Monday, 29 October 2018

Ballarat celebrates the end of the war

Ballarat like the rest of the country held  joyous celebrations on the news that the war was over. The news of the armistice reached here at 8.15 pm on the 11th November when it was posted on the bulletin boards outside the newspaper offices.  There were many people occupying the streets at that time but the news quickly spread emptying people in pubs and other establishments into the streets.  Cheers erupted around Ballarat.  Fire bells at the two fire stations rang and whistles on trains in the railway station blew bringing many more people into the streets.  Crowds rushed to City Hall where it was expected an official announcement would be made.  See below for a couple of newspaper reports about the celebrations.

The following day, the 12th November, was declared a public holiday and was a more solemn day when church services were held and an official service was conducted in front of the Town Hall, when the Mayor read out messages he had sent to the King, General Foch and General Monash.  Following this "Peace Perfect Peace" was sung.  The afternoon saw many more joyous celebrations down Sturt St at the Titanic Bandstand.  The processions  from the previous night were re-activated  as soldiers, bands, cars and motor bikes,  the Lucas team, school children, nurses all arrived at the bandstand for another service. It was the largest gathering ever held in Ballarat to that time.  The two Mayors of Ballarat presided. Prayers were said, "Australia Will Be There" was sung, as well as "Keep the Home Fires Burning" and "Nearer My God to Thee".

After the Last Post and the singing of The National Anthem the purging of pent-up emotions was over.

Ballarat Star 12 November 1918

Ballarat Star 12 November 1918
Crowd in front of Ballarat Town Hall, 12 November 1918.   Courtesy Melbourne Museum

Monday, 22 October 2018

The end of the great war: Armistice

The 11th of November will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War. The Armistice of Compi├Ęgne between the Allies and Germany came into effect at 11am on the 11th November 1918. The guns fell silent on the Western Front and after more than four years of unimaginable bloodshed and destruction, the war was finally over. 

The Armistice paved the way for the signing of a formal peace treaty, the Treaty of Versailles, and the end of the war six months later. On 28 June 1919, the treaty was signed in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, with Australian Prime Minister William Morris (Billy) Hughes and Deputy Prime Minister Joseph Cook adding their signatures on Australia’s behalf.

At home in Australia, large crowds gathered in capital cities and towns to celebrate the end of conflict.  Jubilant scenes of thousands rejoicing was played out across the world as peace was announced at 11 am.
On the day the hostilities ended on the Western Front, the AIF in France comprised almost 100,000 men.  Monash stood at the head of an army considerably larger than the original British Expeditionary Force (BEF) of 1914, but more important than numbers was its capability.  Each of those five battered and bloodied divisions was infinitely more capable and deadly than the original Australian forces raised back in 1914.  In four and a half years Australia’s deployed forces grew seven times in size and were transformed from rank amateurs into seasoned soldiers. Almost 62,000 Australians died fighting for our freedom and in service of our nation. Thousands more died of their wounds or from the mental anguish they had experinced.

(Ballarat Star, 12 November, 1918 )

When the war ended there were 167,000 Australian servicemen overseas - spread throughout Europe, the United Kingdom (many in hospitals and convalescent homes), and the Middle East. The logistics of transporting these men home were formidable.  Railway systems throughout Europe and the UK were choked with traffic and the demand for shipping was greater than ever, with Allied countries competing for troop ships.  All the troops could think about was "getting home", and movement of the AIF proceeded fairly smoothly and by the end of 1919 almost all Australian troops had been transported home.  
File:Welcome Home for returning World War I soldier Fred Tippett.jpg
The family of soldier Fred Tippett welcome him home.  Lewisham, NSW, 1919. (photo courtesy State Library of NSW)

Monday, 1 October 2018

Battle of Montbrehain

The 5th October will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Montbrehain. The significance of this battle is that it was the final battle the Australians fought on the Western Front.  After this operation they were withdrawn from the front line and  rested as they had been fighting continuously since late March 1918 and the war ended a few weeks later. It is doubtful if the Armistice had not intervened whether the Australians would have seen any further action in 1918.

Following the breaking of the Hindenburg line General Monash decided to keep pressing the 6th Brigade forward to the village of Montbrehain.  While it was not an essential operation the idea behind the attack was to breach the final elaborate system of German defences based on the Beaurevoir trench line. The Australians advanced in the early morning of the 5th October. While the Germans were expecting the attack the AIF successfully occupied the village and in the process captured 400 German prisoners.  The Australians suffered 430 casualties in the attack.

The Australians who died in this action have the sad distinction of being the last Australians killed in action on the Western Front.

Ballarat Courier 8 October 1918, p.3

Village of Montbrehain 5th October 1918. Courtesy Australian War Memorial

Monday, 3 September 2018

Breaking the Hindenburg Line

Following the success at Mont St Quentin in early September 1918, the allies began planning a major offensive on the Hindenburg Line to begin in late September 1918. It was hoped this attack would weaken the German Army and therefore bring an end to the war. The Hindenburg Line was the last and the strongest of the German Army defence. It consisted of three well defended trench systems which were established in 1917. 

The offensive consisted of three separate attacks. The first attack on the 18th September was a preliminary attack when Australian troops reached the first part of the line. Monash's troops supported by a heavy artillery barrage attacked the heavily fortified German defences and machine gun posts. Using only eight tanks they broke through German positions and took 4,300 prisoners. Although they suffered a 1000 casualties this was considered slim when compared to the German losses.

