Thursday 15 November 2007 by Aaron Pegram. 12 comments
To Flanders Fields, 1917, Frontline troops, Passchendaele (Ypres)

The Battle of Polygon Wood was one of the most successful engagements Australian troops participated in during the Passchendaele campaign. On 26 September 1917, the 5th Australian Division successfully captured the German-held positions surrounding the Butte de Polygone, an earth mound that before the war had been the butt-stop of a rifle range.  By 1917 with the Germans on the defensive in the Ypres Salient, the Butte was a strategically important position dominating the immediate area, and blocking any further advance towards the Passchendaele ridge. It was the 5th Division’s first major engagement since the costly assault at Fromelles in July 1916.  The successful taking of Polygon Wood and the Butte was a proud moment in the division’s history. Success, however, came at a price.  Overall the the Australians suffered 5478 casualties in the battle, the majority being in the 5th Division (3723) and the 4th Division (1729) which was attacking immediately alongside the 5th, just north of Polygon Wood. 

The Butte at Polygon Wood looms in the background and dominates the area over which the Australians attacked. E01912

One soldier in the 5th Division was Private Albert George Pegram (No. 3204) of 55th Battalion.  Polygon Wood was to be his first and only battle. A laborer from Bredbo in New South Wales, he pressured his father to sign his enlistment papers as soon as he turned 18, and joined the AIF on the 21 August 1916. Most of Albert’s cousins and friends had enlisted during the Men from Snowy River recruitment march as it passed through the Monaro region on the way to the training camp at Goulburn just months before. After training at Goulburn, Albert left Sydney on the 11 November 1916 as part of the 8th Reinforcements for the 55th Battalion.

He joined the battalion just in time for the Polygon Wood operation. The 55th Battalion was allocated the task of clearing the German pillboxes on the left flank of the wood whilst the 56th Battalion concentrated its efforts in taking the Butte. Under a barrage which raged in front of the infantry ‘like a Gippsland bushfire’, the infantry advanced and secured the wood within a matter of hours.

The 55th was frantically digging new positions in preparation for a German counter-attack when Albert was seriously wounded. A cousin was with him at the time, and wrote to the Pegram family to tell them that he had been shot in the stomach by a sniper whilst jumping across an exposed trench with the rest of his section. He was evacuated to the 17th Casualty Clearance Station near Poperinge, and succumbed to his wounds two days later.

Albert’s loss was painful for the Pegram family, who never had the means to visit his grave at Lijssenthoeck Military Cemetery, just west of Ypres. His nephew was born the day he died, and was consequently named after him.  Albert’s father would never forgive himself for signing his son’s enlistment papers, and his mother would take to her grave his war medals and his memorial plaque. Perhaps the most poignant is a small inscription dedicated to Albert in a Pegram family bible which reads:

‘In his lonely grave he lyes far from all he loved so dear’.

Photo by Aaron Pegram (© Copyright) Photo by Aaron Pegram (© Copyright)

by Aaron Pegram

See also Albert Pegram's personal service dossier online via the National Archives of Australia.

Comments

Louise

Very well written Aaron. I will print it out and give it to Barry Mortlock to read.

rhys

Hardly a day goes by that I don't think of these men. I listen to my fellows complain of hardship at work, I think of what hardship really is. These lads define 'hard' for me. My life will be to acknowledge my heroes, I shall visit them in lands so far from the the great country they have perished to protect. I shall honour them, in time, when I can be a guide at our wonderful memorial in ACT, and tell all who care to listen of Pte Pegram, the Seabrooks and so many others.

Baz

I was so thrilled to come across this dedication of PTE (no 3204) Albert Pegram as my Grandfather PTE (3225) Oliver Henry Travis would have fought beside this brave man; he also joined the 55th battalion, 8th reinforcement out of Goulburn NSW on the 6/09/1916, disembarking on the ship Suevic. I have a group photo of the men of the 55th, 8th reinforcement; both men are in this photo. My Grandfather passed away in 1944 due to his injuries from the war; it is so nice to be able to put names to some of the faces in the photo that my Grandfather would have called a mate. Thank you and regards, Barry

Philip McLeod

I have just found this Blog. I have 2 relatives who died in Belgium and France. I was able to visit where they are commemorated on November 11 2007. I agree with the comment about the unbelieveable hardship these men endured. I visited Fromelles on November 11. It was freezing cold and blowing quite hard. As an ex soldier it was difficult to even contemplate living in the open there, much less fighting a battle. This blog is fantastic. I am sorry I missed the exhibition.

