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France 1918: Hindenburg Line
Montbrehain, Calvaire Cemetery
Comrades through thick and thin
At dawn, on 5 October 1918, in the countryside to the north and south of the road leading out of Ramicourt towards Montbrehain (the D713), the men of the AIF formed up once again for battle. South of the road was the 21st Battalion (Victoria), to the north was the 24th Battalion (Victoria), and between them was the 2nd Pioneer Battalion. These units were on the outer edge of the British Expeditionary Force’s advance through the Hindenburg Line – the German Army’s major defence line in France.
Since 8 August 1918 the AIF had been in attack after attack as the Australians went from positions a couple of kilometres east of Villers-Bretonneux, across the uplands of the Somme, to participate in the capture of Péronne, then on eastwards to the storming of the Hindenburg Outpost Line near Bellenglise, and finally to the breaking of the Hindenburg Line itself. At this late stage of the war the 21st and 24th Battalions could muster no more than 240 riflemen in units where once 1,000 rifles had taken the field.
Captain John Mahony and Captain John Fletcher led two of the three reduced companies of the 24th Battalion. Mahony and Fletcher were friends who had, according to Charles Bean, ‘bached’ together in Melbourne. Mahony was a well-known footballer and teacher at a technical school, and Fletcher was his colleague at the school. Both were originals in the battalion having joined up together on 8 March 1915 as privates with consecutive numbers – Mahony, 1056 and Fletcher, 1057. Both gained rapid promotion and the award of the Military Cross for bravery in action. A newspaper account of their friendship described them in biblical terms as ‘David and Johnathan’ and remarked how on Sundays they would head off together to church, Mahony to the Roman Catholics and Fletcher to the Methodists, ‘meeting again on the homeward way’:
When war’s loud tocsin sounded its alarm it woke them from dreaming in the dawning of their day and early in 1915 they enlisted vowing to be comrades through thick and thin unto the death. From that time with ever increasing admiration of each other’s manly qualities they passed through Broadmeadows, Egypt, Gallipoli, France and Belgium by the way of Lone Pine, the evacuation, Pozières and Bullecourt.
Personal dossier, No 1056, John Austin MAHONY, National Archives of Australia.
Now, at dawn on 5 October 1915, these two friends prepared to lead their men into the Battle of Montbrehain.
© 2013 Department of Veterans' Affairs and Board of Studies NSW :: Last update - December 2010