On the evening of 19 July the Australian 5th Division and the British 61st Division attacked the Fromelles ridge in a diversionary attack intended to draw German attention from the allies’ Somme operations. It was the first major battle fought by Australian troops on the Western Front.
The two divisions chosen for this battle were both new to the sector and lacked local battle experience. The men had to assault over open fields criss-crossed with drainage ditches and in the face of heavy machine-gun and artillery fire. It would prove to be the worst 24 hours in Australian history. The Australians suffered 5,533 casualties in one night and no ground was taken. The 61st British Division suffered 1,547 casualties, while German casualties were little more than 1,000.
The Australian toll at Fromelles was equivalent to the total Australian casualties in the Boer War, Korean War and Vietnam War put together. The 60th battalion from Victoria commenced the battle with 887 men and when finished, only 1 officer and 106 enlisted men remained.
23 July 1916: Pozières
Pozieres, a small village in the Somme valley in France, was the scene of bitter and costly fighting for the 1st, 2nd and 4th Australian Divisions in mid July 1916. The village was captured initially by the 1st Division on 23 July 1916. The division clung to its gains despite almost continuous artillery fire and repeated German counter-attacks but suffered heavily. By the time it was relieved on 27 July it had suffered 5,285 casualties.
The 2nd Division took over from the 1st and mounted two further attacks - the first, on 29 July, was a costly failure; the second, on 2 August, resulted in the seizure of further German positions beyond the village. Again, the Australians suffered heavily from retaliatory bombardments. They were relieved on 6 August, having suffered 6,848 casualties.
The 4th Division was next into the line at Pozieres. It too endured a massive artillery bombardment, and defeated a German counter-attack on 7 August. This was the last attempt by the Germans to retake Pozieres. During this action the Australians suffered a total of 5,708 casualties, of which total 4,000 were fatalities. A further 400 were captured and marched by the Germans through Lille as prisoners of war.
The Australian 1st, 2nd and 4th Divisions had been used by their commanders as a battering ram and lost nearly 23,000 men in a mere 6 weeks on a front that extended little more than a mile. This casualty figure represented 50% of the total of all 3 divisions strength.
The following Dorrigo Soldiers died during the battle;
- Pte Donald Ross (Farmer)- 56th Bn - KIA 20 July 1916
- Pte Charles McKnight- (Farmer) - 3rd Bn - KIA 24 July 1916
- Pte Stewart Ramsay (Teacher) - 18th Bn - KIA 3 Aug 1916
- Cpl William Ryder (Labourer) - 4th Bn - KIA 16 Aug 1916
- Sgt Phillip Owen (Carpenter) - 2nd Bn - KIA 19 Aug 1916
LEST WE FORGET