Dr Lucas Jordan reveals the story of the six Australian souvenir hunters who crossed the Somme River and captured Chipilly Spur during what was arguably the most decisive battle of the war.
*Speakers: Roger Lee (R), Lucas Jordan (L)
*Location: National Library of Australia
R: Well ladies and gentlemen, good evening and thank you for coming, what a great turnout, this is really impressive. Those of you who are regulars will know that Peter Stanley’s normally your Chair but he got a better offer, he’s gone to Melbourne so you’ve got me instead so sorry, you got the B team but that’s alright. My name’s Roger Lee, I’m from the War Memorial, Australian War Memorial, I’m part of the Official History Project team writing the Iraq volume.
For those of you who don’t know this little gathering comes under the guidance of two groups, the Estaminet which is a Canberra First World War studies group and it consists – it’s run by a small – we like to call ourselves a controlling soviet of Peter Stanley, Aaron Pegram from the War Memorial, Andrew Richardson from the Army History Unit and retired Brigadier Chris Roberts plus me. And the other group is the Western Front Association, a very august institution based in the UK of which I have the pleasure to be the absolutely totally nonactive Vice President of the Western Front Association. It’s a much bigger organisation in the UK than it is here so if any of you go to the UK and are interested in the first world war I suggest you get in touch with me from the mailing list and I’ll put you in touch with people over there. They run battlefield tours, they also run very regular events like this right ‘round the country in the UK. People like Gary Sheffield, John Bourne and Peter Simpkins are amongst the leading lights of that institution.
However tonight we’re here for a specific and special reason and it’s always really good to welcome a new book on the – on any topic on the first world war, particularly a new book from one of Australia’s rising young scholars and I have to say this is a book which looks – takes a different look at something which is heavily embedded in our Australian military history psyche which is how the Australians perform on the Western front. Oh I forgot, I have apologies by the way from Peter Stanley, Chris Roberts and Aaron Pegram, the other three members of the soviet who are all in Melbourne.
Back to what I was saying, it’s really good that rising young scholars like Lucas Jordan who’s the author of this book is prepared to take on a topic which challenges in some regards the – to a degree the revisionist view of Australians of which I’m a flagbearer I must say of the Australian performance in the first world war so hopefully like you I’ll learn something really interesting tonight so please welcome to the stage, Lucas Jordan.
R: Sorry, you can tell I’m the B team, I forgot – I’ll circulate while we’re talking our attendance book. We do this for two reasons, the National Library likes to know how many people are here and the second thing is if you put your email address in it I’ll give you – we’ll give the dates and times for the next meeting which is in November but the date at this stage is flexible so I’ll pass this ‘round and even if you’ve been before please fill it in, put your email address in, thanks.
L: Thank you, Roger. Gidday, thank you for coming tonight and just as a country lad from Victoria I don’t get many opportunities to come to Canberra so I’d really quickly like to thank some people who I haven’t been able to thank in a forum such as this before. Firstly Bill Gammage who was the supervisor of the PhD from which this book emerged and to Peter Stanley who’s absent, Dr Paul Pickering at the ANU who also supervised. I’d like to thank the ANU in general for offering me a scholarship by which I was able to travel to the battlefields of France, I was able to access the war memorial’s collection upon what a lot of the writings of frontline soldiers in this book depended on. I was able to go to the archives in the UK for the same and read British accounts.
The Army History Unit also gave me a very generous grant which allowed the same and allowed me to visit all the state libraries around the country with the sole purpose of reading the accounts of ordinary frontline diggers in 1918, their view of the war, how they saw it in front of them. And also of course thank the National Library for having me here tonight and the Estaminet and the Western Front Association. I’m particularly delighted at the idea of an estaminet. One of the things that recurred when I’m researching first world war diggers in their own diaries is how many of them love to visit to the estaminet themselves including a couple of the blokes that we’ll be talking about tonight.
In fact whilst researching in England I often found myself laughing reading one particular Scottish lad of the Argyle and Southern Highlanders and his impression of going to the Estaminet. He was always quite frustrated ‘cause whenever he wanted to go down to the local pub the Aussies’d always got there before him and he said they had money to burn which meant that the barmaids and the bar staff had most of their attention focused on the Aussies and as soon as the Aussies left town the prices had been hiked up and the poor old Tommies had to fork out more than they could afford.
Another interesting story about the Estaminet that I’d just like to share with you before we get into it was an Australian joke which appeared in a number of diggers’ diaries and it was about the arrival of the Americans in France. Anyway an American soldier, a doughboy, goes up to the bar and his beer’s sitting on the bar and he complains to the French barmaid and he says my beer’s flat and she says it’s been waiting there for three years for you.
Now a little bit like the Estaminet tonight we will see the Tommies and we’re going to see the Americans arriving on the scene very late but on this particular occasion, this action at Chipilly Spur they were surprised to see that six Australians had got there before them again. Okay.
So here’s just a bit of the lay of the land. Tonight I’ll be talking about the capture of Chipilly Spur which we can see down here just to the east of Hamel, five miles or so to the east of Hamel. This year already we’ve of course commemorated Villers-Bretonneux, recently Le Hamel and I’m sure on the 8th of August we’ll rightly commemorate the actions of the Australian corps of the British Three Corps and the Canadian corps on what has been described as the Black Day of the German Army.
We’ve also heard a lot about the innovation of General Monash but tonight I propose to talk about something a bit different and that’s the innovation and the initiative of the frontline soldiers, the men in the post closest to the enemy. So when I wrote this book what I set out to do was to read those men’s accounts, cross-reference those accounts with the official records in the war diaries held across the British and the Australian archive, to cross-reference them and to look at all those other days in 1918 ‘cause it’s a little-known fact that in 1918 the Australians had their longest period which they endured in the frontline on the western front. From the German Michael offensive through to a brief rest before 8th of August and then through the hundred days.