The second attack which began on the 29th September finally broke through the line.  Australian and American troops were given the responsibility of spearheading the attack. The plan was for the troops to break the defences of the line in its centre. They attacked a heavily defenced sector at Bellicourt with tanks, artillery and aircraft working in unison.  The fighting between the opposing forces was a real struggle with  the fighting lasting four days with heavy losses.

Eventually the allies were able to break through the third and final part of the Hindenburg Line and the Germans were forced to fall back.  In this third attack the troops captured the entrance  to St Quentin canal tunnel.  Inside the the tunnel the allies found a kitchen with German bodies inside from a previous attack.  The Hindenburg Line was finally broken bringing an end to trench warfare and the allies had broken through the largest trench system on the Western Front.

Ballarat Courier 21 September 1918, p.3

Ballarat Star 1st October 1920, p.1

Breaking the Hindenburg Line By Will Longstaff.  Courtesy Australian War Memorial

Monday, 27 August 2018

Battle of Mont St Quentin

The 1st of September will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle of Mont St Quentin. After the success achieved at Amiens on the 8th August it was agreed by both Foch and Haig that the Fourth army should continue it push east from Amien.  The end of August found the German Army at its last stronghold Mont St Quentin overlooking the Somme River and the town of Peronne.  Mont St Quentin stood out in the surrounding countryside making it a perfect observation post and therefore a key strategic area to control. It was also an important area for the Germans to control the Somme.  Lt. General, Sir John Monash was keen to capture it and thereby control a key strategic position.

The 2nd Australian division crossed the Somme River on the evening of 31st August and attacked Mont St Quentin at 5am on September 1st. They attacked from the unexpected position from the northwest. It was diffcult in that it was an uphill fight across very open ground which made them susceptible to attack from The Germans who occupied the higher ground.   By 7am the Australian troops had gained the village of Mont St Quentin and the slope and summit of the hill.  The five German divisions were confused and dispersed.  They quickly regrouped and counter attacked with fierce fighting and heavy losses.  The Germans also attacked and shelled heavily Peronne.  Much of the fighting was hand to hand combat.  The outnumbered Australians were pushed back off the summit of Mont St Quentin. Relief battalions were sent for and with their reinforcements the Australians were able to recapture all areas.  In the process they sustained 3000 casualties. As a result the Australians were able to make a stronghold on the area and forced a complete withdrawal of German forces from Peronne. This Australian operation is sometimes regarded as the finest achievement of the AIF.

Ballarat Star 3 September 1918

Capture of Mont St Quentin. Courtesy AWM   

Battle of Amiens

A grateful France gave thanks to the 6000 Australian troops who were casualties at Amiens, battling to save the encroaching Germans.  “We bow to you, Messieurs les Australians, for the magnificent deeds you did on those days, now happily at an end, for your country and for France, and for the victory of hope and sanity” proclaimed the Bishop of Amiens, “the soil of France is transformed to a new divinity by your sacrifices and bravery.”
Such is the acclaim and respect in which the Australians are held by the community of Amiens after their reprieve from the continual bombings and the reclaiming of their village.
On 8 August 1918, an attack began on the Somme that would be staggeringly successful. The Battle of Amiens, an all-arms attack led by Australian and Canadian troops, captured kilometres of ground and vast numbers of German men and materiel. From 8 August 1918, the German Army was on the back foot, the result of what Erich Ludendorff called "the black day of the German Army". Often regarded as the natural conclusion to Monash's success at Hamel a month earlier, Amiens was warfare on a staggering scale.
The battle began at 4.20 am with 2070 guns opening up a “titanic pandemonium” of artillery fire in the heavy mist.  The facing Germans were blinded by the heavy fog and unable to fire accurately and were crushed by the weight of the barrage of tanks and infantry.  The joint forces of Australian, Canadian, French and British troops made significant gains – advancing the front by up to 8 miles in some areas.
On the first day of the battle, the allies captured 13 miles of the front, seized 400 guns, and caused 27,000 casualties to the Germans, 12,000 of these were prisoners of war.
Tank losses on first day were severe: only 155 of the 430 that had gone into action on 8 August were serviceable the following day.  And the push slowed significantly in the following days – however for the Germans, it was the “greatest defeat the German army suffered since the beginning of the war”.
By 12th August, as the German resistance hardened – the advance of the British Fourth Army slowed.  Only half a dozen of the British tanks were still in action.  Nevertheless, the manner of the Allied victory at Amiens mattered more than its scale.  The BEFs combat skills and confidence were growing daily at a time when the German Army as a whole was clearly in sharp decline.  Their artillery and machine-gunners continued to fight, but a morose and fatalistic mood had descended upon many units.
Bereft on long-term solutions following Amiens, the Kaiser agreed at a conference at Spa on 14 August, to open peace negotiations through the Queen of the Netherlands.  Even so, as long as its forces continued to occupy large areas of Belgium and northern France, Germany might still hope to bargain from a position of strategic strength.
By 1st September, the 2nd Australian Division, stormed and held the formidable German bastion of Mont St Quentin, facilitating the capture of Peronne, which was cleared of German troops by midday on 2nd September.  Meanwhile, the Canadians broke through the Drocourt-Queant Position, and as these vital points between the Somme and the Sensee fell in turn, the only option for the Germans was to retreat from the Hindenburg Line.
Ballarat Star 1st January 1921

Private John Leslie Daniel (6786A)
 21st Battalion, who fought at the
Battle of Amiens, from Daylesford, Victoria
(Photo courtesy : AWM archive)