In April the Australians attacked the heavily fortified village of Bullecourt, on the Hindenburg Line. The result was a debacle. The failure of the tanks to get forward left the Australians with bitter feelings about this new weapon and doubtful of its value. Further attacks in May drew three more Australian divisions into an intense two-week struggle for the village. Finally, Bullecourt was taken, but no further advance was possible. In all, the battles cost over 10,000 Australian casualties.
“Into action again”
Repeatedly attacking well-defended enemy positions, and seeing more comrades fall each time, often brought a sense that it was only a matter of time before one’s luck ran out.
"My Dear Mother and Father,
In a very short time I am going into action again and as I may not have time later on I am writing to give you all particulars now. We are going to take a certain German stronghold in the Hindenburg Line. The Prussian Guards are defending it so you see our task is a big one … There will be fierce hand to hand fighting and casualties will be heavy … If I get through it all this time without a scratch I will think myself a lucky man but I am sure I will be either killed or wounded … I will do my duty as a soldier and fight to the bitter end."
Lance Corporal Wilfred Gallwey, 47th Battalion, 9 May 1917
Gallwey’s luck held, and he survived the war.
Lieutenant Wilfred Barlow
Lieutenant Wilfred Barlow was a 29-year-old school teacher from the Melbourne suburb of Elsternwick. Soon after arriving at the front in early 1917, Barlow wrote to a friend about his experiences at Bullecourt with the 58th Battalion. Barlow was killed there less than a month later. He left behind a widow, Constance, and four children.
"It is not nice advancing to the attack under heavy artillery fire but our lads press on unheeding … the guns just bang and boom away incessantly. The noise is deafening … We hope this cruel warfare will soon end but we are determined to give our lives to see a thrashing dealt out to the cruel Germans if necessary to make him go on his knees for peace. Remember me to all."
Lieutenant Wilfred Barlow, 58th Battalion, 15 April 1917
"He was with us but a short time and we had just begun to know him properly and appreciate his fine qualities … It was the spirit of men like him that won the day and gained for the 58th a splendid victory that will live in the history of the AIF."
Lieutenant Colonel Charles Denehy, 58th Battalion, letter to Barlow’s wife, 7 October 1917