Pozières Bayonet presented to South Australia

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Pozières, WW1, First World War, World War One, AIF, Unley, community engagement

Yesterday an Australian First World War bayonet from the French battlefields of Pozières was presented to the citizens of South Australia at a poignant ceremony at the City of Unley Soldiers Memorial Garden, presided over by Unley Mayor, Lachlan Clyne.

Presented by Barry Gracey, President of the Pozières Remembrance Association, on behalf of the Mayor Bernard Delattre and citizens of Pozières, the framed Bayonet was officially accepted by the Hon Martin Hamilton-smith MP, Minister for Veterans Affairs.

Dignitaries at the ceremony held in the rotunda included Dr Duncan McFetridge MP, Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Sir Eric Neal, former governor of South Australia and chairman of the Veterans Advisory Council, and Sue Crafter, Honorary Consul of France in Adelaide. Other guests included descendants of South Australian servicemen who fought at Pozières.

The village of Pozières in northern France was close to a sought after ridge in the centre of the Somme battlefield.  The two week struggle to gain this important German defensive position took place between 23 July and 7 August 1916.  Although British divisions were involved, it is remembered largely as an Australian battle, and a bitter and costly one.  Three Australian divisions suffered over 20,000 casualties in a few weeks, comparable to those sustained by Australians over eight months at Gallipoli in 1915.  Official Australian historian Charles Bean said of the Pozières ridge it ‘is more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other place on earth’.

South Australian soldiers served in the 10th, 27th and 50th Battalions and in the combined 12th, 16th and 52nd Battalions.  It was fitting that the ceremony took place in Unley, the home of ‘Unley’s Own’ the 27th Battalion, which had been led by the then Mayor of Unley, Lieutenant Colonel Walter Dollman. Over 800 South Australians were lost in the Battle of Pozières.  The Battle also witnessed much bravery including the awarding of the Victoria Cross, the highest military decoration for gallantry in the face of the enemy, to two South Australians:  Arthur Blackburn of the 10th and John Leak of the 9th Battalions, both in their early 20s.

 

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The City of Unley was honoured to host the presentation of a WW1 bayonet from the French Town of Pozieres to the citizens of South Australia being held in the Unley Soldiers Memorial Gardens. Over 80 invited guests gathered in the rotunda as the president of the Pozieres Remembers Association Brian Gracey handed over the now framed bayonet to the South Australian Minister for Veterans Affairs Martin Hamilton-Smith. The South Australian Parliamentary Library will now act as the custodian of the bayonet and display it in the Legislative Council.

Unley hosted this presentation because of a unique connection to the Town of Pozieres through the 27th Battalion.

Pre-world War One, the 74th Infantry Regiment was headquartered on Unley Road. A Major of this Regiment was Walter Dollman. From 1913-1914  Walter Dollman also acted as the Mayor of the City of Unley. When The Great War was declared in 1914 South Australia initially formed the 10th Battalion which was involved in the landing of Gallipoli. Very quickly the need for men increased and the 74th Regiment formed the basis of the 27th Battalion with its first Commanding Officer recently promoted former Mayor of Unley now Colonel Walter Dollman.

The 27th Battalion arrived in Gallipoli late in the battle and whilst they never saw front line action they played their role during the withdrawal of the peninsula.

In France, as part of the 2nd Division they played a crucial part in the Battle of Pozieres. The 2nd Division relieved the 1st Division (of which the 10th Battalion was a member). On the night of the 29th of July the 2nd Division moved out of the trenches and advanced towards the Germans. The Australian artillery fire however had been inadequate and the soldiers were devastated by German machine gun fire being unable to move past the barbed wire. The 27th Battalion had been kept in reserve for this advance and as such received comparatively few casualties.

Just a few nights later on the 4th of August the 2nd Division mounted a second offensive. In this offensive the 27th Battalion would be placed in the centre of the attack and tasked with the “main effort” to take and hold the “centre of gravity” of this battle, the Windmill of Pozieres on Hill 160.

The 27th Battalion achieved this task at enormous cost. 132 soldiers of the 27th were killed with more than 300 more injured. When you put these numbers into perspective in a modern context, it is almost the same number who died during the Paris attacks.

Whilst not all, many of these soldiers came from the City of Unley, from the suburbs of Parkside, Goodwood, Fullarton and Black Forrest and as such the 27th Battalion was known as Unley’s Own.

Whilst Unley’s Own makes no claim to “winning the war”, as a community we can rightly be proud of the central role which our Unley citizens played in this battle.

Sadly few people understand the significance of the Battle of Pozieres. More artillery was fired in the Battle of Pozieres than has or would be fired in any conflict in history. Not just Australian history but in the history of conflicts. No other battle in WW1 equalled the horror of Battle of Pozieres as measured by lives lost and soldiers wounded. In all 23,000 Australian’s were killed and wounded and it is estimated that over 50,000 were killed and wounded on both sides.

The Battle of Pozieres would be Colonel Dollman’s last conflict as the CO of the 27th. He returned home to Unley, a difficult task when you consider how connected he was to the many families who’s sons and husbands had experienced the atrocities of war under his command.

It is for these reasons we have a Historical Partnership with the Town of Pozieres.

Thanks Lachlan for sharing the full story of Unley's connection with Pozieres. It was an honour to be invited to this historic presentation at the Unley Soldiers Memorial on Monday. Will the Pozieres Bayonet be displayed in the Council offices or where?

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