10th Battalion departs Adelaide 1914

SS-Ascanius-1914
S.S. Ascanius, departing of the South Australian infantry of the first Australian Expeditionary Force. State Library of South Australia B 10303

When the men of the 10th Battalion Australian Expeditionary Force waved goodbye, they believed they were sailing for Europe, “To hold secure the fields of France against the German tide”, in the words of their battalion song.

Sources

SA Memory. 2016. Song of the 10th Battalion. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.samemory.sa.gov.au/site/page.cfm?c=515. [Accessed 12 June 2016].

State Library of South Australia. 2016. S.S. Ascanius B 10303. [ONLINE] Available at: http://collections.slsa.sa.gov.au/resource/B+10303. [Accessed 12 June 2016].

 

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Captured

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.

 

Sources

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

 

Return to Flanders

Andy disembarked in Le Havre on 13 October 1917. He would have had a slow, stop-start trip to rejoin his battalion in Flanders. Constant rain and artillery bombardment had created a quagmire that made transport almost impossible. The few roads that were passable were targets for the enemy’s shrapnel and high explosive shells.

Blocks in the traffic were inevitable and constant. At times as far as the eye could see the main arteries of communication would be blocked … Whole teams of wagons were killed, to be dragged out of the way and the vehicle pushed into the mud, to allow the living to pass.

History of the 10th Battalion A.I.F.

Idiot Corner, Ypres, 5 November 1917. Men and pack mules rounding Idiot Corner, on Westhoek Ridge, in Belgium, moving up to the front line. To follow the duckboard and corduroy track was to be seen silhouetted against the skyline, both from the Australian position and that of the enemy - before he was driven from Broodseinde Ridge. But passage over any part other than the top of the ridge was impossible owing to mud. At this point many transports and guns were wrecked by the constant shellfire, and others were lost in the morass. One vehicle actually sank out of sight in the ooze a little to the right of the picture. Australian War Memorial collection E01480
Idiot Corner, Ypres, 5 November 1917.
Australian War Memorial collection E01480

Andy reached his unit in the mud and the mire near Passchendaele on 16 October. Many of the faces he had last seen at Pozières were missing; dead or disappeared, perhaps prisoners of war. He arrived at the tail-end of the 3rd Battle of Ypres [Ieper], just missing the actions at Polygon Wood and the disastrous diversionary raid at Celtic Wood.

The entrance to the General Staff Office at the Headquarters of the 3rd Australian Division in the Ramparts, at Ypres, during the Broodseinde and Passchendaele operations. Australian War Memorial Collection E01184
The entrance to the General Staff Office at the Headquarters of the 3rd Australian Division in the Ramparts, at Ypres, during the Broodseinde and Passchendaele operations.
Australian War Memorial collection E01184

The activities of the 10th Battalion for the next few months reflected the nature of the war on the Western Front: small movements of just a few miles back and forth through rain, mud and icy weather; periods of action interspersed with relative quiet.

On 10 November Andy left Ypres with the battalion for the Boulogne area. After a month of training, rest and recovery, the battalion marched East and into the line at Messines [Mesen]. The weather was very cold. Flooded mine craters froze over.

In this area (though not always the same sector) the battalion remained until the beginning of April – sometimes out, but more often in the forward zone – and, though the sector was a quiet one, the fatigues which were long and tiring gave little rest for either officers or men.

History of the 10th Battalion A.I.F.

Andy was in the line until Christmas, when the battalion was relieved and came out to Wulverghem Camp, a few miles away. The men could not celebrate Christmas as they were still in a forward area, but spending Christmas day warm and dry would have been a welcome present.

The battalion remained in the Messines area for all of January, moving a short way north into the trenches at Wytschaete [Wijtschate] on 23 January. Andy spent a very quiet week here before the battalion moved to Aldershot Camp, where they finally celebrated Christmas on 16 February. Despite the relative quiet of the sector, there was the odd ‘stand to’ alarm raised, and the men would have to be ready for battle with 20 minutes’ notice.

A dugout in the ruins of Wytschaete in January 1918.
A dugout in the ruins of Wytschaete in January 1918.
Australian War Memorial collection E01593

On 23 February 1918 Non-commissioned officers of the 10th Battalion posed for a group photograph at Neuve Eglise [Nieuwkerke].

Group portrait of NCOs of the 10th Battalion, 23 February 1918. Australian War Memorial collection E01781
Group portrait of NCOs of the 10th Battalion, 23 February 1918.
Australian War Memorial collection E01781
Enlargement. CSM A.S. Duncan, centre.  Seated in front of Andy on the left of frame is  Corporal Reginald Roy Inwood, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Polygon Wood in September 1917. Andy and Reg were both 'original' 1914 Anzacs from Broken  Hill.
Enlargement. CSM A.S. Duncan, centre.
Seated in front of Andy on the left of frame is Corporal Reginald Roy Inwood, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Polygon Wood in September 1917. Andy and Roy were both original 1914 Anzacs from Broken Hill.

Less than a week after this photo was taken Andy would be back in the trenches, where he would experience something for which he had never trained or prepared. His war was about to take a very different turn.

Sources

NAA: B2455, DUNCAN, AS. National Archives of Australia.

First World War Embarkation Rolls. Australian War Memorial collection.

Limb, A, 1919. History of the 10th Battalion A.I.F.. 1st ed. London; Melbourne: Cassell and Co.

Lock, C.B.L., 1936. The Fighting 10th: a South Australian centenary souvenir of the 10th Battalion, A.I.F., 1914-1919. Webb & Son, Adelaide. Reprinted in 2000 by The Naval & Military Press in association with The Imperial War Museum

Featured image: A view, in silhouette, of Australian artillery limbers loaded with ammunition proceeding along the Ypres Road. Australian War Memorial collection E00829

Interlude

Pop, you died long before I was born. Although I never knew you, I will remember you.

You were wounded in the Gallipoli landing. The hot shrapnel that sliced into your back nearly killed you, but you survived. Other soldiers were repatriated to Australia for lesser wounds, but you were sent back to Gallipoli. Was it then that you learned your brother Hugh had been killed at Cape Helles? With lost and delayed mail you may not have known for some time.

You fought at Gallipoli until the evacuation. Then you were sent to France. The industrialised warfare and the scale of destruction were like nothing you had ever seen.

You took part in the capture of Pozières on 23 July 1916. The next evening the Germans started a massive artillery bombardment and you were injured for a second time. You don’t remember what happened. Perhaps you were buried by that exploding shell. Your leg wound was nothing compared to the shell shock that gripped you.

You were shipped to England to recover, but you couldn’t shake feelings of dread, the churning stomach, the lack of appetite, the bad dreams. You hoped to be sent home to Australia, to the wife you had married just four months before the war. After all, most shell shock cases were given a military discharge, weren’t they?

But you weren’t sent home. You were moved from one hospital to another, then to convalescent accommodation. Your hopes of a trip back to Australia lessened with each new day you spent in England.

On 23 March 1917 you returned to active duty. You surely knew that it was exactly eight months since your battalion had stormed Pozières.

You were posted to the A.I.F. training units on Salisbury Plains. It must have been a relief not to be sent back to the Somme. You had the job of training reinforcements just arrived from Australia, of preparing them for the horrors of the Western Front. Were you one of those tough-as-nails Regimental Sergeant Majors? Did you push your men harder because you knew what they were about to face?

Then, on 19 September 1917, you received orders to rejoin your original unit in France. For over a year you had been in England, hearing accounts of the battles of the Western Front, seeing injured men come through the training camps to be rehabilitated and sent back to the front. Now it was your turn. Did you fight a feeling of returning dread as you read your orders, or were you fatalistic about what was to come?

“I have seen quite enough”

The Western Front 1916

Andy’s battalion sailed for France on the RMS Saxonia, the men disembarking in Marseilles on 3 April 1916. They quickly entrained for Strazeele, not far from Dunkirk. The three-day train journey across the lush French countryside must have been a welcome change from the scrubby gorse of Gallipoli and the sands of Egypt.

The next six weeks were spent training for the conditions of the Western Front, including drills for gas attacks. On 6 June the battalion went into the line for the first time at Fleurbaix, an hour’s march from Fromelles. 

Fleurbaix, France. c.1916 Soldiers walk along the path beside the row of front line trenches. Australian War Memorial collection P00437.017
Fleurbaix, France. c.1916. Soldiers walk along the path beside the row of front line trenches.
Australian War Memorial collection P00437.017
Soon they marched to join the ‘Big Push’ and the attack on Pozieres on 22 July. The 3rd Brigade was heavily shelled with poison gas and high explosive shells, but took Pozieres before dawn the next morning.

