I haven’t seen a photo of Great Uncle Harry Blunden but his medical history form when he enlisted tells us that he was 5 foot 5 and three-quarters inches tall, weighed 9 stone 5 pounds with a chest 34-36 inches. A distinguishing mark was a brown mole on his back and five vaccination marks on left upper arm. His hair was brown and complexion dark. As well as Harry he was also known as Buck Blunden . For the purposes of this memoir I will refer to him Harry.
William Henry Blunden was born in 23/4/1887 in Slindon. The birth certificate doesn’t give an address. The birth was registered by his mother on 2/6/1887. He baptised 29/5/1887 in St Mary Magdelene Parish Church Madehurst, where his parents had been married. His father William Blunden was described on the birth certificate as a woodman and on later documents he was a wood dealer and merchant , building up a small business from humble beginnings in the nearby parish of Heyshott. His mother Ellen Downer had been born in Madehurst parish and most of her family had at various times found employment in Dale House Park. Her father William Downer was a gardener’s labourer there for most his life. William was always known as Henry or Harry , no doubt to differentiate him from his father. He was probably named Henry after his uncle Henry Downer, who I think was his mother’s favourite brother, and who always showed a lot of interest in Ellen’s family. He had a brother Charles Henry Blunden 1889-1977 who lived in Walberton and continued his father’s business. A memoir of Walberton describes him as ‘a character’. His sister Nellie Jane Blunden 1885-1973 ran a small shop in Slindon before marrying Joseph (Joe) Hill in 1914. Father William Blunden lived with Nellie in Burnham Cottage Dairy Lane Walberton until his death in 1935. They moved there around 1915, whilst Harry was on active service.
When Harry was very small the family move to Bittleside later known as Biddleside, Slindon Common. In his diary Jimmy Dean next door neighbour describes how Harry Cooper wheelwright & carpenter was ordered off Bittleside , the Deans took him in without pay for a while but he ended up in Westhampnett Union workhouse. In his place William Blunden, wife, two sons and daughter moved in. This would be therefore after Charles Blunden was born 3/9/1889 and before the 31/3/1901 when the 1901 census was taken which lists the Blundens living there. James, Jimmy Dean was distantly related to Ellen’s mother Jane Downer though from his diary I do not think they knew of the family connection. Jimmy Dean was a real local character. Self-educated he wrote articles on village life for many years for the West Sussex Gazette. His diaries are now in the Public Records Office Chichester. He and his wife Harriet had a large family and his daughter Theresa, Tizzy, born in 1886, was a lifelong friend of Harry’s sister Nellie. Harry would probably have played with her brothers Arthur and Jack. On the other side of Bittleside was the Sir George Thomas Arms (now called The Spur). The landlord here was Charles Hotson. Further down the hill was the pub known formerly as ‘The Dog and Partridge’ notorious for being the haunt of smugglers earlier in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. . The Inn had capacious cellars, far larger than normally needed by a small country inn, which extended northwards under the present A29 to the fields opposite. My grandmother said there was a tunnel from Biddle Side to the Dog and Partridge. Jimmy Dean describes Harry Cooper’s house (as he names it) as being a large thatched house with stable, cowsheds, pig pens, large orchard and meadow. It eventually became called Biddleside Farm and my grandmother always refeered to Biddleside Farm as where she grew up.
Whilst at Biddle Side the family had lodgers, whom I presume worked for William (as he is described as an employer on census returns). In 1891 Clement Nappier, horse carter was lodging with the family and in 1901 there were two lodgers Charles Penskett 60 a wood carter from Heyshott whom William would have known since boyhood and George Balchin 42 a woodcutter (previously hoopmaker) from Dunsford, Surrey.
