January 2011

Eric Wren recounts details of the rest “activities” undertaken by the Battalion including stories as conveyed by Private W. Atkins.

June [1917] began in a burst of glorious weather. In the invigorating warmth of a teaming spring-time, the units of the I Anzac Corps in back areas, far from the line, were settling down to a period of rest and hard training that was to last until well into September.

The 3rd Battalion had suffered to such an extent in the [Second] Bullecourt fighting that in two companies immediately afterwards only a bare 30 men had answered the roll call. The loss of trained N.C.O.’s was proportionately high. These gaps were to some extent made good by the return of “old hands” from schools and from the base depot, but even so, the four companies were at this time only about half-strength.

All ranks were cheered considerably by the news that the Americans had at last joined in the struggle. It meant, save for some great accident, that victory was ultimately assured.

The inauguration of divisional competitions were an incentive to thorough training. These began in the battalions during the first week in June, when D Company won the inter-company contest in the 3rd. In the 1st Brigade competition which followed, D Company was again successful. This win gave it the right to compete against the winners in the other brigades – C Company of the 8th Battalion, and D Company of the 10th. The bridage results were made known at the divisional sports meeting held near Henencourt on June 12th; and the following day D Company marched from Buire to billets in Henencourt, where the final test took place a week or so later. Ably led by Captain A.L. Hewish, D Company of the 3rd emerged victorious and thus gained the coveted divisional cup.

*//[Unfortunately, Captain Hewish was killed in action only 4 months later on 5 October 1917 during the Battle for Broodseinde Ridge. He now rests in Aeroplane Cemetery, Belgium (IV. A. 6.).]

The battalion band, under Sergeant Bert Williams, played the winners back to Buire with appropriate airs, and seven days’ leave to Amiens was promptly granted to the men by Lieut-Colonel Moore.

On one of our rests at Buire-sur-Ancre, the local miller was also the known as the brewer, not that he brewed, but he wholesaled ‘biere Suisse’ to the local ‘estaminet’ proprietors. On one trip from the railway goods yard over a mile away he had just pulled up his team of big white Percherons at the mill-yard gate, when some of the lads asked him how many barrels he had brought. “Six,” he replied; where-upon he was told that there were only five on the waggon and that he must have dropped on on the way. He let out a great roar, jumped down from his cart, and, without waiting to check his load, rushed back along the road to locate and secure the missing barrel before the troops got hold of it. By the time he had gone to the railway and back, the whole of the beer had been unloaded by the troops and rolled to the bank of the river, where a great camp-fire was soon organised and the evening devoted to singing and consuming the good brown stuff so freely provided. Some went into the officer’s mess, some went into the sergeant’s mess, and the rest was successfully surrounded by the lads in the good old-fashioned way. The brewer, after an all-night search, discovered at break of day  his missing barrels busted in and very empty bobbing about alongside the weir. Of course no one was able to afford any information regarding the occurance. – Private W. Atkins.

But nothing succeeds like success. The battalion was now called upon to provide a guard of honour to no less a personage than the Duke of Connaught, who was visiting the Third Army Headquarters. This guard, furnished by 100 men from D Company, under Captain Hewish and Lieuts Shelly and Taylor, carried out its duties in an admirable manner at Albert on June 18th.

The same day, the remainder of the battalion moved from Buire to bivouacs round Englebelmer and Mailly-Maillet, and for  a week took part in field manoeuvres over the old battlefield of Beaumont-Hamel. One night was spent in practicing a full dress night attack.*

[footnote] * It was during these manoeuvres  that an incident occurred which set the battalion chuckling for several days. Private Jack Dean, the wit of the unit, over six feet in height and thin as a whippet, a man who stuttered badly, was the central figure. At the rear of the battalion he and a few others were carrying sand-bags filled with grass, to represent ammunition. A staff officer, appearing on the scene, selected Dean as a likely man to question. “What part of the outfit do you represent, my man, and what have you in the bag?” he asked. “B___y m-m-m-edals for the S-S-Staff.” came the ready reply.

Back to Buire, the battalion on July 6th supplied a guard of honour on the occasion of the unveiling by General Birdwood of the momument at Pozieres to the men of the 1st Division who fell in the operations there in July and August 1916. On the following day the accidental explosion of a bomb during instruction wounded Second-Lieut A. Croll and eleven other ranks.

On July 12th the units of the 1st Brigade lined the Albert-Amiens road while King George went by. Next day a move was made by route march to the Bray area, and for ten days further exercises and training were carried out in the old French lines there. On the 27th we entrained at Buire for Flanders, our destination being Nieppe, close to the village of Ebblinghem where the battalion had occupied its first billets some eighteen months before.

“Old Pop,” assisted by his second wife, very much his junior, and three daughters too old to be much attraction, conducted and ‘estminet’ opposite out billets at Buire. Still he enjoyed fair patronage owing to good ‘biere’ and accessibility at all hours, legitimate or otherwise, as the well in his yard contained good water and furnished a resonable excuse for being found on the premises out of hours. One evening Madame announced that the ‘estaminet’ would be closed the next day, as she and the daughters would be spending the day in Amiens. Apparently “Pop” could not be trusted to hand over all the takings. After tea we heard knocking, and found that “Pop” had been locked up in the cellar for sake-keeping. Readily he agreed that if he were liberated he would open up as usual, and as the doors, etc., were only secured in the usual careless French fashion with wooden pins thrust into doorposts, no difficulty was experienced by the liberators. In token of his appreciation all drinks were on the house, and a good time was had by all until about 9 p.m., when we were rudely disturbed by the arrival of Madame and the three ugly daughters. Poor “Pop” was soundly belaboured by four infuriated women when they found no beer and no money was the result of the evening’s trading. a tarpaulin-muster next pay day compensated “Pop” for his sufferings on the condition that not one sou of it was to go to Madame; he assured us he had a secure plant for such few coins as eluded Madame’s eagle eye. – Private W. Atkins.

Randwick to Hargicourt (pages 247-250).


continued from Part 3…..

I would like to be able to say that after undertaking this research that I can provide information about the whereabouts of all of the missing soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, unfortunately it is with a heavy heart I must write that this is not the case. There are 25 soldiers listed as killed on 4, 5, 6 & 7 October 1917 that little-to-no verifiable or factually accurate information can be sourced. The link below will display the data that I have been able to collate about these men so far.

3rd Battalion – Names 4, 5, 6 & 7 October 1917

Whilst this might be the end of research for these men, the search for information about their brothers in arms will continue. Who knows what the future holds, someday someone might well stumble across some old files or locate accurate accounts of what happened to these men, for now we can only remember them and the sacrifices they made for us.

Lest We Forget