The Battle for Fromelles

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1 The Battle for Fromelles the st Australian Imperial Forces first major battle on the Western Front Matt Walsh Table of content

2 Topic Introduction The Fromelles Area The Australians (5 th Division) Extract from War Diary of Lt.Col Frederick Forrest MC VC Cemetery- Fromelles Little Publicity Casualties The Cobber Monument Awards- Capt N.B. Lovett MC and Bar The Germans Adolf Hitler The thoughts of a Digger at Fromelles- Sgt. Arthur Crewes 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) 008 Published by Matt Walsh 5 Leacocks Lane Casula 70 Fromelles and surrounding areas- Fleurrbaix: Sailly-sur-la-Lys: Aubery; Laventie

3 Introduction Fromelles is an important part of Australia s Military History as it was here that the st AIF fought its first major battle in Europe. Map of the Fromelles Battlefield The Fromelles Area The area around Fromelles encountered heavy fighting in late 94 early 95. By 96 things had quietened down and the area around Fromelles and Armientieres became known as the Nursery this was due to it being used to introduce new troops to the tactics and techniques of trench warfare. Except that there were no trenches, this was due to the high water table, remembering that this section of France (Flanders) was the market garden area for the district including Paris. O course the Germans held the High Ground if it could be called that, this being an area known as the Sugarloaf which was a fortified location By the st July 96 the Somme Offensive began with the British casualties being 60,000 on the first Day. The Australians (5 th Division) The Australian 5 th Division was due to attack on the 7 th July however the attack did not commence until 00 hrs (.am) with an artillery barrage followed by the Infantry at 800h (6.pm). Unfortunately, the Australians became pinned down in No Mans Land. In five minutes of action 56 remained of a,000 troops of the 60 th Battalion. It was a massacre. Extract from the War Diary of Lt. Col Frederick Forrest MC 9 th July 96 Co-operated with 5 th Div. Artillery in battle of Fromelles. Casualties approx 5,000 amongst Infantry. Our Artillery Casualties: Officer- Capt. G Thompson killed 3 Officers wounded. 5 O.R. killed or wounded. Over the next three days the Australians attempted to make their way back through the German lines to their original starting point. They also spent the time recovering the casualties KIA or wounded. The remains of those not recovered remained where they lay and were still on the field at the signing of the Armistice some ½ year later on. - -

4 These skeletal remains could not be identified as their I D Tags had been recovered by their mates just after or during the battle. This is the reason there are no headstones in the VC Cemetery they are all Known unto God. The Cemetery was established on No Mans Land. Little publicity For some unknown reason very few references will be found relating to the involvement of the Australians at Fromelles. We can certainly find references to the Australians in other battles on the Western Front. Even those who commanded units during the Western Front failed to mention in their writing Fromelles one would think that a battle in which 5,500 casualties were sustained in a single night would be enough to warrant a mention. It would appear that if it was mentioned it would have to be explained. It would appear to be another British blunder- the British Corps Commander Sir Richard Haking was lukewarm about the attack- so it appears was the British Commander in Chief Haig and so also Sir Charles Munro.- What chance did the offensive have? Fromelles was considered to be a disaster and details were suppressed with the full details only being published in9. It is also interesting to note that the Battle of Fromelles was not mentioned in the Western Front Alcove of the Australian Memorial in Hyde Park Sydney. Casualties In just twenty seven (7) hours the Australians lost many KIA and 470 were captured (POWs), in total the Australians suffered 97 KIA 346 wounded The Cobber Monument The Australians are remembered by the Cobber Monument this is a tall bronze figure of an Australian (Digger) carrying a wounded comrade back to safety. - -

5 This figure is a depiction of a 40yr old Victorian Farmer Sgt. Simon Frazer - had failed to arrange for the recovery of the dead and wounded. The British Command Whilst on the battle field Frazer heard a wounded Digger call out: Don t forget me cobber. Frazer was commissioned and was killed at Bullecourt on th May 97. He has no known grave. Awards The Cobber Memorial Fromelles Captain Norman B. Lovett MC & Bar 54 th Battalion 9 th April 98 Capt. Lovett MC* won the Military Cross on two occasions. The first as a nd Lieutenant with the 53 rd Battalion during the Battle for Fromelles on the 9/0 th July 96, he lead his platoon during a charge on enemy trenches and was wounded. He continued on and took command of a captured line- he returned to the trenched during a counter attack. His second Military Cross was won on the 4/5 th February 97. The Germans The Australians at Fromelles were opposed by the 6 th Bavarian Reserve Division made up of the 6 th 7 th and st Bavarian Infantry Regiments and the Saxon Regiment. A person of notoriety Adolf Hitler served as a runner with the 6 th Bavarian Infantry Regiment (also known as the List Regiment Colonel List being its first Commanding Officer. The Bunker used by Hitler at Fromelles during WWI - 3 -

6 In 940 after the fall of France, Hitler again visited the area which included the Block House on the Fromelles- Auber Road from which he operated during 96. The thoughts of a Digger during the Battle of Fromelles. Excerpts of from a letter written by Sgt Arthur Crewe 53 rd Battalion of his experiences during the Battle of Fromelles. Sgt. Arthur Crewes Profile Sgt Arthur Crewes Enlisted on the 8 th September 95 having previously served in the Militia resided in Dulwich Hill occupation Warehouseman he served with the 53 rd Infantry Battalion and was promoted to Sgt. on 6 th December 97. He was wounded a second time at Peronne on st September 98. He returned to Australia and was discharged in 99, he passed away in 966. Tuesday, August st 96 well to commence from the beginning. When I wrote last we were under shell fire in the reserve trenches about 000 yards from the firing line.. On the Sunday y platoon were put on fatigue work, carrying ammunition up through the communication trench to the firing line. On the Sunday my platoon were put on fatigue work, carrying ammunition up through the communications trench to the firing line Sunday 6 th July and when I had a look round in day light I could plainly see that it was not the safest of places, as in some place the Germans had blown down our parapets. At 5.43pm the Signal for the charge sounded and over the top we went into the face of death, shells bursting, machine guns rattling and rifles crackling. Each man, beside his equipment and rifle, carried either a spade, pick or rolls of matting or scaling ladder... About 50 yards from the German trenches I was hit, I felt a numbing sensation and my rifle went spinning. From my shelter I could see our lads rushing on in the face of death. It was a fine though terrible sight. All Wednesday night, all day Thursday and through the same night I lay between the two lines of trenches, too much afraid to move on account of snipers and machine guns which they kept playing over the ground. At last, knowing I getting weak and my water bottle was now empty, I decided to try and get back to our lines on Thursday night. I cannot help thinking of those awful nights and day I spent on No- Man s Land. For companions I had yards from me a dead comrade and 5 yards behind me a Sergeant with a smashed hip unable to move. All through the nights and day the cries of the wounded for water and food were awful to listen to and each time they were heard the zip-zip and ping of bullets would come in the direction of the cries- an example of German brutality

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