Friday, 15 September 2017

Battle of Broodseinde Ridge

The 100th anniversary of the Battle of Broodseinde Ridge will be commemorated on the 4th October. This battle, which occurred eight days after Polygon Wood, was the third operation overseen by British general Herbert Plumer.  These battles formed part of the Third Battle of Ypres campaign. As with the previous two battles this operation bore all the hallmarks of a Plumer planned operation. The attacking advance was no more than 1500 metres, the advance would be preceded by a massive artillery bombardment and a creeping barrage would lead the troops on to their objectives and then protect them while they consolidated their positions.

The battle was a large scale operation involving 12 divisions, including both 1 and II ANZAC.  The allies attacked as planned on the morning of the 4th October.  The Australians involved came under heavy artillery fire  on their start line with a seventh of them becoming casualties before the attack had begun.  When the operation finally commenced the advancing allies were met by German troops advancing towards them.  The Germans had decided to launch an attack of their own at the same time. The Australian troops were able to continue their advance through the German assault and achieve all of their objectives  along the ridge. Again while the operation was a success it came at a cost 6,500 casualties among the Australian divisions included in this were men from Ballarat and district. After Fromelle this battle was the second worst day for Ballarat and district casualties. 33 Ballarat and district men were killed or died of their wounds.

Follwing is two articles from The Courier and the Star reporting on the battle.  Also included is an article from the Courier providing brief biographical information on two of the many Ballarat and district men who fought and were killed in the battle.

Ballarat Star 5 November 1917, p.1

Ballarat Courier 5 November 1917, p. 3

Ballarat Courier 3 November 1917, p. 7

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Battle of Polygon Wood

The 100th anniversary of the Battle of Polygon Wood will be commemorated on the 26th September.  The battle occurred six days after Menin Road and was the second of the 'Plumer battles'  which were a series of well planned , limited advances supported by large volumes of artillery,  overseen by British General Herbert Plumer. All of these battles were part of the Third Battle of Ypres campaign.

The 4th and 5th Australian divisions took part in the battle, replacing the 1st and 2nd Australian Divisions for the 1500 metre advance.  Polygon Wood was a less ambitious operation than Menin Road due to the conditions and the time available to gather together the same amount of artillery.

The objective for the Australian divisions was to capture the area of charred and splintered stumps which was all that remained of Polygon Wood and the plateau to the north. The British divisions on the Australians right would seize the high ground around Tower Hamlets.

The allies plans were thrown into chaos when on the morning of the 25th September the Germans launched their own attack at the point where the Australian 5th division and the British 3rd division were linked. Two regiments of German soldiers caught the British unawares just as they were preparing to take over the front line. The Germans with support from artillery and aircraft were able to push the British  back some 700 metres. The Allies attack would proceed with the security of their flank under a cloud.

The allies launched their attack as planned on the morning of the 26th September. The infantry advancing under a heavy barrage of artillery fire were able to secure most of their objectives without difficulty. The Germans tried to launch several counter attacks but these were quickly stopped by a heavy artillery barrage which was being used to protect the infantry consolidating their objectives. While the battle was a success the Australians still suffered 5770 casualties.

The following two articles are from the Ballarat Courier. The first is how the battle was reported in the newspaper while the second is an In Memoriam classified remembering some of the Ballarat and district men who died in the battle one year on.

Following the articles is a sketch from the Australian War Memorial's Collection depicting the Australian Infantry attack by Fred Leist.
Ballarat Courier 28 September 1917, p. 3

Ballarat Courier 27 September 1918, p. 2

Australian Infantry Attack at Polygon Wood.  Courtesy Australian War  Memorial.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Battle of Menin Road

The 100th anniversary of the Battle of Menin Road will be commemorated on the 20th September.  Menin Road was an offensive operation, part of the Third Battle of Ypres on the Western Front. The action was an attempt to take parts of the curving ridge, east of Ypres, which the Menin Road crossed.  The action was undertaken by the British Second Army, which also saw the first involvement of Australian units (1st and 2nd divisions AIF) in the Third Battle of Ypres campaign.

