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The Battle of Pozieres

by | Mar 29, 2018 | Foxhole |

This map was prepared by Cam Simpson in 1985 when he conducted regular battle field tours to France; albeit on a mountain bike and with paniers full of WW1 photographs and maps.  In the days when digital mapping didn’t exist and in order to condense as much tactical information as possible on one map he produced a serious of maps of the Western Front reflecting the Australian Imperial Forces (A.I.F.) movements.

Over the years these were loaned to fellow historians of whom the Pozières map reemerged in 2018; the others remain missing. Cam was delighted and rather shocked to learn that the map is currently used by tour-guides having forgotten all about it.  The Battle map of Pozières

Following the Gallipoli campaign of 1915 the A.I.F. in 1916 deployed its, 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th Divisions to the Western Front; the 1st and 2nd Divisions having served at Gallipoli. The 5th Division, a new Division received its initial test in battle at Fromelles (19-20 July 1916) where they suffered some 5,500 casualties. As part of the Somme offensive which began on 1 July 1916, the 1st, 2nd and 4th Divisions of the AIF were destined to become part of these operations.

 

Mindful of the recent 5th Division casualties at Fromelles, these three Divisions were committed to battle at Pozières between 23 July – 7 August and sustained some 23,000 casualties. In contrast, the combined Australian casualties at Gallipoli were 26,000 in eight months.  The A.I.F. was never under any disillusion as the seriousness of operations on the Western Front however these battle casualties would sadly set the tone for the cost of offensive operations and it wasn’t until 1918 that the A.I.F. had fully honed its fighting ability from the Staff right down to section level with the casualties being greatly reduced.        

Today some of the landmarks that remain at Pozières are the old German Pill Box known as ‘Gibraltar’ which is located on the left as you enter the village from the direction of Albert. It features in many photographs from 1916 and thus provides an interesting then-and-now perspective.  All roads remain at their exact location as they did in 1916 and the visiting historian can use these roads as navigational hand-rails to work their way around the battle field. 

The Pozières cemetery on the way to Mouquet Farm was the scene of heavy fighting and was where Private Thomas Cooke of the 8th Battalion A.I.F. performed the deeds for which he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. The fighting at the cemetery was immortalized in the 1985 TV series ANZAC’s which shows the 8th Battalion enduring a brutal bombardment and being forced to dig-in around the graves; a truly gruesome and horrific sight that these men had to endure.  All A.I.F. Battalion movements and positions on the map are annotated as 7Bn., 49Bn etc. however the map was originally prepared for use by just its author. Several Brigade Headquarter’s and the movements of British Battalions are also marked-up.  The map also highlights four of the five A.I.F. Victoria Cross action locations that are marked by small black V.C. icons.  These V.C. recipients in date order are as follows:


 
Leak, John: Private, 9th Battalion (A.I.F.); V.C. action 23 July 1916. Blackburn, Arthur
Seaforth: Lieutenant, 10th Battalion (A.I.F.); V.C. action 23 July 1916. (Not marked on the map)
Cooke, Thomas: Private, 8th Battalion (A.I.F.); V.C. action 24/25 July 1916.
Castleton, Claud: Sergeant, 5th Machine Gun Battalion (A.I.F.); V.C. action 28 July 1916.
O’Meara, Martin: Private, 16th Battalion (A.I.F.); V.C. action 8 August 1916 at Mouquet Farm just West of Pozières.

Also marked on the map just south of the village on the main road is the approximate position where Lieutenant Samuel Raymond Thurnhill and a Gun Detachment of the 6th Battery, Australian Field Artillery man-handled a gun into action and in the ‘direct-fire role’ at a range of 400 yards began firing straight up the main street at German positions.  The official historian Charles Bean in his The A.I.F. in France recorded the scene: ‘for the first time in the experience of most, had for two minutes free leave to fire as fast as they could load, their shells pouring upon Pozieres Trench immediately in front of the crouching infantry. The trench became illuminated by a continuous band of bursting shrapnel’.

Thurnhill a former Sergeant and Gallipoli veteran was awarded the Military Cross (M.C.) however he died on 6 November 1916.  Part of his recommendation for the M.C. which was submitted on 10 September read as follows: ‘On 22nd July 1916 under cover of darkness took forward a subsection and brought his gun into action just in rear of our first line and during the successful attack on POZIERES fire 115 rounds, demolishing barricaded and enfilading the main ALBERT-BAPAUME Road. As this task entailed careful reconnaissance under heavy fire, to have brought it to a successful issue, meant that it was carried out methodically and entailed courageous determination’.[1] For further reading on the battle at Pozières, C.E.W. Beans The A.I.F. in France is available on-line via the Australian War Memorials website. The A.W.M. Collection also houses many photographs of Pozières and the surrounding to view online. [1] Australian War Memorial, AWM 28/2/187 Recommendation R.S. Thurnhill.

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