When I started to research the names of the 3rd Battalion soldiers listed as missing in France it it became evident that there was a strong connection between 63 of them. The list of these names are included at the end of this post. Throughout the course of reviewing each of these soldiers service records there was one strange paragraph of writing that kept poping up ….. “Buried in the vicinity of Maricourt Wood (57c)”. This mysterious red writing typically appeared, hand written, at the end of the typed ‘Casulty Form – Active Service’ Form (Army Form B. 103).

  

So, this discovery raised a few questions: 1) who had written this in their service records?; 2) why was it written in Red pen and not typed as per the rest of the entries on the form?; and 3) were is this place Maricourt Wood? I have to make a admission at this point that when I originally read this writting, and with my eyesight being less that perfect, I actually thought the place name was ‘Mericourt Wood’ not ‘Maricourt Wood’….how embarrassing.

Anyway, I really thought I was onto something here, so I started to reasearch Maricourt Wood first to see what I could turn up. Interestingly, during this search I came apon (again) the research conducted by Margaret Johnston, and her family, in relation to 1175 SMYTHE, Herbert (‘Bert’) Andrew who along with many others was killed in May 1917. Margaret had also discovered (previously) in Bert’s service record this mysterious red writing and set out to find out what she could about it and Bert’s final resting place. It is important to note here that Margaret’s research identified a total of 62 soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, which ties almost perfectly with my 63. I think 2149 McGRATH, Henry Thomas John is the odd man out here because his service record does not explicitly state “Buried in the vicinity of Maricourt Wood (57c)”, however in Red Cross records he is noted as having been killed alongside GODSON, ACKROYD, SINCLAIR & BEAN (see list below). These four men do have the red writing in their service records.

Margaret’s research had first identified Maricourt Wood as being outside of the town of Maricourt (as had my research) and any normal person would say well that’s definitive enough. However, whilst Maricourt and the neighbouring wood were in the vicinity of some of the battles fought by the battalion, this location did not fit with the hand written note in the service record. You will note the ’57c’ reference from the writting which relates to the Pas de Calais region of France, and after some considerable study I discovered (as had Margaret) that there was another Maricourt Wood located to the East of Vaulx-Vraucourt.

It is important to highlight at this stage that Margaret has previously conducted quite a considerable amout of research on this location and unfortunatly suffered significant issues when asking the Army History Unit and Australian War Memorial researchers for assistance in researching this location. Anyway, one thing that I realised about Margaret’s research was that it appears that she had not reviewed any aerial photos of the region from that time period – and I would be suprised if there weren’t any available – so I set about trying to track some down.

The McMaster University WW1 Maps & Air Photos Website was revisited in the hope that some photos may be available. It’s important to point out at this stage that the specific area’s of investigation with in the 57c map area were NW.2 and NW.4. Unfortunatly, the website had only a limited number of  (oblique) photos and the vast majority were from 1918 and the wrong regions within 57c. The online collections the Australian War Memorial (AWM), National Archives of Australia (NAA), National Archives (NAUK) and Imperial War Museum (IWM) were also checked without success.

With this course of investigation stagnating, attention was then turned to the Battalion war diary for the 3rd Battalion to try and locate any mention of Maricourt Wood. The diary contained two disposition maps covering the period 29 April 1917 through 9 May 1917. Margaret had also reviewed these maps and in her research included a cropped version of the first image showing only the bottom half.

  

The Battalion was originally billeted in Vaulx-Vraucourt on 29 April 1917 and also occupied posts located to the North-West of town, between Vraucourt Wood and Maricourt Wood. The Battalion then quickly advanced to Noruil on 03 May 1917 and then further north towards Bullecourt on the same day. Between the 4-5 May 1917 the Battalion advanced to positions North-West of Bullecourt in and around OG1 & OG2 as a part of the offensive on the Hindenburg Line. During this time period the Battalion was subject to heavy Artillery bombardment by both friendly and enemy batteries and many soldiers were killed or wounded.

The Battalion then began to withdraw back to positions and posts, originally occupied on in April, through until 09 May 1917 when relieved by the 29th Battalion. It is important to point out that most of names listed as being “Buried in the vicinity of Maricourt Wood (57c)” were suffered during this phase between 4-9th May 1917.