So really I set myself the task not of Hamel, not of Villers-Bret and not of Battle of Amiens but the other things the diggers did and I found a story of initiative, resourcefulness, pragmatism, sometimes a distinctly Australian use of those qualities and qualities that the frontline soldiers admired and revered amongst their own men. So I hope tonight to give you an emblematic story of that, six young diggers, five of them experienced frontline soldiers and one of them a young recently arrived reinforcement eager to match the standard which his company Quartermaster Sergeant set.
So this idea of initiative from below reminds me of this wonderful quote from Charles Bean and I’d like to read it to you tonight ‘cause it really is the crux of the book and it’s the crux of the story of the capture of Chipilly Spur. Bean wrote of the fighting in 1918, all of us knew of instances. I personally found them to occur more often than not in which the commander’s report on an action contained important inaccuracies. Commanding officers for example constantly and naturally believed and reported that some movement made by their troops was the result of an order issued by them when in fact when had actually been carried out by a company commander or one of his men on the spot before an order from above arrived, if ever it did.
And that’s the story or one of the stories I’d like to talk about tonight. In order to talk about the capture of Chipilly Spur first I’ll just take you back to give you a very brief summary of the 8th of August. So east of Amiens on the 8th of August 1918 the Australian corps advanced some 11km, captured all of its objectives as well as 7,925 prisoners and 173 guns. Now to their right the Canadians made a similar advance with similar success, it was a brilliant day for the Australian corps and the Canadian corps but the day ended under duress because north of the Somme River where British Three Corps had attacked they had failed to reach their final objective, the red line which ran across this dominant high ground here known as Chipilly Spur. And we can see from the picture from the Chipilly Spur taken not long after it’s captured at the end of August how dominant it is over the ground so to the right of the picture south of the river is where the Australians had reached the furthest they reached a [miracorps] 9:37. From this ridge line, from this Spur the German machine gunners and artillery poured their fire and enfilade into the Australian advance.
This wonderful map from the 5th Division’s primary sources which are held by the Australian Memorial, you can see the British red line. The British red line here which runs across the 85-foot contour on the top of the Chipilly Spur. We can see here the Somme winding slowly through here and this great peninsula of land, this dominant peninsula of land was the key to the German defences on the Somme because it was from this position that their machine guns on the western terrace of the Spur could fire frontally into the German attack. And from the woods further to the north, the [Gresare] 10:37 Wood, they could fire down a vast valley enfilade into the British and at the same time they could turn their guns and fire into the flank and rear of the Australian advance. So you get a little bit of an idea of the critical nature of this position.
This is a modern Google Earth – of benefit from the Google Earth to be able to show you this picture. It’s the same ground. Here we can see the village of [Sirasee] 11:02. Here’s Chipilly. This area here is the deep valley and the western terrace of the Chipilly Spur. The British, part of the reason for their failure was if they had have advanced through here several miles, about three miles each of these woods, the [Malar] 11:17 Wood, the [Selasee] 11:17 Wood and the [Gresare] Wood, they encountered German artillery often firing over open sites, firing a first world war version of Napoleonic shot and cannister straight into the British advance.
Whereas the Australians and the Canadians were benefitted by rolling grasslands which enabled them to use tanks and were benefitted by the mist which allowed them to creep up and surprise the German machine-gunners. These things were a disadvantage to the British, the landscape was vastly different. It was deep gullies pitted with woods. It was practically impenetrable for tanks. And the infantry in the mist, also being young and inexperienced, mostly conscripts of 18 and 19, tended to bunch and reports say they always tended to head in a northerly direction up the gullies so the British had a very hard time seizing their objectives.
They seized their first objective here in [Malar] Wood by midday but then they launched a 3pm attack and a 7pm attack in an attempt to get up here to their objective on the red line. Both of these attacks failed. With heavy casualties. The War Memorial has a testimony to the British efforts that day. These are likely dead of the 210th London Battalion close to the river and we can see the fate of one of the tanks. There was a company of tanks involved in the British attack that day. Reports of the furthest-forward British troops all – the reports of the furthest-forward British troops say the tanks were nowhere to be seen. At the vanguard of the attack the tanks were nowhere to be seen.
South of the river this caused great consternation for the Australians. If there was a theme for the day it was damn the Tommies and these are just a couple of quotes that I’ve picked out from the archive. The first one’s from Lieutenant Bob Trayle of the 1st Battalion. The Huns are shelling out batteries from the rear and got one-and-a-half batteries. He has perfect observation of our dumps and wagon routes. Damn those Tommies.
The report by the Commanding Officer of the 15th Battalion: all of our tanks had received direct hits from 77mm guns, firing from Chipilly Spur and were in flames in no man’s land.
At the end of the 8th of August the Germans still held the Chipilly Spur and the village of Chipilly below it. They held it with field guns, at least 16, and they held it with machine guns, at least 30. At the end of the day General Monash proposed to Butler, the Commander of Three Corps, that he would send an Australian brigade across the river to capture Chipilly Spur and continue the momentum of the advance. But Butler vacillated. He’d ordered up his Americans, an American regiment, the 131st regiment who were in reserve. He’d ordered them up to take part in another attack that was hoped to be taken apart at 7:30am the next morning.
But things moved a lot more quickly than either Butler or Monash supposed. The 9th of August 1918 awoke as a warm clear day and on that morning two Australian NCOs went wandering along the Somme River in the middle of a major war zone. One of them was this lad here, Company Quartermaster Sergeant, Jack Hayes and he was accompanied by his friend, Sergeant Harold Andrews. Harold Andrews’ grandson is with us here tonight and he brought along his father’s medals and some of his souvenirs from the war.
Well Hayes and Andrews were actually souvenir hunting and Andrews wrote a wonderful account of this for Charles Bean which when cross-referenced against the official reports from the time makes for interesting and accurate reading. Andrews said that Hayes was expecting his ANZAC leave, a form of six-month holiday or leave to Australia for men who’d enlisted in 1914 and he wanted to take home some worthwhile souvenirs. So these two young Aussies were souvenir hunting along the villages on the Somme heading west from the front from where their Battalion were in brigade reserve in the village of [Sirasee].
