THE BATTLE FOR DERNANCOURT

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1 1-30 THE BATTLE FOR DERNANCOURT Matt Walsh

2 Table of content Topic The Battle for Dernancourt - Introduction - Area Map - 4 th Division- Brigades and Battalions What lead up to the Battle Dernancourt Square April nd Dernancourt (Ancre 1918) - the enemy The Battle The Battle location The Counter Attack Honours and Awards The Dernancourt Community Cemetery The Adelaide School Dernancourt Poem I Stand Relationships- Australia and Dernancourt The thoughts of Private J. Kennerly Profile 1018 L/Cpl Ernest Poole Australian Provost Corps Page This booklet is an initiative of the Defence Reserves Association (NSW) Inc and the Military Police Association of Australia Inc as part of their Schools Military History Program. Written and compiled by Matt Walsh JP. MLO ALGA (MCAE) Dip Bus & Corp Law (CPS) 2008 Matt Walsh.

3 The Battle for Dernancourt Introduction There were two battles which involved the village of Dernancourt. The first was during the period 28 th March 1918 and involved the 12 th and 13 th Brigades of the 4 th Division. What lead up to the Battle Following the surrender of the Russians on the Eastern front in November 1917, this allowed the Germans to move 35 Divisions to the Western Front and on the 21 st March 1918 to launch a very strong offensive which they gave the name Kaiserchlacht (Emperors Strike ). This was to be the offensive to win the war. It was to consist of a number of attacks on what was considered vital communications centres at Amiens on the Somme and Hazelbrouch in Flanders

4 The Germans broke through on the Somme and forced the British to retreat. The Australians were rushed into the offensive to plug the gaps. It is reported that the Australians said to the French civilians in an effort to reassure them and to maintain calm:- Fini retreat, Madame, beaucoup Australiens ici meaning (The retreat is over, Madam, there are many Australians here). Battles occurred in a number of areas: the 4 th Brigade at Hebuterne 10 th and 11 th Brigades at Morlancour, with the 9 th Brigade stopping the Germans around Villers Bretonneux. However the hardest fighting involved the 12 th and 13 th Brigades on the railway embankment at Dernancourt this was one of the strongest attacks by the Germans against the Australians. They not only held their positions but counter attacked and the Germans were stopped. 2 nd Dernancourt (Ancre 1918) The Enemy:- Australians visiting the Square Dernancourt 24 th April 2008 XXIII Reserve Corps on the left of the Australians was the 79 th Reserve Division to the front was the 50 th Reserve Division including the 229 th & 230 th Reserve Infantry Regiment.. Why did the Germans need to win this battle? A win would enable the Germans to penetrate the British front line and thus open up to them an unopposed approach to the vital railway centre of Amiens This made the railway line through Dernancourt an important part of the Battle

5 The Dernancourt area The Battle On the 28 th March the day Gough was relieved- the 4 th Australian Division under the command of Maj Gen Ewen Sinclair-MacLagan had moved into the battle area north of the river at Dernancourt. By this time the Germans were slowing down. The Battle location Outside the village of Dernancourt was a railway line and embankment running North and South, to the East was the river Ancre. The Germans occupied the village and were dug into the railway embankment on its eastern side just outside of the village. By the 5 th April 1918 a dense mist which restricted visibility to 180 metres descended over the railway embankment. The Germans commenced their bombardment at 0700h (7.00am). Three German Divisions attacked in a line, with a Division attacking each of the Australian Battalions (47 th Qld & Tas) and the 48 th (WA & SA). Unfortunately due to the density of the mist the Australian signal flares could not be seen and the artillery fire which could have broken up the attack was not launched. The German 261 st & 262 nd Reserve Infantry Regiments were unsuccessful against the 48 th Battalion what a feat an Australian Battalion stopping (2) two Regiments with a third in reserve. But what about the railway embankment and the village just beyond it- The line held by the 47 th Battalion was very thin being held by widely spaced platoons, not an ideal situation. The 47 th Battalion repulsed the first two attacks by the 20 th Reserve Infantry, unfortunately on the third occasion the Germans broke through, causing heavy casualties. This allowed the Germans to infiltrate the lines of the other battalions. The Australians had to withdraw to avoid capture. The assault by the Germans against the two brigades of the 4 th Division at Dernancourt had been the strongest ever met by Australian troops and given the vastly dispersed defensive positions it was very difficult to resist. Yet the Aussie Digger held the line and the Germans were left bitterly frustrated that their main offensive against Amiens - 3 -

6 The counter attack When the order was received to begin the attack, the problem which had to be to be faced was how to move the troops down a bare faced slope in full view of the Germans. If it could be done during darkness they could move with very little danger. However the Orders did not provide for this scenario. The objective was to take control of the railway embankment the main front line being the forward slope of the embankment. All was not lost, at 1715h (5.15pm) a counter attack was launched by the 45 th Battalion (NSW) and the 49 th Battalion (Qld) supported by the other battalions- the 4 th Division knew that it was now fighting with its back to the wall- Bean describes the counter attack as one of the finest ever carried out by Australian troops. By the end of the offensive the Australians were responsible for halting the German advance between Albert and Dernancourt. A view of the area over which the Australians advanced to reach the Western side of the railway embankment Unfortunately many were killed on leaving their trenches many by machine gunfire which had been described as the heaviest encountered

