Monday, 2 April 2007

Chapter 17: Pozieres

Pozieres evokes two turning points in the Battle of the Somme: the Australian troops’ first major engagement and the first use of tanks in a battlefield.

The failure to capture Thiepval by the west in the offensive of 1 July 1916 led the British to move around the second German line, by the south, through Pozieres. This mission fell essentially to the Australians. From 23 July they captured the second line of the German positions and a large blockhouse known as ‘Gibraltar’ on the Albert-Bapaume road. On 4 August the Australians reached the hill-top and took the remains of the blockhouse known as ‘The Windmill’. There was a windmill on the site from as early as 1610, but during WW1 a blockhouse was built there. Australia lost more men here than on any other battlefield in the war.

The battlefields from Gibraltar Blockhouse, May 2003.

Photo of the main street (Bapaume Rd), Pozieres 25 Aug 1914 (AWM G01534I)

Photo of the main street of Pozieres after the battle (AWM A05776)
Photo of Pozieres April 1917 (AWM E00532 )

Main street of Pozieres, near Le Tommy Cafe, looking in Bapaume direction. May 2003.

From Major and Mrs Holt’s Battlefield Guide to the Somme, rev,ed 2003:

The valley was named ‘Sausage’ after a German spotter balloon which was flown in the area. The valley on the opposite side was dubbed ‘Mash’

Photo of busy scene through Sausage Valley 1916 (AWM EZ0113)

The following photos are of ‘Sausage Valley’, May 2003

Photo of field gun of an Australian battery , July 1916 (AWM EZ0141)

From Bill Gammage The Broken Years (1974) p 164:

" The Second Division relieved the First on 26 July, and gave way to the Fourth Division on 5 August. The incoming battalions were quietened by the ruin they saw: by the dead,'dozens and dozens…all distorted and frozen looks of horror on their faces', and by the storm of shells, which 'became too awful for words, burying men alive and blowing up trenches, and making the whole place a shambles like a huge ploughed field'. "

From Martin Marix Evans The Battles of the Somme, 1996 p.42:

"The beautiful summer weather continued, sunny and warm. The flies prospered. They were everywhere, tormenting troops on the move, settling on troops in the trenches. The maggots waxed fat on the profusion of flesh scattered over the fields of Picardy. The rats thrived. The battle went on remorselessly.

Photo of King George V (with telescope) watching the battle, 10 Aug 1916 (AWM H15924). The Prince of Wales is behind, talking to two officers.

Photo of Australian second division memorial (AWM E04578). Erected to the members of the Division who fell in the operations of July and August 1916. The site of the Pozieres Windmill (behind) is marked by a small tripod shaped flag pole.

CEW Bean’s private accounts of the Pozieres period.

From: Making the legend The war writings of C.E.W. Bean. (Selected by Denis Winter, University of Queensland Press, 1992)

Pozieres has been a terrible sight, suffused with pink and chestnut. One knew that the brigades which went in last night were there today in that insatiable factory of ghastly wounds. The men are simply turned in there as into some ghastly great mincing machine. They have to stay there while shell after shell descends with a shriek close beside them, each one an acute mental torture, each shrieking, tearing crash bringing a promise to each man instantaneous – I will tear you into ghastly wounds, I will rend your flesh and pulp and arm or a leg; fling you half a gaping, quivering man like these that you see smashed round you to lie there rotting and blackening like all the things you saw by the awful roadside. Ten or twenty times a minute, every man in the trench has that instant fear thrust upon his shoulders -–I don’t care how brave he is – with a crash that is physical pain and strain to withstand. (pp100-101)
- Bean, Diary, 4 August 1916

Walking across parts of the ground near Pozieres Windmill is like trying to walk across honeycomb. There is barely room between the huge shell-holes for a man to tread. There are three bits of building left in the village – three solitary fragments of wall. The rest is eaten into the ground as if someone has poured acid all over the surface of it.

- Letter, Bean to his parents, 2 October 1916

The dead lay sometimes in batches of ten or twelve together, especially of the 28th. There was not a soul in sight; only the powdered grey earth. No sign of any trenches of ours. All as still and dead and deserted as an ash heap . . . I turned back and followed a goat-track path. There were only blackened dead and occasionally bits of men and torn bits of limbs unrecogrnsably along it. I wandered on for five minutes without seeing a sign of anybody till I came to a gradually improving trench, quite deserted, peopled only by dead men, half buried, some sitting upright with bandaged heads apparently little hurt except for the bandaged wound; others lying half covered in little holes they had scatched in the trench side . . . I didn’t want to go through Pozieres again. I have seen it once now.
- Bean, Diary, 31 July 1916

Photo of German communications trench, Pozieres, April 1916 (AWM J00218)

Pozieres windmill site (May 2003)
Pozieres windmill site

Tank Memorial, Pozieres
On 15 September 1916, three tanks of the canadian Division set out from Pozieres with a sugar refinery as their objective. Only one tank reached it, the others becoming bogged down.

Photo by Frank Hurley of derelict hulk of a British tank (AWM P03631.210) "The derelict hulk of a British tank on the Pozieres battlefield. This Mark I Male tank, C1, (Champagne), belonged to C Company, Heavy Machine Gun Corps, later to become the Tank Corps. It was one of seven tanks assigned to the Canadian 2nd and 3rd Divisions for their attack on Courcelette, and German positions to the south and east of the village on 15 September 1916. The 2nd Division attacked from prepared positions across the Albert to Bapaume road toward Bapaume and to the north of the road with the village of Courcelette as their first objective. Of the seven tanks assigned to the attack on Courcelette, one broke down before the attack, three became bogged in German trenches, two reached Courcelette, although only one was still in action beyond Courcelette. C1 was commanded by Lieutenant (Lt) A. G. C. Wheeler, Machine Gun Corps (MGC), and the crew from the MGC included, 2527 Sergeant F. J. Saker, 2801 Gunner (Gnr) E. H. Bax, 2720 Gnr W. N. Smith, 2736 Gnr F. C. Stone, 2602 Gnr G. G. Lloyd, 2752 Gnr H. Rothera and the driver M2/105514 Private (Pte) H. Brotherwood, Army Service Corps. Lt Wheeler and his crew reached their start position at 0400 on the extreme left of the divisional area after moving through the ruins of Pozieres. C1's steering had been damaged by German shellfire during the night and although this had been repaired the driver Pte Brotherwood must have had a very difficult time keeping the tank on track, avoiding old trenches, the many shell craters and the growing number of Canadian casualities falling in the tanks path. The terain was so difficult that the tank could not keep up with the infantry and the speed was reduced to around 10 yards per minute until at about 0700 when the tank bellied out and although the tracks were still turning the tank had stopped. Lt Wheeler later placed the tank at map reference R35a 3.9. The crew tried to dig the tank out, but after labouring "

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