SALUTE TO THE FIRST BATTALION
Extract from an article by Ross McMullin, Courtesy Adelaide Advertiser 11/8/98
Eighty years ago, during the climax of World War I, two Australian Soldiers – 23 year old Jack Hayes, a railwayman from the Sydney suburb of Newtown and 21 year old Harold Andrews, a farmer from Wauchope made a spur of the moment decision to look for souvenirs. They didn’t know they were about to make history.
It was early on August 5 when the enterprising Australian Sergeants embarked on their souvenir hunt. They made for a bridge over the Somme River. As they walked across this bridge into the British sector, the enemy’s defensive presence seemed minimal. With Chipilly itself the best bet for souvenirs in the vicinity, they felt emboldened to head towards the village. German resistance, from what they could discern, still seemed surprisingly unformidable. They collected a rifle each and an enemy machine gun, before returning to their battalion with a recommendation that formal reconnaissance in that direction was warranted.
Later that day, they were authorised to lead a patrol themselves towards Chipilly.
They set off about 6pm, accompanied by four privates. All belonged to the 1st Battalion, a New South Wales unit.
They called initially at the most advanced British company in front of Chipilly. Its commander advised them not to go any further forward. Ignoring this advice, they spread themselves out and rushed the village. Enemy fire was heavy, but they managed to reach it safely. They split up and cleared it methodically. Leaving two privates to guard the village entrance, the other four proceeded farther into German occupied territory.
Ahead of them were a number of German positions. With dash and dexterity, the small AIF patrol overwhelmed each one in turn, even though outnumbered. In one encounter, Hayes had a lucky escape. Maneuvering round to rush a strong point from the flank while Andrews and a private provided covering fire from the front, Hayes came across another enemy post; in a sharp exchange with the occupants, he shot one and the others fled – only to be immediately captured by Andrews and the private as they raced forward to rescue him.
This brought them within sight of a more substantial stronghold. The four charged it, and the Germans dived into their dugouts. When the attackers threatened to bomb the dugouts, an officer and 31 men surrendered. The privates handed these prisoners to the British coming up behind, and pressed on. Another batch of prisoners was soon captured, together with machine guns.
When the Australians saw Germans farther ahead retiring in response to their activities, Sergeant Andrews set up an enemy machine gun and blazed away to good effect. His resourcefulness enabled the privates to capture 30 more Germans. At one stage, the intrepid half dozen had penetrated so far ahead in their remarkable exploit that Americans sent forward to consolidate in their wake assumed they were Germans and fired at them.
The astonishing upshot was that these six Australians managed to do what the British III Corps could not. They drove the Germans out of Chipilly heights, capturing weaponry and hundreds of prisoners in the process and enabled the AIF advance to proceed without harassment from that quarter.
What happened 80 years ago was immensely significant. As Ludendorff himself admitted, it was the beginning of the end. The meticulous planning of General Monash, the commander of the Australian Corps, and his masterly co-ordination of infantry, tanks artillery and aircraft paid handsome dividends. And, as the astounding feat of the 1st Battalion patrol at Chipilly showed, he had superbly proficient soldiers at his disposal.
For their distinguished gallantry, Sergeants Andrews and Hayes were each awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The privates all received the Military Medal. All six managed to survive until the Armistice.
OPEN LETTER TO NX 200630 Pte N B Morton 2/1st Australian Infantry Battalion K.I.A. 25.3.45
We survivors were thrilled to read in The First Post (Oct 1995) that the ‘Neville Morton Drive” off Crescent Head Road has been named after you.
Do you remember, the first bad news that day was that the muddy water we had been drinking revealed a dead Jap in it, as the level was lowered. The second bad news was that after you made contact, heavy fire came from the ridge and you wouldn’t answer our many calls to you. “Hec” Bowan came up the track to find you, but was shot next to me, in the arm and leg. Merv Sheen worked his bren well, but Cisco lying behind a tree had the top of his slouch hat shot off. On the order “withdraw”, we all got out without further wounds.
Then the coy commander started to order 100 rounds gunfire from the 25 pounders and told us to retreat further. Sgt Frank Upham jumped to his feet and said to the C.C. – “No man moves past this tree until we find Doc Morton”. In true spirit of the AIF the CC apologized to Frank and ordered us “Go back and find Morton”.
