If you’re wondering what this year’s WWI battle on the Riverfront Arena each day will be about, keep reading!
From the Battle of Amiens on the 8th of August 1918 until the Armistice on 11th of November 1918 is the period known as the ‘Hundred Days’. This was a time of almost constant advance for the Allied armies.
As the Allies were pursuing the Germans the greatest obstacle to crossing the Somme River to reach them was a natural feature – Mont St Quentin. Situated at a river bend dominating the countryside for kilometres in every direction, the Mont was only 100 metres high but was key to the German defence of the Somme line, and the last German stronghold. It overlooked the Somme River approximately 1.5 kilometres north of Péronne. Its location made it an ideal observation point and strategically the hill’s defenses guarded the north and western approaches to the town and key to the German defense of the Somme line and as such Lt. General Sir John Monash was keen to capture it and thus possess a valuable position.
This Australian operation is sometimes regarded as the finest achievement of the 1st AIF during the Great War. On night of 31 August, the 2nd Australian Division crossed the Somme River from the north-west and attacked Mont St Quentin at 5:00 am. The uphill terrain was difficult for the Australians and attacking across open ground made them vulnerable to attack from the German positions on the slopes above.
On 29-30 August the 5th Brigade comprising the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Battalions of the 2nd Australian Division seized hills that dominated the river crossings and proposed approach route. Their numbers had been depleted during earlier fighting and the troops were exhausted. Each battalion’s strength was down to around 300 men.
The 17th Battalion on the right flank was to seize the village of Mont St Quentin and the small forest on the summit beyond the road. The 20th Battalion on the left flank was ordered to seize the line of the road down the northern slope to the Feuillaucourt Bridge and the 19th Battalion was to guard the right flank by occupying two parallel trenches which ran down the south western slope of Mont St Quentin and overlooked Peronne. The 18th Battalion was assigned the job of close support to the assault battalions.
Rifle grenades and trench mortars were used to outflank outpost positions. The battalions positioned to the right of the line of attack made a lot of noise to distract the Germans, while the centre and left battalions gained footholds on the hill and in the village of Feuillaucourt on the left of the line.
The demoralised Germans, fearing they were being attacked by a superior force, surrendered in large numbers. The 20th Battalion moved up to make a bayonet charge and captured the Gottleib trench. As the Australians reached the summit, large numbers of German soldiers were sent fleeing down the slopes. By 7am the troops had occupied the village of Mont St Quentin and the slope and summit of the hill. However, the small size of their forces meant that their hold on the position was tenuous.
The five German divisions defending Mont St Quentin were confused and dispersed by the ferocity of the Australian attack and many had fled.
By midnight on 31 August, the Australians had captured 14,500 prisoners and 170 guns since 8th of August. The next day on 1 September, Allied troops also broke through lines to Péronne by 8:20am.
However, the Germans quickly regrouped and launched a counter-attack and that first day of September saw fierce fighting and heavy losses. Germans attacked and heavily shelled Péronne with much of the fighting being hand-to-hand combat.
The outnumbered Australians were pushed back off the summit of Mont St Quentin, and lost Feuillaucourt. Relief battalions were sent and duly reinforced, all areas lost were retaken by the Australians, but at the cost of 3,000 casualties. One casualty, Private Alex Barclay of the 17th Battalion was shot in the head by a sniper’s bullet during the attack. Miraculously the bullet passed right through his skull and he survived to re-enlist in the Second World War.
On 1 September, the 6th Brigade consisting of the 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24th Australian Battalions seized the summit on their second attempt. The 14th Brigade of the 5th Australian Division, which included the 53rd, 54th, 55th and 56th Battalions, captured the woods north of Péronne and after defeating a short-lived German attack took the main part of Péronne. An attempt to pass the northern side of the town was stopped by heavy fire from the ramparts. On 2 September, the 7th Brigade, which included the 25th, 26th, 27th and 28th Australian battalions, drove beyond Mont St Quentin and the 15th Brigade made up of the 57th, 58th, 59th and 60th Battalions seized the remainder of Péronne and the 3rd Division advanced on the northern flank. By the evening of 3 September, the Australians held Péronne, captured Flamicourt the next day and then advanced three kilometres to the east.
Monash said of the Mont St Quentin and Péronne campaign that it furnished the finest example in the war of spirited and successful infantry action conducted by three divisions operating simultaneously side by side.
Eight Victoria Crosses were awarded to Australians between 31 August and 2 September 1918.
The fight had also included battalions from every Australian state. British Commander General, Lord Rawlinson remarked that this feat by the Australian troops under Monash’s command was the greatest of the war.
Forced out of Péronne, the Germans had to retreat to their last line of defence, the Hindenberg Line.