As they went they looked across the river and they could see that Chipilly had a lovely chateau but they’d also heard that their Battalion – it had been rumoured that their Battalion would be crossing the river that night to take Chipilly and the ridge above it. So the two lads, although at this point they were unarmed because they were souvenir hunting, they crossed the river by a small bridge, makeshift bridge, and they gathered up a couple of German rifles which had been abandoned in the village. They set off through the village looking about but being experienced soldiers they also kept that job at the front of their mind. They reconnoitred to the north of the village and they found a chalk pit or quarry from which they could see the German machine gun positions on the western terrace of the spur facing the British attack.
From up near this position they heard yelling and turned around and about 800m behind them they could see the Tommies waving at them from the frontline so these Aussies were at least 800m out into no man’s land in a village that had been hotly contested the previous night. The two Aussies in Andrews’ words strolled back to the British and paid their respects. They chatted for a while and you can probably imagine how the conversation went, particularly from the British who’d spent 30 hours trying to get into this village. Then realising and knowing they were absent without leave they recrossed the river and went back to their Battalion headquarters or I should say their Company headquarters.
At Company headquarters the atmosphere was tense and we saw before Bob Trayle say damn those Tommies. That morning the 1st Battalion had lost one of their favourite officers from sniper fire from the village and that the enfilade fire with the guns and machine guns into the supply lines, into the gun batteries, into the infantry who were trying to move towards the [miracorps] were still seriously disabling the Australian effort.
Hayes, having just been in the village, suggested to his battalion commander that after dinner he could take a patrol across and hold Chipilly. While his Battalion Commander was actually away at a school and it was another bloke, a major, Alexander McKenzie, was in command. McKenzie like Hayes was an original of the Battalion and McKenzie listened to Hayes and then sent Hayes’ suggestion on to his Brigadier, Ivan McKay. So this was a Quartermaster Sergeant suggesting the tactics to the Brigadier.
McKay received the message and said no. He said I have a report from Free Corps headquarters that this afternoon at 5:30 the British and the Americans will attempt another attack on Chipilly and the Chipilly Spur. We will wait.
So that was the scene through the afternoon. At 4pm the British and the allies, the Australian gunfire as well, began a bombardment on the Chipilly Spur. Smoke, high explosives and Vicker’s guns. The watching Australians according to Bean saw the Americans far to the north come onto the plateau of the [Mollincor] 18:23 Ridge and sweep into the [Gresare] Wood, the wood in the north which I showed you earlier on the map. The nearest to the Australians were the British 58th Division attacked. It was clear to the diggers that the attack was not going well. The German machine guns on the western terrace simply poured a devastating fire into the advancing British infantry and if I may I’ll read you an account which I found in the Imperial War Museum’s collection of diaries from a young British soldier who was there that day in the 2nd London Battalion, Private Bill Gilman.
Before reading this account it’s worthwhile noting that the lads that Hayes and Andrews had spoken to that morning consisted largely of 18 and 19-year-old conscripts. That morning after the battle of the 8th the London Battalion received a huge conscription of new soldiers who had no frontline experience. Bill Gilman is amongst those. Quote, unknown to us there were from 10 to 20 heavy German machine guns in emplacements. My God, he really opened up, he let us have it, he just swept us. I looked around as I was advancing, you could see the numbers of our people melting away, just dropping all around you. Those that fell were shot over again, there was nothing you could do. It was getting so bad as I took my steps I thought the next one will be it. I jumped for this big shell hole. I knew there was no hope of getting any orders ‘cause there was nobody to give any. The bullets were hitting the back of the shell hole, it was raining bullets.
The watching Australians quickly realised that this attack was not going to succeed and within 20 minutes Ivan McKay at Brigade headquarters had sent a written message back to C Company First Battalion authorising Hayes to take a strong patrol across the river to see what the position was. In 10 minutes Company Quartermaster Sergeant Hayes had a team of five other men ready across the river. What I’d like to do before we go on with what Fred [Cuthlick] 20:27, the official correspondent journalist who spoke to these lads after the action, what he described as pure daring adventure of what happened next. I’d like to just pause and introduce you to the six, the Chipilly six.
So of course we have Jack Hayes, Jackie Hayes to his friends, raising a toast to his mates in France. Hayes joined the Battalion in August of 1914 and he landed with a battalion at Gallipoli on the 25th of April only to be wounded with a shrapnel wound to his knee shortly afterwards. From his convalescent bed he wrote a letter home, roughly early May, in which he concluded fancy only stopping in the field for five hours, hard luck, eh? I’ll bet I stop there a bit longer next time.
By 1918 he was one of only 69 original members in the Battalion and probably by the time of August 1918 one of only a few dozen. He’d fought in nearly every major engagement in which the Battalion had taken part. By 1916 he was writing a diary which I was privileged to get access to. I must also thank the families of the Chipilly six who’ve contributed so much amazing primary sources which they’ve held in their own homes and treasured for so many years. One of those things was Jack Hayes’ diaries and Harold Andrews’ diaries. With Jack Hayes’ diary he recalls Pozieres. He’s promoted to Sergeant the night before the battle and writes in his diary, feeling confident but a bit shaky, continue this after the push. That night he gathers up five men wandering in no man’s land who’ve lost the rest of the Company, lost the rest of their platoon and he takes them onto the old German 2 line. Here he says we encountered 33 square heads and had a little scrap. We poked one who was giving a bit of cheek and took the rest prisoner.
He then fought at Fleurs and as you can see here he didn’t mind a drink. For all of his soldierly qualities in the firing line he seldom – according to his son he seldom saw eye to eye with his CO, [Birdy Stacey] 22:27. His diaries record several incidents, one in which he goes over his Battalion Commander’s head to the Brigadier over a perceived injustice regarding leave. And his mate, Archie Barwick, describes a parade where Hayes is missing and he says that most of the lads let on but nobody told the CO that he was down in a quiet little restaurant so the parade had to be dismissed. Hayes wrote of the same night, had a good night at Lily’s.