So four of us crawled back and we did find you Doc. We tied a rope around your leg and dragged you out of the line of fire. Your denture fell out and I put it in my pocket, hoping you would need it, but you were gone, so two of us put you on a stretcher and carried you to the rear, where we dug a grave and buried you and you became a map reference high in those jungle hills. We slept near you that night.
Next day, after the artillery fired their 100 round or more we went back up the slope. You never had a chance Doc. The Japs were lined along the ridge, each covering the slope and the track. We even saw some Japs running down the other side. We think one had your hat.
You weren’t the last killed in that needless campaign Doc. Willoughby Jackson and 4 others died from Mortars at Karawop, where Snowy Searle had a terrible death from a land mine. Don Carmichael, Eric Bowen and D’arcy McPhillps were also to die. Harry Hughes, Dick Mulholland, Cec Bevan and James each lost his right arm. The 6th Aust Div lost over 600 dead – 443 from battle wounds
Even after the war problems continued with at least 4 suicides. The soldier who accidentally killed Bob Morris laid his head on the railway line at Chatswood.
Doubt you’ll ever get this letter Doc, but we survivors remember: we’ve had fifty more years than you. Cheerio Doc, may meet you soon, your old comrade in arms arms,
Bren No 5535 (2/1 Inf Bn)
- What colours we had – Black over Green! What a leader – P.A. Cullen!
Now the True Story can be Told by Ron West.
On the 24th November 1965 during operation “New Life” in the village of Duc Hua during a sweep through, my section was in extended line and as we were passing a pen with a buffalo inside, it got scared, broke out and galloped right along the front of us. We all stepped aside except the last man Private Rollo Weitzman and as it rammed him he hit it over the head with a loaded M79. All of us heard the pop as it discharged but no one was game to move as we waited for it to come to earth. Suddenly there was an explosion to our rear.
Checking Rollo I found he was unhurt but had suffered a big fright.
Later on we heard that BHQ had received one incoming mortar round and two people had been slightly wounded about the same time the buffalo charged into us. I hope they can see the funny side of this like we did at the time.
With the return of the battalion from East Timor in early May 2001,140 members of the 1st Battalion Association moved into the barracks to assist the troops with their Welcome Home celebrations. In a surprise move, the CO Lieutenant Colonel John Caligari gave up his right to confer the AASM upon his soldiers and instead passed it to battalion veterans.
At the conclusion of the parade all of the veterans lined the exit and clapped the troops off.
For HM The Queen’s first visit in 1954 the battalion provided the Royal Guard outside Parliament House in Brisbane. The day before, Septimus and his handler in the Regimental Stable had a convivial day on the beer. When Septimus fronted up the next day he had a monumental hangover and when HM went to say hello he nearly bit her hand off!
In late 1962 I became the Custodian of Septimus’ file – a thick one including the pedigree from Gatton Agriculture College. There was one redress of wrong from Septimus ” Signed by my own hoof ” as a result of a company commander making disparaging remarks about him.
In December 1963 a kind member of the battalion arranged for Septimus to have a bride for Christmas – perhaps to improve his temper. At “first encounter” the Shetland mare was too tall for him much to his frustration and temper. The Assault Pioneer Platoon made him a mounting block and the deed was done!
312001 Don Ramsay
53971 Phillip Ross Pascoe
Two men walked into an Army recruiting office in 1959, signed on the line and went off to recruit training. Their backgrounds were different but it was the future that was in their minds. Neither could imagine that 50 years later they would still be together as friends, one with a wife and family and the other struggling with life.
Phil Pascoe joined the Army on the 4th December 1959 and served for nine years. He served in Singapore – Malaya – Borneo – Viet Nam and was discharged on 3rd December 1968. His postings included 2 RAR – 4 RAR – 1 RAR. Phil was a member of Anti Tank Platoon, 1 RAR at FSB Coral.
I did not know Phil but had known about him through other members of 1 RAR. Phil’s family was his army mates and in particular Ken Curley. His best memories were of the times with the men of 1 RAR and the hardships and dangers of being an Infantryman, the laughter and good times of real friends and the satisfaction of doing the best he could.
Phil lived in Western Australia and in his later years developed an illness that stripped away his ability to cope with even the basic things in life. His best mate, Ken Curley, was there for him and ensured that his life was as good as it could possibly be. This was hard on Ken emotionally as he had to watch his mate slowly succumb to this dreadful disease.