Boolarong Press have come on board at History Alive again this year, offering a range of in depth talks from their authors. Visit The Hall and take a seat to hear their passionate authors talk about what they know best…history!
Pearlies of a Stretcher Bearer
Speaker: Don Munro
Don will tell the story of a Queensland family that sent four members to the Great War. The diaries of the 19-year old Edward Munro (later MM) are a vivid account of the sheer hell of the life of a stretcher-bearer.
Speaker: Ted Duhs
Ted will discuss some of the cases that appear in his book, ‘Crucial Errors in Murder Investigations’. The book looks at mistakes made in police investigations that either led to the wrong person being convicted or led to no-one being convicted. He will cover the 1952 murder of Betty Shanks at The Grange, the 1991 murder of Leanne Holland in Goodna and the 1998 murder of Kathleen Marshall in Wilston.
Speaker: David Gibson
John Clements Wickham, Charles Darwin… and the BEAGLE.
Many know of the voyage undertaken by Charles Darwin aboard the BEAGLE from 1831 to 1836. The ramifications of observances which took shape in the course of that voyage are still being felt to this day.
Not so well known is that also aboard BEAGLE on this seminal voyage was John Clements Wickham, later an explorer of the Australian continent in his own right and onetime Police magistrate and Government Resident of the Moreton Bay Settlement, living at Newstead House Brisbane.
World War II: Avation history
Speaker: Laurie Woods
Laurie Woods DFC flew 35 missions in Lancaster bombers over Germany as a bomb aimer/navigator during WWII. 49% of crew did not survive the war. Bomber Command had the highest losses of any unit in WWII. Hear how Laurie survived to tell the story.
Afghanistan: The longest war
Speaker: Stuart Yeaman
Afghanistan: the first battle of the next war or just more of the same?
Afghanistan has been Australia’s longest commitment and recently concluded without a firm outcome. What was such a long operation for? How did the Australian Army conduct itself and where? What does Afghanistan mean in the context of other conflicts that seem to continue unabated around the world.
Was Australia and NATO’s commitment to Afghanistan simply another chapter in that country’s long struggle or was it rather a grim presage of future conflicts? Stuart Yeaman will try and show what NATO and Australia were trying to achieve from 2001 to 2015 and what lessons from that conflict mean for the unstable future.
Three Brilliant Careers
Speaker Ross Davies
Brisbane author Ross Davies tells the inspirational story of three Australian women in WWI. Not content to remain safely in London, famous writer Miles Franklin and two lifelong friends, Nell Malone (Charters Towers) and Kath Ussher (Sydney), undertook a dangerous journey across Europe to join an all-female hospital near the frontlines in the Balkans. After the war, Miles and Kath drew strength from those experiences to forge successful literary careers in London and Hollywood while Nell went on to play an heroic role in one of the biggest scandals to rock 1920’s France.
So you’ve made the decision to bring the family to History Alive: A Journey Through Time on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend and you’re ready for an awesome day. But with 2000 years of history in one place, where do you begin?!
If you’re coming by car, you’ll need to drive to 91 Sandy Camp Road, park the car and take the free shuttle bus to Fort Lytton National Park. Or you can take the train to Wynnum North train station and take the free shuttle bus to Fort Lytton.
Accessible parking is available at Fort Lytton, please have your Australian Disability Parking Permit clearly visible so traffic management can wave you through.
The shuttle buses are provided by the Queensland Omnibus and Coach Society.
So what is happening at History Alive this year?
Below is just a sample of the events during the day. Make sure to check out the program here.
10am: The day kicks off with a World War I Memorial Service and the firing of Fort Lytton’s 64-pounder cannons to commemorate the Anzac Centenary, followed by a WWI scenario in the Riverfront Arena where you’ll get to see our WWI groups in action.
11am: Take a wander through the encampments and learn about 14th Century cooking with the Knights Order of Lion Rampant or head over to the Lytton Arena for a 1930-40s Dance workshop and show the kids some new (old) moves! Immediately afterward in the Lytton Arena Dance Kaleidescope will be hosting a Regency dance workshop so there is no excuse for not getting some fun exercise in for the day.
Noon: You can watch WWII re-enactors in action with an Eastern Front battle playing out in the Riverfront Arena. For those of us who are hopeless romantics, Company of the Phoenix is hosting a 15th Century betrothal ceremony in their encampment.
1pm: Lunch time! Go visit our food vendors for a yummy feed. There really is something for everyone. Pancakes on the Go, Roam’In Pizza and Hungarian Langos (to name just a few) will all be on hand to satisfy the whole tribe. A new addition this year is The Curious Caravan, a 1957 vintage caravan coffee bar. Do not miss it!