The battle was a compete success along its entire front  though allied  troops encountered fierce resistance from entrenched German defensive positions as well as German counter attacks. A key feature of the battle was the intensity of the opening artillery support by the British. This was the fiercest  concentration of the war thus far.  The bombardment, which began weeks before the battle itself began on the 20th September, blasted key German strong points and guns.  While the battle was successful the two Australian divisions suffered 5,013 casualties.  Australian War Historian C.E.W. Bean writing in the  official history after the war wrote,  ' the advancing barrage won the ground , the infantry merely occupied it, pouncing on any points at which resistance survived. '

Joan Beaumont in her book Broken Nation quotes Pompey Elliott in a letter home after the battle  saying ' our boys have made a glorious advance and captured a whole lot of Boches and driven them back a long way. That will be another feather in our boys' cap for the British troops have been blocked along the line for about a month'

Below are how the two Ballarat newspapers The Ballarat Star and the Ballarat Courier reported the battle. Following the two articles is a sketch drawing of the battle by H. Septimus.  two biplanes can be seen flying low above the trenches on the front line. It is thought these could be reconnaissance aircraft from 4 Squadron  Royal Flying Corp who were providing contact patrols on the day of the battle.

Ballarat Star 25 September 1917, p.1

Ballarat Courier 24 September 1917, p. 3

Battle of Menin Road courtesy Australian War Memorial      ART03327

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Avenue of Honour Planting of Second Section

The 18th August  commemorated the 100th anniversary of the planting of  trees for the second section of the Avenue of Honour to Cardigan. Below are two articles that appeared in the Ballarat Courier in August 1917 which provide details on the preparations which were undertaken and a report on how the day unfolded.

The Ballarat Library will be holding a special Remembrance Day event on November 11th  at 11.30 am when Professor Keir Reeves from Federation University will be joined by Phil Roberts and Michael Taffe to discuss Ballarat's Avenues of Honour. Phil is preparing a book on  The Arch of Victory and the Avenue of Honour  in Ballarat West while Michael has researched the histories of less well known avenues throughout Ballarat. So please join us for what is bound to be a lively and informative discussion.  Bookings essential.

Ballarat Courier 17 August 1917, P.1

Ballarat Courier 20 August 1917,p.5

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Third Battle of Ypres

July 31st will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the commencement of the Third Battle of Ypres. The Third Battle of Ypres was the major British offensive in Flanders in 1917.  The objective of the offensive was to break  through the heavily fortified German defences and advance to the Belgian coast where German submarines were based. There were a number of limited and costly battles which occurred throughout September, October and November 1917 as part of the offensive. Due to the waterlogged conditions a result of persistent heavy rain and destruction to the Flanders drainage system caused by heavy artillery action the offensive proved to be very costly in terms of casualties.  In eight weeks of fighting Australian forces incurred 38,000 casualties. To put this into perspective this is 12,000 more than the eight moinths of fighting in the Gallipoli campaign. The total of British and other dominion forces casualties have been estimated at 310,000. The German casualties were estimated to be slightly lower than this.

While the opportunity for a breakthrough slowly disappeared Field Marshal Douglas Haig, Commander of the British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front still saw value in continuing the offensive hoping to drain German manpower through attrition. While no breakthrough was achieved the offensive merely widened the Ypres Salient by a few kilometres.

As part of the offensive Australian forces saw action at Menin Road, Polygon Wood, Broodseinde, Poeicapelle, and the first battle of Passchendaele. We will blog about each of these battles in coming posts.

Following is an article in the Ballarat Courier describing the Ypres offensive.

Ballarat Courier 25 October 1917

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Battle of Messines

Wednesday 7 June 2017 will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Messines. Launched on the 7th June 1917 the battle was used in preparation for the Flanders offensive the allies were to undertake in the northern summer. For many years tunnellers had dug huge mines beneath the German trenches in the area and had packed the mines with explosives. Before dawn on June 7 1917, 19 mines were detonated causing a massive explosion which they said at the time could be heard across the English Channel. The German trenches were totally destroyed. This event was made famous by the Australian film Beneath Hill 60. The explosions killed 10,000 Germans.