In 1901 there were 12 other families on the Common, some with children of roughly Harry’s age. Until the 1860s Slindon Common was just that – a sparsely populated Common, used by villager copyholders (a kind of perpetual tenancy) to graze animals. The Common was "eliminated" under the Enclosure Acts in the 1860s and the copyholders were compensated under the Slindon Enclosure Award with plots of land on Slindon Common. The majority of new holdings were eventually sold, mainly as building plots
School and after
As a boy William attended Slindon Church of England School. Slindon school was built for 131 children and in 1905 had average of 76. In that year GE Bowden was master, and Mrs Bowden mistress. Harry’s brother Charles and another boy planted a chestnut tree in the grounds of the school in 1901 to commemorate the death of Queen Victoria. Unfortunately the school records for the time William was there no longer exist. A major event in his childhood would have been on 12 October 1900 when Jimmy Dean’s cottage at Bittleside burnt down. The fire was caused by the brimstone match in a toy pistol flying up into the thatched roof at the back of the cottage and it only took 20 minutes to burn down. Fortunately there were no casualties. The Deans moved to Park Lane, Slindon and never returned to the Common.
. A far greater tragedy though was six months later when Harry’s mother died of gangerine poisoning. She was buried 28/4/1901 Madehurst and her headstone reads ‘In loving memory of Ellen the beloved wife of William Blunden daughter of the late William and Jane Downer who died April 23 1901. Aged 51 years. Beloved by all who knew her’.
William probably left school in 1901. On the 1901 census he hasn’t be given an occupation and children in Slindon were not recorded as scholars The school leaving age was 14 but could be 12 in 1899, raised to 13 in 1900 if the school inspector issued a certificate to say a specified educational standard had been reached. He probably then worked with his father. In Kelly’s directory 1905 William Blunden was given as a wood and coal dealer. Sometime in the 1900s according to Jimmy Dean William was given notice to leave Biddleside by Charles Leslie (landlord, owner of Slindon Manor) so that Charles Hotson blacksmith (son of the landlord of the Sir George Thomas) could live there. By 1915 when Harry enlisted the family address was Firs Cottage, Slindon Common William’s (and perhaps Harry’s) work obviously extended outside the parish as on 2/12/1904 William was granted a licence from Westhampnett RDC to erect a cart shed on a piece of land in Walberton.
In 1911 or 1912 Harry emigrated to Australia. William Blunden informed the Office of Australian authorities that his son was 24 when he left England. However I am unable to find any passenger on the available passenger lists which matches him. At the time he enlisted he was working for Mr W Morewood, Rushholme , Merrivale Road, Pymble near Sydney, New South Wales as a groom and gardener. Pymble is 18 kilometres north west of Sydney on the north-west shore. It was named after Robert Pymble, an influential settler. Originally agricultural it is now a residential suburb. The Ku-ring-gai Historical Society in Pymble kindly undertook some research for me. They were unable to find any reference to Harry - being a British citizen for example he wasn’t on the electoral register. Mr W Morewood was William Arthur Morewood. He has does not appear anywhere in Sydney until c1915 when he occupied Rusholme (Rushholme) at Merrivale Rd Pymble. It was listed as Merryvale Rd from 1903 until 1920. Merry/Vale is a name associated in early times with the Pymble family. William Morewood appears in the 1928 electoral rolls at the nearby Bettowynd St along with his wife Elizabeth Laura Morewood. She died in 1943 and he in 1959. They are buried together at Macquarie Park. They married in the Altrincham district in 1893, and on the 1901 census were living in the Rusholme district of Manchester, hence the name of their Australian home! William was recorded as Arthur William (so perhaps he preferred that name) and was then a cab driver. I have found William Arthur Morewood travelled to Australia from London on the P&O ship Beltana on 8/7/1912. Elizabeth joined her husband in Australia in 1914 travelling on the liner Demosthenes With children Henry 18, Lilian 16 and Douglas 10. He gave his age as 39 and occupation gardener. I can find no evidence yet that Harry knew them in England. The Ku-ring-gai Historical Society’s HISTORIAN of December 1980 had an article dealing with the O’Reilly family who were well known medical people who lived in Telegraph Road, Pymble, for many years. Talking of one of the O’Reilly women it is written that she "was assisted in her heavy gardening work by Mr Morewood who lived in Merrivale Road. Morewood was a handyman at Eloura (an O’Reilly home) but occasionally donned a dustcoat and peaked cap to double as chauffeur for Dr Susie’s small Singer car. Older Pymble residents will remember Mr Morewood’s son, Douglas who was the Pymble postman for many years". It seems likely therefore that Harry worked with William Morewood rather than for him.