By early 1917 he was suffering from VD in a convalescent camp but like most originals if I can make this estimate it needed one battle, it needed one campaign where you were sick or wounded for you to have any chance of surviving the war. And I think Hayes understood this, he wrote in his diary at this time as he received letters from his mates at the front. He wrote, fate sent me here when he received the letters of the hard fighting at Bullecourt and Lagnicourt and other – and [Borsees] 23:23.
By August 8th 1918 when these boys went into action on the – and the day before this battle he was the Company Quartermaster Sergeant and his job was to make sure that the men in the front line received their rations, their water, their ammunition and their leadership. There was no time to ask whose job it was and on this day it was leadership that Jack Hayes gave in spades. His mate is Harold Dudley Andrews. He was 18-and-a-half years old when he signed up to go to the war. Andrews was one of those country lads who was independent, could handle a rifle before he’d left home, rugged and as soon as he got in the army they picked out his particular skillset and he was a scout sniper. His first experiences on the western front were as a scout sniper.
He was badly wounded at Pozieres in 1916, splinters to his femur, broken ribs and he spent a long period of time recovering in hospital in England. By the time he went back to the front he was six foot in his boots and he was a fit and healthy young lad, he was flanker for the 1st Battalion rugby team, 1st Brigade rugby team. He was the youngest sergeant. He has the record of being the youngest sergeant in the 1st Battalion. He is the sort of guy – different from Hayes – both were terrific frontline soldiers but Andrews reminds me of a quote that I read of a battalion commander describing the ideal young leader in the AIF in the first world war, keen, conscientious and brave and fearless at all times. And he didn’t mind a souvenir too by the looks of things.
The next lad was Bill Kane from Maxville, originally born in Castlemaine. He was a C Company runner. It was his birthday on the 8th of August so he’s the birthday boy on this day. Like Hayes he’d fought in nearly every major battle that the battalion had been involved in. This lad - I’m sad to say I haven’t got a photo of him in his uniform, this is a photo donated by his son who lives in Albany in WA. This is John Richard (Dick) Turpin. Dick Turpin wa – had a disciplinary record that was longer than my arm but he ended the war with a meritorious service medal so tell me how that works but he was a good soldier in the front line and well regarded by his mates.
He originally joined up in the Light Horse but he was thrown out of the Light Horse before they’d even left Australia for drunkenness. By October 1916 he’d got himself into the 1st Battalion. As Harold Andrews wrote he was a stretcher-bearer but put his armour in his pocket for this occasion.
This is Private George Stevens and again some of his family are here tonight, his descendants are here tonight. A [carter] 26:07 from Young in New South Wales Stevens was quite a renowned Battalion athlete and cricketer. One of the diggers who I write about in Stealth Raiders mentioned a type of Australian soldier in 1918 who was the freelancer. Now battalions were no longer anywhere near full strength. You might have 300, 350 men by the time of 8th of August and certainly beyond so the blokes in the front line perform several jobs. Stevens was one of these men, he was sometimes a stretcher-bearer, sometimes a runner, always a rifleman.
And this is the baby if you like of the six. Recently arrived on the western front a diminutive little fellow, the batman of C Company, C O Burt Withy, Albert Gerry Fuller.
So back to – and let’s say 5:30, 6pm 9th of August 1918. Ivan McKay has given the word for these lads to cross the river to see what the situation was. They took a footbridge west of the village of Chipilly and the first troops they encountered were two remnants of platoons of the 210th London Battalion under an English captain, temporary captain named Jack Berrill. Jack Berrill himself was an Irish-born South African who’d served as a private in a South African battalion on the Somme, sort of commissioned in the British Army. It would have been a tough day for him in charge of a bunch of 18 and 19-year-old conscripts.
Hayes spoke to Berrill and asked him what’s the position? What are your orders? And Berrill told him that at 7:30pm that night he had orders to advance into the village of Chipilly under the cover of a smoke and high explosive and Vicker’s gun barrage. Under the cover of this barrage he was to take Chipilly and then outflank the German machine guns on the western terrace of the Spur from the south.
Hayes volunteered to use the Australian six to reconnoitre ahead of them into the village of Chipilly but Berrill said oh no, no, he said 30 hours of attempts to get into the village, don’t even think about it. Andrews recalled that the village looked good for souvenirs so before Berrill had any more chance to object the six in Andrew’s words tore through the village through a veritable hail of machine gun and rifle fire from the Spur above. They reached the village winded but unhurt and Berrill and his two platoons of Londoners ran after them.
Inside the village Hayes took command, he sent Turpin and Stevens through the village to clear it. He sent Harry Kane to bring up a British Lewis gun crew and Andrews to scout and the young lad, Gerry Fuller, was sent northeast across the vast expanse of the Chipilly Spur right into the flank and rear of the German machine guns on the terrace.
Then Hayes pushed forward on his own and he – like a lot of good soldiers I’ve learnt in the writing of this book - in the midst of that day, potentially a chaotic day of battle, he took the time to observe the situation as it unfolded around him. He got as close as he could to the German machine gun posts and brought the Lewis gun up to that position not far from the quarry that he’d found that morning while souvenir hunting. Once they’d placed the Lewis gunners and his men returned to talk about their personal reconnaissance prompt and effectively right at the moment it must have been 7:30pm ‘cause the British guns opened up. The Vicker’s guns’ rounds were cracking over their heads and the smoke veiled the Spur.
The British war diary of the time, the 210th London Battalion says that the forward troops had got further forward than expected. This was Hayes leading the British and this was why they were under fire from their own Vicker’s guns. At this moment Berrill and the Englishman started to retreat further down the Spur, down the hill back towards the village but the battle discipline of the Australians held. Hayes and Andrews suggested that they might be able to outflank the German machine guns on the terrace by going around the southern crest of the Spur, taking them in flank and rear and this is precisely what happened. They worked in groups of two. The tactics were innovative but they were not new, diggers had been using them all spring and summer in the open warfare, outflanking posts in small groups, taking prisoners four and six times their numbers at little cost to themselves.
