Chapter XXII
The Capture of Pozieres
Randwick to Hargicourt, pp. 159-162
Eric Wren

The lines of the three objectives were not parallel, but converged and met on the south-west side of the village. To the north-east, where the main road intersected at right angles, they were about 300-400 yards apart. The distance from the Australian front line to the final objective in the 3rd Battalion sector was from 800 to 1000 yards.

Each battalion was to attack on a two-company frontage. The rear battalions taking the third objective would utilize [sic] two of their companies for the purpose, holding the other two as local reserves. The operation was one to which the term “leap-frogging” was applied, because, after the leading companies had captured the first objective, the two lines in rear would pass through and over them to the more distant objectives.

Each attacking line was to be still further divided into three waves – first, a line of scouts and wire-cutters; second, at a distance of 50 yards , the main attacking force; third, 20 yards farther back still, a party carrying picks and shovels, extra sand-bags, ammunition, bombs, and other stores. As all three waves composing one line of attack had shelter in the same assembly trench, the difficulties of arrangement were considerable.

On the night before the attack, the 1st Brigade battalions in support (the 3rd and 4th) received orders to move forward and prepare, immediately in rear of the fire trench, assembly trenches for the attacking companies, and, along the road leading through the front, similar positions for those in support. The front-line battalions (1st and 2nd) also dug assembly trenches in No-Man’s Land in front of the line, so that there were three parallel lines of trenches to shelter the attacking troops. The whole of this work was successfully carried out, except the trenches along the road for the support companies. Here the digging troops quickly struck rock, with the result that the trenches reached only to a depth of two feet, a fact that had serious consequences for the support companies at the time of the attack.

Two circumstances added considerably to the difficulties of the 3rd Battalion in its attack: (a) the front line in the middle of the right-company sector bent sharply at a right-angle to the south; (b) the line of the third objective was not parallel even to part of the jumping-off trench. In consequence the 3rd’s attacking companies received instructions to straighten out, on moving into No-Man’s Land, the kink caused by the right-angle bend in the trench, and secondly, to swing their whole line quarter left till it was parallel to the third objective-two maneuvers difficult enough in daylight under peace conditions, but absolutely impossible, as it proved, in the darkness and confusion of battle. However, it was said that after the battalion crossed the second objective a suitable rallying line would be found in a partially demolished light-railway line (continuation of the line intersecting the 3rd Battalion trenches in the support position), which was roughly parallel to and about 200 yards from the third objective.

To make the above explanation of the battle dispositions clearer, two sketches are appended. No 1 shows the village of Pozieres, the main Albert-Bapaume road, and the three objectives of the 1st Division.

Pozieres Objective Map

No. 2 shows the dispositions of the 1st and 3rd Battalions immediately before the attack.

20140504_120912

Although the construction of the assembly trenches was carried out without serious interference from the enemy machine-gun or artillery fire, the area immediately in rear of the front line was subjected to a heavy bombardment of gas-shell. These were distinguishable from ordinary shells by the “wobbly” sound of their flight and by the faint “plop” of their explosion on impact, the charge being just sufficient to split the case without widely dispersing the gas content and thus weakening the deadly effect.

An officer of the battalion, passing through the gassed area on his way back to the support trenches, had hastily to don his helmet, for the ground was smoking with phosgene. Blinded by the dimness of the eye pieces, he promptly fell into two deep shell-holes. Deciding that it was better to be partially gassed than to break his neck, he compromised by taking off the mask and covering his nose and mouth with the impregnated material, leaving his eyes clear.

[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. Seven soldiers from the Pozieres fighting are indicated as having died on 21 July 1916 and have no known grave.

They were: 3235 BARTLETT, William Godfrey; 699 BOURKE, Charles; 1122 GILL, Thomas Ethelbert; 3786 HICKIN (a.k.a. HICKEN), Alexander; 3823 LEYSHON, Benjamin Alfred; 2671 RYAN, Andrew; 4565 STUDDERT, Jack.

BOURKE and HICKIN both have recorded in their service record the red writing ‘Buried in vicinity of Pozieres (57.c S.E. X4)’. This same map location is indicated against almost all of the 139 missing soldiers from this period, and will form the focus of the coming posts.

The others have various notations recorded indicating their “burial” but only BARTLETT and STUDDERT have specific details noted.

BARTLETT’s service record states “Buried 3/4 miles NW of Contalmasion, 3 1/4 miles ENE of Albert by Capt (Chap) Wilson, 3rd Battalion”.

STUDDERT’s red cross file states buried by Pioneers in the Reserve Trench  with 4 or 5 others.]

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