Beginning the 100 Day Offensive

From WBro Bill Nash of Lodge Victoria Cross No: 928 UGL NSW &ACT

In 1918 29 of the 64 WW1 VCs awarded to Australians were earned, 14 were for actions between the 8th Aug and the 2nd Sept. Three of the 14 became Freemasons; Lt. William Joynt [1];1; Pvt. George Cartwright [2],2 , Pvt. William Currey[3] .

On the 8th Aug at 0420hrs the 100 day Offensive that would end WW1 began, with the Battle of Amiens. A huge offensive using, 31 Divisions (French, British, Canadian & Australian) and over 400 tanks. (based on the tactics proved by Monash at Hamel - 4th July -with just 7,000 troops). Starting at Hamel, the 2nd and 3rd Divisions had a front of about 3.6 km towards the 1st objective, the 4th and 5th ready to leapfrog them, using the new "open warfare", in which the Australians excelled, they overran and captured much of the enemy field artillery, securing Bayonvillers without a fight and by 1100hrs the 59th Bttn had captured Harbonniers, 8 miles into enemy territory. The success of the armour, especially the armoured cars and Whippet tanks, contrasted with the folly of combining them with cavalry, who would dash forward (being faster than the tanks) to be cut down in a tangle of men and horseflesh by the German m-gs, the tanks would then clatter forward, deal with the obstructions, and the cavalry gallop again into another deadly trap. But the ground ahead was the edge of the south part of the old Somme battlefield fought over by the French in late 1916; it was a nightmare of shell craters, rusted barbed wire, and derelict trenches, not good “tank country”.

The gains on the 9th were not as spectacular, supply lines were longer, logistics more difficult, and only 145 tanks were fit for service, but 67 by the 10th. Though the Germans quickly reinforced their lines slowing the advance, they were expelled from the Chipilly spur by the 131st American Regiment in broad daylight, and the 13th Aust Bde crossed the Nth bank of the Somme.

By the 21st the AIF had regrouped on a front from before Bray sur Somme on the Nth bank to Lihons on the Amiens to Laon Railway. The next task was to take Péronne on the “Great Bend” of the Somme where it swings from an EW to a NS direction. On the 23rd, the advance began eastwards down the U-bends on both river banks, sealing the necks of the spurs on each bank rather than assaulting the many villages and strongpoints leaving the Germans within surrounded. Near Herleville during the 2nd Brigade advance along the Chugines valley, 29 year old Lt.William Joynt, now commanding a company of the 8th Bttn after the CO was killed, saw the leading battalion pinned down and demoralized by heavy casualties, he rushed forward rallied, and reorganized their remnants, and with his company advanced on the wood and captured it and over 80 prisoners with a bayonet charge. For his `most conspicuous bravery’ he was awarded the VC.

After being repulsed on during the night of the 22nd the 37th, 40th & 3rd Pioneers took Bray on the 25th. From the 27th the AIF vigorously patrolled their front, resulting in 3 days pursuit of a retreating enemy. By nightfall on the 29th no enemy remained west of the Somme between Péronne and Brie, but the river itself remained a barrier. Thus the AIF North of the Somme were ordered to swing south towards the flank of Péronne, and take Mont St. Quentin, which dominated the town, and then the town. The assault began at dawn on the 31st. The 33rd Bttn advanced from Clèry along the Bouchavesnes spur which dominated the flank of the Mont, but were held up by a machine gun at Road Wood. Pvt. George Cartwright, attacked it alone, shot three of the crew, bombed the post, captured the gun, and nine prisoners. For his actions he was awarded the VC.

By 0800hrs the AIF had a foothold on the Mont and held it despite heavy counterattack until the following day (1st Sept) when reinforcements drove the enemy off the ridge. Meanwhile the AIF advanced on Péronne both from the Nth, and from across the river. The 53rd Bttn captured Anvil Woods (Nth of Peronne) during which 22 yr old Pvt Willam Currey, despite heavy mg fire, rushed and captured single-handed a 77-mm field gun holding up the advance, killing all the crew (it was subsequently turned on the enemy!). Later, with the advance checked by a strong-point he successfully, using a Lewis gun, flanked, engaged and rushed it. Subsequently he volunteered, under heavy fire and despite being gassed, to carry orders to an isolated company to withdraw, and brought back valuable information.

Currey’s was one of 8 Australian VCs awarded during the 3 days of fighting at Mont Saint-Quentin & Péronne, which with its canals, railways, and bridges became a principal depot for the breakout toward the Hindenburg line.

[1]Born-19/03/1889 died 06/06/1986[The last surviving Australian WW1 VC recipient]; Initiated 12/10/1923 Old Melbournians Lodge No 317 UGLV

[2] Born 9/12/1894[England] – died 5/05/1986; Initiated 1/11/1923 in Lodge Merrylands No 479 UGLNSW

[3]Born 19/09/1895 died 30/04/1948; Initiated 11/03/1930 Lodge Carlton No 382 UGLNSW [Labor member for Kogarah (1941-48) in NSW Legislative Assembly, the only VC recipient to sit in the NSW parliament.]