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The Lost Companies.
The Lost Companies. 
 

Western Mail, Thursday 18 May 1933, page 2

The Lost Companies.

A 51st Battalion, correspondent has written, asking, for details of the "lost, companies' last fight at Mouquet Farm, in which we lost many of his best friends.

The subject, is of intense interest, and; the facts, as picked out here and there from the detailed description of the whole battle given by Dr. Bean -in the official history of the A.LF., make a. vivid story of Australian valour and tenacity; The 51st Battalion was given Mouquet Farm as its. objective in the attack ordered for September 3, 1916. The farm was an immensely strong fortress, which had already resisted several attempts to take it by assault. Its extensive cellars had been reinforced with concrete, and tunnels had been driven to various strong; points in trenches in the vicinity; The farm itself had long been a heap of shattered bricks, but a big garrison sheltered in. its cellars and tunnels during bombardment, and their ability to appear at unexpected points when the attacking infantry had passed on made the farm a formidable military, obstacle.

On September 3, the 51st was the left battalion of the brigade, with the 52nd and 49th on its right in that order. The men reached the jumping-off point, and sheltered in shell holes waiting for the dawn. The 51st attacked in seven waves at 5.10 a.m., the leading four waves being composed of companies commanded respectively by Captain D. McCallum and Lieutenant A. G. Clifford. They met with preliminary success, passed over the farm, and reached their objective about two hundred yards beyond it. The fifth, sixth, and seventh waves were composed of the third company and the bombers under Captain H. de N. Williams, of Perth. They stopped at the farm and bombed all the discoverable entrances. At 7.30 Captain Williams notified headquarters that Mouquet Farm had been taken, with the exception of a few dugouts that were being dealt with by Lieutenant H. H. Morell (Queensland). Then Williams started his men digging a trench through to connect up with McCallum's and Clifford's companies. The other company of the 51st was in rear, digging a trench forward from the jumping off point to the farm.

Then Captain McCallum was mortally wounded, and the command reverted to Lieutenant F. W. S. Bailey, who sent Sergeant L. Ramshaw, a Geraldton man, to scout to the right to establish touch with the 52nd. Ramshaw returned with news that the Germans were on the flank. Soon afterwards the Germans commenced a bombing attack. The 52nd, on the right, had lost nine of its front-line officers killed and two wounded, and the remnants commenced to fall back. Clifford, .commanding the right company of the 51st, seeing his flank so threatened, then made his way along the line to Bailey, and suggested that they withdraw to the farm. However, Bailey answered that their orders were to hold on at all costs. This they decided to do, in the meantime sending a message to Captain Williams, at the farm, asking for instructions.

Williams sent 50 men, and with these Bailey formed a second line, bent back around the ruins. However, the situation was rapidly becoming desperate. Bailey, stepping back from the front to give an order, was killed. Clifford, sitting on the back of the trench, continued to urge his men to dig. He sent another message, stating that if he were not reinforced, he would have to bring his line nearer the farm.

Then came the final message: "Being hard pressed. Enemy bombing up our trench from both ends. Strong point in our left rear has not been cleared, as they are sniping from our rear. Trench half-full of wounded and dead-can't get them back. Can a party be organised to clear strong point? If not, it will go hard with us. Only have about 30 men with me. No sign of a communication trench to us from farm as yet. Lost trace of 52nd. Believe we have got too far; 8.30 a.m. -Lieut.-Clifford."

No further information was received. Soon afterwards, under heavy fire from tin attacking enemy; and a heavy bombardment, the rear party at the farm, reduced to two wounded officers and 30 men, fell back. The advancing Germans reached the north-east, corner of the ruins, and gained underground access to all parts of them. They thus completely surrounded the 51st men and bombarded them heavily with minenwerfers. During the night four patrols (each of four men) from the reserve company of the 51st went forward to seek information of their lost comrades. One of these patrols never returned. Three men of a second and all four of a third were wounded. The fourth patrol returned with two men of the lost companies, who had been wounded early in the action, when things were going well. They could give no later news than headquarters already had.

Years afterwards some of the story was unfolded. When the Germans attacked all bombers and machine-guns were ordered to the flanks. The Lewis gun on the right jammed. .Lieutenant E. G. Smythe on that flank sent word to Clifford that he was being bombed out. The answer was: "Hang on at all costs." Clifford was presently shot through the head. Smythe sent to the left for more bombers, but only two unwounded men reached him. These were C.Q.M.S. S. Edwards (South Australia) and Private T. E. Peake (Albany); who were both afterwards captured, Edwards being wounded.

With the enemy now bombing from shellholes in rear, Smythe gave the word to make for the farm, but it was then too late. He was killed and a certain number of men were captured, including many wounded lying .in a crater behind the trench.

Lieut. W. A. Halvorsen, now of Perth, was very badly hit, but tried to reach the Australian lines next day. He was again shot through the body and captured. Sergeant Ramshaw was picked up by enemy stretcher-bearers on September 5. Sergeant L. A. Parsons (Korrelocking), shot through both legs, lay in a shell hole and wrote to his brother a letter that was afterwards found on his body. On the night of September 12 nine days after the attack - a Canadian patrol found three 51st men in no-man's and near the south-west corner of the farm. Two were badly wounded and the third (Private M. Doonan, of Sydney) had stayed with them, feeding them with bully beef and other food for which he had foraged at night among the dead.

Of the officers of the 51st engaged only two returned, and those both wounded. The rest, except one badly wounded and captured, were killed. Those killed were Captains D. McCallum and C. S. Dawkins; Lieutenants F. W. S. Bailey, A. G. Clifford, C. H. Smith, E. G. Smythe, D. G. Campbell, A. R. Dunkley and W. Brown. McCallum belonged to Kalgoorlie, Dawkins and Bailey to Subiaco, Clifford to Donnybrook, Smith to Perth, Smythe to Claremont, Campbell to Walgett (N.S.W.), Dunkley to Fitzroy (Vic.), and Brown to Liverpool (N.S.W.).

The 13th Brigade lost 41 officers and 1,305 men in that bitter fight. Of these the 49th Battalion lost 13 officers and 417 other ranks; the 50th Battalion, 1 and 76; and 51st Battalion, 13 and 365; the 52nd Battalion, 12 and 438; the 13th Machine Gun Company 2 and 9.

German accounts show that the recapture of the lost sector was the result, of a planned raid undertaken by troops of the 1st Guard Reserve Regiment, assisted by the 3rd Battalion of the 64th. The losses of the Guard Reserve Corps in the Mouquet Farm fighting were heavy, the whole period being described as among the severest experienced by these troops. The 4th Guard Division, relieved on September 12, had lost in three weeks 50 officers and 3,150 men. Complete figures for the 1st Guard Reserve Division are not available, but 1,171 are said to have been lost in the fighting of September 2 to 4.

Eight years after that epic fight, officials of the War Graves Commission found beyond Mouquet Farm an almost obliterated line of trench filled with the bodies of Australian soldiers. There is little doubt that they were a remnant of the lost companies of the Fighting Fifty-First.