The Australian Landings at Gallipoli

The weather was calm off the coast of the Gallipoli Peninsula (now part of modern-day Turkey) on the night of 24-25 April. Some 40,000 Ottoman troops were on the peninsula, and another 30,000 were nearby. On that morning the men of the Australian 1st Division’s 3rd Brigade (the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th Battalions) were the first to go ashore. Before dawn they left their transport ships, climbed into row boats and were towed towards the shore. At 4.29 am the first of the row boats landed on the shore, and almost immediately the Ottoman’s opened fire. The terrain that greeted them was a narrow beach where steep hills met the water, and the Ottoman forces fired down upon them from these hills. The order was for the troops to push forward towards the third ridge – the target for the first day. Within 15 minutes some had reached the top of the first ridge point. The second wave of Australian soldiers was now arriving onshore, and with the element of surprise now gone, they were met with heavy fire. Upon landing, they too began to fight their way up the hills towards their objective. At 5.30am, the commander of the 3rd Brigade, Sinclair-MacLagan made an assessment that the third ridge was too distant to capture immediately and decided to consolidate his troops on the second ridge. Casualties from the landing and the first day’s fighting were significant. It was difficult to set up casualty clearing stations that were protected from enemy fire and there was enormous pressure on stretcher bearers, who lacked adequate equipment and the suffering of the wounded was significant. About 2000 wounded were evacuated overnight on 25-26 April. Over the following days, the Ottomans launched a number of counter-attacks, but the Anzacs held their positions. On 1 May, four Battalions from the Royal Naval Division had come ashore as reinforcements, and the exhausted Anzacs were about to withdraw and regroup. Meanwhile, the Ottoman forces, under Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) responded with reinforcements and repositioning of artillery. CEW Bean noted that South Australians Arthur Blackburn and Philip Robin probably penetrated further inland than anyone else on that day

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Somme Offensive - 1916

Britain’s General Haig didn’t execute any significant offenses in the first half of 1916 but by mid-year a joint offensive with the French was planned for the Somme region, north east of Amiens. The plan was to smash the opposition with heavy artillery fire, destroying the barbed wire in No Man’s Land and driving out the enemy troops from the frontline trenches in advance of an infantry attack. The bombardment began on 24 June, a week before the offensive commenced. Problems with British-manufactured the shells and the guns meant that the bombardment was less effective than planned and most of the German artillery survived. On 1 July, when the British attached they were slaughtered by the Germans machine guns: around 20,000 killed and 40,000 injured. The AIF joined the Battle on 19 July at Fromelles (Flerubaix). The Germans held the higher ground and so could see that an attack was imminent. Again, inferior weaponry and poor communication resulted in very high casualties of both British and Australian troops, and many were taken prisoner of war. In less than 24 hours the Australian 5th division suffered 5533 casualties. Within a few days more Australian troops went into battle at Pozieres. Again and impressive barrage preceded the attack and at 12.30am on 23 July, Australians, including the 10th Battalion began the assault. Although they succeeded in their objective of capturing Pozieres, German counter-offensives forced them back. In four days the Australian division had lost 5285.

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Blackburn, Arthur

Blackburn was a fresh faced, 25 year old solicitor who entered the First World War as a private and ended his military career as a distinguished Commissioned Officer.  He was the first South Australian to receive a Victoria Cross for his bravery during the Battle of the Somme.  In this action he led 50 men in repeated attacks on enemy trenches in the French town of Pozieres.  He went on to fight in the Second World War, and was created a Commander of the Order of the British Empire and a Companion of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.

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Mitcham Army Camp

It was in April 1915 when a model garden suburb in the area was still on the drawing board, that the army established Mitcham Camp on the three hundred acre Grange Farm owned by the Mortlock family. When Australia first entered WW1, a flood of enthusiastic young men enlisted to “do their bit for their country” in a rush of nationalistic fervour. The Mitcham camp was established after the first camp at Morphettville became overcrowded. Troops from the 27th Battalion marched into Mitcham Camp on 1 April 1915 and the area was soon a sea of tents swarming with thousands of enthusiastic new enlistees. The camp accommodated over 4,000 soldiers training for up to 12 weeks. Field patrols, bayonet fighting, bomb throwing and trench digging were all part of routine training at the camp. The Light Horse camped and cared for their horses near what is now the eastern end of Prince George Parade. Camp headquarters were initially in the old four roomed Grange farmhouse. By 1916 Mitcham Camp resembled a large mining town with rows of neat galvanised iron huts, a hospital, camp HQ, a large recreation building run by the YMCA, a Post Office, bank agency, barbers, and religious facilities for many denominations. Sealed roads were named after Adelaide’s main city streets. Soldiers regularly marched up Wattlebury Road on training. When the troops assembled at Mitcham Station for embarkation from Outer Harbour, the local community gave them a rousing farewell. Some camp activities were not quite so popular with the locals though. On February 14, 1916 The Advertiser reported that residents from surrounding suburbs were startled by loud explosions as soldiers practised live bomb throwing under simulated war conditions. Local resident Ron Lugg recalled his excitement at passing the camp regularly as a boy, eagerly awaiting his 18th birthday when he could enlist. Many of the former students from the Brownhill Creek and Mitcham Primary schools who enlisted, trained at Mitcham Camp. By early 1918, training on home grounds ceased with troops dispatched for training in Egypt or England as soon as a ship became available. information from http://www.mitchamcouncil.sa.gov.au/mitchamarmycamp

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