This time on their first raid across the Chipilly Spur Hayes and Andrews led, supported by Fuller and Kane. Presumably Turpin and Stevens stayed in a reserve or close to the British. Hayes and Andrews made their way almost a kilometre across the Spur and they found a small German post. Andrews said they’d cut loose with their rifles. Both were first class shots and Andrews recalled in his reminiscences which he wrote much later admittedly, he wrote that he often thought his initiation in sniping came in his boyhood on the family farm at Wauchope and that the army turned his skill to what he called a deadly purpose.
As they cut loose with their rifles Fuller and Kane joined them. Andrews led them so they could fire down the length of the German post whilst Hayes crept around the flank and into the rear of the German position. He crept into a sunken road and then firing and yelling as he charged up the embankment he took the post in flank and rear. A German in a post he hadn’t seen leapt out and fired at him, so close that the bullet seared his tunic. Hayes killed this man and leapt into that post and captured two men. He pulled them out by the scruffs of his neck and with Andrews, Fuller and Kane, they dragged these prisoners back to the British who were waiting by the Lewis gun in the quarry on the other side of the Spur.
I was determined to get this map up because it shows a patrol map that the six drew after the action. Here we can see that first sortie where Andrews and Fuller had gone to reconnoitre the Spur. And the story I’ve just spoken about is this one here where they’ve come along and they’re firing into a post up here and Hayes has leapt up through the sunken road into the post and then they’ve taken their prisoners back to the Tommy position here.
When they got back to the Tommies Andrews wrote they found the Englishmen talking about what to do. Andrews suggested to them that they advance before the smoke had lifted and then he, Hayes, Andrews and Kane and Turpin and Fuller took off again across the Spur. This time they went even further. You can see right up here. They’ve come up across the southern ridge of the Spur.
As they’re going Australian infantrymen of the 41st Battalion on the opposite side of the river decided to turn around a battery of German field gunners that had been captured and under the tutelage of a Colonel of the artillery they fired these guns onto the Chipilly Spur. A watching digger of the 1st Battalion, Charles Deates, called it a wonderful and appalling sight. He had no idea that there was four diggers creeping close to the barrage.
Hayes, Andrews, Fuller and Kane crept as close to the barrage as they could, realising that the force and momentum of it was their best way of getting amongst the German positions. The annihilating fire of these guns, Andrews said, was one of the key reasons for their own personal success that day.
Now it also had something to do with their own battle experience. Andrews had endured 30 hours of bombardment at Pozieres lying helpless on a stretcher in the forward trenches. As we can imagine with Jack Hayes and Kane’s war they’d experienced a lot of artillery fire and indeed Archie Barwick writes of Hayes at Hazebrouck, that Hayes was known to be one of the men who would go into barrages swearing and laughing at them to guide the less experienced men to safety.
That sort of experience and albeit confidence assisted in this day. Andrews recalled that as they went they found several annihilated posts from which they gathered up German potato masher grenades and threw them into the posts as they passed them and bombed them into silence.
He said that they were blown off their feet like straws several times with the concussion of their own shells. That’s how close they got to their guns in order to get ‘round the flank of the Germans.
As they’re going about this amazing daring adventure if you like they saw 20 Germans running across the sunken road in front of them into a field of broken old wheat, you know a trampled field of wheat.
They followed these Germans again splitting into smaller teams. A team of two took the German posts from the flank, a team of two went ‘round in the rear. They opened fire and then rushed in for bayonet work. They utterly terrified a group of at least 31 Germans who fell into a dugout. They captured seven machine guns and then detonated a grenade at the entrance to the dugout and all the Germans came out in the typical [comarade] 35:05 position of surrender. One of these was an officer of the 27th Wurttemberg Division which was always considered one of the very best of the German divisions in the western front.
At this point Harold Andrews brought into action the German machine guns. Fuller and Kane pushed on. They’re now 2.5km ahead of the British line. They’re up around here. This is the road that crosses over the Somme towards the village of [Atinihim] 35:36. Fuller and Kane came down into the marshlands of the Somme while Harold Andrews covered them with machine gun fire. They captured two more machine guns in this way.
The work of the Australians encouraged the British to come out from their position and mop up the German machine gun positions on the western terrace of the Spur. It’s just here. Then the Tommies joined them. Just as the smoke and the mist was clearing – I should say smoke, not mist – the smoke was clearing away. At this point the British and the six Australians could see the Americans coming out of the [Gresare] Wood to the north from up here.
Now that the smoke had cleared the Americans, according to Andrews and Hayes in their official report which they wrote for 1st Battalion afterwards, the Americans tore into the Australians and the British and their prisoners with Lewis gun fire. The Aussies, the German prisoners and the Brits dived into the sunken road and when the Americans appeared according to the official report they were very surprised to see the Australians and the British ahead of them. This marked the moment when the Chipilly six leading forward remnants of the 210th London Battalion achieved the flank objective of the entire British Free Corps on the 9th of August. They’d captured the Chipilly village and the Chipilly Spur. They’d neutralised over 27 machine guns and at least 16 field guns on the Spur.
These are just some pictures which I’ve taken on my own personal reconnaissance of the Spur. We can see the river and its great height. We can get a sense of what was over the shoulder and the backs of the Aussies as they progressed 2.5km that day. Here we can see the [Gresare] Wood in the distance and this photo’s taken from about the position that the Australians and the Londoners received fire from the Lewis guns of the Americans and dived back into the sunken road. It was in these fields here that Hayes led his men to capture the 31 prisoners and seven machine guns.
This is the position from where Harold Andrews was firing, sweeping fire across the marshlands of the Somme using German machine guns. And this gives you a sense – down here is the village of Chipilly. Over here is the south side of the Somme where the Australians had advanced on the 8th. The Australian – the six had progressed through here across here up and down the sunken road 2.5km.
This is the sunken road as it looks today. And this picture gives you a bit of an impression of where the German machine guns were on the western terrace so in this picture the six have continued to come towards the camera. And early in the battle this was the position they engaged, enfilade fire on the western terrace of the Spur as the British tried to advance across this height into a deep gully. It was a – impossible task against the well defended machine guns.
