History of the 11th Field Company Australian Engineers Australian Imperial Force
11th FIELD COMPANY
Australian Imperial Force
WAR NARRATIVES PUBLISHING COY.,
11, Pilgrim Street, E.C. 4.
To the Memory of Those Who Fell.
This History of the doings of a Field Company of AustralianEngineers, this little book about a little unit in the Great War,has been written of the Company, by the Company, for theCompany.
It lays no claim to interest the outsider, but does hope toprovide a framework on which the old member of the unit canbuild up memories of his days in the field with the A.I.F. Memoriesboth grave and gay; mention of a dugout at so-and-so mayrecall that the job cost the life of a mate; the name of a villagemay raise a smile at the recollection of some good jest so likelyto be conceived when high-spirited men are gathered together.The framework is admittedly bare, and the tale might have beenmade much longer, but it is necessary to restrict the cost ofprinting in order that the intention may be realised, of distributingat the expense of regimental funds one copy to every manwhose name appears on the muster roll. The unit records showthe address of the next-of-kin in Australia of every man, and tothis address a copy is to be posted. The same considerations ofexpense prevent the inclusion of maps, but it is hoped that almostevery home in Australia will possess a map of the war zone inFrance, to which reference can be made.
Bernapré, Somme, France.
|”||II.||Messines, Ypres, and After||15|
|”||III.||The Defence of Amiens||21|
|”||IV.||The Great Offensive||36|
|Appendix||I.||Roll of Honour||48|
|”||IV.||Number of Prisoners||50|
|”||VI.||Analysis of Offences||51|
|”||VII.||Roll of Honour (Awards)||52|
|”||VIII.||Nominal Roll (continuous service, France)||53|
HISTORY OF THE 11th FIELD COMPANY
1. Australia, England, and France.
The Company was formed in Australia, Headquarters andNos. 1 and 2 sections being raised in the Fourth Military District,and two sections in the First Military District. Selection ofpersonnel commenced in the beginning of March, 1916, butOfficers had previously been selected and trained at the EngineerOfficers’ Training School, Sydney. The O.C. (Captain R. J.Donaldson), 2nd in command (Lieut. O. B. Williams), and anumber of N.C.O.’s and men came from the 12th Field CompanyA.E., C.M.F., at Broken Hill; 2nd-Lieut. J. M. Norton from the11th Field Coy., A.E., C.M.F. (Adelaide); while 2nd-Lieut. S.W. Matters came from South Australia, and 2nd-Lieuts. R. W.Lahey and H. St. A. Murray, from Queensland.
The quotas were collected and trained separately, that fromSouth Australia at Mitcham Camp, near Adelaide, and theQueensland sections at Enoggera, near Brisbane, until 29th April,1916, when the Company concentrated at Mitcham. Work wasthen carried on with the full Company, at the same time storesand equipment were slowly collected. Horses were issued fromthe remount depôt, not for overseas service but for training purposes,but proved so wild as to give the drivers more practice incolt-breaking and riding buck jumpers than in the routine ofmilitary horse mastership and drill.
The technical stores of a Field Company are very extensive,but by ransacking Adelaide warehouses to fill the gaps in theavailable army supplies, Ordnance succeeded in almost completingthe equipment. Two tool carts came from 12th Field Company,C.M.F., at Broken Hill (afterwards re-numbered the 11th),and one from a Queensland Field Coy. The pontoons were madeat Cockatoo Docks in New South Wales, but the Weldon trestles,bridging wagons, and water cart were not ready in time. TheSappers were issued with green leather infantry equipment, butPg 8this was afterwards changed in England for web. No rifles wereissued until the unit reached England.
Embarkation took place at Outer Harbour (Adelaide) on31st May, 1916, on H.M.A.T. A 29, s.s. “Suevic,” in companywith the 11th Field Ambulance (Lieut.-Col. Downey).
After a rough trip round the Lleuwin the “Suevic” arrivedat Fremantle on 6th June, 1916, and embarked the 44th Battalion(Lieut.-Col. Mansbridge, D.S.O., who became C.O. troops).
Crossing the Indian Ocean the vessel sprung a small leakwhich necessitated calling at Durban for the services of a diver.The stay was only twenty-four hours (21st June, 1916), but thetroops had a route march through the town.
Cape Town was reached on 24th June, 1916, and left on 27th.As was expected the yellow flag was flown and no leave wasgranted, but the troops had a route march and a sports meeting.
The next port of call was St. Vincent, reached on the 11thJuly, 1916. No one was allowed on shore. The run from herewas through the submarine zone, and was attended with theusual discomforts. The pontoons of the Company first sawservice being installed on the boat deck as emergency lifeboats.
Finally, after a long voyage, during which there was a considerableamount of sickness and the death of one member ofthe unit, disembarkation took place on July 21st, 1916, atPlymouth. The unit entrained to Amesbury and marched toCamp 20, Lark Hill, Salisbury Plains, joining up with the 3rdAustralian Division, then slowly concentrating. The Companywas the first of the Divisional Engineers to arrive, and at oncecame under the orders of Lieut.-Col. H. O. Clogstoun, R.E.,C.R.E., of the division.
