting through Havrincourt to find horses and men moving about as usual in full view of Bourlon wood. On reaching the guns found they knew nothing and so I could give them quite a lot of information about the situation in the south. It never seemed to dawn on them how close we were to being cut off and I don't think it dawned on many of us how close we had been to a disaster as, if the Hun had not been stopped where he had, two corps at least would have been captured. As it was a CRA and an RTO were amongst the captured and that is saying a good deal. On getting back to the lines, I find Armytage has collected a motorbike and wants me to set her going. He had got it off the salvage dump. There was not anything very wrong, though it had received very bad treatment, as most of these government machines do.