Andy was wounded in action. It was 24 July, the start of a fierce and relentless German artillery bombardment that continued for days. Suffering from shell shock and a leg injury from an exploding shell he was sent to the 10th General Hospital in Rouen, then to England. He was admitted to the 3rd London General Hospital in Wandsworth on 2 August 1916, then moved to the 2nd Australian Auxiliary Hospital, Southall.

Exterior view of the building which was occupied by the 3rd (London) General Hospital during the war. Australian War Memorial collection A01040
Exterior view of the building which was occupied by the 3rd (London) General Hospital during the war.
Australian War Memorial collection A01040
Despite having a long recovery ahead of him, Andy was fortunate to have been hospitalized before the intense fighting to hold Pozieres and take Mouquet Farm. By the time the AIF was relieved at Pozieres in early September they had suffered more than 23,000 casualties; almost 7,000 dead or missing, 17,000 wounded.

On 23 August Andy wrote from Wandsworth to a friend in Broken Hill

I would have written before, but our outward mail was stopped for some weeks owing to us proceeding from Flanders to the Somme to take part in the big push.

Our first job was the taking of Pozieres, which we took on Sunday morning, July 23. The same brigade was allotted that task as was in the original landing at Anzac. We took the village with only few casualties, but as soon as it came daylight on Sunday morning the Huns started counter-attacks, and when we beat them back they started shelling.

They kept on with counter-attacks and shelling up till Monday night, when I had an argument with one of their shells, and the shell won, as I remember no more until I was well away from the firing line on my way to a clearing station.

No doubt you have seen the big casualty lists, and it was mostly through the shells that we had so many killed and wounded. Of course, our own guns were going as well. We got so badly knocked about on the Sunday that we had to have the remainder of the division sent up to help us. On Monday morning they had to send the second division in to give us a hand. But we hung on to the village, or what was left of it, as it was a most important position, especially to the Huns.

No doubt the Huns are good fighters when they are in a good trench, but when it comes to close quarters then up go their hands, and they shout for mercy. I might say that they did not get much mercy at Pozieres, as all the prisoners taken there could be counted on your fingers and toes, and all wounded at that. But there were heaps of dead. Well, I have seen quite enough, and this is my second time wounded, and the only time I have been away from my battalion since I first joined it at Morphettville over two years ago.

I am hoping this may be a trip back to Australia for me. I arrived here from France on August 2. I am still in bed. but I am hoping to be out very soon.

Informal group portrait of unidentified Australian soldiers sporting helmets (Pickelhauben) and caps captured from the Germans in the battle of Pozieres. Some have their hands raised, possibly in a feigned gesture of surrender. In the front on the ground is a Lewis gun. Australian War Memorial collection EZ0135
23 July 1916. Informal group portrait of unidentified Australian soldiers sporting helmets (Pickelhauben) and caps captured from the Germans in the battle of Pozieres. Some have their hands raised, possibly in a feigned gesture of surrender. In the front on the ground is a Lewis gun.
Australian War Memorial collection EZ0135
Sources

NAA: B2455, DUNCAN, AS. National Archives of Australia.

Limb, A. 1919. History of the 10th Battalion A.I.F. 1st ed. London; Melbourne: Cassell and Co.

1916 AWM4, 23/27/6 – April 1916. First World War Diaries – AWM4, Sub-class 23/27, 10th Infantry Battalion.

‘Pozières, First Australian Division Memorial – Bombardment 24-26 July 1916’. Australians on the Western Front 1914-1918: The Australian remembrance trail in France and Belgium.

‘Pozieres, The Windmill’. Australians on the Western Front 1914-1918: The Australian remembrance trail in France and Belgium.

1916 ‘Sergeant-Major A. S. Duncan’. Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW : 1888 – 1954), 15 October, p.2.

Featured image: Postcard – Private Albert Edward Kemp to Annie Kemp, ‘Australians Parading for the Trenches’, circa 1916. The postcard depicts the ‘men who shortly after midnight of Sunday, July 23, 1916, took Pozieres by a splendidly dashing advance through shrapnel, shell, and machine-gun fire.’ Museum Victoria collection MM 90948

Wounded, then back to Anzac Cove

Crammed full with wounded from the Gallipoli landing, the S.S. Ionian made for 17th General Hospital in Alexandria, Egypt. If Andy was lucky, he would have been dosed with morphine for the journey, but he may not have received decent medical treatment until he reached Egypt.