British, New Zealand and Australian troops advanced to take the strategically important Wyschaete-Messines Ridge. The ridge which was situated on high ground south of Ypres was used by the Germans as a salient into British lines and to build their defence along its 10 mile length. Taking the ridge was of vital importance for the summer offensive to be successful. The fighting continued until the 14th June and claimed 6,000 Australian casualties, of these 500- 2000 were a result of a gas attack launched by the Germans. Two Australians Private John Carroll and Captain Robert Grieve were awarded the Victoria Cross during the battle.

The allies success at Messines was often referred to as what could be achieved on the Western Front  when a campaign is carefully planned by competent leaders and the infantry was not asked to advanced any further than the distance their artillery could cover.

Messines was historic for the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). It was the first the 3rd Division under Major General John Monash saw action on the Western Front and it was also the first time since Gallipoli that Australian and New Zealand troops had fought along side each other.

Below is a report in the Ballarat Courier of an interview given by Major General Monash following the Messines attack.

Ballarat Courier 7 July 1917

 Below is a photograph of Australian soldiers at Messines in July 1917, standing in German trenches demolished by the mine blasts.
Photograph Courtesy of the Australian War Memorial

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

After Bullecourt: the Four Sons of Mrs Buckingham

This enquiry came to us in the Australiana Room from a gentleman doing some research on his wife’s family:

In my research for my Family Tree, I have been given photos of the four Buckingham boys – George,  William, Bob and Frank – under the heading “Four Sons of Mrs Buckingham”. I believe the photos come from the Ballarat Courier but they have no date, except for a caption under Frank’s photo “Now in France”. All four were soldiers in the first World War. Two of them were killed in France – George and young Sam both on April 11 1917, and Bob wounded three times. Frank enlisted for two tours of duty.  I am told the photos were in the Ballarat Courier some time in 1917, because Mrs Buckingham and two of the sons came from Ballarat. But two came from WA, so it could be a WA paper.

I responded to this enquirer that he should get onto Trove as the National Library has digitised newspapers all over Australia from the Great War period.  By looking in Trove using the title of the article as a search term he should be able to find what he was looking for – it wouldn’t matter which newspaper – he didn’t need to search papers individually.

The next day my colleague Simon was turning the pages of the 100 year old Ballarat Courier, and I noticed the page he had selected for display included about 8 photographs in the “Roll of Honour”.  I remarked what a good page it was to have open, and stepped closer for a better look.  Imagine my surprise to see two of the Buckingham sons included in those images!

The Ballarat Courier, May 12 1917 p. 5


Before I could email my enquirer about this coincidence, there was a phone message from him, to say he had located the article required, in the Kalgoorlie Sun.  You can try the search yourself in Trove if you wish to see it.

The two Buckingham men killed on the same day were with the 16th Battalion at Bullecourt.  They had enlisted together in Perth (Service Record Numbers 6237 and 6238), they both sailed to England on the Suffolk, and then to France together, and died together in the same battle on the same day.  

Poor May Buckingham, William’s wife, could not accept William’s death and in 1930 wrote a tragic letter to the Base Records, questioning whether he really was killed in action – or was he a Prisoner of War? – as she had such strong dreams of him coming home.  She received a brisk letter from the Army records department, advising “all prisoners of war have long since been repatriated” and that his name would be inscribed on the Villers Bretonneux memorial.

Only two of the Buckingham sons are memorialised in the Avenue of Honour in Ballarat, the two sons who enlisted from Ballarat - Tree 787, R.T. Buckingham 5th Battalion:  Tree 1111, Frank Buckingham 16th Battalion (planted 13.7.15 by Mrs Buckingham herself in the “Sunnyside Woollen Mills Employees section”).  The two sons who enlisted from Perth are memorialised at Villers Bretonneux, and in this death notice in the Ballarat Courier on May 12th, 1917, which reflects the numbers of casualties from the Bullecourt battles: