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The One Hundred Days: guide to selected Private Records, 1918
An on-line collection featuring transcribed texts and scanned images of patrol reports, letters, diaries and narratives from 1918 which document the final months of the First World War. These documents highlight the experience of both Australian high command and soldiers from the spring of 1918 during the last great German offensive of the war. Items range from patrol reports covering 45th Battalion activities in Villers-Bretonneux to letters written by soldiers to their families back home.
3DRL/2316: Monash, Sir John (General) - Description: Personal files organised by Monash and other family members. The files are arranged chronologically and include official war records, published material, correspondence, messages and signals, war diary fragments and military orders. Monash revolutionised the manner in which battles were planned and carried out. The documents included here are from most of the major battles and actions, from Hamel in July 1918 to Monash's thoughts and plans for the demobilisation of the troops after the war ended. A significant portion of the documents deal with Hamel, partly because it was the first battle and partly because many of the later battles were organised in similar ways. His leadership style was vastly different to most other generals in that he sought input from all the commanders of the various units involved from air support to supply. His staff conferences were opportunities for suggestions from the various branches as to how they felt they could best contribute to the success of an operation. Monash certainly had ideas of his own, but was also prepared to accept advice from those more experienced in their particular field. A good example is the battle of Hamel. Impressed by the energy of the British 5th Tank brigade commander Brigadier-General Courage and his newer, faster and more reliable Mark IV tanks, he was prepared to accept Courage's recommendation that the attack could be carried out without artillery support. The infantry commanders involved in the attack were not so enthusiastic, having had bitter experience with tanks in previous battles such as Bullecourt. Even though they themselves had been impressed by the new armoured developments and were keen for them to be involved, they and the artillery commander Brigadier-General Coxen argued that while success was possible using tanks alone, it could be guaranteed with proper artillery support. Monash acquiesced and the plan changed to include what was to become the largest artillery-supported battle for the Australians so far. The papers show how, through a series of conferences, an initial outline is presented then refined and adapted as any of a thousand variables have their influence. They also show how adept Monash was in bringing together the various branches of the service, and being supportive of new innovations. Aerial re-supply of ammunition and the use of supply tanks to carry engineering stores, such as wire and the pickets to hang it on, freed up vast numbers of men from carrying parties to other duties.These documents do much to highlight the mind of the man, but one in particular does so more than all the others and shows just how obsessive he was about planning. It is a list of things he was to take on a trip to London, with the items and the places they were to be carried. Entries include everything from underpants to cigarettes and even an entry for 'this list'! ; 3DRL/2600: Hobbs, General Sir Joseph John Talbot - Description: This collection consists of plans, diaries, orders, notes, maps and correspondence relating to Hobbs' military career.Commander of the 5th Division, Hobbs' papers are useful in showing both the work of a divisional commander as well as how the plans decided upon by Monash were enacted and became reality for the infantry units. The narrative of operations for May are another example of what the AIF was up to after the German 'Michael' offensive was halted and before the Allies went on the offensive. The use of peaceful penetration to advance their line is prominent, both of a relatively large scale with artillery support, and smaller scale gains without artillery. There is also a map that he had drawn up to illustrate both the successes and failures of this technique. His papers here also include a narrative of the recapture of the village of Villers-Bretonneux, and a diary of the battle of Hamel. This diary is an interesting example of how a divisional commander would 'see' a battle in his headquarters through the messages received from the various elements reporting to him.; 3DRL/2379: Goddard, Henry Arthur (Brigadier-General) - Description: This collection consists of 14 folders of personal papers as well as maps, military records and unit histories collected by Goddard throughout his military career. At this stage of the war, Goddard is in command of the 9th Brigade, and the papers here are a small example of his collection. The first images are a summary of events that occurred in his area, both by his troops and those of the enemy. Though brief, they give a good indication of what a Brigade was doing in this period of the war.The Brigade diaries are slightly more detailed and show how busy a Brigade commander could be, even when his battalions were at rest or not conducting a major attack. Improvements to trenches, patrols and peaceful penetration, movement of units in and out of the front line, preparations for future operations, liaison with other units and training other troops, in one case Americans, are just a few of the activities to occupy a Brigade commander's time.It is interesting to note that he only had 3 battalions in his brigade - the 36th battalion had disbanded on 30 April to reinforce the others. The Brigade had suffered heavy losses that were not being replenished by reinforcements from Australia.; 2DRL/0847: 45th Battalion Patrol Book - Description: Hand written patrol reports covering 45th Battalion activities in the Villers-Bretonneux, Vaire-Sous-Corbie and Hamel area, April-July, 1918. This item shows how important patrolling was in the conduct of trench warfare to the AIF. Far from the image of the First World War of men sitting in their trenches until going over the top, the AIF did their utmost to control the intervening ground of no man's land. This allowed them to know as much about their opponents as possible, denying him the easy opportunity to observe their own trenches and also keeping them in a state of tension by harassing raids or by allowing them to get into a comfortable routine before mounting an assault.The patrol book scans are from the months of May and July, and show how the whole Battalion had a detailed picture of where their patrols were operating and what was being encountered. The route of each patrol is marked on the map, and a short account of how many men were on the patrol, who commanded it, what and where any events that occurred. The inclusion of men from other units indicates that the battalion was about to be relieved.; EXDOC039: 7th Infantry Brigade, A.I.F. - Description: This collection consists of a letter that was captured by the 7th Infantry Brigade from a German soldier to his mother in Morlancourt sector. It was translated at Headquarters and returned to the 7th Infantry Brigade. The letter described the effectiveness of the Brigade's troops. The comments in this letter demonstrate just how effective the AIF's raiding tactics, known as 'peaceful penetration' were proving, and the effect they were having on the moral of the troops against which they were used.; PR00758: Meates, Valentine (Major) - Description: Scrapbook containing papers accumulated by Major Valentine Meates during his service with the 6th Brigade, Australian Field Artillery (AFA) between 1916 and 1919. The scrapbook documents the artillery's part in the operations of August-October 1918 against the Germans.These pages from Meates' scrapbook are a good look at the work of an artillery officer in the First World War. The material shows the complexity of the work of an artillery officer, whether in the massive bombardments of the major offensives such as 8 August, or in support of smaller actions. Start times, range lifts and distances of the whole barrage for each individual gun had to be calculated. The correct amount and types of ammunition had to be collected and stored, guns moved into position and men and horses fed and watered all without raising the suspicions of the enemy opposite, or often in aircraft above. Other aspects of the job were maintaining lines of communication with their commanders and infantry units they may be firing in support of, as well as who, when, how and where the guns were to move if and when the attack was successful. It also shows that the AIF leaders were planning for most outcomes, including the detailed sheets on how to handle enemy prisoners of war. Also included is an example of thanks received for their good work in support of infantry raids, perhaps the kind of thanks not often received but certainly welcome for an arm of the services who were often not in a position to directly observe the results of their work, and know if they were doing a good job. One of the papers is an example of the press coverage during the period of peaceful penetration. There is also a very tongue in cheek application form for educational classes and some military jobs after the Armistice, showing that some were quick to poke fun at the military system that they were tied to.; PR00983: Baker, Eric Arthur Ormond (Lieutenant) - Description: Papers of Lieutenant Eric O. Baker relating to his First World War service with the 7th and 59th Battalions. A typed narrative of operations by the 59th battalion against German positions of the Hindenburg Line between the towns of Hargicourt and Bony. The battalion was actually tasked to attack the Beaurevoir Line which lay behind the Hindenburg Line which was to be captured by the Americans of the 27th and 30th US Divisions. This narrative is a good example of the kind of records that were to be kept by a battalion to aid in the creation of the official history. Somewhat dry of tone, there is the occasional attempt to lighten the report. The first two pages look similar, but there is a small attached piece of paper about 2/3 of the way down with additional information.; 2DRL/0879: Guard, W. (Lieutenant) - Description: This collection consists of the Platoon Roll Book for the 20th Battalion for 1916 as well as typewritten notes on the attacks on Clery and Mont St Quentin in 1918.Similar in style and purpose to the record of Baker, this account is of the capture of Mont St Quentin. Initially successful, they were forced to retire after a German counter-attack, but the objective was finally captured the next day.; PR02015: Heathcote, Norman Cartwell (Lieutenant) Description: Letters (originals and transcriptions) written between 1915 and 1919 by Lieutenant Norman Cartwell Heathcote to his family.These three letters were chosen as they demonstrate the life of an officer in the behind-the-lines role of quarter master. The first paragraph of Heathcote's letter to his parents dated 23 June 1918 is an interesting example of the mind of the 'serial correspondent' where the number of letters received and sent are assiduously recorded and replied to. As the mail was often bunched up to be received in batches, the writer of each letter and the date it was written is noted. He and his mother even have a numbering system, referring to the 124th and 125th letter from her!Letters from regular writers are almost always a glimpse at one side of a conversation, and in this letter Heathcote is apparently answering a question from his mum about whether he will be studying when he returns home. The letter is also very informally signed off with 'time for post'. Page two of this letter is missing. Page three has a few examples of some of the peculiar jargon that arises in supply organisations, and a description of new shoulder patch for machine gun units. Examples of his knowledge of the French language are scattered throughout the letter.In the letter dated 30 June, page one is missing, but from the top of page two it seems to refer to an interesting event during the retreat from the German March offensive of 1918 when parcels for the troops were burned rather than have them fall into enemy hands. He then talks about raids, sickness and a concert party he attended.; PR90/018: Bailey, Herbert Austin (Sapper) - Description: A section of Bailey's diary of his time in France, with vivid descriptions of the effects of bombardment and gas, and the destruction to life, limb and property they cause. He gives some insight into the work of the engineers. At one stage he is posted in Amiens for a rest, and his unit is then given control of the bridges over the Somme and Avre rivers on the outskirts of the city which were rigged for destruction should the Germans threaten to capture the city. The threat of this passed and they were ordered to remove the charges.During the advance of 8 August, his unit was tasked with repairing roads, to keep supplies and troops moving. Later around the Hindenburg Line, Bailey notes that small detachments of engineers are detailed to other units to check ground both already captured and to be attacked for booby traps. He is impressed by his meetings with American and Canadian troops. Like many ground troops, he is fascinated by the aerial activity he witnesses, as well as the German trenches and dugouts he encounters. In line with instructions about censorship, he never gives a specific date, and many place names were originally the first letter only, and then later he went back and filled in the whole name.; PR0420: Armitage, James Ramsay (Gunner) - This diary transcript is a lively account of Armitage's enlistment, training and active service in France. He gives a detailed record of the work of a gun crew such as the care of horse and wagon lines, collecting ammunition and rations, and the tasks of setting up a battery. He also writes of the role of an artillery battery in the open warfare after the August 1918 offensive. He records his involvement in such important battles as Hamel and the Hindenburg Line giving us a gunner's perspective. He also writes about casualties, living conditions, and the encounters with, and differences between, themselves and other troops such as the French and Americans. Many entries describe the confusion and devastation during the final months of the war.; MSS1337: Williams, Albert J. (Driver) - Description: William's record is in the form of a novel he submitted for a Returned Soldier's and Sailor's Imperial League of Australia competition in 1935. (The RSSILA was the forerunner of the Returned Servicemen's League). He started the war as an infantryman, but transfers to the 53rd Battery, 14th Field Artillery Brigade, and his job was keeping battery communications open. In early September he is sent to a wireless school and gives a brief account of the activities undertaken on the course.His account starts with the battle of Hamel, and his role was to keep the phone lines between his battery, infantry headquarters and the observation post intact. His novel is representative of many of the accounts written by diggers after the war in that the topics covered are many and varied, but generally avoid any deep reflection on personal motivations and reactions. Rations, billets, sickness, work, 'close shaves' with injury and humorous anecdotes are the main subjects. He writes that one of his greatest disappointments is just as he was about to depart for Italy and home, he is recalled from '1914 leave', (an extended leave to Australia for those who joined in 1914).He also has several contacts with the Americans, and for much of October 1918 his is one of the batteries attached to the Americans to support their operations. This section is very interesting for the detail about Australian/American/British relations, rations, games and fighting methods. He is on leave when the Armistice is declared, and he writes about his experiences of the celebrations. As he had been denied his '1914 leave', he is on one of the first troopships to return to Australia, leaving England in November 1918. The journey is via Panama and the Pacific ocean. He finishes his story with the view shared by many of that time that war would soon be an impossibility.; PR02084: Rouget, Arthur James (Private) - Description: Journal written by Private Arthur James Rouget of 13th Light Horse Regiment and Australian Veterinary Hospital, covering the period May 1915 to November 1918. Includes an account of his experiences on the Western Front and descriptions of the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line and Allied follow up operations. The collection also includes two photographs of Private Rouget.The small diary kept by Rouget is a brief yet interesting account of a little known AIF unit on the Western Front - the 13th Australian Light Horse Regiment. While the other Light Horse units were in the Sinai - Palestine region, the 13th was in France acting as Corps cavalry. (Half of the 4th ALH were also in France, and with Otago Mounted Rifles from New Zealand became the II ANZAC Mounted Regiment, later being disbanded and joining the 13th.)On the Western Front, the terrain and the nature of the war there limited the roles mounted troops could fulfil, but they were still heavily employed. The corps mounted regiments undertook duties such as carrying despatches, traffic control, rear area security and prisoner escort tasks, and, when the tactical situation permitted, the more traditional cavalry role of reconnaissance. They were most active during the more mobile phases of the war on the Western Front, which included the follow-up of the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line in early 1917, the stemming of the German Spring Offensive of 1918, and the allied offensive of August and September 1918.; 3DRL/7514(A): Sindrey, Arthur G. (Private)- Description: This collection consists of two letters written by Sindrey to his wife. They describe his voyage to England on the HMAT Medic, service in France, describing fighting on the Somme, at Villers-Bretonneux and at Mont St Quentin, and his wounding and hospitalisation in England.This is a long letter Sindrey wrote while on sick leave in London in September 1918. It covers all he can remember since he left England in March, so is of a 'bringing people up to speed' type of letter. It is a good account for the 'background' details of life in the AIF. For example he lists the towns he moves between in France and England, as well as the transfer process when he is wounded when being evacuated sick or going on leave. He also explains terms that soldiers almost always assume everyone either knows or is not interested in, such as 'artillery formation' and 'extended order'. Most times these details were left out by diarists and letter writers.He begins with the sometimes chaotic situation surrounding the German Michael Offensive in March 1918, which saw some units being moved from Ypres to the Somme and back again several times as orders were given and then changed. He lists all the little moves of his unit in and out of the line which saw them cover much ground in a short time and tour many of the back areas. His battalion is involved in the attack on 8 August, and then the fights for the villages along the Somme such as Mericourt, Bray and Suzanne, soon after which he is wounded by a shell. Some of the jobs he does include being part of an advance party sent to take over old or prepare new positions, anti-aircraft gunner at battalion head quarters, and ration party.His battalion is one that is to be broken up, and he gives a good summary of the continuous fighting and steady casualties of this period. As the battalion is so reduced in numbers, it is the one chosen.
