21st Battalion History


8th August, 1918.


Being in the line we had not heard fully of the turn of the tide following on the great French and American counter-attack from Rheims to Soussons. Neither had we seen the preparations, which had been going on, behind our own front during the first days of August. We had merely heard rumours of an offensive at Villers-Bretonneux, and were pitying ourselves as being sure to take part in it. Our strength was very low, as we had suffered heavily from mustard gas shelling on the night 22/23rd July.

In supports on the 7th August we received our orders for an attack next morning and with them a message from the Corps Commander (Gen. Monash) explaining the magnitude of the affair. The whole Australian Corps on a two-Divisional front from Villers- Bret. To the Somme with the Canadian Corps on our right and an English Corps on our left were to go right through without any limitations imposed by our own barrage. To say the troops were jubilant is to put it mildly. The greatest enthusiasm prevailed and rifles were cleaned and bayonets sharpened.

The 6th Brigade was in reserve for the 2nd Division. Our Battalion acting as liaison with the Canadians across the railway, got full revenge on the German posts on the Mound, which had been annoying us for the past fortnight. The guns were very close up behind us and the barrage opened with a crash at 4.20 am, continuing with deafening violence till 10 am. So accurate was our artillery that scarcely an enemy gun spoke. Having seen the Canadians well on the way, we sat tight in the old front line all day. Past us came ambulances, supply wagons, tanks, cavalry, batteries at the gallop and all the panoply of battle which one reads about in the papers, but for the first time actually seen on the Western Front since 1914. That night the 5th Division, moving through the 2nd had established a line through Vauvilles about 10,000 yards from where we started. The Divisions on either flank were equally successful, the Hun never dreaming that the stereotyped British would attack in this overwhelming manner, beyond the cover of their own guns.

We moved to Guillaucourt on the 9th but the Brigade was not required to take over the line till the night 11/12th when we relieved the whole divisional front from the 5th and 7th Brigades, in front of Framerville with our left flank on the St. Quentin Road. Our battalion was in reserve, but two companies were moved up to assist the sadly depleted 22nd and 24th when they attacked Herleville on the night 17/18th. The 22nd went over as companies 30 to 50 strong on 300-yard fronts. As the Hun was in strength, though disorganised they had a rough passage but the 23rd and 24th on their flanks were successful and saved an awkward situation by bombing laterally inwards till the 22nd were extricated.

In this advance for the first time we overran the Hun headquarters, dumps, hospitals, heavy batteries and even railway trains. Souvenirs were plentiful and tired but jubilant, the Division was relieved on the night 19/20th and moved by motor bus to Daours-Cobie Area for a week’s spell. While at Daours the weather was oppressively hot, so that we were glad to be camped on the bank of the Somme Canal. All the fish had been bombed out long ago, but the swimming was good.

We embussed at short notice on the evening of 25th August and spent the remainder of the night and next day in trenches near Proyart taking over the front line from the 10th Battalion (1st Division) at Cappy on the evening of 26th. Immediately commenced a series of peaceful penetrations in which we gained about three-quarters of a mile to a mile off the Hun for two succeeding nights finishing up by capturing the village of Frise, with 50 prisoners, on the afternoon of the 28th. During these operations we were closely followed up by the 5th Brigade, R.H.A., who proved very keen gunners. They would fire on any target we liked to give them, provided we would take the risk of being hit ourselves. They never hit us and we gave them some pretty ticklish targets, which speaks well for their shooting.

The 5th Brigade went through us on the evening of the 28th and after a night’s rest near Cappy, we moved forward after the retreating Hun, who was expecting to make a stand at Mont St. Quentin. We stayed near Frise, on the Somme Canal till the 31st when the 5th Brigade attacked Mont St. Quentin. Although unable to hold the village, they gave the Hun a terrible shaking and established themselves strongly half way up the hill. This extraordinary feat coupled with the success of the 3rd Division, we took the high ground to the north of Feuillaucourt and made it possible for the 6th Brigade to attack the position again at 5 am. On the 1st September, in conjunction with the 14th Brigade on the right and the 11th on the left. The attack was delivered by the 23rd and 24th Battalions with the 21st in support, with out the usual creeping barrage, but with artillery shooting on selected points. Like the 5th Brigade on the previous day, the attacking troops had to fight their way to their assembly positions. The attack carried our line well up the hill where the leading troops found parties of the 5th Brigade who had been surrounded all night. The 14th Brigade, on the right got into Peronne after hard fighting.

At 1.30 pm after half an hours hurricane bombardment of the hilltop, our Battalion reinforced the fighting line and with the 23rd and 24th finished off the job. After further heavy fighting we cleared the village and established ourselves on the far side of it. For a splendid account of this action see Mr. Cutlack’s book. To quote from a message received from the Corps Commander:- "The capture of Mont St. Quentin has evoked a chorus of praise from the press of the world as the finest single feat of the war".

The 7th Brigade advanced through us on the morning of the 2nd September and inflicted another severe defeat on the Hun, after which he set off hot foot for his next defensive position, the Hindenburg line. We took few prisoners, our numbers being so small and the Huns fighting so desperatly, prevented us doing so. We, however captured 58 machine guns and many senior officers were of the opinion that there were more dead Huns after Mont St. Quentin than any other battle on the Battalion front. Our Casualties from 31st August to 4th September, when we were withdrawn were:-

Officer, 4 killed, 2 Wounded, total 6.

Other ranks, 19 killed, 77 wounded, total 96.

XIII The Hindenburg Line