Chapter XXII
The Capture of Pozieres
Randwick to Hargicourt, pp. 169-172
Eric Wren

The difficulty of maintaining communication with the front was still more emphatically indicated by the events of the following night. The commander of the 1st Brigade had received the 8th Battalion (2nd Brigade) as a reinforcement, and decided to utilize [sic] it in establishing a series of posts on the north-western edge of Pozieres village. But the front-line battalions received no notification of this intended movement. Shortly before midnight the commander of the front-line companies (Capt. HARRIS) of the 3rd [Battalion] received a message from the C.O. of the 4th [Battalion] {Lieut-Col I. G. MACKAY) that a German counter-attack was to be expected during the night. The 3rd immediately stood to arms.

Just after midnight shadowy forms were seen quietly stealing across the front from right to left*, about fifty yards away. The men of the 3rd, who, naturally, were inclined to be “jumpy” as a result of the alarm, had their fingers on the triggers, and a catastrophe was only averted by the peremptory orders of the officers and the courage of Lance-Cpl C. DOWLING of D Company, who, on instructions from the company commander, moved out from the trench and ascertained the identity of the newcomers. The rest of the night passed quietly without further incident.

1916.07.24 - G5831.S65 Sheet 7.17.1
Situation Map – Morning of July 24th 1916
AWM25 G5831.S65 Sheet 7.17.1

At 6.30 a.m. next day, July 24th, the German artillery (5.9’s mostly) opened on the 3rd Battalion trench, now the support line, as the new front line had been formed by posts from the 8th and 12th Battalions. At this stage the obvious folly of siting a trench along a main road and of packing it with men became apparent. It should be explained, however, that the battalion and company commanders had had no choice in the matter; their orders as to objectives had been quite definite.

An easy target, it was bombarded from front, right, and rear. The shells from the front, while they repeatedly caved the trench in and buried the occupants, were not as deadly as those coming from the right. The latter, dropping almost perpendicularly, were visible during the last movement of flight. As there were no dugouts – indeed no shelter of any kind from the fire of these enfilading batteries – casualties soon mounted up. There was nothing to do but to try abd keep the trenches clear and dig out the men who were buried. In spite of most heroic efforts, the stretcher-bearers could not keep pace with the casualties.

D Company was unfortunate in losing C.S.M. [539] H.F. [Harold Fenton] STEAD and its fours platoon sergeants ([929] S. [Samuel Sawrey] GARRARD and [6540] R. [Robert Gunn a.k.a. Robert Gillam] MACDONALD, killed; R.Y.V MACDONALD and W.H. SPICER, wounded). [GARRARD and STEAD were both killed at Pozieres and have no known grave and MACDONALD at Vaulx-Vraucourt. GARRARD’s service record states his burial location as being “close to road from Contalmaision to Pozieres just SE of Pozieres 3 3/4 miles NE of Albert”, and STEAD’s service record states his burial location as being “Pozieres 3 3/4 miles NE of Albert”.] The company commander had called a meeting of platoon sergeants, who, owing to casualties among officers, were commanding their platoons. Fortunately for Captain HARRIS he was a few minutes late in returning from the other end of the line, which he had been inspecting. On arrival he found that a large shell  (probably of 9-inch calibre) had fallen right on company headquarters with disastrous results for his N.C.O.’s [this incident is not mentioned in the Unit Diaries for this period].

“The extreme difficulty of clearing the wounded” says Dr BEAN, in Vol. III of the Official History, “was in that part, met by the resource of a middle-aged private named JENKINS”. Quoting from an account written by Captain HARRIS, Dr DEAN continues: “During the heaviest of the bombardment this man constituted himself the attendant of those wounded men who could not be removed. Under heavy shell-fire he raised a shelter for them where there was a little more protection than in the trench, and took them over one by one across the open. He looked after them with the utmost tenderness, expended the last drop in his bottle to alleviate their thirst, and, when a small quantity of fresh water was brought up, refused a drink himself in order that his patients  might have more. He cheered them up by telling them that the stretcher-bearers would soon be along…and I firmly believe kept several of them alive by his efforts. Every single one of these wounded men was eventually taken out and recovered; but at the end of the day he himself, while taking along a dixie of tea to the sufferers, was blown to pieces by a shell.

[There were two soldiers by the name of JENKINS killed at Pozieres: 2622 JENKINS Edward; and 3116 JENKINS Harold Edwin. It is the former to which HARRIS and BEAN refer due to his description as being “middle-aged”. 2622 JENKINS was 44 (whereas 3116 JENKINS was only 23) when he joined the Battalion in 1915. Interestingly, even though his demise is recorded here as being “blown to pieces” his Red Cross file and Service Record indicate that he was buried. His Red Cross files states he was killed alongside three or four others (thought to be 3960 CLARK, 1124 GRAFF, 2675 HARDING, and 2701A KENNY) and his service record states burial location as being “close to road from Contalmaison to Pozieres just SE of Pozieres 3/34 Mls NE of Albert” – similar to GARRARD, STEAD, GRAFF, HARDING, and KENNY – and also states as “buried in Pozieres British Cemetery” (also same for KENNY). There is a note in GRAFF’s service record that his burial location was recorded by “Director of Graves 10/10/1917” and there is a note in CLARK’s Red Cross file that states he was being carried by GRAFF (as strecher-bearer) at the time they were killed. The main difficulty in confirming these accounts is that the official records have these men as not all being killed on the same day].

Lieut-Col HOWELL-PRICE, invariably to be found in the hottest places, stayed in the front line all this day, doing his best to keep up the spirits of the men, who were almost without intermission for nearly twelve hours. The ration- and water-parties sent up from time to time during the day were almost  all destroyed by the heavy shelling, the only food that arrived consisting of two cold dixies of boiled onions. Once culd hardly have imagined a more nauseous and unpalatable form of sustenance in the circumstances.

Towards 6 p.m. the bombardment slackened, and the parched and exhausted survivors, whose strength had been reduced to half both in the front and support lines, gained a short respite from their troubles. About this time there arrived a little water, most of which was commandeered by JENKINS for this patients. The remainder was sparingly doled out  in the proportions of about one-eighth of a pint to a man. Advantage was taken of the lull to evacuate the wounded, but the survivors were too few and twoo weary to clear out the trench, which had been almost flattened by the ferocious shelling.

*Footnote: Dr. C.E.W. BEAN in the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 (in the map on p.538, Vol. III) represents the party as moving from left to right. The company commander, however, says that he has an intimate recollection of the incident, as he sent L/Cpl DOWLING out, and is sure that they traveled from right to left.

[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 (20) have their date of death recorded as 24 July 1916.]