There are only a few days to go – so what to do. How about another trip to Le Hamel to get the geography and the movements right for that battle in 1918.
So off we went – sticking to the book Walking With The Anzacs, The Authoritative Guide to the Australian Battlefields of the Western Front. (Mat Mclachlan, Hachette, 2015)
Given that we couldn’t bring too many of the books I’ve been using in research, this one has been very good. In the one collection there are descriptions of many of the major encounters Australian troops had and there are maps and walking tracks to follow. This hasn’t been our intention, generally, but the Le Hamel battle was significant in the turning point of the war and in my book. So …
We filled up the car in Villers-Bretonnaux and waved goodbye to that town. We wanted to go back to the monument so Euan could photograph the actual tower and I wanted to have a last look for the name of my great uncle, Edward Morgan. He was the brother of mum’s mother, Josephine Whitten, nee Morgan.He was a sapper with no known grave That means he should be on the wall around the monument.
Then we headed out to Hamelet. Here’s where the tanks gathered prior to the battle. Then on to Vaire-sur-Corbie.
Following instructions in the book we take a few forks in the road and come to a monument – a crucifix standing within a small clump of trees. We then walked up a track beside that to the crest of a hill the author says was Pear Trench: the first objective of the 13th battalion: my protagonists.It was a good defensive position for the Germans – but not good enough. After that, up another road that followed the Australians front line and then around a corner and down another road which was the German front line. The distance between them was a few hundred yards. The front line, the attacking troops stretched for a couple of kilometres, thousands of men.
Enough walking .We headed for the monument up on the hill and another look over the whole area. This hill was the goal. It meant destruction of the German army front line, the clearing of the town of Le Hamel – and its destruction – and a battle so meticulously planned by Monash that it took 93 minutes and became a model of planning and execution for the British Army.
Apparently it was the first to combine aircraft, tanks and artillery and all involved were trained so knew exactly when they were to move or fire and what their exact objective was. I found a photo in the display there of men of the 13th battalion posing with a captured German gun. That will go into the book.
Enough of walking and following battle fronts.
Two days ago it was particularly cold so we stayed home. I read the biography of Siegfried Sassoon, the war poet. (Siegfried Sassoon, John Stuart Roberts, Metro Publishing, 2014.)
He fought and was wounded in the War and then wrote a denunciation of it. It was read in Parliament.Being a man of his social class he was not court martialled but committed to a mental asylum where he worked in Freudian talking therapy with Dr Rivers, a very important early treater of those who were diagnosed with shell shock. Read Regeneration for a fictional account of his experience. It deals with this period and his relationships with Robert Graves and Wilfred Owen. He was clearly a troubled young man. His bisexuality was repressed until his thirties, his later marriage was unhappy and in his old age his poetry was eclipsed by the likes of TS Elliot and modernism in general. He then went on a spiritual quest – from atheism – and became a deeply religious Roman Catholic.
I found myself not liking him but I found his response to the war interesting and I feel I’ve learnt something for my book. How it will be expressed, I don’t know yet. The kind of man I’m creating was not the introspective psuedo intellectual that Sassoon was. From the diaries I’m reading from AIF soldiers there’s little self reflection, or at least, little expressed. There’s no talk of religious thinking and little moral discussion. There is, by 1918, a lot of war weariness and desire to get out of this and go home.