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Diggers at War

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Diggers at War
Leonaur Original
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Author(s): “Over There” With the Australians by R. Hugh Knyvett<br>Over the Top With the Third Australian Division by G. P. Cuttriss
Date Published: 2008/11
Page Count: 320
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-561-1
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-84677-562-8

Two accounts of the Australian Army at war

During the Great War all of Britain's colonies and dominions rallied to the appeal of the motherland to fight the common enemy. None responded more positively than Australia. Leonaur has gathered together two accounts into this single volume for students and enthusiasts of the period to enjoy. The Australian experience of war is finely captured in them both. The first, written by a scout, takes the reader through recruitment, training, embarkation and a period in Egypt before gruelling combat on the Gallipoli peninsula and the bloody trenches of the Western Front. The second account is filled with vignettes of the Australian experience of war in Europe. This is another 'two for the price of one' volume by Leonaur available in softcover or hardback with dust jacket for collectors.

Our guns immediately began to get busy. In fact, too busy for our liking, for they had not yet got the correct range. This was before the days of total aeroplane supremacy, and the battery commander in those days had not an observer flying above where his shells were falling, informing him of the slightest error.<br>
At any rate, we soon began to discover that the shells that were bursting among us were many of them coming from behind. This made us very uncomfortable, for we were not protected against our own artillery-fire; and accidents will sometimes happen, do what you can to avoid them. Our first message over the ‘phone was very polite. “We preferred to be killed by the Germans, thank you,” was all we said to the battery commander. But as his remarks continued to come to us through the air, accompanied by a charge of explosive, and two of our officers being killed, our next message was worded very differently, and we told him that “if he fired again we would turn the machine-guns on to them.” I was sent back to make sure that he got the message. I took the precaution to take back with me one of his duds (unexploded shells) as evidence. At first he told me I was crazy—that we were getting German cross-fire, and that his shells were falling two hundred yards in front of us. I brought out my souvenir, and asked him if he had ever seen that before. He said: “For God’s sake, bury it,” but I told him it was going to divisional headquarters, and that his little mistake had already cost several lives. This battery did not belong to our division.<br>
Our company commanders gathered us in small groups and carefully explained the plan of attack. We were to take the three lines of German trenches that were clearly discernible on the aeroplane photograph which was shown us; the first wave was to take the first trench, the second jumping over their heads and attacking the second German line, the third wave going on to the third German line. When all the Germans had been killed in the first trench, those left of the first wave were to follow to the third line. Unfortunately this photograph misled us, as one of the supposed trenches proved to be a ditch, and a great number of men were lost by going too far into enemy territory, seeking the supposed third line.<br>
I have seen an actual photograph taken by an aeroplane during this battle, that shows a fight going on five miles behind the German lines. Many of the boys had sworn not to be taken prisoners, and though they knew they were cut off, they fought on until every last one of them was killed.<br>
The Germans were thoroughly aware of our intentions to attack. Bad weather made a postponement for a couple of days advisable, and there had been so much artillery preparation that the enemy had time to get ready for us.
Considering the short time that our own artillery had been in their positions, and that they did not know a few days previously the range of the enemy’s positions, their work was very thoroughly done. In most cases the wire had been well cut, and the enemy’s front-line trenches were badly smashed about.<br>
The Germans must have had some spies behind our lines, for they knew the actual moment of attack, and our feints failed to deceive them. Before the real attack the bombardment would cease for a moment or two, whistles being blown, orders shouted, and bayonets shown above the top of the parapet. The idea was that the Germans would then man their parapet to meet our attack, the artillery again opening fire on the trench. They failed to appear, however, until we actually went over the top, then the machine-guns and rifles swept a hail of bullets in our faces, like a veritable blizzard.<br>
Nothing could exceed the bravery of those boys. The first wave went down like wheat before the reaper. When the time came for the second wave to go over there was not a man standing of the first wave, yet not a lad faltered. Each gazed at his watch and on the arranged tick of the clock leaped over. In many cases they did not get any farther than the first wave. The last wave, though they knew each had to do the work of three, were in their places and started on their forlorn hope at the appointed moment.<br>
This battle was a disaster. We failed to take the German trenches, but it was like two other failures, the defence of Belgium and the attack of the Dardanelles—a failure so glorious as to fill a man with pride that he was enabled to play a part in it. In this battle we so smashed five divisions of Bavarian guards that it was months before they got back into the trenches. Had they gone to Verdun at that time it might have meant its fall, as they were the flower of the German army.<br>
In places both first and second German lines were taken, but in others we did not get across No Man’s Land.<br>
It was not that certain companies fought better than others, but here and there were unexpected obstacles. In one place No Man’s Land was only fifty yards across, while elsewhere it was three hundred yards. There was a creek running diagonally across in one section, too wide to leap, too deep to ford, and the only place where it was bridged was so marked by the German machine-guns that the dead were piled in heaps about it.<br>
Those who actually reached the German trenches were too few to consolidate, and the German artillery soon began to take a heavy toll of them, knowing the range of their own trenches to a yard. So these had to come back again, and when night fell we were back in our old trenches—rather a few of us were; most of our division lay out in No Man’s Land.