Tuesday 2 July 2013 by Meleah Hampton. 4 comments
News

This Thursday, 4 July, marks the 95th anniversary of a pivotal battle of the First World War by Australian soldiers on the Western Front.

The battle of Hamel, on 4 July 1918, was largely an Australian-planned battle which achieved a stunning victory over the Germans at the cost of minimal casualties. Hamel has been called a turning point  of the First World War on the Western Front and the first ”modern” battle; certainly it marks the culmination of a learning process involving the coordinated use of multiple arms: tanks, artillery, infantry, and aircraft. It provided a model for the full-scale offensives of August and September which overwhelmed the formerly impregnable German front-line defences and ultimately led to the allied victory of November 1918.

In the early morning of 4 July, three Australian infantry brigades (the 4th, 6th and 11th) attacked the village of Le Hamel near Amiens. The date, American Independence Day, was chosen specifically to mark the first time Americans joined Australians in battle. Together with attached platoons of American troops and a British tank brigade of 60 tanks, and supported by artillery fire from over 600 guns, the Australians captured the village. The attack was a limited action, aimed at merely straightening a section of the front line in preparation for future operations. But its true value was found in the cutting-edge combination of newly evolved techniques of silently registering artillery and the coordinated deployment of massed tanks, aircraft and infantry within a protective artillery barrage.

The commander of the Australian Corps, Lieutenant General Sir John Monash, planned the assault meticulously, estimating it would take 90 minutes to capture the key objectives. In fact the victory took just 93 minutes and resulted in over 2,000 German casualties (including 1,600 taken prisoner) at the cost of some 1,400 allied casualties, making this one of the rare occasions in the First World War when an attack proved cheaper than defence. Two Australian soldiers, Lance Corporal Thomas Axford and Private Henry Dalziel, were awarded Victoria Crosses for conspicuous bravery in the battle.

On 4 July 1998, the 80th anniversary of the battle of Hamel, an Australian Corps Memorial and Memorial Park was officially dedicated on the site of the Australians’ final objective of 4 July 1918. This 1-hectare park, on land given by the French government, includes a walking trail which leads visitors past a series of interpretative panels and through the remains of the German trenches which were captured in the attack.  The memorial displays the words of the French Prime Minister, Georges Clemenceau, who said after the battle:

When the Australians came to France, the French people expected a great deal of you … We knew that you would fight a real fight, but we did not know that from the very beginning you would astonish the whole continent.

Over 60,000 Australians died in the Great War from 1914 to 1918, 53,000 of them in France and Belgium: approximately one-third of them have no known graves.

Comments

Elvala Ayton

I am so pleased I opened this connection today, 4th July, and the anniversary of The Declaration of Independence by America. I have just viewed the DVD Charles Bean's The Great War. I am at present conferring with a publisher to publish the WWI Diary of the father of my late husband. He served from the first days of 1914. He landed on Gallipoli 25th April, 1915, wounded twice on Gallifpoli, second time severely, lucky to have survived. Rehabilitation in UK, then to France and Belgium till the day before the Armistice, when the Armistice was regarded as only a 'rumour.' The next day 10th they were ordered to be ready for front... Without looking up the diary, I feel sure that he was at the Battle of Hamel. He was at the Somme, at Pozieres etc. A wonderful Australian. I would like to know if the AWM Bookshop has the book In Your Hands, Australians, by C E W Bean? (The DVD said it was a 'small book.') Also, can you identify the names of the mean the D Coy. 4th Bn A.I.F. 20.1.1919 - a group photograph? (Just the names of 'D' Coy would help.) I am hoping to come to Canberra a little later in the year. With Thanks, E Ayton.

Meleah Hampton says:

Thank you, I am pleased this was of interest to you. I am interested in the story of your ancestor and hope to be able to read his diaries soon! At the moment "In Your Hands, Australians" is out of print and has been for some time, but you may be lucky enough to find it through second hand dealers. Unfortunately, it is not possible to give you a list of the names of men in D Company of the 4th Battalion as they don't seem to have been recorded in discrete lists at the time. Further information is available online through the battalion war diaries, which are part of our collection, and service records are available at naa.gov.au. We look forward to your visit later in the year!

Warren

In 2011 my wife & I hired a car from Paris and drove through the Somme from Villers Brettonuex up to Fromelles visiting all the Australian cemeteries/memorials on the way. A very moving experience. Le Hamel was especially moving as it was the first battle planned by an Australian.

C Van Yzendoorn

Thank you for your information. My great uncle is Thomas L. (Jack) Axford. I had the priviledge of meeting Uncle Jack before his death not really knowing what he had won the VC for. As a HS History teacher and now well informed of his heroic efforts I am proud and honoured to have such a brave ancestor. His VC has been donated to the AWM and I am taking my own children now to enjoy the AWM. I hope to be in Hamel in 2018 for the anniversary.

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