“I would sooner be on Gallipoli for another six months than spend a week more where we have just come from” wrote Sergeant Leslie Alfred Parsons of the action at Pozieres.
23 July 1916: the 1st Australian Division capture the village of Pozieres in the Somme valley.
Holding this position would however prove costly to Australian forces, perhaps more than they could have imagined. Repeated counter attacks by the German forces and sustained artillery fire resulted in over 5,285 casualties in the 1st Division within four days. The 2nd Australian Division, having relieved them, mounted two attacks. The first failed, and the second attack, although successful, resulted in heavy casualties.
By the time they were relieved by the 4th Australian Division on 6 August 1916, the 2nd had suffered nearer 6, 848 casualties.The 4th Division managed to hold off against the last German counter-attack on 7 August but also suffered heavily from German bombardment.
The conditions faced by the 28th Infantry Battalion, part of the 2nd Australian Division, described by Private Francis Anley Mauger characterised the experiences of many of the Australian troops involved at Pozieres.
|In about fifteen minutes the 28th had ceased to exist as a Battalion. We rushed through a machine gun fire that was absolutely terrible. It swept us away by dozens. Men were dropping all over the place, but the others didn’t check. The Germans had a perfect barrier of bursting bombs all along their wire, and in a few minutes it was all over. We never had a chance.1|
Both Parsons and Mauger would survive the action at Pozieres (although Parsons was to be fatally wounded at Mouquet Farm 3 September 1916). Five Victoria Crosses were awarded to Australians as a result of action at Pozieres.
Private John Leak (9th Battalion)
Lieutenant Arthur Blackburn (10th Battalion)
Sergeant Claud Castleton (5th Machine Gun Company)
Private Thomas Cooke (8th Battalion)
Private Martin O’Meara (16th Battalion)
1. F A Mauger reproduced in Neville Browning, The Blue and White Diamond, Australia: Huntingdale, 2002.