Once everyone is fuelled up for the rest of their adventure, head to the Riverfront Arena to catch a tribute to the Battle of Waterloo by La Belle Alliance, or work off some energy at the Lytton Arena with a Medieval dance workshop.
2pm: Knights! That’s all we need to say to get you back up to the Riverfront Arena to catch the 14th Century Tournament of War. Also, don’t miss the Costume Competition in the Lytton Arena. Open to all children up to the age of 14. Find more details here.
3pm: Learn some techniques in the noble art of fencing from the Prima Spada School of Fence in their encampments. The Saga Vikings close out the action in the Lytton Arena with Viking Shield Walls, while Army Group South have the final battle for the day on the Riverfront Arena with the Pacific Theatre Battle.
4pm: After a full day of fun the 64-pounders fire for the last time and we sadly say goodbye for another year and start getting excited for next year. Of course you can make a whole weekend of it and come on both Saturday and Sunday to make sure your family doesn’t miss a thing!
See you there!
I started re-enacting in 1991, when my girls were 5, 2 and 2; so they’ve been around the re-enactment scene for most of their lives.
Re-enactment has taught them to be self-reliant, to research and critique things (one of my daughters is a teacher), do risk assessments, make a fire, sew, embroider (one of my daughter’s first embroidery was better than my best after 20 years!), work timber, work metal (another of my daughters is a blacksmith), cook, negotiate and talk to people (visitors at events we attend).
Re-enactment has been a vehicle for passing on skills that a parent should pass on to a child and has made it easier, interesting, and more relevant.
After a few years’ sabbatical I started re-enacting again, this time with my father, my partner and two of my daughters (the third was living interstate at the time) and we had a small (but informative!) family-based re-enactment group going.
One of my daughters and I even dabbled in WWI re-enactment when another daughter moved overseas.
After taking another short break from re-enactment, daughter number three moved back to Brisbane – an opportunity to give the group bit of a re-vamp. Instead of a static display in our period tent ( made up of 25,000 words!) we decided to have the group portray an extended family’s living quarters traveling in 1229 on pilgrimage to the Holy Land (facilitated by the Knights Templar’s invitation to join them and be their ‘pilgrims’).
This has meant that, in between teaching and being a mother, my girls have been sewing costumes, embroidering, beading, leather working, (hand) sewing another tent…and all the other necessities to get a believable encampment up and running. My daughters have become adept researchers and can rattle off a list of museums and resources that make my eyes cross. They have also become used to the annoyance of re-making items when new information – that indicates it’s not as good as it could be (or is just plain wrong!)- comes to light.
Re-enactment has taught them that nothing’s certain, nothing’s set in stone, and to always have a back-up plan!
Now we’ve got the next generation coming along – my 4-year old grand-daughter is learning to sew, and she and her younger brother understand about knives and sharp things, fires, manners… and the cycle is beginning again.
Mother’s Day is so much more special when you have a connection like this with your children and grandchildren – I look forward to it every year.
Mim has been re-enacting for over 20 years and is currently part of re-enactment group, Oltramar. You can catch Mim and her daughters at History Alive: A Journey Through Time 2015 at the Knights Templar encampment.
Going to historical events is fun! The displays, the costumes, the food the atmosphere!
One of the most popular things for members of the public to do is to visit the camps and see what’s going on- see a lunch being prepared over the campfire, wood being turned on a lathe, sewing and craft activities. It looks like a little slice of history. What a lot of people don’t realise is how much effort and research happens before the public gets to see it.
Lunchtime? Those knives and plates are all the correct ones – many based on museum finds. The pottery cups? The colour of the glaze and the patterns on them are specifically chosen to match the time period, right down to the type of clay used to make them.
The ingredients used for the lunch itself depends on what was available at that point in history. The recipes themselves are researched and the same as those used hundreds of years ago. A German 15th century group will be lunching on some very different food to the 12th century English Knights.
People often ask about the clothing, and where it comes from, and very often, that too, has been hand stitched using the same construction methods that were used back then. Buttons might be hand-made. Even the lacing on the dresses is likely to be made by hand using skills from history.
All this is not very obvious at first glance, because it looks “right” and cohesive, but there’s a lot of work behind the scenes researching 14th century tableware for a noble or what kind of chair is right in 16th century Italy. You might not notice if everything fits together in our displays, but you sure can tell when things are wrong.
So, next time you’re passing a camp, look close, then closer. Come on in and ask some questions about what you’re looking at, who made it and where the stuff comes from.
Why do we do it? It’s our passion. We’re trying to keep it real. Or as real as it can be.
Rosalie is a 14th Century re-enactor with re-enactment group Ex Libris. She also runs her own blog: Rosalie’s Medieval Woman – if you want to know how people of the 14th Century really lived, stop by and check out what goodies she has for you!