The Australians first went into action on the Somme on 23 July 1916, and were ordered to capture the ruins of the former village of Pozières. By 25 July, they had succeeded and had gained significant territory of about 1,000 yards. But success came at a terrible price. The Germans counter-attacked and directed a furious and seemingly unending artillery barrage against the Australian positions. Somehow, the Australians stuck to their task.
Pozières was a high point on the battlefield which gave it strategic significance. Mouquet Farm was in a valley below Pozières and here the Australians also participated in fierce and ongoing fighting. The misery and the suffering of these places is unimaginable to anyone except those who endured it. The fight went on and on across seven weeks. The Germans had constructed secure fortifications with reinforced underground concrete bunkers all along the battlefield. At Mouquet Farm, the Germans made excellent use of the farm’s cellars which allowed them to survive allied shelling.
Three Australian divisions fought at Pozières and Mouquet Farm from 23 July until 3 September when they were relieved. During this period, the Australians had 23,000 casualties. War historian Charles Bean said of the windmill site at Pozières that “no place is more thickly drenched in Australian blood than that tiny and apparently insignificant pocket of land.”
It was perceived in Australia that voluntary recruiting would never make up these terrible losses. Eventually, the Commonwealth Government agreed to ask voters to give their approval for the introduction of conscription – a direct outcome of this appalling battle.
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