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France 1916: The Battle of the Somme
The Road to Pozières
Buried where they fall
The view to the east from the crater today is over the countryside through which thousands of Australian soldiers passed on their way to the fighting at Pozières and Mouquet Farm between 23 July and 5 September 1916. They came to know the place well as they marched up out of Albert and took one of two well–worn routes to the front. The first came out of La Boisselle and along the road (now the D20) past ‘Gordon Dump’ to ‘Casualty Corner’ where a track led off left to Pozières. ‘Gordon Dump’, as the name implies, was a supply depot at the head of a little trench tramway from Albert. ‘Casualty Corner’ was an area greatly shelled by German batteries who knew well that this was a major route up to the front line although all the back areas were shelled. Another route lay out of Albert and then further south skirting Bécourt Wood (in the valley behind ‘La Grande Mine’) and the crater and then heading up a broad valley, ‘Sausage Valley’, to meet with the road (the D20) just short of ‘Casualty Corner’.
In July and August 1916 the whole area was alive with activity. Supply wagons were constantly moving up ‘Sausage Valley’; bivouacs and camping areas lined the valley slopes; and everywhere there were the guns of the field artillery blasting away at the enemy. Down the valley came a flood of wounded, either in horse–drawn field ambulances from the collecting post at ‘Casualty Corner’ or struggling along as best they could. Lance Corporal Roger Morgan, 1st Field Ambulance, described the plight of these men:
It is awful to see crippled men staggering back with the help of a shovel, stick, or anything, just crawling along until at last they reach help or fall exhausted on the road, some to be picked up later, others to be buried where they fall.
Corporal Roger Morgan, quoted in Colonel A G Butler, The Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services in the War of 1914–1918, The Western Front, Vol 11, Canberra, 1940, p.58
A few of those buried where they fell are in Gordon Dump Cemetery, a short walk across the fields from the D20 between La Boisselle and Contalmaison. This was a battlefield cemetery although after the war it was used to bring in isolated burials from all over the area. Plot 1 contains many of the original battlefield burials and it is full of Australians. Not surprisingly, the infantry are the most dominant group but there are also many artillerymen here as well as medical corps personnel, pioneers, engineers and even one burial from the Australian Army Service Corps. Private Frederick Silverwood of that Corps, killed in action on 7 August 1916, most likely by enemy shellfire, lies in Plot 1, Row A, Grave 40. The service corps men would have been heavily involved bringing up supplies through this open country.
Close by in Grave 32 is Gunner Frank Crommelin, from Grenfell, New South Wales. The date on his grave, 7 August 1916, points to a battlefield tragedy for his unit, the 106th Howitzer Battery, 6th Australian Field Artillery Brigade AIF. The battery was stationed near Gordon Dump in Sausage Valley (often known as Sausage Gully by the Australians) when it was hit by a German shell which exploded 35 rounds of howitzer ammunition. Frank Crommelin and five others – Drivers William Cracknell and George Denness, Gunners Allan Mercer and Gladstone Page and Bombardier Henry White – were killed. All of them lie buried in Plot 1, Row A in Gordon Dump in graves described by one of their mates as ‘lying 400 yards beyond the La Boisselle crater’.
Beyond Gordon Dump Cemetery the D20 soon reaches the site of ‘Casualty Corner’ where today only a track leads across the fields to Pozières. Halfway along the track is a location well known to the AIF called the ‘Chalk Pit’ where there was a medical aid post and a dump for grenades. On the night of 11 August 1916 the Chalk Pit dump was ignited by a German shell and produced, according to Charles Bean, a ‘spectacle of bombs, rockets and flares of all colours exploding in all directions hour after hour’. Beyond the Chalk Pit, and leading up towards the village was a section of track known, for perhaps obvious reasons, as ‘Dead Man’s Road’.
© 2013 Department of Veterans' Affairs and Board of Studies NSW :: Last update - December 2010