Chapter XXII
The Capture of Pozieres
Randwick to Hargicourt, pp. 155-159
Eric Wren

During the afternoon of July 20th the battalion, in “battle order”, marched out of Warloy for Albert on its way to the line, to take part in the 1st Divisions first major operation in France. The day was fine and warm, and the route at first ran through pleasant cornfields almost ready to harvest. The spirits of the men were high. The comparatively easy tours in the line in front of Sailly and Fleurbaix had merely whetted appetites for more serious fighting. The temper generally may be judged from the fact that a man in D Company [Coy], suffering from a sprained ankle, actually wept when ordered to the rear for purposes of evacuation. Incidentally, that same soldier, when he rejoined the battalion after Pozieres, was consoled by one of his mates who grimly remarked, “Well, Bill, you ain’t missed much”. [There was no soldier named ‘Bill’ in the battalion, so we can safety assume that his first name was William. Unfortunately, there many men with the name William in the battalion so confirmation of his  identification is difficult].

As the marching “fours” approached Albert, the cornfields were replaced by all those things significant of a great “push”. Endless horse-lines, batteries of artillery, piled-up shells, dumps of every description, and troops representative of all arms of the service. Bustle and activity characterized [sic] the whole countryside, which was humming like a bee-hive. The Australian’s could not help wonder what the German atillery was doing within easy reach of such splendid targets, almost entirely without concealment. Then it was realized [sic] that the Germans had been temporarily driven from the air; secondly, that their guns were far too busy with counter-battery work, and other preparations for resisting the British advance, to have any time to deal tangentially with movements farther back.

The evening before moving out, the battalion has first heard from afar a real barrage – one of those which were put down from time to time, either as a feint or as a preparation for the real attack – and in spite of the distance, had been amazed, appalled almost, by its intensity. It is not to be compared with any artillery-fire the battalion had previously known on Gallipoli or in France.

Along the horizon, to north and south, rode an endless line of British “sausages” (observation balloons), swaying gently far above their moorings, a further proof of British mastery in the air. High over the the town of Albert protruded the partially ruined brick tower of the basilica, surmounted by the great gilded statue of the Virgin and Child, leaning perilously over the street like a diving figure – “Annette Kellerman”, as the Diggers were quick to name it. The French said at the time that the fall of the historic figure would presage the end of the war. Actually, it was displaced in April, 1918, during the German occupation of the city, more than six months before the Armistice.

As Albert was being shelled frequently, the battalion marched through the town by platoons at distances of fifty paces. They passed right under the leaning statue at which many apprehensive glance was directed, so imminent did its fall appear.

At the foot of the slope rising just beyond Albert, a halt was called on the left of the main road leading to Bapaume and the evening meal taken while the battalion awaited guides from the 68th British Brigade, who were to lead it to the particular support trenches to be occupied. At dusk the guides arrived and we moved off, by platoons, over open ground pitted with shell-holes and traversed by straggling strands of shattered wire entanglements, and permeated with the pungent sickly-sweet smell of a recent battle – an odour of T.N.T. [Trinitrotoluene], cordite, ammonal gas, and blood.

Though the night was comparatively quite, the Germans were shelling the support area intermittently with “5.9s” [5.9 inch gun]; and, on arrival at its destination, the battalion found that the companies it was relieving, although they has taken no part in the actual fighting, were in a bad way because of the continuous shelling. They were very glad to be relieved.

C Company (Capt. E. W. G. WREN) [the author of Randwick to Hargicourt] and D Company (Capt. J. R. O. HARRIS) were located in a support trench running across “Sausage Valley”. A [Coy] (Major A. R. EDWARDS) and B [Coy] (Cap. KEMP) were accommodated in a communication trench running back from D Company’s trench and in another parallel support trench in rear. On the left flank of the latter trench, Lieut-Col HOWELL-PRICE established his headquarters in an old German dugout. In a shallow cutting to the left of the battalion sector were the remains of a light railway line. At one point this cutting was chocked with British and German corpses. Indeed, unburied dead lay thickly all over the ground, and before advancing to the assembly trenches it was thought advisable to send out parties of veteran soldiers to bury the bodies adjoining the route, for the sights were well calculated to unnerve the younger soldiers.

In the midst of these dreaful surroundings the battalion spent two days perfecting details of equipment, receiving instructions as to the advance and the attack, writing letters home, and – in the case of officers and N.C.O.s – taking occasional trips to the front, was held by the 1st Battalion A.I.F. Among the “issues’ made to officers were so many scale maps that they filled all pockets, gas-helmet satchels, and haversacks to repletion. One company commander solved the problem by handling all except that indicating Pozieres to his batman, a utilitarian who used them subsequently during a shortage of fuel to boil a dixie of tea. The area was fairly heavily shelled by “5.9s” day and night, but the casulaties were negligible. Many of the shells were duds, and few caused casualties in the trenches.

From the support area two roads, intersecting both the British and German front lines, ran forward towards the village of Pozieres [approx. located 57.C (S.E).X.4.C]. One ran from “Casualty Corner” [57.C (S.E).X.14.A], a sunken cross-road near the head of Sausage Valley, past the “Chalk Pit” [57.C (S.E.).X.10.A] (a quarry used as an artillery dump) and through the left of the village; the other from Contalmaison Wood [57.C (S.E).X.10.D] into the centre of the village [57.C (S.E).X.4.D].

57C SE X4.wide

Briefly, the projected operations of the 1st Australian Division, forming part of the third phase of the Franco-British offensive on the Somme, envisaged an attack upon three objectives, to be launched by the 1st and 3rd Brigades on the night of July 22nd-23rd. The 2nd Brigade would be in reserve. The first objective was Pozieres Trench, the second objective a supposed line of trenches about half-way between that trench and the main Albert-Bapaume road; these were to be taken, from left to right, by the 2nd, 1st, 11th, and 9th Battalions. The third objective, a supposed line immediately south of and parallel to the main road, would be stormed by the 4th, 3rd, 12th, and 10 Battalions. A line of shell- and bullet-splintered telegraph poles, running across No-Man’s Land in the general direction of the village, marked the boundary between the 1st and 3rd Brigades.

Pozieres Objective Map
Randwick to Hargicourt, p. 161

Although there was a definitely marked trench on the first objective, hardly anything in the nature of trenches by now existed on the second and third objectives; it is possible they had been obliterated by previous bombardments. In any case, it is difficult to understand why the third objective was fixed along a line so close to such a salient feature as a main road. Its position certainly cost our battalion dear in the subsequent German bombardments.

[In total 139 soldiers have been identified as having died in the fighting at Pozieres (20 July-18 August) who all have no known grave. Three soldiers from the Pozieres fighting are indicated as having died on 20 July 1916 and have no known grave. They were: 2562 BARTELS, John; 717 ELLIOT, Henry James Hamilton; 736 HARRIS, Herbert Thomas. All three of their service records indicate they were buried, with ELLIOT and HARRIS also having recorded in red writing ‘Buried in Sausage Valley in vicinity of Pozieres (57c SE X4)’. This same map location is indicated against almost all of the 136 missing soldiers from this period, and will form the focus of the coming posts.]