Australians in the Battle for Bullecourt – April – May 1917
The photograph above is of Private Richard Burkett.
Private Burkett was a farmer from Narrogin East, Western Australia. He embarked from Fremantle aboard HMAT Miltiades for England on the 7th of August 1916. He then proceeded to the Western Front, France, on the 26th of December 1916 to join the 11th Battalion. Private Burkett was killed in action near Bullecourt, France, on the 6th of May 1917. He has no known grave and he is memorialised on the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial, France. He was aged 32 years.
Private Charles Wesley Burkett, his younger brother, died of wounds received in action on the 16th of September 1916.
Private Burkett’s photograph is also included in the video below titled ‘You never came home’.
The video below entitled ‘You never came home’ is a memorial to the Australians who died on the Western Front in WW1. From 1916 to 1918, nearly half of all Australians that died in all wars and battles (including WW2), died on the Western Front in less than two and a half years. The image you see for the video are Australian stretcher bearers and dressers lying utterly exhausted in the mud after 60 hours without rest. Lest We Forget.
Western Front WW1.
The first attack launched for Bullecourt on the 11th of April 1917 was a complete failure.
On the 3rd of May 1917, the second attack was ordered across the same ground. This time the Australians broke into and took part of the Hindenburg Line. Unfortunately, no important strategic advantage was ever gained. The two attacks cost the lives of 10,000 Australian soldiers.
“Bullecourt, more than any other battle, shook the confidence of Australian soldiers in the capacity of the British command; the errors, especially on April 10th and 11th, were obvious to almost everyone”.
Charles Bean, Official Historian.
In the first attack for Bullecourt, the British command did not wait until they had sufficient artillery resources. Instead, they decided that a dozen tanks would be enough to lead the soldiers through the Germans barbed wire. When the tanks did not arrive on the 10th of April the attack was postponed. Next morning, on the 11th of April, the attack on Bullecourt went ahead. The Australian soldiers were confronted with unrelenting machine gun and artillery fire and were forced back to their own lines while the tanks stood burning on the battlefield. Australia had 3,000 soldiers killed or wounded. Many of those who survived were bitter about such a futile waste of life.
In the second attack for Bullecourt on the 3rd of May 1917, British soldiers and the 2nd Australian Division attacked. Despite heavy machine gun fire and shelling, the Australian soldiers got into the German trenches and fought off counter attacks.
The 1st Division then relieved the 2nd, and soon the 5th Division took its turn.
In a little over one week the enemy gave up the area. What was left of the Australian battalions were withdrawn to recover. It cost Australia 7,000 dead and wounded to only advanced the line a kilometre.
Around 300,000 Australians served on The Western Front in atrocious conditions, many of them having survived the Gallipoli campaign.
More than 46,000 died in France and Belgium. About 11,000 have no known grave. There were more than 132,000 Australians wounded – many soldiers being wounded more than once. Australia’s casualty rate was around 65 per cent and was the highest in the British Empire.
Australian army nurses also caught trench diseases like dysentery, measles, typhus, influenza and mumps.
The words to ‘You never came home’ on the video above were wrtten by Peter Barnes the author of ‘Can You Hear Australia’s Heroes Marching?’ Music is Chopin’s Funeral March. Photographs from the Australian War Memorial.
You can download the words to ‘You never came home’ HERE
Australian Paintings – Series of paintings of Australians in war time by Peter Barnes.