25th Mar 1918: Spirits lifted by arrival of AIF 4th & 3rd Divs

Hebuterne - A00789News began to come in that the German Army were now fighting in High Wood, within a short distance of Pozieres where two summers previous I Anzac Corps fought its bloodiest battle. In fact the British front was broken with the Fifth Army driven back and the serious danger of the separation of the British and French Armies. The orders coming through to the two Australian divisions preparing to move were now in a tone reflecting the seriousness of the situation and that everything must be done to halt the Germans, for many, at last, the very job for which they had enlisted and gone overseas. As the troops crammed twenty-five in each lorry moved south, they carried their Lewis and machine guns plus their ammunition as they might have to fight soon after arrival. For the divisional commanding officers, trying to locate X Corps or British Divisional HQ’s was proving problematical as everything was in a state of disarray, illustrating the problem of communication and ability to create a chain of command needed to co-ordinate the defence across the various retreating units against the German advance. As the leading brigade of the AIF 4th Division arrived at St.Pol, the previously undamaged town having been twenty-two miles behind the front-line, the veteran 4th Brigade entered a town battered by the German long-range guns. The people of the village were loading carts with their possessions to beat a hasty evacuation, but their spirits were lifted by the sight and the reputation of the arriving Australians. Although in reserve the 12th Brigade whose billeting village was closest to the front picketed all roads leading from that direction into divisional reserve. For the AIF 3rd Division detraining at Doullens they entered a chaotic and rumour filled scene with the population preparing to evacuate en-masse and the exhausted British troops appearing from the east telling tales that the German cavalry and armoured cars were on their heals. With the arrival of the first battalions of the 3rd Division defensive dispositions were placed to the east of the town, and unit commanders stopped and directed hundreds of retreating but able bodied British soldiers to halt and join their defensive positions.

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