The 18th Btn 1st
A.I.F. A short history.
The four companies of the 18th Battalion sailed aboard the converted
liner ‘Ceramic’ on 25 June 1915 bound for Egypt via the Suez Canal.
The 1st and 2nd Reinforcements had already sailed via separate vessels.
However, the real story of the 18th Battalion begins about eight months
earlier. In 1914 the actions of a single man twelve thousand miles away
had a significant impact on the lives of all Australians for years to
come. As a result of Gavrilo Princip’s assassination of the Archduke
Ferdinand of Austria the major powers of Europe went to war. Australia’s
still close relationship with the mother country resulted in Andrew
Fisher’s commitment to raising a force of twenty thousand men. This
force sailed out from Sydney aboard the transport vessel ‘Berrima’
on 18 August 1914 bound for New Guinea. Aboard were several men of the
soon to be formed 18th Battalion: men such as Captain Cyril Herbert
Dodson Lane, adjutant to Colonel William Holmes.
Captain Sydney Percival
Goodsell was the quartermaster and Lieutenant Rupert Markham Sadler took
charge of the signalling section. It was late September when the 1st
Battalion AN&MEF arrived in New Guinea and started the task of
removing the German presence. Other members of the 18th who took part
were Allan Forbes Anderson, Roy Arnold, Basil Blackett, Errol Cappie
Nepean Devlin, William Johnston Graham, Nicholas Hamlyn Hobbs, John
Bayley Lane, Frederick McGlashan, Bruce McLachlan, Charles George
Walklate, Basil Bruce Williamson and Herbert Wiseman. The AN&MEF’s
assignment was successful with limited casualties but resulted in those
enlisting in the early days did not become members of the AIF until
after the Gallipoli landings.
The voyage from Sydney to Egypt was
uneventful until they entered the Suez Canal and first sighted land. The
‘Ceramic’ held up at Aden with word that the troops would be used in
garrison duties to quell a native uprising. This did not take place and
the rest of the trip was quiet. After four weeks in Egypt orders were
issued to Lieutenant Colonel Alfred Chapman to prepare for embarkation
to Gallipoli to reinforce the men already there. The early August
assaults on Lone Pine and The Nek had taken their toll and the powers
that be still believed a break through was possible.
The 18th Battalion arrived on
Gallipoli as fresh-faced troops eager for battle. Two days later this
was completely shattered and the romantic myth of war was lost forever.
Orders were issued almost immediately for the battalion to move up to
the front line. Many of the men were not aware that they were to assault
Hill 60 until just before 5.00am on the morning of 22 August 1915. Hill
60 was considered of strategic importance for two reasons. First of all
it overlooked the much of the Anzac positions and second of all who ever
controlled it also controlled two wells that supplied water.
Syd Goodsell (now a major) led his
company into murderous machine gun and rifle fire and several men were
killed. He managed to get his a considerable number of his men into the
first line of Turkish trenches before halting. Chapman could see that
more men were needed so he ordered the next two companies into the
firing line. Captain Alexander McKean (a school teacher from Penrith),
part of the second wave, was struck in the shoulder and took no more
active part in the war. Cyril Lane (also a major and company commander
of ‘B’ Company) lost most of his men before reaching Goodsell
attempting to consolidate.
One young man, Private Joseph Maxwell,
was appointed stretcher-bearer of ‘B’ Company and believed he would
not get much opportunity to participate; he was wrong. After failing to
make further headway through the day someone gave the order to withdraw
although no one knew issued it. Those that managed to survive were
shattered with the loss of so many friends and (in some cases)
If those still fit thought that was
their first and last experience of total carnage they were wrong. Just
five days later the Battalion was ordered back into the line for a
second attempt to remove the Turks from Hill 60. Chapman called for
volunteers this time and every fit and able man stepped forward. This
time they were successful in securing a foothold on the hill but many
more men were killed, including the heroic Lane, struck once in the
heart by a bullet during a bomb fight with the enemy.
The 18th Battalion remained on Gallipoli until the end in December 1915
before evacuating without casualties. Major George Murphy (later
battalion commander) transferred from the 20th to the 18th Battalion
just after the August debacle.
Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred Chapman was
relieved and returned to Australia. Evan Wisdom took over as battalion
commander but was destined for higher honours. Three months after their
return to Egypt they were setting sail yet again this time for the
Western Front. They arrived in France on 25 March 1916 almost to full
strength and moved into the front line, for the first time in April
1916. The word was that the AIF would only be used for patrolling and
garrison duties but during the night of 25/26 June 1916 the 5th Brigade
(with members of the 18th Battalion) they made their first trench raid.
Captain John Bayley Lane (of the AN&MEF) was the senior officer of
the battalion. The following night they did it again. Both raids were
successful although one man was taken prisoner, Walter Frick (although
not mentioned by name Bean makes reference to his capture).
The 18th Battalion (as part of the 2nd Division replaced the weary
members of the 1st Division in late July 1916 at Pozieres and suffered
just as severely until withdrawn at the end of the first week in August.
