Hollebeke, Flanders. 1 March 1918. CSM A.S. Duncan missing presumed captured.
The night was very dark; conditions “very favourable to the enemy”.
At 9:49pm D Company came under heavy shelling. During the barrage a German raiding party of an estimated 133 men advanced through No Man’s Land and crossed the battalion’s front line.
Andy was at D Company Headquarters when the barrage began. In 1919 he recalled
Our position was a succession of improved shell holes. This was the Company front. Coy Headquarters was in an old pill-box which was practically in front of what constituted our front line. We had all our posts out. It was practically while we were in the process of taking over from the 13th, that the enemy raided us in force. I was at Coy. Hdqrs., where also were a Captain of the 13th Battalion my O.C., Major Henwood, and one signaller. The enemy put up a heavy barrage on the Company front with ‘pineapples’ and minenwerfers. A runner came in and told us that the enemy were making an attack. My O.C. gave instructions for the S.O.S. to be fired. I fired it at about 10.30 or 11pm. Just as our own artillery barrage opened up, the Germans reached Coy. Hdqrs. A man appeared at the door of Coy Hdqrs and called on us to surrender. Major Henwood shot him. This man it ultimately appeared was the officer in charge of the raiders. Immediately a number of bombs landed in the pill-box. They put the lights out and wounded one man. The enemy immediately after the throwing of bombs, appeared in force around the pill-box. We were compelled to come out. Our officers agreed that as things were we had no chance.
Captured were Major H.N. Henwood, Sergeant Major A.S. Duncan, Private P.M. Berthelsen, Private W.B. Crispe, Private S.T. Noble, Private W.S. Bell, Private Thomas and Private R. Daley. Major Henwood was killed during the raid, although accounts of what happened differed widely. Andy recalled that, after the Australians came out of the pill-box
Our barrage was still on and Major Henwood was just outside the pill-box and while I was talking to him, was killed. That is, he was killed as far as I could tell.
The Germans moved us away from the neighbourhood of the pill-box into a shell hole. There were 7 of us, 4 of whom were wounded, one very badly. In the shell hole a German orderly dressed the wounded men, using our own first field dressings. The Germans were apparently waiting for our barrage to lift.
Eventually the Germans and their prisoners moved to No Man’s Land, heading back to the German lines. Suddenly flares lit up the area and a shell exploded in their midst. CSM Duncan, Private Crispe and Private Thomas received minor shrapnel wounds. In the confusion, Private Daley, Private Thomas and Private Bell managed to escape.
Andy was taken back to the German lines and separated from the other men.
I was kept for about an hour in the enemy trenches, the others being sent away. I was subjected to a vigorous cross-examination concerning our lines and dispositions. Straightway from the line I was marched to Ingelmunster. There I saw the three unwounded men who had been captured with me. At Ingelmunster I was again interrogated before being removed to Courtrai [Kortrijk]. I was here for about 17 days, kept in a cell, being daily interrogated.
Perhaps it was at Ingelmunster that Andy shared a cell with a German spy. The spy claimed to be a fellow Australian, but Andy saw through him: “I fed him a lot of bullshit”.
Ingelmunster was a collecting and interrogation station for recently captured prisoners, but for some reason the Germans did not process him as a prisoner of war. Andy became concerned about his captors’ motives for moving him to Courtrai.
Family stories that have been handed down probably relate to the Courtrai interrogations:
The Germans took Andy to a deserted farm house where he was held alone and interrogated for some time. During interrogation he was made to stand barefoot. A German soldier held a rifle by the barrel, the rifle stock hovering a distance above Andy’s toes. Andy would be asked a question. If his response was unsatisfactory, the rifle stock would be dropped and smash his toes. The interrogation left Andy with crushed, mangled toes and no toenails for the rest of his life.
Andy believed that his captors had no intention of taking him to a P.O.W. camp; rather they were planning to kill him once the interrogation was finished. This would be a simple matter for the Germans, as Andy was not yet officially registered as a Prisoner of War and no-one knew where he was.
Andy looked for some way to improve his situation. He knew that a railway line ran by the farm house and that trains passed regularly. He asked his guards to let him exercise in the farmyard once a day. He hoped that if he could get himself noticed by passengers on a passing train, someone might question why a solitary Australian soldier was walking around a Belgian farm behind the lines and not in a P.O.W. camp.
He was permitted to exercise outside and as luck would have it a Red Cross worker travelling by train did notice him and made enquiries. Soon after Andy was sent to a P.O.W. camp.
Writing of Australian soldiers captured on the Somme, a German officer observed
a few prisoners who had already fought on Gallipoli were of good military bearing, although the majority, who had arrived as reinforcements, left a rather lamentable impression.
from Pozieres: The Anzac Story by Scott Bennett
It seems that Andy maintained his military bearing and presence of mind during the interrogations.
AWM4 23/27/29 – March 1918. Australian Imperial Force unit war diaries, 1914-18 War. Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
Bennett, S. 2011. Pozieres: The Anzac Story. Melbourne: Scribe Publications.
1918 1st Australian Division 1 February to 7 March 1918. Statements made by prisoners of war [10th Battalion, No 157 CSM A S Duncan, No 2287 Private P M Berthelsen, No 2622 Private W B Crispe, No 5846 Private J Munday, No 5420 Private S T Noble, No 2958 Private J M Searle] AWM30 B5.37. Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
1918 2622 Private Walter Bagnold Crispe 10th Battalion. Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing, Enquiry Bureau files, 1914-18 War 1DRL/0428.
1918 157 Company Sergeant Major Andrew Steward Duncan 10th Battalion. Australian Red Cross Society Wounded and Missing, Enquiry Bureau files, 1914-18 War 1DRL/0428.
WO/161/96/136, 1128-1134. Statement by Lieutenant F.J. Ortweiler. The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey, England.
Featured image: Hollebeke, 1918