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France 1918: Hindenburg Line
Bellenglise, Fourth Australian Division Memorial
Impossible to stop them – the 4th Division Memorial
Close to the A26 Autoroute, and along minor roads from the village of Bellenglise, the memorial to the Fourth Division is the most easterly and isolated of the four Australian divisional memorials in France. Erected on the heights of Les Chaudriès it can also be found by a side road leading up into the countryside to the left off the D31at Le Petit Arbre, a small settlement about 1.5 kilometres short of Bellenglise.
On top of a hill the road leads right and crosses the A26 Autoroute. This is by far the best way to approach the memorial for it was across this countryside on 18 September 1918 that the infantry battalions of the Fourth Australian Division advanced to the taking of the so–called ‘Hindenburg Outpost Line’.
Early in 1919, well after the end of the war, the various units of the Fourth Division received an urgent telegram from division headquarters requesting that within a week they forward proposals for the siting of a divisional memorial. They were instructed not to consider Villers–Bretonneux as a possibility. This provoked a stern response from an officer of the 45th Battalion (New South Wales) to his commanding officer:
I desire to protest most emphatically upon the arbitrary action of allocating Villers–Bretonneux to any division to the prejudice of the 4th. I feel so strongly on this point that I desire that this protest be sent through the proper channels to the Right Hon. The Prime Minister of Australia, with the request that he may be good enough to have the matter enquired into. I have reason to believe that it is intended to allocate Villers–Bretonneux to a Division to which, either on the ground of special action in that area or its general work in the war, it is not entitled.
Letter to Commanding Officer 45th Battalion AIF, 13 March 1919, ‘Memorials on battlefields (April 1919)’, Fourth Division, 623/9, AWM27
The writer did not say which division he had in mind. He was not to know that Villers–Bretonneux had already been selected as the site of a memorial to the whole Australian Corps. Eventually, on that site was erected the Australian National Memorial and the memorial to the missing of the AIF in France between 1916 and 1918.
The units of the Fourth Division canvassed a number of possibilities for the divisional memorial. A site near where the Australian Corps memorial is today on the hill east of Le Hamel was suggested because of the division’s contribution to the defence of Amiens between March and August 1918. Another suggestion was for somewhere near the town of Albert to commemorate the division’s huge loss in the actions around Pozières and Mouquet Farm in July–August 1916. Pozières itself was suggested as a place where ‘more bravery and stamina were required by all concerned to hold that ridge than was required in most of the later operations’. Somewhere near Bullecourt was also put forward as the division had fought desperately there in 1917.
Finally, after what the division’s commanding officer, Major–General Ewen Sinclair–MacLagan, called ‘two long and wordy meetings’, the Fourth Division settled on a height at Les Chaudriès north of the village of Bellenglise and overlooking the St Quentin Canal. From this point in September 1918, the main German defences of the Hindenburg Line were visible and between 18 and 24 September it was the scene of ‘an extremely successful operation’ and the ‘culminating point of the 4th Australian Division’s work in the war’. A German officer captured in these operations supposedly remarked:
Your men are so brave and have so much dash that it is impossible to stop them.
Unnamed German officer quoted in ‘memorials on battlefields (April 1919)’, 4th Division, 623/9, AWM27
What had the soldiers of the Fourth Division done here at Les Chaudriès?
© 2013 Department of Veterans' Affairs and Board of Studies NSW :: Last update - December 2010