At the end of the day the British had made it to the 85 contour of the red line across the Chipilly Spur. This is where they started the 4pm attack when the bombardment began and by the end of the day they had secured a position across the Spur. The six Australians had gone on even further to here from these roads.
Jack Hayes’ patrol had not only captured the Chipilly Spur but they were not finished then. During the mopping up operation they captured a further 28 prisoners. Allied and most German accounts alike confirm that success had been due to that outflanking movement from the south. Harold Andrews recalled what happened afterwards and if I may I’ll read from the book.
We rested up a while smoking Huns’ cigarettes kindly offered by a onetime Hun waiter in a London hotel who wanted to know what was his chance of getting to England. He also informed us that the ridge, Chipilly Spur, was at 2pm that afternoon manned by about 360 men with about 30 guns, most of which were collected afterwards. The enemy at this point had held out for about 30 hours against repeated attempts to dislodge them.
The six-man patrol was in action or had the enemy in view close up for about four hours and did not receive one injury. At 9:30pm Captain Jack Berrill handed Andrews a note, glowing in terms which recommended the six Australians for their conspicuous work and magnificent bravery with me today. Andrews remembered that Berrill distinctly said that the Spur was taken by the six Australians before D Company, 210th London Battalion came up. The six then strolled back to their battalion on the other side of the river taking the 28 prisoners with them and leaving the rest for the 210th London Battalion and the Americans.
That evening, the 9th, 10th of August, British Free Corps belatedly agreed to Monash’s proposal for the Australian corps to cross the river. At around midnight Monash’s orders reached the front line and at 3am the 50th Battalion, 13th Brigade, crossed the Somme under a heavy mist to find the Chipilly Spur already captured.
John Monash took credit for the capture of Chipilly Spur in the Sydney press in 1919 in his book, The Australian Victories in France in 19 – which he wrote in 1920. You might remember the quote from Bean that I put up at the start. I think this is a – ideal moment to reflect that here is a typical occasion where in this instance Monash has taken the credit for something that the six achieved.
The claim of Monash upset Captain R J Martin, an officer formerly of the 210th London Battalion. Martin wrote a scathing attack on Monash in a letter to the London Times that was published in 1919 which stated that the General was particularly unfortunate in declaring that the Londoners failed to capture Chipilly Spur and claiming that the ground was not captured until Monash took command of operations.
The newspaper controversy was exacerbated by the fact that neither Monash’s book nor the 210th London Battalion’s war diary or published history mentioned the six Australians at all. In fact this is a quote from the 210th London Battalion diary which is reprinted in a history of the London regiment. Quote, then in a flash the situation on Chipilly Spur suddenly changed. The 210th London succeeded in clearing the village of Chipilly. Having gained a footing on the southern end of the Spur they began to clear out the machine gun nests on the terrace that had so long delayed the advance of the brigade. By 11pm the ridge was ours. No mention of the six. But it was Hayes’ stealth raiding patrol which had captured the objective and led the British, the Tommies to their objective.
Monash who seldom went near the front can be excused for not knowing anything about the role the six played in the capture of Chipilly Spur but his assertion that the Spur was captured under his orders is wrong. Martin was right to criticise Monash on this point but the 210th Battalion’s history I believe is equally flawed for its similar omission.
The US 131st Regiment did note the presence of the Australians, thankfully after firing on them. Dale Van Emery, in his history of the AIF – IEF in battle, wrote that the American infantry of Company K, the 3rd Battalion, attacked through [Gresare] Wood and joined the 10th London Battalion in renewing the assault. The Australians down on the Somme gladly joined and climbed the steep slopes from the south to assist in stamping out the machine guns. Colonel Joseph Sanborn, the 62-year-old commander of the American regiment wrote that this outflanking movement was responsible for the capture of 300 prisoners including a machine gun commander of the 27th Wurttemberg Division.
But my personal favourite accounts of the day or reflections on the day are made by Australian soldiers and I’d like to recount to you now the impression of Harold Andrews’ platoon officer, Lieutenant Bob Trayle. A couple of days after the capture of Chipilly Spur Bob Trayle met the six. It’s good to see them all again and have a crack, wrote Trayle. My Sergeant Andrews, Quartermaster Jack Hayes, Fuller and a couple of stretcher-bearers distinguished themselves in capturing 47 Huns and 27 machine guns on their own. It’s quite an epic. The Tommies were to have a second attempt at Chipilly and the six went over whilst they were talking about it, went ‘round the flanks and did the trick. The way they worked it was very clever and the Tommy captain nearly fell on their necks and kissed them. Undoubtedly they took the position for them and the Captain admitted it but in the papers there was no mention of the Aussies’ work but plenty about the dash of the blasted Tommies. The Captain was good enough to take their names. Hayes deserves a VC and Andrews a DCM and Gerry Fuller. Well we’ve got Harold Andrews’ DCM here tonight, thank you, Peter, wherever you may be.
The Tommy Captain, Jack Berrill, was decorated with the Distinguished Service Order second only to the VC. According to his citation he signalled to the assaulting troops and leading the remainder of his party over the Spur established himself on the final objective which the Australians had captured. Twenty-two men of the 131st US Regiment were awarded for their part in the capture of [Gresare] Wood. Colonel Joseph Sanborn received the American Distinguished Service Cross and the British DSO. Corporal Jake Alex won the Congressional Medal of Honour for the capture of a machine gun and 15 men. All six Australians were awarded medals but Hayes didn’t receive the VC that Trayle thought that he was entitled to.
There’s no evidence of any bitterness in the Australian ranks that the VC wasn’t awarded and Hayes’ grandson – sorry, son, John Hayes, the late John Hayes told me that Hayes was the type of bloke that wore his medals on the ANZAC Day march and put them straight back in his pocket and never expressed any sense of – that he’d missed out on something, it wasn’t part of the character of these men as far as I can make out.