This project was made possible through the generous support of Mr Anatole Sykley. Mr Sykley is an ex-pat Australian living in Boston, U.S.A. He saw our Official Histories of the First World War online and offered to sponsor the scanning of some of the Memorial's private records collection. In accordance with his request, documents were chosen that highlight Australia's participation in a much over-looked period of the First World War: the time during which the war was won.This period begins with the halting of the German push along the Somme which was called Operation 'Michael'. This operation began on 21 March and was finally halted on 5 April. The Germans had captured more territory in a few days than had been captured by either side since trench warfare had commenced. These gains included the old Somme battlefield of 1916, and much of the ground near Ypres they had lost not a year ago. The British army had lost ground and thousands of casualties, but German casualties had also been tremendous.The Australian Imperial Force, (AIF), had been resting when Operation Michael commenced but were quickly thrown in to help stop the advance. When the Germans were stopped, the Australian divisions were quick to recognize the weaknesses of many of the units opposite them and began to exploit them. Soon all of the Allied armies were on the offensive, and this general Allied offensive gained a steady momentum, especially during and after the Battle of Amiens, more commonly called 8 August. The AIF pushed steadily along the Somme river, operations which culminated in the stunning capture of Mont St Quentin and Peronne between 31 August - 3 September. The push then continued east to the strong German defences of the Hindenburg Line, although this was actually a series of different lines. On 5 October the final Australian infantry action of the war took place at the town of Montbrehain, a part of the Beaurevoir Line system. The infantry were withdrawn to rest and rebuild for planned future attacks, while much of the artillery continued to fight in support of British and American troops. The Private Records documents in this section range from those relating to soldiers such as Sir John Monash, Australian Corps commander, to gunners and privates. It is an attempt to cover as wide a range of experiences as possible, from the highest ranking Australian to infantrymen and base troops. The experience of each soldier was unique, but the differences are especially obvious between the different services, such as infantry and artillery, and also on the rank or duty of the person. The experiences of an officer will be very different to those of a private.Some sources looked at had a great deal to say, others wrote little. The actual letters themselves can say much, demonstrating how difficult writing material could be to obtain. Sapper Bailey for example uses pages of three different types in his first 'letter', most possibly being taken from an exercise book, although the last page is from a YMCA provided notebook. The letter by Lt Heathcote dated 11 July shows how he returned to the start of the letter and began using the margin.The information in the sources often needs checking, or can be obscure. Some authors slip in common French terms they had picked up, and place names need to be treated with caution. Errors are present, whether through time affecting the memory for those that wrote after the war, or simple errors of translating French towns which they had heard spoken but never seen written. There are even deliberate errors where names were put through the linguistic wringer of Australian digger slang. Questions about names or events can be checked in other sources such as the First World War Official History series, available elsewhere on the AWM website.The records of a number of gunners are interesting, detailed accounts, and are useful as Official War Historian Charles Bean has been criticised for the fact that artillery appears so infrequently in his Official History. As mentioned, the battle of Montbrehain is widely accepted as being the end of Australia's involvement in the war, but this overlooks the fact that all the artillery units were transferred to the 2nd American Corps, and much of it to two British divisions when they were withdrawn. Most of the artillery was withdrawn on 5 November, but for the Siege Brigade which remained in action until the declaration of the Armistice on 11 November. The papers in this section are a tiny fraction of the sources available in the Private Records collections at the Australian War Memorial, and are only a small part of the collection that relates to the First World War. There are hundreds of other records that relate to the wide range of conflicts in which Australians have been involved, from the Sudan in 1885 to our commitments in ongoing Peacekeeping operations.
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Correspondence; Diaries; Maps; Personal papers
Military records; World War I Military operations; World War One