Darryl Ellis

Last October I took my father Vernon Ellis aged 81 of Narrandera to France to visit Herbecore where his uncle is buried. His uncles name was Verner Ellis V. M. Ellis) and his service number was 3777, 55th BN Australian Infantry. This is a very small cemetery however there are many graves of soldiers of the 55th Bn within the graves. This is my third visit to the graveyard and although off the main route I encourage others with connections to the 55th BN to make a small detour and visit Herbecore.

Tim Cook

Thanks for the post Aaron and everyone else. Very interesting. I am presently researching and writing a unit history of the 55th Battalion AIF. For some reason a unit history was never published so I've set out to fill in this gap in the historical record. I'd appreciate access to any diaries, letters etc that may be held in private hands to assist me in better telling the story of these brave men. My great-uncle, 2142 Sergeant William 'Billy' Cook, from Goulburn was also killed during the assault on Polygon Wood although his body was never recovered. As a part of my research, I'm visiting the 55th's battlefields in August this year and will certainly be visiting Herbecore cemetery to pay my respects to Fred Cotterell, Stan Colless, Albert Bingham and the others of the Battalion that fell in the attack on Peronne and that are buried there.

Wayne Hill

We will remember them, Lest we forget. My Grandmother Edith lost both of her brothers, Her eldest James Stanley HARRIS #3168 aged 27years 4mths was with the 8th reinf 57 Batt Killed during the attack at Polygon Wood 26-9-1917 exactly 12 months after attestation, he was a Gardiner by trade, having immigrated with his family from England in 1911 he left Melbourne aboard the HMAT Medic after having just wed his love Winifred Watkins, and was off for the adventure and to do his bit for the Empire. Her younger brother George Legdon HARRIS #2044 was only 19 years 4 mths when he enlisted in 1915 his Mum giving her consent, as his father had died in 1896 the same year he was born. Yong George according to his service records was of bad character, He was on charges before he even alighted the HMAT Ballarat, for throwing food aboard the ship (come on he was young an invincible) or so he thought George Legdon was Killed 5 March 1918 "in the field" Messines Belgium. My Poor Dear Great Grandmother Lost Her Husband Fank in 1896 came to Australia to start over with her three children and niece Elizabeth Annie Stamp, She lost her only sons 6 months apart. Neither of their bodies were ever found for burial! I will remember them, and I wont forget.

annemie morisse

Hi Thank you for this story. I am doing research on Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery. There are another nine men of the 55th Bn. buried at this cemetery: Alchin Oliver HG, Bald Thomas John, Burton Arthur H, Coleman Leslie RE, Jaques Arthur H, McCormack Ernest A, Mills Andrew and Sticker Paul O. Annemie

Phil Robertson

Thanks for the article on Albert Pegram and all the other comments I have been researching my great uncle George Frederick Morrow who was in the 55th battalion and was killed on the 26th September 1917, I presume he was killed at Polygon Wood,he was about 30 years of age and not long married, we should never forget these young men who paid the ultimate sacrifice

phillip sticker

does anyone have any photos or information on my fathers fathers brother paul oscar sticker who died in the battle of polygon wood

phillip sticker

phillip sticker says does anyone have any photos or information on my father alton terrence rex sticker non commissioned officer ww11 posted in townsville

Sandra O'Hagan

Aaron, this is wonderful. I'm from Delegate where the Men from Snowy River March began and I have been downloading the army records of all of the MFSR men...........I only have 8 more to do, and they are proving to be elusive. It is great to read more about these wonderful men. My grand uncle, John Squire (Jack) Armstrong, was killed in Polygon Wood, although he wasn't a MFSR marcher.