Thursday, 21 December 2017


The second conscription referendum was held on December 20, 1917.

The results were published in the Courier and the Star on December 21st.  Ballarat voted No, although there were many Yes votes at the different polling stations across town.  Victoria changed from a Yes vote in the previous referendum to No.

The Ballarat Star, Friday December 21, 1917, page 1

Interesting to note, working class Ballarat East clearly voted no, while Soldiers Hill, Ballarat and Ballarat West all voted yes.  Warrenheip, a largely Irish population, asserted themselves by strongly voting no.

The papers reported it was a very hot day, and all the hotels were closed. For many, the vote must have been a relief from the debate, which was strenuous.  Prof. Weston Bate in Life After Gold notes "The YES and NO votes spared no invective in distorting each other's positions, although at Ballarat the campaign was comparatively clean."

Monday, 18 December 2017

1917 in retrospect

It was Australia's worst year of the war.  At the end of 1917 victory seemed along way off. It was a year that saw 76,000 Australians, killed, wounded and go missing on the Western Front. To put this into perspective this was twice the number of casualties that were recorded on the Western Front the previous year, 1916, and three times the casualties which occurred during Gallipoli. The 40,000 deaths which occurred in 1917 amounted to two thirds of all Australian deaths for the entire war.  Not only was the scale of the casualties horrific but the allies strategic position in the war seemed worse then ever. For the families back home the sadness was compunded by the fact that many of their loved ones that were missing would never be found either as there bodies were cut to pieces by machine gun fire or they had drowned in the atrocious conditions that made up the battlefield in Belgium.

1917 was also the year which highlighted to the Australians the British command's ineffectiveness in conducting the strategic planning of the Allies war effort. This was strikenly eveident at Bullecourt and Passchendaele. The later becoming the word which described the sorrow and suffering of allied soldiers.  Charles Bean witnessed first hand many Australian soldiers being torn to pieces in 1917  and he wrote of one instance following the Battle of Bullecourt, "Bullecourt more than any other battle shook the confidence of Australian soldiers in the capacity of the British command"

In looking at the year the Middle East must not be overlooked especially the charge at Beersheba, in which The 4th Australian Light Horse  conducted a charge upon the city.  The opposition they faced was fierce but ended with the capture of the city. They suffered 67 casualties and earned a place in Australian military folklore.

From amongst all the terrible losses the AIF suffered in 1917  they still believed in their worth as soldiers. Again as Charles Bean wrote " where ever they fought they were sustained by the belief in their worth"   As dire as the situation seemed on the Western Front at the end of 1917 by November  the followimg year the war would be over. 

In conclusion Dr. Brendan Nelson, Director of the Australian War Memorial, puts it best we he writes " much that was precious was given in 1917. But from it and what would follow we would emerge with a greater belief in ourselves and a deeper understanding of what it means to be Australian,"

When people think of the Western Front during the war the following images represent their thinking. Theu were taken in late 1917 and are Australian soldiers at Chateat Wood which clearly show the awful conditions they were asked to fight in.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Remembrance Day, 2017

Ballarat's Historic Avenues of Honour - Celebrated and Forgotten

A conversation between Professor Keir Reeves, Federation University; Phil Roberts, who is preparing a book on the Arch of Victory and the Avenue in Ballarat West; and Michael Taffe, who is researching other less well known Avenues throughout Ballarat. 

Image result for avenue of honour ballarat

Join us for a interesting conversation reflecting on Remembrance Day and the meaning of memory.

Light refreshments served.

Ballarat Library, Saturday November 11, 11.30 am to 12.30 pm.

Ross McMullin at Ballarat Library

This week we are fortunate to have Ross McMullin at the Ballarat Library on Thursday evening at 6pm, to talk about his latest book Pompey Elliott at War : in his own words.

This enthralling new book about Australia’s most famous fighting general, whose brilliant and vigorous leadership was crucial in iconic Australian triumphs such as Villers-Bretonneux and Polygon Wood.  He was a Ballarat resident when young, attending Ballarat College, and he remained very fond of the city.

Pompey’s letters and diaries were extraordinarily frank and forthright, and he expressed
himself vividly, writing rapidly and fluently with an
engaging turn of phrase.

Ross McMullin is an award-winning biographer and an entertaining speaker.  Do join us at Ballarat Library at 6pm on Thursday November 9th as Ross brings Pompey to life.   This promises to be a riveting event, book your place early!

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