I have tried to piece together the story of Harry Blunden in World War I using his army records and what information I could find on his Battalion’s movements from the internet. The History of the 13th Battalion by T A White was published by the 13th Battalion AIF Committee, Sydney, 1924 but I have not been able to purchase it and the British Library copy is only available in their Reading Room, Boston Spa! If and when I can make this trip it should confirm some of the assumptions I have made, or allow me to amend my account, as well as giving me the chance to add a lot more. I would appreciate being told of any errors and would welcome any more information.
Harry had his medical examination on 11 August 1915 at Holdsworthy, just outside Liverpool, Sydney. This was to become in 1916 a large internment camp. He took his oath to King George V on 23 August to serve for the duration of the war and four months thereafter. He became Private 4150 in the 13th Battalion. The 13th Battalion was raised in September 1914 in New South Wales and with the 14th, 15th and 16th Battalions formed the 4th Brigade under Colonel John Monash. On August 5, 1914 the Prime Minister Joseph Cook had declared a war between Australia and Germany by stating "When the Empire is at War, so also is Australia". Australians flocked to recruiting centres which were opened on 10 August. When Prime Minister Andrew Fisher’s Labor Party came to power in September 1914 Fisher reiterated Cooks statement saying, ‘Should the worst happen' Australia would 'rally to the Mother Country' to help and defend her 'to our last man and our last shilling'. By the end of 1914 52,561 volunteers were accepted. The Australian government placed strict guidelines on volunteers, who had to have a high level of physical fitness. Recruits were rejected unless he had a chest measurement of at least 87 centimeters and a minimum height of 168 centimeters. Recruits had to be ages between 19 and 38 years old, though men as old as 70 and many younger men managed to enlist. Many of these strict restrictions were lifted later in the war as the requirement for men increased. Harry in fact was just under the 168 centimeter requirement so might this account for why he didn’t enlist until the war had been underway for a year? Of the 32,000 original soldiers of the AIF (Australian Imperial Force) only 7,000 would survive to the end of the war. There was no conscription in Australia during World War I. The government did consider it (a change in the Defence Act would be needed to conscript for service overseas) and as public opinion seemed to be very divided a public vote was held in 1916, in which it was defeated 49 to 51. A year later another vote was held in which it was defeated by a wider majority. Harry was enlisted into the Cyclist Training Battalion. He signed a form stating he didn’t wish to make a will. More about cyclist in World I later.
Back to Europe
The 13th Battalion had landed in Egypt in February and on 25 April 1915 taken part in the Gallipoli landings. After the Gallipoli Campaign Australian troops returned to Egypt and the AIF underwent a major expansion and was reorganised. The 13th Battalion was split and provided experienced soldiers for the 45th Battalion. The 4th Brigade was combined with the 12th and 13th Brigades to form the 4th Australian Division. In 1916 the infantry forces began to move to France while the cavalry units stayed in the area and combated Turkish troops. Harry was part of this expansion. He embarked from Sydney on the Aeneas on 201/12/1915. ( HMAT Aeneas 10,049 tons. 14 knots. Ocean SS Co Ltd, Liverpool) At the end of March 1916 he was in Cairo. On 23 March he was admitted 3rd A.G.H. (Australian General hospital originally established in 1915 on Lemos in response to the Gallipoli campaign and later moved to Egypt and the Western Front) with fanners (mild). I have yet to find out what this was – perhaps some sort of stomach upset? He rejoined his unit at Serapum on 2 April (I have not been able to establish where this was). . On 5/5/1916 he was put on charge for being absent from 6am 29 April to 6 am 1 May. He was awarded 4 days Cb (confined to barracks) and forfeited three days pay. He embarked Alexandria on 8 July and disembarked Marseilles on the 14th.
