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Kate Blake Profile
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Re: Battle of Messines June 1917


(continued)

Lieut. Roadknights reference to “D” Company having “gone” is inexplicable if it refers to “D” of the 37th, because the men of that company were standing out of their positions in the gathering dusk, watching the retirement, and wondering if it was a counter-attack. Troops in the Black Line near Betlheem Farm were similarly perplexed, and only with difficulty were restrained from bringing their machine-guns into action. Evidently some reports were received about this time at 3rd Divisional Headquarters to the effect that the 37th was abandoning its hold on the Green Line, and this caused General Monash, after enquiry to shorten the 3rd Division’s barrage also [sign in to see URL] signal rockets fired from the Black Line near Messines also confused the issue. These signals were not fired by 10th Brigade troops.
“A” and “C” Companies were now caught by our barrage in their forward position. “D’ Company’s line was not affected by this fire, but a sudden move developed there about [sign in to see URL], through some unauthorised person giving the word to withdraw. Lieut immediately stemmed the rush, however. [sign in to see URL] who dashed forward and ordered the troops back into the position. During this confusion the enemy machine-gun in front played with deadly effect on the exposed platoons. L/Corp [sign in to see URL] brought his Lewis gun to bear on the enemy and silenced it, but one of his crew, Pte [sign in to see URL], was shot dead.
When “D” Company left it’s line, an officer of the 40th Battalion’s Company on it’s right, Lieut [sign in to see URL], rushed across in consternation, because such a move would leave his flank in the air. Lieut. [sign in to see URL] assured him that “D” company would not vacate its position unless ordered to do so, and he then drew Loane’s attention to what was occurring farther to the left.
When Major Story was absolutely sure that the battalion on his left had retired from the Green Line, and, when he personally observed the continued shortening of the British barrage, he took upon himself the great responsibility of withdrawing the survivors of “A,””B,” “C,” and “D” Companies of the 37th, and “D” Company of the 40th to the Black Line. This move was completed at dusk, about 9 p.m., “D” Company of the 40th being the last to retire. Story’s desire was that this withdrawal should only be of a temporary nature until steps could be taken to lengthen the barrage, and keep it in it’s proper position beyond the Green Line. He had previously asked for reinforcements to be sent up, because the heavy losses suffered by the 37th rendered difficult the consolidation of his 1,200 yards of front, but it was not until after the withdrawal that a considerable force of the 40th Battalion reached him. The congestion in and around the Black Line was now considerable, and, as there was no room there for the 40th men, they were ordered to withdraw later to their original position in rear.
The C.O. of the 37th and his adjutant, Captain [sign in to see URL], had maintained battalion headquarters in our old front-line trenches, and Colonel Smith fully concurred in the action taken by Major Story in his capacity as forward C.O. At 10th Brigade Headquarters and higher up still, the news of the withdrawal caused concern, for orders had insisted that under no circumstances was the Green Line to be vacated. No one, however, appears to have contemplated the possibility of an important section of the garrison being shelled out of it’s position by our own protective barrage, or of the flank being left in the air. Actually the withdrawal extended as far north as Blauwepoortbeek.
The action of Major Story and [sign in to see URL] Smith was viewed with extreme displeasure by their superior officers, but later information has completely justified them. It should have been possible immediately in such a highly organised battle, to rectify the mistake made by the artillery, so that the 37th could go forward again, but the higher commanders refused to believe that the artillery was in any way responsible. Instead they preferred to think that the whole blame should be placed on the 37th Battalion, whose members keenly resented the charge. Dr Bean, however, in summing up the affair (Official History of Australia in the War, Vol. IV, pge 642) says;” Defects in the maps, over eagerness of the infantry, over anxiety of some of the staffs and commanders, and a dangerous degree of inaccuracy in the barrage were responsible.”
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Geoff S Profile
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Re: Battle of Messines June 1917


Thanks for the additional info Kate.
Being shelled by your own artillery would no doubt have forced the men to question the wisdom of staying put.

Cheers
Geoff S
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Kate Blake Profile
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Re: Battle of Messines June 1917


This is a really interesting Chapter from the 37th History. (It was quite hard to pick out just a small part to add on here)Anyone researching Messines would gain a better understanding of the Battle by reading the whole chapter. There is an underlying bitterness from McNicol about what happened in the writing.
Some interesting reading also in the Red Cross reports from AWM -

The Chaplain Davidson (37th) wrote -
"In regard to the Battle of Messines - we can only give approximate date of death as 7 -10 June - most of them on the 8th or 9th. Our boys went "over the top" in the morning of the 7th - they were pushing on bit by bit, each day till relieved in the early morning hours of the 10th. There was so much to do in clearing things up after that fight that it was not possible to go round and get exact particulars of the day when each man fell. They went - they came back, what was left of them, and when we entered up the lists and filled in the blanks, killed, missing or wounded - it was all we could do.
In regard to the burials - parties went out as soon as possible - the ground was ultimitely completely gone over. We know the Hun could take no prisoners, yet we never gathered quite a number. But those of us who saw the ground knew how it was. Shell after shell poughed up every square yard of the ground and many bodies were buried by the shells that filled up holes were bodied had fallen"
(Reference - AWM Red Cross Missing and Wounded Files - Pte [sign in to see URL] No 1909 - [sign in to see URL])
1/28/2004, 8:30 am Link to this post Send Email to Kate Blake   Send PM to Kate Blake Blog
 
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Re: Battle of Messines June 1917


G'day
Can anyone refer me to a casualty list for the Australian Tunnellers at Messines?
Thanks
Pat
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Re: Battle of Messines June 1917


Mark
AWM Roll of honour shows members 19 of 44th bn AIF kia at or near Messines on 08/06/1917
4 Buried ay BELGIUM 108 Bethlehem Farm East Cemetery Messines
2 At BELGIUM 168 Messines Ridge British Cemetery
1 (Wilkins, Edward Burnell) special memorial BELGIUM 42 Kandahar Farm Cemetery Neuve-Eglise
and 12 missing listed on panel 29 The Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial Belgium
My Guess is that the 44th Bn entered the fighting on this date.
There are a further 10 on 09/06/1917
14 on 10/06/1917
3 DOW 11/06/1917
From this I would assume that the 44th Bn was in the Messines battle zone between 08/06/1917 to 10/06/1917
Paul B
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Re: Battle of Messines June 1917


All
Further checking shows that the 44the Bn AIF was held in reserve in the catacombs under hill 63 until General Godley ordered at 10:45 07/06/1917 that the "ground vacated was to be re-taken by the 3rd @ 4th Divisions". (The Second Advance at Huns walk)
The 3rd Div here used the 44th Bn and the 4th Div used the 48th Bn.
This was the 44 bn's first major battle other than use in raiding parties. (The 44 bn was on temporary loan to the tenth Bde at this time according to Bean.)
The 44th bn made their advance alone as the 48th bn had recieved its orders to late. Upon reaching the wire of the Oostaaverne line the 44th bn was met by the same fire from its own arty support. (The same fire that saw earlier Bn's retire to safer positions (run away!!))
South of Huns Walk the British barrage had kept the 44th Bn out of their objective until abt 13:00 when the laft coys advanced in 2 waves and occupied the shell holes that represented the first Oostaaverne trench.
This is the opperation breifly up until the evening of the 8th
The 44th Bn held its position it was relieved on the 10th by the 43 Bn AIF
Paul B
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