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France 1918: Defence of Amiens
Villers-Bretonneux, Australian National Memorial
A life we cannot forget
The approach to the Australian National Memorial is through the Villers–Bretonneux Military Cemetery with rows of graves on either side. At the top of the slope the Great Cross beckons and, beyond, flagpoles flying Australian and French flags mark the boundary of the National Memorial. The Australian soldiers identified on these headstones tell the story of the AIF’s campaigning in this region.
Private Reginald Malligan, 33rd Battalion (New South Wales), lies in Plot XII, Row D, Grave 5. The Battle of Villers–Bretonneux, fought on 24–25 April 1918, in which the AIF retook the town from the Germans is famous and commemorated. However, Reginald Malligan was killed by a bullet as he went into action on 30 March 1918 in a less–known battle – the First Battle of Villers–Bretonneux fought to hold the advancing German Army from 30 March to 4 April. Private Cecil Walsh, 33rd Battalion, remembered Malligan, aged 18, as ‘slim, dark, clean shaven and a good singer’.
The date on the headstone of Private Albert Macklan, 59th Battalion (Victoria), in Plot XI, Row C, Grave 4 is 26 April 1918. It recalls the more well–known AIF action at Villers–Bretonneux, the recapture of the town from the Germans on the night of 24–25 April, fought across the ground on which the cemetery now stands. Macklan would most likely have advanced with his mates over this countryside to where the 59th reached its ultimate objective just beyond the town and north of the main road leading to Lamotte–Warfusée. There they dug in and he was wounded by a shell, carried out by stretcher–bearers and died at a dressing station. Macklan was remembered as ‘cheerful’ and one who had enlisted against his parents’ wishes.
Walking along the rows of headstones, the 1918 dates roll on: 4 July, the Battle of Hamel; 8 August, the Battle of Amiens; 9 August, Lihons; 12 August, Proyart. After 11 August there was a temporary halt in the British advance across the plains of the Somme east of Villers–Bretonneux. But Australians continued to die.
On 16 August 1918, Private Rupert Hanson, a stretcher–bearer with the 4th Field Ambulance, aged 22, ‘one of the old hands and a very merry chap’, was casually writing a letter out in the open somewhere near Rosières when a high–explosive shell burst nearby, killing him instantly. Hanson, as the inscription on his headstone reveals, had been awarded the Military Medal for his bravery at the Battle of Hamel on 4 July 1918 where:
He twice led his men through a heavy barrage and set them a splendid example of coolness and fearlessness by attending wounded men in exposed positions under shell fire. He continued to carry [as a stretcher bearer] with the greatest determination until exhausted.
Private Rupert Hanson, Military Medal recommendation,
Rupert Hanson lies in Plot II, Row C, Grave 2.
As always, what arrests the eye on a headstone is the personal epitaph of the soldier. These were sent to the Imperial War Graves Commission in the mid–1920s when these cemeteries were being constructed. The words were submitted on the bottom third of what was known as the ‘Roll of Honour Circular’, a form sent out to the next of kin of all dead AIF servicemen and women by the Australian War Memorial seeking information about them for the proposed Roll of Honour at the Memorial.
The mother of Private Edwin Nicholls, 46th Battalion (Victoria), in Plot XI, Row C, Grave 1, informed the AWM that the war had also claimed the lives of Nicholls’ two cousins, Lieutenant John Chapman and Private Charles Price. Chapman’s aircraft was brought down during the Battle of Amiens on 8 August 1918 and his grave is in Heath Cemetery east of Villers–Bretonneux on the road towards St Quentin.
Nicholls was a highly decorated soldier who, within a period of four months, gained the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Military Medal. His MM was awarded for his behaviour as a runner near Albert on 6 April 1918 where he had returned to a rear area with an important message, helping some stretcher–bearers on the way to carry in a wounded officer. Saying, ‘My company commander will want me’, he returned through a fusillade of sniper fire, crawling much of the way from shell hole to shell hole with snipers firing at him every time he exposed himself. ‘It was’, stated the recommendation for his MM, ‘a striking instance of devotion to duty’. The higher award, the DCM, was given to Nicholls for his leadership on 8 August 1918 during the Battle of Amiens when ‘This man’s dash and daring was a great stimulus to his comrades’. Wounded in the neck by shellfire on 18 August, Nicholls, described by one man as ‘quite a lad’, died at the dressing station probably without ever hearing officially that he’d ben awarded the DCM. He was 19 years and six months old. On his headstone his mother asked for these words to be cut:
He lives in the
Hearts of those he left.
A life we
© 2013 Department of Veterans' Affairs and Board of Studies NSW :: Last update - December 2010