From 9 July to 27 August Harry was temporarily transferred to 1st Anzac Cyclist battalion. The AIF reorganisation in 1916 provided for a company of cyclists for each Division. When they got to France, they were reorganised as Corps troops, with a Battalion for each Corps. There were two ANZACs at this time, hence two Corps. The cyclist battalions were organised like infantry, with four companies of four platoons.
The cyclists were mainly used as despatch riders. During semi-open warfare periods in 1917 and 1918, they operated similar to cavalry. A brigade column in an advance would have cyclists attached. They weren't as mobile or flexible as cavalry, but didn't cost as much to maintain either. Commanding Officer of this unusual unit for most of WW1 was Victorian Maj. Jack Hindhaugh. It has been described as 'the wrong unit in the wrong place at the wrong time--trench warfare was not conducive to cycle charges'. Tasks of the unit included 'directing traffic, unloading railway wagons, harvesting hops for local families, and burying the dead'. Taken at face value, the unit was a complete failure. But only twelve years before--during the Boer War--Australian cyclists had performed well as scouts.
The 1st ANZAC Cyclist Battalion never served in the front line as a fighting unit, but it was exposed to regular bombardments by artillery and aircraft. Cyclist detachments, however, took part in the last stages of the war, as the German Army retreated from the trench systems to the Hindenburg Line. Thirteen men were killed in action. The 2nd Battalion (officered by New Zealanders) fared even less well with a loss of 59 dead.
One wonders whether Harry might have survived the War if he had stayed with this battalion. As it was on 26 August he was transferred back to the 13th Battalion. Could this be the result of the crime he committed 6 August Breaking out of billet without a pass for which he forfeited 21 days pay. At this time he was, like most newcomers to the Western Front in one of the base depots in Etaples. The area around Etaples was the scene of immense concentrations of Commonwealth reinforcement camps and hospitals. It was remote from attack, except from aircraft, and accessible by railway from both the northern or the southern battlefields. In 1917, 100,000 troops were camped among the sand dunes and the hospitals, which included eleven general, one stationary, four Red Cross hospitals and a convalescent depot, could deal with 22,000 wounded or sick.
. We will find that Harry was to be a frequent visitor to Etaples. . On 30 September he rejoined the 13th battalion in Belgium, too late to be involved in its first action.
Pozieres and Mouquet Farm
The 13th’s first major action in France was at Pozičres in August 1916. Harry’s4th Division of the AIF saw action during the Battle of the Somme along with the 1st, 2nd and 5th. The 5th was the first to see action during the Battle of Fromelles where it was positioned on the left flank of the salient and suffered 5,533 casualties which effectively incapacitated it for many months afterwards. The 1st Division entered the line on23 July 1916; it took part in capturing the town of Pozieres at great cost suffering 5,285 casualties. The 2nd Division took over the sector on July 27 and General Gough eager for progress, pressed for an immediate attack. By August 5 the brigades of the 2nd Division were exhausted and were to be relieved by the 4th Division.
Following the attack on Pozieres the Australians were called upon to attack Mouquet Farm and the task fell to the 4th Division, which had already suffered 1,000 casualties resisting the final German counter-attack, but both the Australian 1st and 2nd Divisions would be called on again, followed once more by the 4th Division. Mouquet farm was completely destroyed in 1916, but has now been rebuilt. At the entrance to the lane leading up to the farm here is a bronze plaque commemorating the Australians who died there. It was known to them as Moo-Cow Farm and was a heavily fortified position in the German second line of defence. Starting on 8 August, 4th Australian Division was to seize the approaches to Mouquet Farm with the second part, the actual capture of the Farm itself, to occur on 14th August, again by the 4th Australian Division. As all too frequently happened with battles at this time, the plan did not translate into actuality.
On 8th August, 4th Bde launched an attack along the western slope of the ridge towards the Farm. However, the artillery of both sides was so heavy that all landmarks were obliterated and the attackers became disoriented and lost. Those on the right flank successfully took their objectives, those in the centre advanced too far, were exposed on both flanks so had to withdraw while those on the left were unable to make any progress in the face of determined German resistance. This characterised the next six days of fighting. By the due date for the attack on the Farm itself, the Australians were still fighting to capture the trench system around it. The 4th Division had taken 4, 649 casualties and on 15th August was replaced by the First. The 2nd Division suffered 6848 casualties while the 4th suffered 4649. As that battle dragged on, the Canadian Corps took over from the Australians. During the Battle of the Somme the four Australian divisions suffered a total of 23,000 casualties.
