IN THE HANDS OF THE HUN [2] Bullecourt


The fighting around Bullecourt was with the object of breaking the formidable Hindenburg Line for which several Australian battalions were detailed, including the 14th. The Hendenburg Line was a series of strongly fortified trenches, in front of which were terrible barbed wire entanglements, and the Line was considered by the Germans to be impregnable. On the morning of April 11th, 1917, our battalion received orders to join in the attack on the Line, and through some unaccountable error on the part of those responsible, the tanks and artillery, which were to support us, failed to put in an appearance, and consequently the attack proved one of the most costly which the Australians experienced during the war, but, because it was a disastrous failure, little was said about it at the time.

However, “ours not to reason why,” and we went on, took the first Line trench under heavy fire, and then had to advance a mile over open country exposed to the concentrated fire of thousands of machine guns before reaching the second Line of the enemy behind which were between 40,000 and 50,000 Germans. As a consequence our men fell in hundreds and by three o’clock in the afternoon there were but a few of us left alive. (We had been sent forward at dawn).

The Germans then put down a terrible barrage behind us and it became impossible to retire and as our ammunition was all used there was no alternative but to surrender or be shot down.
My haversack had been shot to pieces on my back and the overcoat I was wearing was riddled with machine gun bullets. Several had grazed my hands and various parts of my body but otherwise I was unhurt. I saw my mate, Jack Wilkins, make an attempt to get back but he had not gone far when I saw him jump into the air and then drop. I thought that was the last I should see of him. My other mates were dropping all around me and I was waiting my turn when the officer in charge of us told us to throw down our arms and surrender.
There was then only one officer and eight men left in our trench. As the officer led us over the parapet I thought we would all be shot as the German snipers had our range and were very busy. However as some of our mates away to our right had put up a white flag, we were not again fired at as we made our way across to the Germans.
We first met a German non-com; who said “koom” and we were conducted into the presence of an officer who wore a magnificent satin uniform. Here we met a lot more of our officers and men in a similar plight to ourselves. We were all enclosed in a thick armour of mud from head to foot. All our officers were called first to go before the magnificent German, who asked them politely enough, if they possessed any important papers. As none were forthcoming he began to get angry and as usual with Germans when they get angry he raised his voice higher and higher till it became an absolute squeal.
But this had no terrifying effect on our officers who stood before him with strained faces from which all colour had gone, but this was the result of the terrible responsibility resting on them. I well remember the captain saying in reply to the German ”If we had papers or possessed any information do you think we would tell you? No, and if you are going to do any shooting take us out straight away for you will get nothing out of us.”
We were then told that any man who attempted to destroy papers of any kind would be immediately shot. We were then searched and everything we possessed was taken from us. I had a few letters on me as I had received mail just prior to going into action, one or two photos of relatives, a good wristlet watch, and various other little articles, which the average soldier treasures and carries with him. These were all taken from me with grunts of pleasure from the searchers.
But in one of the letters was found a cartoon, which had been sent to me about the time of the first conscription referendum. It was a caricature of the Kaiser and it nearly proved the end of me as the German officer “got his hair off’ again and said he had a good mind to have me shot.
We were afterwards marched off to a church and given a ration of German black bread and a drink of acorn coffee, then we were put onto the church to spend our first night as prisoners of war.
Sleep for me was out of the question, dog tired though we were, but we lay on the stone floor till morning. I remember that when the morning sun shone through the stained glass windows, seeing one of our men laying across the knees of a large image of the Virgin, fast asleep. He had found a more comfortable bed than the damp and cold floor.

IN THE HANDS OF THE HUN [2] Bullecourt


Frankston, Australia

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Artist's Description

Great Uncle Alf lost many mates at Bullecourt due to Logistic bungles failing in the armoured shell cover expected.
Can you imagine running a mile in mud and snow let alone doing it dodging gunfire and shell explosion and in the end have to give up.
And yet the real courage is the way they faced the enemy as prisoners, at their mercy unarmed and unknowing of the language or their fate!
Makes you all the more grateful for the peace we have now.

*This is why we remember them !

NB This is NOT my Fictional Writing this is an actual account written by my Great Uncle Alfred Gray following his experiences in the "Great War – 1914-1917
I take no responsibility for any offense taken by the reader of this view be that in the language used or the opinion of my Great Uncle.*

Great Uncle Alfred’s Great Adventure
In the Hands of the Hun 1 – Prelude
In the Hands of the Hun 3 -Starved and Frozen

Artwork Comments

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  • adgray
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