7 The battle ended in a bayonet charge and hand to hand fighting, by 1830h. (6.30pm) the Germans were in full retreat. It is recorded in a German Regimental History that The enemy s defence was so strong that a further advance was not to be thought of. Whilst the Australians were victorious, they suffered 1,233 casualties: 12 th Bde th Bde 500 Artillery, 153 the Artillery fired 27,588 rounds. For their efforts the Australians were awarded the Battle Honour Ancre Honours and Awards Sergeant Stanley Robert McDougall VC MM was awarded his Victoria Cross on the 28 th March 1918 at 1 st Dernancourt and was awarded his Military Medal on the 5 th April 1918 at 2 nd Dernancourt) Victoria Cross Military Medal Other Award winners were:- Major G.E. Reid MC (45 th &47 th Battalions) Lieutenant E. Robenson MC (47 th Battalion Military Cross The Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Dernancourt Communal Cemetery is 500meteres north west of the town of Dernancourt and facing east towards the railway embankment which was the site of the Battle for Dernancourt. The Field Ambulance used the Communal Cemetery at Dernancourt for burials between September 1915 and August The XV Corps main Dressing Stations was formed in August Between September 1916 and March 1917 the 45 th Battalion and the 1 st South Midland Casualty Clearing also used the area. The 3 rd Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) was in the area in March By the time of the Armistice there were more than 1,700 burials to day it now contains 2,162 burials of these 177 are unknown

8 The Adelaide School (Dernancourt) After the war the South Australian Diggers and the people of South Australia collected funds and forwarded it to the town (village) of Dernancourt to assist with it recovery from the terrors and destruction of the war. These funds were utilized in the re-establishing of the village school which is now known as the Adelaide School in a similar approach to that of the Victoria School at Villers- Bretonneux. Each year a group of Students from South Australian Schools visit Dernancourt and participate in an Anzac Service with the community of Dernancourt at both the Australian Graves in the Dernancourt Communal Cemetery and then to the French Memorial also in the Cemetery. In April 2008 the following Poem which was written by Ms Naomi Wattchow of the Westminster School and read by her at the Service this poem identifies the relationship between the people of Australia and the citizens of Dernancourt and how they stood side by side as brother to defeat a common enemy. I STAND I stand beneath the large bold, Australian Flag. Pride and strength surge through me. I long to press my body into the folding material, beating powerfully against the blue sky. To preside patriotically over Sydney Harbour. The Last Post sounds in the background, I bury myself in the sharp tones, Clench my jaw, and remember our leaders, Nurses, Diggers. The people who fought for mateship, The people who defined our Nation. Fierce tears of respect prick my eyes. I breathe deeply. And I stand beside many cultures, Beneath the large, bold Australian Flag. Proud to be Australian

9 Relationships- Australia and Dernancourt Just down from the main square of Dernancourt is a street named Rue D Australie Whilst back in Australia in the State of New South Wales within one of its suburbs Milperra which is just across the Georges River from where many of the Australian Diggers undertook their initial military training at Liverpool Army Camp,an area of land was designated after the end of the war as Soldier Settlement Land to be granted to returning Diggers in an effort to re-establish themselves over recent years these Soldier Settlement Blocks have been subdivided and the streets which were created were named after many of the Battle areas of the Somme and Flanders one of these street is Dernancourt Parade. X X - 7 -

10 The thoughts of Private J. Kennerly about Dernancourt Shifted up into the line which is in the railway embankment facing Dernancourt I was with HQ on the left of Buire in the chalk pits. Twelve months previously we were billeted in Buire and the surrounding villages. They were well out of range of their guns then. The village of Buire is a mass of ruins now and all the civilians have left there. When we were billeted there we used to do numerous dummy stunts on the surrounding hills. Little did we think that we would be fighting in earnest on the same hills about twelve months later. Profile of 1018 L/Cpl Ernest Poole Ernest Poole was born in Sydney (Drummoyne) and educated at Leichhardt Public School, in civilian life he was a Marine Engineer. He enlisted in the 13 Infantry Battalion whilst in France he transferred to 4 th Division Provost under the command of APM Captain Kensett who was assisted by Squadron Sergeant Major Wilkinson. A number of the 4 th Division Provost distinguished themselves at Dernancourt during the period March/April, one who saw service at Dernancourt during this period was L/Cpl Ernest Poole. L/Cpl Poole died on the 14 th June 1918 of a fractured spine after trying to save a young child from drowning at Le Haeve on 1 st May He is buried at Hampshire Southampton (Hollybrook) Cemetery UK - 8 -

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