When Harry joined his Battalion on the Western Front on 28 September the 4th Division was on the Somme near Flers with the 1st, 2nd and 5th Division. He had just missed, on the 15th a subsidiary attack of the Somme Offensive, the Battle of Flers-Courcelette which was notable for the introduction of tanks. The attack was launched across a 12 km front from Rawlinson's Fourth Army. Twelve divisions were employed, along with all the tanks the British army possessed: 49. British and Canadian troops were involved
During late 1916 and early 1917 the front line troops endured the frightful privations of the Somme Winter, the most bitter for forty years. The battlefield was reduced to a barely negotiable sea of mud and despite the atrocious conditions the Australians were kept on the offensive in pointless assaults on impossible objectives. Harry suffered his first wounding at this time, being shot in the right hand on 21 October. So far I have been unable to ascertain which offensive this occurred. He rejoined his unit 10 November.
Stormy Trench, Gueudecourt
On 4/5 February 1917, at Stormy Trench, north-east of Gueudecourt, Captain Murray led his company from the 13th batallion to the assault and quickly captured an enemy position. Henry William "Harry" Murray VC, DCMG, DSO & Bar, was Australia's highest decorated soldier during World War I (1914-1918), one of the most decorated infantry soldier in the British Empire, and continues to be Australia's highest decorated soldier, Very heavy fighting followed the assault, and three times counter-attacks were beaten back owing to this officer's wonderful work. During the night the company suffered heavy casualties and on one occasion gave ground, but Captain Murray saved the situation, encouraging his men, leading bayonet charges and carrying the wounded to places of safety. The recommendation for the VC noted that "his Company would follow him anywhere and die for him to a man". Was our Harry one of his men?
Harry was hospitalised with gun shot wound to the face and bruised back and hip sustained on the second day of the battle, eventually being transferred to a hospital in Boulogne, where he was admitted and discharged on the same day. Boulogne was used throughout the war for military hospitals. From there he spent a week in Etaples before arriving back at his unit on 10 March 1917. Bullecourt
On 11 April 1917 the 4th Division assaulted the Hindenburg Line in the First Battle of Bullecourt. The battle was a disaster and 1170 Australian prisoners were taken by the German. The patrols the Australians had sent out earlier sent reports back which were not good. The wire was intact and the German trenches heavily defended. A critical decision was to use the new weapon, tanks, to batter down the enemy wire and neutralise gun positions. This was despite the tanks having no armour plating and being meant to be used only for training. General Gough ordered these to precede the infantry, but an increasingly bad snow storm on the 10th meant the infantry was left waiting for tanks which failed to arrive, so the assault took place a day later. Even then only four of the eleven expected tanks arrived and they were so slow that the infantry overtook them
The one-day affair which resulted in the 4th Division being essentially wiped out as a fighting force for months. This single day caused great bitterness among Australians towards General Hubert Gough and the newly-developed tank weapon
The 4th and 12th Brigades of the 4th Australian Division, despite the failure of the tanks, showed remarkable courage and ability and achieved what most observers believed was impossible, by breaking into part of the enemy trenches.
They were, however, forced out within hours by murderous machine gun and artillery fire from the defenders who, because of confusion and simple bad planning by the Australian artillery, were able to inflict enormous losses on the troops that reached and lodged in the Hindenburg Line. The high degree of bitterness from the Australians that resulted can be understood when the casualty rates of First Bullecourt are studied. The 12th Brigade went in 2,000 strong and suffered 950 casualties. The 4th Brigade attacked with 3,000 and sustained 2,339 casualties! Even by the standards of the Western Front at this time, a loss rate of 66 per cent was remarkable Included in the casualties were some 1,250 men who were captured, approximately a third of all Australians made prisoner during the war.