Phil wanted to give something back to the men he had served with to try and express his thanks for their great and lasting friendship. He donated $15,000.00 to the First Battalion Association. There are no strings attached to this donation: just an open hearted, generous gesture from a man who held his military family in the highest regard.
Phillip Ross Pascoe died on the 18th January 2010 and his funeral service was attended by a number of his army mates.
Note: There is a lot more to this story than is here. Ken Curley has shown what mateship is about by being with Phil whenever he was needed. Ken was appointed Phil’s legal guardian and administered all his needs: personal, medical and other. This was a tough few years for Ken and his family, emotionally draining, physically demanding and time consuming. From all soldiers everywhere, “Thanks Ken”, your actions were over and above the call of duty.
1921 Private L J Bell, 1st Battalion AIF 1915
My father (Leslie James BELL, Private WX3823) was 25 years old when he joined the 2/16th Battalion in June 1940, serving with the Battalion for over 5 years until his discharge in October 1945.
It was well known to the family that Dad had been named after his Uncle, and my Great Uncle – Leslie James BELL – who had died as a result of wounds received at Gallipoli, but other details have been lost over the years. Researching his history has proven to be a sobering experience.
Leslie James BELL was born in 1891 in Moama, a small town in the Riverina District of Southern New South Wales. The name “Moama” is derived from a local indigenous word meaning ‘burial ground’, and the town is located directly across the Murray River from the larger town of Echuca in neighbouring Victoria. At the time of his birth, Moama’s population was recorded as being 716 people, and even now the town only has a permanent population of some 3,700 people.
Uncle Les was the 6th of the 7 children of Alexander BELL, a Mounted Police Constable. He attended Moama Public School, and while being apprenticed to a blacksmith in Echuca for two years, his last employment was recorded as Assistant Surveyor. Uncle Les must have been very much a simple country lad with limited, if any, experience of life outside Moama (at the time of his enlistment, he was single and still living at home). The decision to enlist must have been heavily influenced by the actions of his younger brother, Archibald Augustus Bell, who joined the AIF some three weeks earlier than did Uncle Les.
Liverpool, then a town 30 km to the west of Sydney, was the site of the main camp for the reception and basic training of recruits for the AIF in New South Wales during the First World War. As someone wrote “Out in the bush, men were setting out on the trek to the city by train, by horse and with their swags on their backs”. It is not known how Uncle Leslie travelled from Moama to Liverpool – a distance of nearly 400 miles – but, for a bloke from the bush, that journey must have been an exciting adventure in itself.
At that time Australia had a population of some 4.9 million people – of which 420,000 enlisted in the armed forces, a huge commitment representing some 38.7% of all males aged between 18-44 years. Records are that 75 men from tiny Moama served in the AIF – an astounding number that must have represented over 10% of the total population of the town. The country paid a very heavy price for its patriotism, suffering a casualty rate of nearly 65% of the 332,000 enlistees who embarked overseas.
On 30 January 1915, at the age of 23 years 7 months, Uncle Les enlisted as a Private in the 1st Australian Infantry Battalion (Regiment Number 1921) – his brother Archie (Regimental Number 1707) having enlisted in 1st Battalion on 9 January 1915
[Archies’ story has close links to that of the Old 16th Battalion, and is best left for another time].
Along with every enlistee, the Bell brothers vowed “I swear I will well and truly serve our Sovereign Lord the King in the Australian Imperial Forces until the end of the War and that I will resist his Majesty’s enemies and cause His Majesty’s peace to be kept and maintained”.
A handsome, wiry lad (standing at a height of 5ft 8 ¼ in and a weight of 134 lbs – or 1.73 m and 60.8 kg in metric measures), Uncle Les had a dark complexion, blue eyes and brown hair.
I can imagine the pride both Uncles Les and Archie would have felt in joining the 1st Australian Infantry Battalion – which along with 2nd, 3rd and 4th Battalions comprised the 1st Brigade Australian Imperial Force – the first infantry units recruited for the AIF in New South Wales during the First World War.