In Lieut. Colonel Moore’s ‘Report on Operations 29.4.17 to 9.5.17’ it is stated in the ‘Co-Operation of Artillery & Infantry’ section that:

“On 4th. our “S.O.S.” signals were not answered. A forward observation Officer was stationed at my Battalion Headquarters. This Officer was of great assistance. Communication was only possible by H.P. Buzzer. Our “S.O.S.” barrage was very effective, and excepting case mentioned above, rapidly opened when called for. HEAVIES, 4.5″ Howitzers, and 18 pounders at different times dropped short in and behind our trench; on one occasion our Field Artillery placed a barrage on my line. Many 18 pounder shell cases and pieces of our heavy shells picked up in our trench. A number of casualties were traced to our own shells. One shell burst in our trench and killed four men.”

This report may help to explain why there were a large number of 3rd Battalion casualties during this period or withdrawal, but unfortunately does not help definitively locate their burial location. It is also unfortunate that the 3rd Battalion history book does provide any insight as to the losses suffered during this withdrawal.

I also decided to also double check the war diaries of the 1st, 2nd & 3rd Australian Field Ambulance for May 1917, as they formed part of the 1st Division in France during the war, because if soldiers of the 3rd Battalion were “Buried in the vicinity of Maricourt Wood (57c)” during this time period then it is likely that others of other Battalions might have been as well and were probably carried by stretcher-bearers from these units.

Unfortunately, the 1st & 2nd Australian Field Ambulance diaries did not yield any specific information about burials, other than the 2nd Australian Field Ambulance noting that during Bullecourt their ranks were depleted by nearly 30%, which may explain difficulties experienced in initially repatriating soldiers remains during the withdrawal as the focus would most likely have been on the wounded.

However, in the 3rd Australian Field Ambulance diary there was hand drawn a map showing the locations of the dressing and casualty clearing stations in relation to Vaulx-Vraucourt and Noruil, which are within the area that the 3rd Battalion would have been withdrawing. The map however appears to have been drawn not by a cartographer as the positioning of Vaulx-Vraucourt and Noruil in realtion to each other and the stations does not appear to coincide with maps from the 3rd Battalion war diary (above). This initially made its interpretation very difficult.

The most notable feature on this map is what appears to be a railway line which runs in a horse-shoe shape around the edge of Vaulx-Vraucourt heading back to the south-west towards Bapaume. What’s interesting about that you say? Well you will note that this railway line does not appear on the map from the 3rd Battalion war diary above and also appears to have two “way-points” or loading areas (marked as squares with dotten lines leading back to Vaulx-Vraucourt).

The first square appears to mention the loading of wounded at this point, it is likely that if wounded soldiers had succumb to their wounds after having already passed through the aid posts and casualty clearing & dressing stations – on their way to Vaulx-Vraucourt – then they would have probably been buried right there and then. However, this theory does not support the location being recorded as “Buried in the vicinity of Maricourt Wood (57c)”.

The use of Maricourt Wood as a location reference could be explained if Vaulx Wood ceased to exist due to artillery bombardments or the felling of trees for lumber. In the Google Earth image above, the locations of both woods have been marked along with an approximation of the path of the railway line. Also marked are the two loading areas, which to my mind would have been most likely situated near to roads leading to Vaulx-Vraucourt. The location of these areas and the railway line are quite plausible for two reasons: 1) the line has been constructed in such a way as to circumvent the town itself – avoiding damage from artillery – whilst still being within easy distance to facilitate movement of troops and supplies; and 2) to prevent running the line through the allied defences which stretched from the top of Maricourt Wood through to the North West of Vaulx Wood (see disposition map above).

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that this railroad was constructed by Australian forces so attempting to trace additional maps of it’s absolute location was going to prove a challenge. I reviewed the May 1917 war diaries of the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 9th & 28th Battalions as well as the 1st Brigade, 7th Australian Field Ambulance and 7th Field Company, Australian Engineers in the hopes of locating additional maps to confirm the location of the railway, without success. There were numerous other Australian units involved in the Bullecourt battles, however trying to compile a definitive list was quite difficult and I felt there was little value in doing so at this stage.

