Monday, 2 April 2007

Chapter 11: Preparing for France

AWM photo one of the tented areas at Heliopolis Camp, 1915 (H02283)

From Men of Beersheba (Neil C. Smith, 1993) p 45:

" From the men who had been evacuated wounded or sick from Gallipoli and who after a period in hospital were now available for duty, and from fresh reinforcements a new squadron of the 4th Light Horse regiment was formed and known as D squadron. This squadron, plus B squadron formed a unique Light Horse contribution to the campaign on the Western Front and went to France. The troopers were destined to be linked with the Otago Mounted Rifles and then placed under command of a New Zealand officer. Australian 4th LHR original Lieutenant Colonel Hindhaugh later took
over. "

From a letter written by Percy Smith on March 1st 1916:

" The 4th L.H. is very much over strength so all those who have come back from hospital lately have gone in what they call the details, and have no horses yet. The details consist of D + E squadron. I am in D squadron under the command of Lieut Ross."

From The Battle of Hamel: the Australians' finest victory (John Laffin, 1999) pp 25-26

" …after the fighting against the Turks on Gallipoli the Australians believed that they could stand up to any conditions, dangers and hardships that might face them in France and Belgium.

The men of the 1st and 2nd Divisions knew little about the war in Europe other than what they occasionally read in the newspapers of Cairo. The ignorance of most of them about what was happening on the Western Front was profound. They were not to know that the battles fought by General Sir John French used up men at a frightening rate. On 25 September 1915, while the Australians were still on Gallipoli, 15 470 men became casualties on the first day of the Battle of Loos. On 11 October a single British division lost 3 800 men in ten minutes of fighting. The entire battle cost General French 61 280 casualties - and without gain.

Unknown to the Australians, some British generals considered that they had great soldierly potential. By common British consent, they lacked discipline but they could fight. Early in 1916 the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, in London, telegraphed the British commander in Egypt: 'Three Anzac Divisions in France in April might be worth six at a later date, He meant that the British and the Canadians were under such pressure that the sooner the Australian divisions arrived the better.

At the end of 1915 General French was dismissed for his failures and the new British commander-in-chief, General Sir Douglas Haig, had begun planning a major offensive to relieve the German pressure on the French armies.

The newspapers in Cairo emphasised the heroism on the Western Front, and there was plenty of that, rather than the horrors of which there were also many. The heavy casualties were rarely correctly stated and some defeats were presented as victories. The newspaper reports had one important effect - the Australians now knew that the Gallipoli campaign had been a sideshow and they were eager to move on to England, which was 'Home' to most Australians, and then on to the war in France and Belgium.

The transfer came in March 1916, though direct to France, not via England. Lieutenant General Sir William Birdwood, the Briton who had commanded the Australians at Gallipoli, visited each brigade to give them the news, usually during a church parade. He told them that in France they would be among people whose young men were fighting for their country, leaving behind the old men, the women and children. The Australians would be living among these people and serving with British, French and Canadian soldiers, as well as those of France's many colonies. He appealed to the men's honour to uphold the good name of Australia and to justify the reputation they had won at Gallipoli.

The theme of service, honour and probable sacrifice came up in sermons preached by army chaplains on troopships carrying the Australians from Alexandria to Marseilles."

From Service Record :

11 March 1916
Transferred to 2nd Div. A.C. (2nd Division Ammunition Column)
Taken on strength

From Smith, Men of Beersheba p 49
A result of the re-organisation and growth of formations and new units in the Middle east in early 1916 gave rise to massive personnel transfers to and from the 4th Light Horse Regiment…Scores of men were transferred to the 2nd Divisional Ammunition Column and about one hundred and fifty went to the newly formed Cyclist Corps…
Most transfers occurred on 11 March.

From Service record:

19 March 1916
Appointed Act Driver and posted to No 2. Section

AWM photos of Zeitoun:

Zeitoun campfire and kitchen (P00620.010)

Line of sleeping huts, Zeitoun (H12865)

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