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Remembered Today:

Australia on the Somme


AndyMacdonald
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Until the other day I thought the only empire troops from outside the UK to serve on 1 July 1916 were the Newfoundlanders.

Now, after reading CEW Bean's Anzac to Amiens, I find this may not be the case. In his book, Bean says two siege batteries made up of of men from the regular Australian garrison (artillery) participated in the preperatory bombardment. That's only a couple of pages in to his chapter on Fromelles.

It seems unlikely Bean would have made such a statement in error given he inserts this information in brackets, indicating he has researched and confirmed this to be the case.

Can any one shed any light on this? What were the batteries? I can find no reference in Bean's official history series, or the Brit one. To be fair, I may have missed the said references. Any help appreciated!

Andy M

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Hi Andy

Men of the Australian permanent artillery were enlisted from the various barracks around Australia during June 1915 to form the Australian Siege Brigade. This unit was commonly referrred to as the 36th Heavy Artillery Group.

This unit arrived in France in Feb/March 1916 and men of this unit were killed at the front even before the first of the Australian infantry arrived in France.

During much of the war they found themselves supporting non-Australian units and were involved in actions where other Australians weren't involved. This includes July 1st 1916, Cambrai in November 1917 and Oct/Nov 1918 offensives.

While they were initially made up of permanent soldiers & artillerymen, as casualties and sickness mounted during the war many of the replacements were not permanent soldiers but men who had served in the militia artillery units.

Unfortunately not much research has been written on this unit in the past.

On Remembrance Day we had a small service on the parade ground at the Artillery Barracks at Fremantle. This was where many of the artilleymen left from, some of whom paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Cheers

Andrew

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Hello Andy

The two batteries were 54 and 55 Siege Batteries, Royal Garrison Artillery. They were equipped with four 8-inch howitzers and four 9.2-inch howitzers, respectively.

In June 1916 these two batteries were part of Third Army troops. Both the Official History and Farndale's History of the RA are silent on their movements on 1 July but it seems likely that they were supporting the diversionary attack on Gommecourt.

Although 36 HAG (lated 36 Mixed Brigade RGA) had an Australian sub-title, these two batteries (also designated 1 & 2 Australian Siege Batteries) were the only Australian units in it, the other four batteries being British.

Ron

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