1st Battalion was raised within a fortnight of the declaration of war in August 1914 and embarked just two months later. Although 1st Battalion was not technically established until 1914, the unit takes its lineage from units that were raised in Sydney sixty years before then. The 1st Battalion was the oldest infantry battalion from New South Wales and is a successor unit of the Sydney Volunteer Rifles which were raised in 1854 in the then colony of New South Wales, in response to concerns about possible threats posed by Russian naval forces in the Pacific during the Crimean War.
1st Battalion took part in the Anzac landing on 25th April 1915, landing at about 7.40am as part of the second and third waves [16th Battalion landed in the late afternoon], and both Battalions served there until the evacuation in December.
Less than 5 months after enlistment and having just turned 24 years, Uncle Les was one of the 142 men in the 5th Reinforcements to 1st Battalion, sailing from Sydney on 25th June 1915 on-board HMAT A40 Ceramic. He would not see his 25th birthday.
5th Reinforcements arrived in Egypt on 25th July 1915, and joined the 1st Battalion at Gallipoli on 5th August 1915 – landing at 2.am, and just in time to participate in the ferocious battle of Lone Pine less than 36 hours later.
One of the most famous assaults of the Gallipoli campaign, the Battle of Lone Pine was originally intended as a diversion from attempts by New Zealand and Australian units to force a breakout from the Anzac perimeter on the heights of Chunuk Bair and Hill 971 [16th Battalion took part in this attack during which the Hill was taken at great cost, but after which Turkish reinforcements forced the Australians to withdraw].
As recounted in the History of The First Battalion AIF ”The assault on Lone Pine on the afternoon of August 6th 1915, takes its place as one of the most gallant Australian adventures in the history of the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign. It tested to the full the courage and the fighting qualities of the city and country men who formed the 1st Battalion. It involved days and nights of slaughter; of fierce hand-to-hand encounters; of men struggling through dark tunnels towards the enemy; of inspired heroism as Turkish counter-attack after counter-attack was flung back as violently as it was launched; of screaming shells and blinding flashes; of nerve-racking nights and red dawns shot with blood”.
The action commenced at 4.30pm on 6th August 1915 with a continuous and heavy bombardment of the Lone Pine and adjacent trenches. The assault had been entrusted to the 1st Brigade, and at 5.30pm the assault was commenced by the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Battalions with the 1st Battalion forming the Brigade reserve.
The men of the 1st Brigade faced the enemy at Lone Pine in trenches only 50 to 70 metres apart – the frontage for the attack amounting at the most to some 200 metres, and the approaches lay open to heavy enfilade fire, both from the north and the south.
In a paragraph from “Description of Operations” from General Sir Ian Hamilton’s Despatch entitled “The Invincibility of The Australians Two lines left their trenches simultaneously and were closely followed up by a third. The rush across the open was a regular race against death, which came in the shape of a hail of shell and rifle bullets from front and from either flank. But the Australian had firmly resolved to reach the enemy’s trenches, and in this determination they became for the moment invincible. The barbed wire entanglement was reached and was surmounted. Then came a terrible moment, when it seemed as though it would be physically impossible to penetrate into the trenches. The overhead cover of stout pine beams resisted all individual efforts to move it. And the loopholes continued to spit fire. Groups of our men then bodily lifted up the beams and individual soldiers leaped down into the semi-darkened galleries amongst the Turks. By 5.47pm the 3rd and 4th Battalions were well into the enemy’s vitals, and a few minutes later the reserves of the 2nd Battalion advanced over their parados and driving out, killing, or capturing the occupants, made good the whole of the trenches. The reserve companies of the 3rd and 4th Battalions followed, and at 6.20pm the 1st Battalion (in reserve) was launched to consolidate the position.
At 7pm a determined and violent counter-attack began, both from the north and from the south. Wave upon wave the enemy swept forward with the bayonet. Here and there a well-directed salvo of bombs emptied a section of a trench, but whenever this occurred the gap was quickly filled by the initiative of the officers and the gallantry of the men”.
The fighting was continuous by day and night, with large-scaled and sustained counter-attacks occurring over 6 days but especially on 7th August (1.30am to 8.30am; and 1.30pm to 5pm); 8th August (midnight to dawn) and 9th August (5am to 7.45am). After three days the area was littered with thousands of corpses and the Australians held the ground. Over 2,000 Australian casualties were sustained during the intense hand-to-hand fighting at Lone Pine between 6th and 9th August 1915.