Harry was wounded in this battle, by a wound to the neck. He was sent to hospital in Rouen where Commonwealth camps and hospitals were stationed on the southern outskirts of the city. Then he was transferred to Etaples on the 28 April. One hopes that where Harry was sent on his several spells in Etaples was better than the notorious British Army base camp for those on their way to the front. Under atrocious conditions both raw recruits from England and battle-weary veterans were subjected to intensive training in gas warfare, bayonet drill, and long sessions of marching at the double across the dunes. After two weeks at Etaples many of the wounded were only too glad to return to the front with unhealed wounds. Conditions in the hospital were punitive rather than therapeutic and there had been incidents at the hospital between military police and patients, and there was a full blown riot in Sept 1917. On the 17 May 1917 he was marched back to unit rejoining it on the 19th.
Messines The been sending out patrols and the reports coming back were not good. The wire was near intact and the German trenches heavily defended. This was not a stop off on some greater withdrawal by the Germans - they were here to stayIn June he probably participated in the Battle of Messines. It has been argued that the Battle of Messines was the most successful local operation of the war, certainly of the Western Front. Carried out by General Herbert Plumer's Second Army, it was launched on 7 June 1917 with the detonation of 19 underground mines underneath the German mines. The noise caused by these was so loud it could be heard in Downing Street and Dublin. In preparing for the Messines battle General Plummer had authorised the laying of 22 mine shafts underneath German lines all along the ridge, his plan being to detonate all 22 at zero hour at 03:10 on 7 June 1917, to be followed by infantry attacks so as to secure the ridge from the presumably dazed German defenders, the infantry heavily supported by the use of artillery bombardments, tanks and the use of gas. Work on laying the mines began some 18 months before zero hour. One mine, at Petite Douve Farm, was discovered by German counter miners on 24 August 1916 and destroyed. A further two mines close to Ploegsteert Wood were not exploded as they were outside the planned attack area. In the face of active German counter-mining, 8,000 metres of tunnel were constructed under German lines. Occasionally the tunnellers would encounter German counterparts engaged in the same task: underground hand to hand fighting would ensure.
Heavy preliminary artillery bombardment of the German lines was begun on 21 May, involving 2,300 guns and 300 heavy mortars, ceasing at 02:50 on the morning of 7 June. The German troops, sensing imminent attack, rushed to their defensive positions, machine guns ready, meanwhile sending up flares to detect British movement towards the ridge. Silence prevailed for the following twenty minutes until, at 03:10, the order was given across the line to detonate the mines, which totalled 600 tons of explosive. Of the 21 mines laid 19 were exploded. The effect of the mine explosions upon the German defenders was devastating. Some 10,000 men were killed during the explosion alone. In its wake nine divisions of infantry advanced under protection of a creeping artillery barrage, tanks and gas attacks from the new Livens projectors which were designed to throw gas canisters directly into the enemy trenches.
All initial objectives were taken within three hours. Reserves from General Gough's Fifth Army and the French First Army under Anthoine reached their own final objectives by mid-afternoon. German troops counter-attacked on 8 June, without success, in fact losing further ground as the attacks were repelled. German counter-attacks continued in diminishing form until 14 June: by this stage the entire Messines salient was in Allied hands. The Messines battle, which greatly boosted morale among the Allies, signified the first time on the Western Front that defensive casualties actually exceeded attacking losses: 25,000 against 17,000. . The battalion spent much of the remainder of 1917 in Belgium advancing to the Hindenburg Line.
In September the 13th battalion participated in the Battle of Polygon Wood 25-27 September 1917, which was part of the wider Third Battle of Ypres (It came during the second phase of the battle, in which General Herbert Plumer’s Second Army was given the lead. Plumer replaced the ambitious general assaults that had begun the battle with a series of small attacks with limited objectives – his "Bite and hold" plan. These attacks involved a long artillery bombardment followed by an attack on a narrow front (2,000 yards wide at Polygon Wood). The attacks were led by lines of skirmishers, followed by small infantry groups. German strong points were to be outflanked rather than assaulted. Each advance would stop after it had moved forward 1,000-1,500 yards. Preparations were then made to fight off any German counterattack.
