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The Rock-itt : December 2010
OUR DIGGERS IN THE GREAT WAR OUR DIGGERS IN THE GREAT WAR OUR DIGGERS IN THE GREAT WAR OUR DIGGERS IN THE GREAT WAR by Simon Lyon Aussies hold off the German attack at Villers Bretonneux During the night of the 24 th April 1918 a well planned attack on German positions in the small Picardy town of Villers Bretonneux, south of the Somme river, saw the final act of the Germ an Spring offensive, named Operation Michael, causing the Germ an high command to review its position on the W estern Front. This action precipitated the “beginning of the end” for the Germans in World War 1, as from the 25 th April (the 3 rd Anniversary of the ANZAC COVE landings in Gallipoli!) onwards, the Germans were on the defensive. The town itself was a critical point in the front line as it is to be found on the high ground to the east of Amiens, a vital communication link for the Allied forces and had it been lost would have caused a potential breakthrough to the Channel ports for the Germans, and forced a massive wedge between the British and the French armies. Had that occurred the road to Paris would have opened up for the Germans and the outcome of the War may well have been different. Apart from this being the turning point, the people of Villers Bretonneux have been grateful ever since for the emancipation of their town, albeit badly damaged by shellfire from both sides. The local school was rebuilt and extended thanks to kind donations by the people of Victoria, as can be seen by the mosaic inscription on the front of the school buildings in the town. The Australian plan was for a surprise night attack, with no preliminary artillery bom bardment. Two battalions (about 1,500 men) of the 13th Brigade, 4th Division, attacked eastwards to the south of Villers Bretonneux. Three battalions (about 2,400 men) of the 15th Brigade, 5th Division, also attacked eastwards from the north of the town and then swing south–east to the old Roman road heading out of Villers Bretonneux. The hope was that the Germans would be encircled and trapped. However, it was not until the morning of the 25 th that this manoeuvre was almost complete and then not until the early hours of the 26th that the town was free of the enemy. Each year on ANZAC DAY, a memorial service is now held at this emotive site, and in the chill pre dawn hours, as can be seen on television, a ceremony reminds us of the great courage that our Diggers had in taking the battle to the German attackers at this very site. When you see the vast rolling hills of this part of the Somme battlefield it is hard to imagine that such a small force of men were effectively able to stop the mighty German war machine in its tracks, but it must be remembered that the German soldiers had been fighting in open battle conditions since 21 st March and were exhausted, and at the end of their supply lines and with few reserves. The recapture of the town of Villers Bretonneux was the pre cursor to the set piece battle planned by General Monash at the little village of Le Hamel. For that story you will have to wait until the next edition of The Rock Itt hits the streets! In the meantime, Season Greetings and for a Moment, ponder on spending YOUR Christmas in the Western Front trenches during the GREAT WAR. Freezing cold, constantly tired through lack of sleep, often with soaking wet feet and no dry clothes to change into and a possible 5 to 7 days stint in the Front line.