Monday, 2 April 2007

Chapter 14: Arrival in France

March 1916: The Second Division was the first division to move to France; "nursery" section around Armentieres.

From Service Record and 2nd DAC War Diary:
20 March 1916
Embarked on H.T. Magdalena
Alexandria

27 March 1916
Disembarked at Marseilles
Marseilles

1 April 1916
Arrived at Abbeville 7.30am
Abbeville

AWM photograph of 18th and 19th Battalions at Marseilles, 25 March 1916.(C04393)
AWM photo of troop train at rest stop between Marseilles and Le Havre (P02321.053)
Soldiers stretch their legs, or pick wildflowers to decorate the train carriages.

From Diary of Gunner Kenneth Sydney Day : [AWM records PR01054]

21/3/16 At midday we boarded a train for Le Havre. We were put in cattle trucks, two men and 8 horses per truck. We are having a lot of snow, and it looks fine on all the stations and hills surrounding them. We arrived at Havre at 5p.m. on Wednesday, after sleeping two nights in trucks and freezing all the time. From Lyons it rained all the way through, and the ground was awfully muddy.

Havre Railway Station…This is a very long railway station, and contains, I suppose thousands of pounds worth of war material, etc. We stayed at Havre for a week to get our equipment. While here, being new chums, we thought the war was over as one day a brigade of "Froggies" marched past all cheering and singing; but we soon found out our mistake, when speaking to someone, they told us they were going up to the line.

Havre is a very nice city, and the lady in charge of the Y.M.C.A. is a West Australian girl.

We left Havre on Wednesday night at 11.30 p.m. on cattle trucks as usual for a place called Eyre. Arrived there at 5 p.m. Thursday and drove eight miles to a small town called Lynde. This place is about 15 miles from the firing line, and we can hear the guns all day and night. Left Lynde at 7 a.m. Saturday and took the wagons to a big ammunition factory in Eyre and got them loaded up with Shrapnel and High explosive Shells, and then went back to Lynde.

Monday left Lynde at 5 a.m. and set out for a place called Armentieres. This place is only one mile form our support trenches, and is a town between Lille and Ypres. It is well within the range of the german guns, and they are always sending shells into it."

From Bill Gammage, The Broken Years Australian Soldiers In The Great War (1974) p 147:

" The Australians landed at Marseilles, belied their reputation by almost faultless behaviour in the port, and in a few days entrained for billets in northern France. The journey was their most pleasant since leaving Australia. The green countryside and the cheers and kisses of the populace seemed paradise after Egypt, and second only to one other land and people on earth. But it was not the Western Front, and almost every Australian was eager to man that legendary line."

From Laffin, The Battle of Hamel (1999):

"On 19 March 1916 troopships carrying the 2nd division reached Marseilles, where the bands, which had not once been able to play at Gallipoli, struck up 'La Marseilles'. The men were wildly excited but the officers retained control, much to the relief of the British staff in the port who had feared riots. Day after day trains carried the Australians through the beautiful countryside of southern France, fresh with spring, into the cold, wet and snowy north. They finished up in billets in barns around St Omer, Aire and Hazebrouck. In the distance the crump of shells and flashes and flares told them that they were indeed approaching the 'real war'.

They were in what the army called the 'Nursery', where reinforcements were trained. The Australians considered themselves veterans and they impatiently endured lectures on many subjects, including how to relieve a trench garrison.

AWM photo of Armentieres railway station about Dec 1916 (H15699)

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