The AIF began arriving in France from late March 1916. The first troops were sent to a ‘nursery sector’, an area of little strategic importance, to learn the way of warfare on the Western Front.
On 1 July the British began their summer assault, massing a huge number of troops near the River Somme and expecting to drive the Germans back in retreat.
By mid-July it was evident that the Somme battle was not going well. British General Sir Richard Haking decided to create a diversion in the nursery sector, hoping to draw off German troops from the Somme. It was a forlorn, even idiotic, hope. Worse, Haking decided that the untested Australian troops would play a major part in the assault on the German lines, and, worse still, he decided that the assault would take place in the late afternoon, in full daylight.
With minimal planning or thought, Haking passed his orders on to the Australian brigade commander, Harold Edward ‘Pompey’ Elliott who, though inexperienced in Western Front fighting, was appalled at the idea. Pompey sought to have the orders recast, to no avail.
The Australians hurled themselves across the German lines, coming in front of rising ground without adequate cover. German machine guns and artillery caused massive loss among the attackers who gained no hold at all in the German lines. It was as tragic as it was predictable. When the losses were tallied it was discovered that the Australians had suffered more than 5,500 casualties in less than 24 hours of fighting.
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