The attack on Polygon Wood was the second of Plumer’s "bite and hold" attacks, after Menin Road and ending with Broodseinde. It was carried out by the 4th and 5th Australian Divisions, amongst the best left in the BEF by 1917. Its target was a line just beyond Polygon Wood (a wood in name only by 1917, having lost all of its trees in earlier fighting). The site of Polygon Wood was captured on 26 September, the target line on 27 September. The attack then stopped, and Plumer prepared for the next attack. The two Australian divisions lost 5,471 men during the Battle of Polygon Wood.
Harry was wounded on the 27th September, this time gunshot wound to his left arm. This time he went straight to Etaples and then on 5 October to Trouville, the seaside town popular with Parisians. . During his six weeks there I hope he was able to enjoy the boardwalk and long beach of golden sand. Capt John Hayward a surgeon working a large Base hospital at Trouville in 1918 recalls ‘Here I remained till the beginning of July, not at all happy, and hampered at every turn by red tape, rules, and regulations. The hospital was full of the wastage of war - men sent down from the Front, suffering from the ordinary diseases of civil life, which should have precluded their enlistment. The Front knocked them out almost at once, and they came to be patched up, to convalesce, and return. The mess was full of rather war-weary men, who had endured much, and were glad of an easy berth.’ (www.patriotfiles.com. Casualty clearing station)
The next month was spent at Le Havre. Le Havre was one of the ports at which the British Expeditionary Force disembarked in August 1914. Except for a short interval during the German advance in 1914 it remained No 1 Base throughout the war and by the end of May 1917; it contained three general and two stationary hospitals, and four convalescent depots. His Christmas present in 1917 was being marched out to rejoin his unit on Christmas Eve, arriving the 29th December.
In March and April 1918, the battalion helped to stop the German spring offensive
In March 1918 the Fourth Division was rushed to the Somme region to stem the German Offensive. There it repulsed the advancing Germans in hard fought battles at Hebuterne and Dernancourt. In April its 13th Infantry Brigade was involved in the counterattack at Villers-Bretonneux.
For most of the war, Dernancourt had been behind allied lines and had become a village well known to many Australian units during their stay on the Somme between July 1916 and March 1917. In 1920, the Mayor of Dernancourt, writing to a committee in Adelaide, South Australia, recalled the Australian presence in his village: "Dernancourt became a rest camp for the troops. The Australian military authorities offered their help to the farmers who had so little manpower, and the unforgettable spectacle was seen of soldiers, yesterday in the trenches, helping in the work in the fields, carting, sowing, planting and reaping with warm enjoyment. It seemed as if these soldiers were working for themselves" (quoted in Geoffrey H. Manning, ‘Alms Across the Sea – A Tale of Two Towns’, Part 1V – Tales of Adelaide, Essay No. 15, Occasional Essays on South Australian History)
However, in March–April 1918, as the Germans pushed in their great offensive back across the Somme area, Dernancourt became the new front line. The village was destroyed by shellfire and its inhabitants forced to flee. In 1920 Dernancourt was adopted as ‘South Australia’s godchild’ and much practical help was given to the local people by South Australians raising money and sending clothes.
By the time summer 1918 arrived the Australian forces were not at their best. Influenza had thinned the ranks (though not yet the lethal strain) and recruitment had decreased so the Australian Corps was only at 90% optimum effective, although the men they did have were by now very experienced and morale was high as for the first time they were under Australian command.
Harry was not to enjoy all the summer of 1918. On 4th July he suffered fatal gunshot wounds to the neck and leg and he died the same day in the 5th Casualty Station, France. Almost certainly he was one of the approximate 800 Australian dead in the Battle of Hamel on the same day. There is an excellent website ‘The history of Hammel: history and memory’ which describes the battle, events leading up to it and its aftermath as well as showing how the battle has been and is commemorated in the village.
