Chapter XXII
The Capture of Pozieres
Randwick to Hargicourt, pp. 166-169
Eric Wren

Continued from Part 1….

Meanwhile, A and C Companies had lost their commanders. Shortly after leaving the jumping-off trench, Captain [Eric] WREN [the author of Randwick to Hargicourt] was severely wounded, and subsequently lost his right arm [Captain WREN was recommended for the French Croix de Guerre and the Military Cross for his actions at Pozieres]. Major [Arthur Rowland] EDWARDS [who was mentioned in dispatches for his actions at Pozieres], who went to WREN’s assistance, was also badly wounded while endeavoring to ascertain his injuries. That ended the service of these two officers with the battalion. Before the day was out the battalion also lost two of its best N.C.Os in Company Sergeant-Majors G. A. MORRIS and W. WOODS [unfortunately, 2442 WOODS, William is one of those who has no known grave]. Just a week before, MORRIS had been awarded the Military Cross, a rare-honour for an N.C.O. WOODS was a champion spring jumper, and had appeared in many countries as a vaudeville artist. During a sports’ meeting at Tel-el-Kebir, early in 1916, he gave an exhibition of trick jumping – in a standing jump he cleared the colonel’s horse. The regimental sergeant-major Sid RUDKIN, was wounded.

Lieutenant H. L. COOPER, a reinforcement officer, was another victim of the first phase of the attack. Both his legs had been injuried to such an extent that it was impossible to move him. Captain S. C. FITZPATRICK, the medical officer, went out through heavy shell-fire and made a desperate effort to save his life. But COOPER was too far gone [this is an interesting point because in the official record his date of death is 28 July 1916]. An eye-witness reported that FITZPATRICK tackled the job as coolly as if doing his ordinary hospital rounds.

Lieutenant A. O. DUPREZ took charge of A Company, while Lieut C. H. HOWIE assumed command of C [Coy]. DUPREZ was an officer who had seen service in the Matabele [South Africa] campaign. During the Boer War he achieved fame by winning the Queen’s Scarf – a very high honour [this too is an interesting point as the only Australian to be awarded the scarf was DUFRAYER, Alfred Henry].

Shortly after daybreak the first contact plane appered. It was flying low along the new front line at a height of about 200 feet, and green flares, in groups of three, were immediately lighted at intervals to indicate to it the extreme limit of the advance. Soon afterwards Lieut-Col HOWELL-RICE who, when his men were in the line, was seldom happy in any position in rear, came up and personally resumed the direction of affairs. Men belonging to other battalions were sorted out and sent to the rear and flanks, and, as the line was now adequately manned, the reinforcing platoon from A Company was sent back. C and D Companies, through retaining the reverse positions into which the confusion of the advance had thrown them, were as far as possible reorganized [sic] in their proper platoons and sections.

While the C.O. was discussing the general position with his officers, standing in the open in rear of the trench, a German sniper opened fire from the ruined cottages beyond the road. The party took cover without suffering any causalities, and patrols were sent out to search the ground across the road right up to and even through the barrage. A few Germans were hunted out and killed, and some prisoners were brought in.

And now followed one of those strange lulls which may be compared to the windless area in the centre of a cyclone. As so often happens when the artillery on either side is uncertain as to the position of its own front line, the barrage had almost completely died down. Our front trench was held by sentry-groups at fairly wide intervals, and worn out by the strenuous digging and the reaction from the excitement of the attack, having dropped in their tracks and fallen asleep. The front line took on almost the semblance of the peaceful Fluerbaix-Armentieres “nursery”, where the battalion had received its first introduction to active service conditions in France.

The whole of July 23rd was, in fact, comparatively uneventful in the front line. About 10 a.m. some fifty Germans, apparently without arms, were seen about 200 yards beyond the main road, running across the front from right to left. Several posts in the 3rd Battalion line opened fire, whereupon some of them dropped into shell-holes. The remainder ran back in a northerly direction until they disappeared below the slpoe of the hill in the direction of the cemetery.

Towards midday our scouts patrolled the ruins of the village north of the road and brought in 15 or 16 Germans. The leader, an N.C.O. who was wearing the black and white ribbon of the Iron Cross, was interrogated in French by one of the officers. He had been a school-master in civil life, and he volunteered the information that his men had experienced a very bad time, our bombardments having cut off all communications with the rear. For the previous three or four days they had subsisted mostly on soda-water and cigars. Though their uniforms were neat and clean, they certainly looked pale and haggard and showed emphatic traces of the intense mental and physical strain they must have endured.

Though the new front line was as yet almost entirely free from bombardment, the approaches and communication trenches leading to it from the rear were heavily shelled throughout the day. with the result that it was a very difficult matter to get rations and stores forward, or to send messages by runner either way. This interruption was doubtless responsible for the following extraordinary circumstances: At 4 p.m. Captain HARRIS, who was in command of the 3rd Battalion’s front line companies, was visited by Lieut-Col J. HEANE, of the 1st Battalion. Lieut-Col HEANE, who said that he was in command of the front line of the 1st Brigade, gave Captain HARRIS verbal orders to push forward an attack through the village north of the road at 5 p.m. Preparations for this attack had already been indicated by an intensification of the barrage, which had been falling lightly all day just across the road. but HARRIS refused to carry out the order unless it was confirmed by instructions from 3rd Battalion Headquarters, and when the barrage lifted at 5 p.m., in the absence of more definite orders, no advance was made by the 3rd Battalion. Two Lewis gun posts were, however, established in the ruins of cottages about 100 yards north of the main road.

[In total 139 soldiers have been identified as having fought in the fighting at Pozieres (20 July-18 August) who all have no known grave. One hundred and four (104) soldiers from the Pozieres fighting are indicated as having died between 22-27 July 1916 and have no known grave. Of these twenty-four (24) have their date of death recorded as 23 July 1916.]