Before commencing training, the members of the unitreceived four days’ disembarkation leave, which was keenlyenjoyed after the confinement and discomfort of the troopship.Work had barely started at Lark Hill before orders were receivedto proceed to Brightlingsea, in Essex, for pontoon training, inthe Engineer depôt there. No camp being available, all rankswere billeted on the townspeople, and were the first Australiansto visit the place. Some surprise was expressed at the lightnessof complexion and English speech of the visitors, and both themilitary authorities and the townspeople were agreeably surprisedto find that their lives and property were not appreciably jeopardisedby the wild Colonial soldiery.
The visit, originally intended to last only until efficiency hadbeen reached in pontooning, was afterwards extended to includea full course of R.E. training, and some work on the East Coastdefences, and it was not until two months had elapsed that theCompany rejoined the Division at Lark Hill.
The unit took part in two sports meetings at Brightlingsea.In the first it was beaten by a Highland Field Company, R.E.,Pg 9stationed in the town, and in the second carried off a silver cupin competition with the local Naval Forces and with the 10thField Company, which had arrived for training.
After the return to the division at Lark Hill, training in fieldworks in conjunction with infantry was undertaken; the trenchsystem at Bustard will always be remembered by the originalmembers of the unit. A specially interesting exercise was aroute march, under tactical conditions, lasting five days, fromLark Hill, through Chitterne, Westbury, Devizes, Pusey, andback to camp.
Another interesting experience was a fifteen-mile route marchof the whole division with full transport. On another occasion,officers and senior N.C.O.’s took part in a divisional tacticalexercise, which was memorable chiefly for the coldness of thewind, which preluded a fall of snow—the first many membersof the Company had seen.
Equipment was completed in every respect at Lark Hill, andhorses and mules “taken on strength.” On the 24th November,1916, after three months in England, the unit left for Francewith the 3rd Division, going by train to Southampton, andembarking there on the B.I., s.s. “Nirvana,” which reached LeHavre next morning. In pouring rain the company marched tothe wretched Docks “Rest” Camp and distributed itself amongsodden tents, thoroughly wet and uncomfortable. The fieldrations were first encountered in this camp, and the Sappersoften laughed afterwards at memories of their eager search forpork in the first tins of pork and beans. The march to the railwaystation on the evening of the 26th was interrupted by numerouslong and exasperating delays; the entraining arrangements werebad, and the journey by train very cold, and so much longerthan was anticipated, that food supplies left much to be desired.
It was not until noon on the 28th that Bailleul was reached.From there the unit proceeded at once to billets at Bleu nearVieux Berquin, the transport by route march, and the Sappersin grey-painted disreputable London ’buses.
The exposure and discomfort involved in these first adventuresin France—which contrasted so strongly with the expeditiousand altogether excellent arrangements on the other sideof the Channel—resulted in a good deal of illhealth in the unit,and when on the 30th a move was made to Steenwerck, whereDivisional Headquarters had been established, a number of menwere suffering from bronchitis and similar troubles.
On the 3rd December, Company Headquarters and Nos. 3and 4 sections moved into Armentières, and billeted in the tramsheds at L’Attargette, but Nos. 1 and 2 remained with the transportin the Steenwerck area, and were kept busy on hutmentsand stables for the division for some little time longer.Pg 10
When the 3rd Australian Division first went into the lineeast of Armentières, the 9th Brigade took over the right orL’Epinette sector astride the Lille railway, while the 10th Brigadewas on the left or Houplines sector. The 11th Brigade was inreserve, and with it the 11th Field Company, which took overfrom the New Zealand Engineers of “Franks Force” the care ofthe Lys River bridges and also various jobs for the artillery coveringthe divisional front.
The billets in the town were a great improvement on thedilapidated, damp, and entirely filthy hutments taken over bythe division around Steenwerck. The mud around the stables andhorse standings in the area was quite appalling, and the transporthad no relief until the famous frost of the winter ’16-17 descendedon the land and made all clean and dry for a time.
The tramway sheds at L’Attargette, on the northern outskirtsof the town, contained a number of cars, which were fitted up bythe men of 3 and 4 sections as cubicles. Headquarters wasestablished in the tramway offices, and when Nos. 1 and 2 sectionsjoined up some two or three weeks later they found quite goodquarters in the neighbouring Rue de Flandres.
All the existing bridges over the river Lys around Armentièresand Houplines had been prepared for demolition, butcharges, fittings, and magazines all required a great deal of work.
A number of emergency floating bridges—both pontoon andbarrel pier—also required attention and repairs. To facilitatebridge inspection No. 4 section built a rowing boat. Anotherlittle job was the construction from salvaged material of a springcart, which accompanied the unit in all its subsequent wanderings,and was always known as the Souvenir Cart.
Work for the artillery consisted in the construction of O.P.’sand of gunpits among the ruins of Houplines and the outskirts ofthe town. Lieut. R. W. Lahey was wounded in the head byshrapnel while on this work and evacuated, but returned to theunit shortly afterwards.
The 11th Brigade relieved the 9th Brigade on the 24thDecember, and at the same time the 11th Field Company tookover from the 9th, after spending several days in acquiring knowledgeof the trenches. Nos. 1 and 2 sections had previouslymoved to Armentières. Very vigorous work on trench improvementswas at once commenced and an extraordinary amountaccomplished. In spite of the unfavourable weather largenumbers of dugouts for the accommodation of the garrisons werebuilt, new communication trenches dug, barbed wire put up,and the drainage of the trench system greatly improved. Materialwas used in vast quantities—sandbags literally by the million,“A” frames, revetting material, duckboards, steel trench shelters,corrugated iron. All this had to be carted to the forward dumps,