The battle was a planned attack launched by the Australian Corps against German positions in the town of Hamel. The battle was planned and commanded by Lieutenant General John Monash. It was significant not for its strategic value but rather because the tactics used drastically departed from the traditional tactics of massed frontal assaults being used at that time. The battle was a success; only 92 minutes were needed to attain all the objectives, as compared to the many months of previous battles. There were 1062 Australian casualties (including 800 dead), as well as 176 American casualties (almost 100 dead), while there were probably 2000 Germans killed and 1,600 captured, along with much enemy equipment.
Monash's detailed planning of the battle as well as the briefing of all troops on their objectives were instrumental in the victory. It also marked the novel use of a number of tactics such as aerial resupply (parachute drops) and advanced coordination between infantry and armour. For example, the tanks were also used as a creeping barrage, where the artillery barrage moves slowly in front of the advancing troops, and they also supplied food, weapons and medicine to the advanced troops. Monash was adamant that infantry should not be sacrificed in an unprotected advance, hence his care to see that they were well covered.
While it was a small-scale battle, it was to have far-reaching consequences on trench warfare as it provided a practical demonstration of how the prevailing deadlock could be broken. The strategy was then successful on a much larger scale in the Battle of Amiens, and was a major factor in Allied successes later in the war. Field Marshal Montgomery, the famous World War II British army commander later credited John Monash as the best World War I general on the western front in Europe.
A contingent of 2000 American troops from the 131st and 132nd regiments participated in the battle under the supervision of Australian veterans. This was one of the first times that Americans participated in a planned attack in the First World War. Harry’s 13th Battalion had a company of 132nd US Regiment attached to it.
Captain John A Hayward already quoted went to the Casualty Clearing Station in Crouy and gives a vivid description of a casualty clearing station such as the one where Harry spent his last hours ‘All military discipline, red tape, and formality were reduced to a minimum. Within the camp, officers donned flannels or shorts, and the mess, a dozen altogether, formed a family party; there were a small number of highly trained sisters, and forty or fifty orderlies’. He then gives a vivid portrait of work during a battle.
The institution of these small mobile hospitals near the fighting line had revolutionized the surgery of the War, and was the means of saving thousands of lives. It was found that the fatal sepsis and gas gangrene of wounds could be avoided if effective operation was performed within thirty-six hours of their infliction, and all dead and injured tissue removed, in spite of the extensive mutilation incurred.
The essential parts of a C.C.S. were: (1) A large reception marquee. (2) A resuscitation tent, where severely shocked or apparently dying cases were warmed up in heated beds, or transfused before operation. (3) A pre-operation tent, where stretcher cases were prepared for operation. (4) A large operating tent with complete equipment for six tables. (5) An evacuation tent, where the cases were sent after operation, to await the hospital train for the Base. (6) Award tent for cases requiring watching for twenty-four hours, or too bad for evacuation’
Harry was buried Crouy British Cemetery, Crouy-sur-Somme, Somme (grave III.B.25) with the Rev G.E. Wheeler officiating. Crouy is a village about 16 kilometres north-west of Amiens on the west side of the River Somme, on the Amiens-Abbeville main road. The British Cemetery is a little south of the village on the west side of the road to Cavillon. The cemetery was used between April and August 1918 for burials from the 5th and 47th Casualty Clearing Stations, which had come to the village because of the German advance. The cemetery now contains 739 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, and a number of French and German war graves. The cemetery was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield
His family were not told of the cause of death or details of his burial until a letter was despatched dated 24 February 1919.
After his death his effects were forwarded to his father on 21 August 1918 and these were listed as disc, letters, photo, YMCA wallet, religious medallions, religious book, crucifix, cards, metal mirror, two purses, pouch, buttons, three keys, badges, metal wrist watch, knife, spoon, coins, note case and bank receipt on Commonwealth Bank of Australia Sydney B.23945
In Slindon Parish Church and on the memorial cross there are 13 names as well listed with William. One of these was Herbert Dean three years younger than William. They were neighbours as children at Biddle Side. He was with the 13th Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment, killed in action near Becout on the Somme 3/9/1916. Two other men Jack Mills and William Roberts came from Slindon Common; both were six years younger than William. Unlike the men on the Roll of Honour for Yapton most of the other Slindon men honoured do not seem to have had long family associations with the village.