Nevertheless it’s worthwhile asking the question, why wasn’t he? As I said before it was well-known that Hayes and [Birdy Stacy], his Commanding Officer, never saw eye to eye and [Stacy] returned in – and wrote the citation description for Hayes and signed the recommendation for Hayes’ DCM.
There’s a little account by Archie Barwick which I think - it might be revealing. Barwick, 4th of September 1918: heard last night that one of my greatest cobbers, Jackie Hayes, had been recommended for the DCM for a fine piece of work he did. Captured nearly 80 Germans singlehanded and quite accidentally for Jackie true to the old days went souveniring in Chipilly, the village that held the Tommies up. There’ll be no-one more pleased than I if Jack gets this for he’s a splendid chap and he has been badly treated by the military.
You’ll notice that the figures on the numbers of prisoners and machine guns changes from account to account. The official account was nine machine guns and 71 prisoners but Harold Andrews held that this was – always held, writing at the time and writing in 1975 in recording stories with I think perhaps his niece or a cousin. He held that the official figures were incorrect ‘cause they didn’t take into account the number of walking wounded, the wounded that they simply left where they were or who was in the dugouts which they’d bombed into silence.
So as far as I can make out the diggers themselves weren’t concerned about the numbers, they understood that they had advanced 2.5km, captured a vital position, vital to the whole landscape of the 8th of August, 9th of August battle. The distances which they covered were actually comparable to the furthest distance covered at Hamel. Very different battle but it’s worth thinking of that so these six diggers had covered at least 2.5km where they had the enemy close up all the time and probably at least a further kilometre in crossing the river under fire.
Now there’s another similarity with Hamel or one similarity with Hamel which is that Monash gave one of the purposes of that battle was to cut out the Germans’ ability to enfilade so the allie – the Australians had advanced to the north of the Somme and the reason to take out Hamel was to prevent the Germans firing into the gains made north of the river.
Chipilly Spur was an action all about reducing the Germans’ ability to fire enfilade from that great height. It was captured by six Australians obviously with the support of the Londoners and the Americans but six Australians using initiative, resourcefulness and a distinctly Australian style which I describe in this book.
If I may conclude that distinctive Australian style wasn’t new, it wasn’t just isolated to this account. Hayes and Andrews’ own Battalion, the Chipilly six’s own Battalion, on the 11th of July a few dozen men working – using the similar type of tactics that the six used at Chipilly captured half the opposing German division’s front line before their own commanders or the German commanders were aware of it.
The Tommies next door just sat and watched, they had no orders to go out. Our boys had no orders not to go out, just a difference. And that’s want I mean by a distinctively Australian ethos. If the training was the same, if the battle experience of some of the leading NCOs and sergeants and officers was the same there was a distinct Australian ethos at work in the fighting soldier of the Australian army in 1918 which held them in good stead, which gave them great confidence and great skill set when they went into the open warfare.
For me, and I hope you might be convinced too, the capture of Chipilly Spur is a story of Australian diggers at the peak of their powers and it’s absolutely a supreme story of the initiative and resourcefulness of the diggers in 1918. In 1918 these Australian soldiers were influencing the future of the world more than Australians have at any other time and while we commemorate all the great battles, rightfully commemorate the great battles in which they took part spare a thought also for the fact that in 1918 the diggers were in action more often than they were at any other time in the war, in frontline more often and during that time they initiated, innovated and created new tactics which were picked up by Monash and picked up by the British 3rd Army, Free Corps and the 4th Army and used with deadly effect in the last battles of the war.
I could go on but I’m sure we’re probably running close to time. I’ll just let you reflect on that, the 58th London Division Memorial is in the village of Chipilly.
After the battle Jack Hayes, Gerry Fuller and Bill Kane were all wounded in action, all copped blighties on the 23rd of August in the battle of the [Schweniere] 51:29 Valley. On that day according to family lore Jackie Hayes and Gerry Fuller became best mates for life after the war, they were regularly hanging out together at the Marrickville ANZAC Memorial Club. And the story goes on that day Hayes was shot in the chest at close range while trying to rush a post Fuller went on and captured the man who fired the shot, pulled him back to Hayes and said I’ve got the bastard that shot you and I'm going to shoot him down for you but Hayes said no, put him down next to me then Hayes and the wounded prisoners were treated by a bearded German stretcher-bearer. Hayes wasn’t expected to live, he was left on the battlefield. They took out the lads who they thought would live but he wasn’t destined to die in battle, he lived a very fulfilling long life and was awarded a British Empire Medal for his services to returned soldiers and their families in Marrickville.
We can see Harold Andrews in the middle of the picture. 23rd of August. They’ve been over the top in the morning and they’re about to go over again. At this point he’s the Acting Company Sergeant Major, fit, strong-looking lad in the midst of a battle. That afternoon things weren’t going so well for C Company 1st Battalion. A platoon moving forward behind a tank was practically wiped out by a machine gun post that the tank hadn’t seen. Andrews, being back at Company headquarters, was told to go forward and see what you can do. And Andrews led the men who captured the final objective.
What I’d like to do next as an author and historian is write a story about the Chipilly Six, their lives before, during and after the war ‘cause I think they make a remarkable group of Australians and that whole history of the Marrickville Club and their different upbringings in rural Australia and inner western Sydney. I think there’s a rich Australian story in there. This is just to give you a little bit of a hint of these men’s lives and I can’t do them justice in a couple of seconds tonight.
We can see Harold Andrews with his wife, Ivy, in the top corner. Here – if any of you have ever been to Western Australia you’ll know that’s Albany by the granite in the background. This is Dick Turpin with his son, young Dick Turpin, in Albany, Western Australia. After the war Turpin worked as a foreman on the group settlement scheme, a vast and ambitious scheme to clear the great Karri and Tuart forests of the Great Southern for dairy farming.
Young Gerry Fuller went back for another go in the second world war and fought in the 2nd 25th Battalion. His Battalion Commander was the very man who had been batman for – at the time of the Chipilly Spur.