The acting battalion commander George Murphy was severely wounded during
the campaign and did not return until late October 1916. Syd Goodsell
fell ill in August 1916 and was evacuated and did not return. It was
about this time that the AIF recognised the leadership qualities many of
the ‘other ranks’ and started promoting these men to officers.
The next major battle the 18th Battalion took place in was Malt Trench
in February 1917 after the men went through the worst winter in France
for forty years. It was at this time that the first recommendations for
Victoria Crosses were made for members of the battalion. Edwin Nipperess
and Eric Allsop were awarded Military Medals for exceptional courage in
two separate incidents. Five men lay out in the open and Nipperess
crawled out, under fifteen feet of wire entanglements and heavy fire,
and rescued the three wounded men. They were lying on the enemy parapet
and were being systematically fired upon although they were not offering
any sort of resistance.
||Lt A V L
Hull of the 18th Battalion AIF, plants the Australian flag on a
German Pillbox as Australian forces overrun Anzac Redoubt, on the
Menin Road, during the famous battle of Polygon Wood Belgium 7:15
AM on September 20th 1917. Lt Hull was killed in action three
He dragged them, one by one, from the
parapet into shell holes in the open. He then carried each man across
the Bapaume Road, under machine gun fire, back to the safety. He then
returned and also dragged the corpses of the other two back to ensure
the Germans were not able to identify the battalion that was opposing
them. (Nipperess and Allsop were both killed before the year ended.)
Before the year ended the Battalion had fought at Bullecourt, Ypres and Passchendaele.
1918 saw an end to stagnate trench warfare as the Battalion started
actively patrolling. Joseph Maxwell (awarded a DCM in Ypres as a CSM)
was now a 2nd Lieutenant and led many of these patrols. He was awarded
the Military Cross in March 1918 whilst on patrol.
He was collecting intelligence with a
patrol of thirty men when he was about to return. As he was covering his
party he observed sixty or so Germans entering a trench system nearby.
He recalled his men and they attacked the unsuspecting Huns. A brief
struggle ensued before the enemy withdrew.
The battalion’s only failure (if it could be called that) during their
three years on the Western Front took place at Hangard Wood in April
1918. The 5th Brigade where to attack the wood whilst their French
allies were to take the Cemetery nearby. The attack started out
according to plan but during the following morning it became imperative
that the French had to take the cemetery to succeed. This did not happen
and the order to withdraw was given.
Ironically enough a short while later
the French took, and held, their objective. Of the five officers and one
hundred and seventy-five men who took part, four officers and about
eighty men had been hit during the attack.
In May 1918 the battalion was at Morlancourt were one of the most
remarkable events took place. On the 17th Lieutenant Alex Irvine was at
the front line when he realised most of the men were dozing or asleep.
Boyce replied, "The Hun will be asleep, too." This gave Irvine
an idea and the following morning he took eighteen men quietly over the
parapet and across ‘No Man’s Land. They entered the enemy trenches
without a shot being fired and just ten minutes later were returning
with prisoners and intelligence. (John Laffin in the Australians At War
series wrongly attributed Irvine as belonging to the 17th Battalion).
It was becoming quite obvious at this time that the Germans were going
to lose the war and launched they final offensive in August 1918. The
18th Battalion was heavily involved in this fighting on 8 and 9 August
1918 with many heroic deeds being performed. The battalion was required
to make its way to the jumping off point through thick fog and many men
from all battalions lost their way. CSM Albert Dickinson took it upon
himself to ensure men of the 18th reached the required destination.
Captain John Bayley Lane was recommended for a Victoria Cross for his
actions on this day as he displayed outstanding leadership qualities.
Yet again the battalion did not receive the highest honour as Lane
received a DSO instead. Bill Graham (Boer War, New Guinea and Gallipoli
veteran) continued to brilliantly lead his men and continued through
these two days before succumbed to wounds (struck in the shoulder and
then in the buttocks).
Through the month of August 1918 the
battalion fought frantically with the enemy trying to regain the upper
hand before given the opportunity for a rest.
The 18th Battalion took part in their
last battle of the war on 3 October 1918 when they were required to take
and hold a stretch of the Beaurevior Line near St Quentin. Joseph
Maxwell was awarded the military’s highest honour on this day by his
excellent example he displayed. Early on in the fighting he assumed
command of his company after the commander was severely wounded. He came
across wire six belts thick so he worked his way, alone, through it and
killed the destroyed the enemy machine gun post before returning and
leading his men through it. The fighting was heavy but finally their
position was consolidated and prisoners were being brought in. One
suggested to Joe Maxwell that there were others who wanted to surrender
so he took two men to locate them. They walked into a trap and it was
only through a barrage which started was Maxwell able to regain the
upper hand and escape.
Shortly after the 18th Battalion was removed from the firing line for
the final time as the Great War ended just over four weeks later.
All copyright on this document is
retained by myself and the use of it is permitted only as a page on the
18th Battalion Re-enactor’s web page presently owned by Graham
Brissett. No other use is permitted without written consent of the
copyright owner. Michael Vickers