P01016.002
The wharf at Alexandria, showing ambulances waiting to take from the steamship Ionian men wounded in the Gallipoli landing. Australian War Memorial collection P01016.002

Andy was admitted to hospital on 1 May. His condition was recorded as “dangerously ill”, but Jane Duncan received the standard notification

Sergeant Duncan is not reported seriously wounded. In the absence of further reports Egypt advises all wounded to be progressing satisfactorily.

Jane probably provided The Adelaide Chronicle with its 29 May article

SERGEANT A. S. DUNCAN. Chronicle (Adelaide, SA) 29 May 1915, p. 45
SERGEANT A. S. DUNCAN. (1915, May 29), Adelaide Chronicle, p. 45. Newspaper article found in Trove reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia.

Andy’s hospital stay gave him some respite from the dysentry and enteric fever that swept through the men at Gallipoli. He was treated at Alexandria for 37 days, then spent another 12 days at Tanta Government Hospital.

On 17 June 1915 Andy was discharged from hospital, carrying in his back the Turkish shrapnel that was to torment him in later years. He was judged fit for duty, and rejoined his unit at Gallipoli on 8 July 1915.

At the start of the great August offensive Andy was promoted to Company Sergeant Major. During the battle for Lone Pine Andy’s battalion was in support at Silt Spur, holding the existing lines.

Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey, 1915-08-17. A soldier from the 10th Infantry Battalion in a tunnel trench at Silt Spur. Shafts of light beam into the tunnel from firing positions (right), while on the same side bombing tunnels lead off from the main corridor. Australian War Memorial collection P02321.026
Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, Turkey, 1915-08-17. A soldier from the 10th Infantry Battalion in a tunnel trench at Silt Spur. Shafts of light beam into the tunnel from firing positions (right), while on the same side bombing tunnels lead off from the main corridor.
Australian War Memorial collection P02321.026

September’s cooler weather turned wintry by the end of the month. On 23 September Andy was reprimanded for neglect of duty at Anzac. Details of the reprimand are not recorded, but it appears to have come at a time of relative quiet. During lulls in the fighting some men took the opportunity to move about the trenches more freely, and some received reprimands for not staying below the trench parapet.  One officer had been reprimanded earlier for setting a bad example for his men. Perhaps Andy’s reprimand was of a similar nature.

November brought violent storms and heavy seas. On 21 November, in bitterly cold weather, the 10th Battalion left Gallipoli, rotated out of the line for a rest at Mudros on Lemnos island.  What Andy did not know was that he was leaving the peninsula for the last time.

The History of the 10th Battalion records that on arrival at Mudros

the blizzard which caused so many casualties on Gallipoli came upon them. That blizzard “which in four days by flood and frost caused 200 deaths, 10,000 unfit for further service, and 30,000 sickened and made old”.

During this severe weather Andy was reprimanded a second time for neglect of duty at Serpi rest camp.

While at Mudros Andy would have learned that Gallipoli was to be evacuated. How did he feel on hearing the news? There must have been relief, certainly. But he would not have the chance to visit the graves of the fallen and say a final farewell. Did he feel that he was letting his mates down by evacuating after all they had fought for?

Composite view of Mudros Harbour on the Greek island of Lemnos near the Turkish coast and tent lines at Serpi Camp. The camp at the time was occupied by the 3rd Brigade, after the evacuation of Gallipoli. Australian War Memorial collection A02170C & A02170D
Composite view of Mudros Harbour on the Greek island of Lemnos near the Turkish coast and tent lines at Serpi Camp. The camp at the time was occupied by the 3rd Brigade, after the evacuation of Gallipoli.
Australian War Memorial collection A02170C & A02170D

Andy spent Christmas day 1915 on Lemnos. The next day he sailed for Egypt, disembarking at Alexandria on 29 December and entraining for Tel-el-Kebir Camp.

Sources

NAA: B2455, DUNCAN, AS. National Archives of Australia.

Kearney, R. 2005. Silent Voices: the story of the 10th Battalion AIF in Australia, Egypt, Gallipoli, France and Belgium during the Great War 1914-1918. New Holland Publishers, Sydney.

Limb, A. 1919. History of the 10th Battalion A.I.F. 1st ed. London; Melbourne: Cassell and Co.

Walsh, M. 1997. War Diary of Lieutenant Colonel Frederick E. Forrest MC.

Bean, C.E.W. 2007. Bean’s Gallipoli: The diaries of Australia’s official war correspondent. Edited and annotated by Kevin Fewster 3rd ed. Crows Nest NSW: Allen & Unwin.