On the afternoon of 4 July 1918, Private Frank Roberts of the 21st Battalion wrote in his diary bemoaning the life of an infantryman.
He had just participated in one of the most successful engagements fought by Australians on the Western Front during the First World War, but the 30-year-old orchardist from Hawthorn wasn’t too happy about the early morning start and complained about being “loaded up like a mule”.
With 200 rounds of small arms ammunition, two Mills bombs, an extra water bottle, a shovel down the back, and a pannier for the Lewis gun, he lamented that it was “all hellish weighty” before going on to describe how his “knees knocked when the barrage opened”.
“After the start all trepidation vanished,” he wrote matter-of-factly. “Wonderful barrage put up … We caught glimpses of Fritz going for life. No return barrage and no machine-gun fire. An easy walkover. Slung my gun and stumbled across. Experiencing none of the ‘blood lust’… A most prosaic affair.”
It was, according to Australian War Memorial senior historian Dr Aaron Pegram, a remarkably relaxed account of what became known as the battle of Hamel 100 years ago.
“It was a little battle, that made a long-lasting impression on the sort of battles fought on the Western Front in 1918,” Dr Pegram said.
“Lieutenant General Sir John Monash meticulously planned for the battle to last 90 minutes. It lasted 93 minutes, with all units involved in the assault taking their objectives, and the battle plans for Hamel became a model for future successes.”