George Stevens with Carrie, his wife. Am I correct in saying Carrie? I think some of George’s – Caroline. Caroline’s brother was George’s best friend who’d been killed at Ypres in 1917 and they married in 1919 shortly after the war.
Bill Kane married Emma Provost in Maxville. Bill Kane went back for the second world war as well and served in a garrison battalion in Darwin during the Japanese bombings.
And here’s Jack Hayes and wife, May, on the day that Jack received his British Empire Medal.
Rich family histories and an epic tale which changed a battle and captured the right flank objective of the British 3rd Corps. Thank you.
R: An epic tale. Thanks Lucas, that was really good. We’ve got about five minutes for questions and then a bit of admin, Stuart’s got the microphones so anyone got a question? Just while you’re thinking about it can I say this is a really important - this is more evidence for that old story that most Australian military historians will acknowledge, even if they disagree with points of view, that the AIF in 1918 was probably the finest army that this country’s ever sent abroad and this is just yet more evidence for it. I also picked the action at Mont St Quentin, the 2nd Division which is another example of it. There were elements of the British Army which were just as good but this is a good Australian thing. Anyway, questions. Yeah, one up the back.
A: On August the 8th the two, Hayes and his offsider, were able to cross the river unimpeded. How do you justify that?
A: There was no defence of their crossing of the river. There’s no Germans to stop them crossing. Is there any reason why that was the case?
L: The village of Chipilly which the British – was part of the British objective on the red line so that the high ground of the Spur in the village of Chipilly, the village came under repeated artillery fire at different times so my belief is that the village was held in strength at times and then when the allied artillery fire would resume the Germans simply withdraw up the Chipilly Spur into the numerous dugouts that the six found on the 9th. So there was opportunities at times for people to cross the river but there was always sniper fire throughout that area. As I mentioned one of the officers of the 1st Battalion had been shot from Chipilly early in the morning so they basically I think were using their nouse you know they were absent without leave, they were being larrikins if you like but they were also experienced soldiers who kept their military hats on and they were thinking about what they were doing and they were using their own movement you know using dead ground in order to get across the river and to their objectives.
A: <inaudible> 57:21?
L: Well it was more of a makeshift bridge. There’s lots of bridges along the Somme and in fact if you go onto the Imperial War Museum website and just type in Chipilly 1918 you’ll see an example of the bridges and there’s everything from quite large sturdy bridges to simply made footbridges you know to allow people to move about. And that’s probably the result of the fact that there’s been warfare in this – the campaign on the Somme had been going for years you know so there’s plenty of places where crossings had been made, impromptu and you know properly engineered crossings.
A: Is there a point that one of the British commanders wrote a note acknowledging the activity of the Australians and that helped substantiate? Can you provide information on that?
L: Yeah, I quoted a little bit from that note tonight in the talk. The only thing I can add further to – I can read you that quote again if you like but the only thing I can add further is that Andrews in his own writing to Bean referred to the note. Bean in his footnotes to the official history quotes verbatim the note. The one thing I found interesting in the 1st Battalion war diary, there’s a small sort of asterisks besides the account – the official account of the event where it says you know we have a note, Captain Berrill note but that note does not actually appear in any of the appendices or whatever, it’s – for all intents and purpose for a historian the actual physical note has been lost but Bean records what the note says in Volume 6 of the official history. And I’ll see if I can quickly find it.
R: You’ve also got to add an element of luck to all this, of course. If the Australian firing the captured German field artillery on the other side had been decent shots they might have killed these guys themselves.
L: That’s right. On that point I’d just like to talk about – one of the great questions I got once talking about the Chipilly six once in Melbourne was someone put up their hand up and said what about the souvenirs? What did they get? And I was delighted tonight that Peter brought some of his grandfather’s souvenirs. One included a compass, a British compass which he recaptured off a German so I guess you could say what goes around comes around. But my favourite story was a story I was told by Jack Hayes’ granddaughter, Helen, who was one of the people who contributed so many of the letters and diaries of the Hayes family and you know whilst I’m sure they were after some pretty bright and shiny souvenirs I still think this is a good story.
Hayes was the Secretary of the Marrickville ANZAC Memorial Club and in the 1920s the club was broken into by one of the Sydney razor gangs and Hayes was in the office there all on his own of a night and the razor gang came in the office and Hayes opened the drawer and pulled out a German automatic pistol and told them in no uncertain terms – I won’t repeat the language – to bugger off. And I just wonder to this day whether he might have got that automatic pistol on Chipilly Spur.
R: Thanks very much.
R: Thanks, Lucas, an outstanding story. Just before we go on anybody not get a lucky door price ticket as you came in? Oh there's one here. Andrew, can you hand them out? Oh don’t give one to him, he’s a dodgy character. Speaking of artillery officers. For tonight we’ve got three books to give away. Andrew, have you got them? Two books, the Australian Army Campaign series, the Battle of Mont St Quentin, we mentioned it earlier tonight so two of those and the one that young Andrew is eyeing off with considerable avarice in his eyes but he’s not in the draw is missing in action which is a story about the Australian War Graves Unit so they’re for free, check your numbers. Bill, come on, you're a handsome fellow, we need an honest person to draw the numbers so those of you who don’t know, Professor Bill Gammage who’s probably responsible for most of us being here. Do you want to draw out the first number?
Okay now we've got more tickets in here than are actually given out but Peter Stanley very carefully tore all the stubs off and put them in together so I have no idea of knowing which number went so we had to put them all in so if you’ve got a green K47 and that’s for – okay, Terry, there you go, Battle of Mont St Quentin, mate. Can I just introdu – Terry is a retired army artillery colonel and he also probably did the index for this book so it’s probably not all that unfamiliar to him.
A pink ticket, K02. No takers? Right, grab the next one. You got to be quick. Another pink ticket, K41. K41, well done, there you go. It’s a good prize, there you go.
R: So ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for your attendance, I hope you enjoyed this evening. We’ll get your email address onto the mailing list and we’ll tell you when the next one is which is in November at some stage so thank you very much.
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