As described in another paragraph in the Despatch from General Sir Ian Hamilton, this one entitled “Men who were a Glory To Australia
Thus was Lone Pine taken and held. The Turks were in great force and very full of fight, yet one week Australian Brigade, numbering at the outset but 2000 rifles, and supported only by two weak battalions, carried the work under the eyes of a whole enemy division, and maintained their grip upon it like a vice during six days of successive counter-attacks. High praise is due to Brigadier-General N. M.Smyth and to his battalion commanders. The irresistible dash and daring of officers and men in the initial charge were a glory to Australia. The stout-heartedness with which they clung to the captured ground in spite of fatigue, severe losses, and the continual strain of shellfire and bomb attacks, may seem striking to the civilian; it is even more admirable to the soldier. From start to finish the artillery support was untiring and vigilant. Owing to the rapid, accurate fire of the 2nd New Zealand Battery, under Major Sykes, several of the Turkish onslaughts were altogether defeated in their attempts to get to grips with the Australians. Not a chance was lost by these gunners, although time and again the enemy’s artillery made direct hits on their shields. The hand-to-hand fighting in the semi-obscurity of the trenches was prolonged and very bitterly contested.
The bombing and sniping continued thereafter, although less in volume, throughout 9th August and lasted until 12th August when it at last became manifest that the Australians had gained complete ascendency.
The 1st Brigade attacked Lone Pine with 2,000 men but was reduced to 900 at the end of the battle. The Turks losses were estimated at over 5,000 men. Seven Victoria Crosses were won for valor shown at Lone Pine – two by members of the 1st Battalion (Capt Alfred Shout [posthumously] and L/C Leonard Keysor)
The strenuous period continued for the 1st Battalion, from 12th August up until its embarkation for Lemnos on 8th September 1915 – at regular intervals during that time being in and out of the front line; with fairly heavy casualties being suffered due to sudden sorties, hard-fought counter-attacks, very heavy shelling and bomb attacks.
As for Uncle Les, he was to spend only 30 days at Gallipoli and did not get to enjoy the rest at Lemnos. On 2nd September 1915, he was wounded in action, suffering a bomb wound to the head. He was admitted to No. 3 Field Ambulance on 3rd September, then moved to 1st Casualty Clearing at Anzac and evacuated to No. 1 General Hospital at Heliopolis Egypt, where he was admitted on 7th September. He was placed on dangerously ill list on 14th September, struck off that list on the 17th September and died on 18th September 1915 as a result of those wounds. His namesake – my Dad – was 5 months old at that time.
The personnel effects sent back to his family in Moama were very modest indeed, consisting of ‘one brown-paper parcel containing pocket book, pipe, knife, rosary beads, brush, purse, amulets and letter’
To make this tale even more tragic, his widowed mother (Margaret Ellen Bell) only became aware of her son’s death when reading a notice in the Argus Newspaper dated 12 October 1915. What a terrible shock that must have been for her. This was due to Uncle Les nominating his brother William (my Grandfather) as his next of kin, and only providing his address as simply ‘Western Australia’. Not surprisingly, no prior notification of his death ever reached William].
Uncle Les is buried in the Cairo War Memorial Cemetery, along with 2,053 other Commonwealth casualties of the First World War. He is resting in very good company – being buried together with another 490 fallen comrades of the AIF, including 15 soldiers of 16th Battalion in addition to 12 of his brothers from the 1st Battalion.
I was very lucky to be able to visit his grave last year – the Cemetery is indeed beautifully maintained and is a real credit to the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The ground staff seemed more than a little bemused when I played recordings of ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”, “Last Post” and “Advance Australia Fair”. Sitting next to Uncle Les’ grave, and with the sounds of the music echoing amidst the rows of white crosses, I was reminded of Paul Keating’s powerful Eulogy given at the 1993 funeral of the Unknown Soldier at the War Memorial in Canberra – paraphrasing a few sentences from that Eulogy:
Here lies some of 324,000 Australians who served overseas in World War 1….some of the 60,000 Australians who died on foreign soil. Some of the over 100,000 Australians who have died in wars last century. They are all of them. And each is one of us.
LEST WE FORGET
Grateful acknowledgments include: 1st Battalion Association; Australian War Memorial; Wikipedia; “Description of Operations” from General Sir Ian Hamilton’s Despatch; ‘The History of the First Battalion AIF’