Of course there is also another theory. It is possible that the remains of these 63 soldiers were in fact buried in many different locations during Bullecourt and at a later stage re interred near Maricourt Wood. Some of the red cross files of these soldiers list the follwing as their last known burial location:

5656 BRAGG: Red Cross File states buried by the Padre of the 12th Battalion. This is confirmed by DOUGLAS, W.K. who also states burying “several” other soldiers in the location stated as “Railway Embankment, Bullecourt (57C N.W. CS central)”.

711 CROCOMBE: Red Cross File states buried behind the front line trench about 700 yards from the outskirts of the village. Also states buried 50 yrds from Battn HQ along with another man.

3752 EARP: Red Cross file states buried by 5th Battalion soldiers between last line and supports [most likely between Bullecourt and Noruil].

5141 MAHONEY: Red Cross file states buried on the side of Sunken Road [Bullecourt].

6105 STAMMERS: Red Cross file states lots of men were buried in the Cemetery at Noreuil.

6428 TAYLOR: Red Cross file states burial location as OG2 just in front of Queant.

There is also some of these soldiers listed as having been killed alongside one or more others on the list. However, all of this still does not help us determine definitively their final resting place.

As a next step I will be ordering Graves Registration files from the Australian War Memorial in a hope that perhaps some answers might be found. The results of this search will be revealed in a subsequent blog entry.

The names of the 63 soldiers of the 3rd Battalion listed as “Buried in the vicinity of Maricourt Wood (57c)” are:
6157 ACKROYD, George Charles
2555A ALFORD, Edgar Stephenson
244 ANSCHAU, Gilbert Goldie
6418 BARLOW, Albert Edwin
517 BARROW, John William
6459 BEAN, John Selwyn
3694 BECKHAUS, John Roy
5656 BRAGG, William George
3711 BUDD, William Arthur J
6233 BUDGE, James
5659 BUTTEL, William Robert
1510 BUTTERWORTH, Robert Charles
1516 CHALK, William
6488 CRILLY, James
711 CROCOMBE, Walter Cecil Gould
2614 DAVIDSON, George Rae
4594 DEVINE, Thomas
2967 DUNBAR, George
3752 EARP, Frederick Clarence
6502 FIELDER, Alfred Leopold
729 GODART, Thomas B
2654 GODSON, John Harold
2148 GRAHAM, William George
2130 HARLEY, James John
3090 HARRIS, Stanley Harold
734 HEATHCOTE, Albert Wallace
6516 HODGE, James Barclay
5684 HOWARD, Francis R. Rathbone
6294 JONES, Tom
6300 KENNAUGH, Frederick Joseph
6857 LAING, William
3821 LARDEAUX, Stanley Edward
1295, LOCKYER, Thomas James
6424 LONERGAN, Stephen
6540 MACDONALD, Robert Giliam
5141 MAHONEY, Cecil Denis
6070 McDONNELL, Frank Vincent
2149 McGRATH, Henry Thomas John
6311 MOORE, Thomas
3137 MUIR, Robert Joseph
6551 NIXON, William Fletcher
931 O’DELL, John Frederick
6554 OSBORNE, Joseph
5731 RICHARDS, Charlie
6342 RICHARDS, Henry Mitchell
6086 ROWELL, Thomas
3223 SEALE, Spencer Stanley
2677 SHEPHERD, Percy William
1082 SIMPSON, Willoughby
4299 SINCLAIR, Norval Robert James
6357 SKELTON, Walter
5445 SMITH, Reginald Charles
1175 SMYTHE, Herbert Andrew
1087 SOLTAU, Herman Henry Frank
6105 STAMMERS, Ernest Ward
5229 STEVENS, Alexander
5742 SWAIN, John Walton
6428 TAYLOR, Perclval
5745 TRAVERS, Ambrose Leslie George
3930 WALSH, Vivian Henry
2490 WATSON, Robert
6597 WILSON, John
195 YORKE, John

Lest We Forget….

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