Battlefield History Tours

Battlefield History Tours
Incorporating History and Heritage tours

Western Front to Normandy Tour on 16 September 2019


Today's visits were intended to capture the essence of the last few weeks of the AIF's war.

We had a special mission in mind - to visit the site where the last AIF Soldiers to be killed in action met their fate. On 4 November 1918, soldiers of the 1st Australian Tunnelling Company, commanded by the legendary Captain Oliver Woodward MC** MiD of 'Beneath Hill 60' fame were engaged in an assault river crossing of the Sambre Oise canal near Rejet-de-Beaulieu, under command of the British Army.

However, first we had to get there. First stop, the sombre German cemetery at Maissemy.

Then to Riqueval and the imposing bridge and tunnel portals which mark significant sites in the breaching of the Hindenburg Line in late September 1918. It was here the 5th Division, backing up the US 30th Division, had cleared the tunnel portal supported on their right by the British 46th Division which captured the vicinity of the Riqueval Bridge after rushing the Reserve Demolition Guard on the far bank.

From there we ventured forth over unfamiliar ground to the north east.

First stop the village of Ors where, tucked away behind the Communal Cemetery, is a small British military plot containing the grave of Poet Laureate Wilfred Owen, MC. He was killed in the Sambre crossing on 4th November, just a few short days before the end of hostilities. He is kept company by an alarming number of very young soldiers.

Then we headed to Rejet de Beaulieu. We found the tiny unsigned cemetery that is home to three of the four engineers who died that day (the fourth having died of his wounds elsewhere). After paying our respects to these men we scouted the whereabouts of the canal and the lock that was the 'Vital Ground' on this section of the Front.

This was easier said than done and guide Steve Larkins, his capability degraded by a flat phone battery, conducted a rapid solo forced march patrol to try and determine the location of the canal, while everyone else had lunch. Being a Sunday morning there was no one about to ask. Success at last, as Lee gingerly took our bus down what became a dirt track.

Unfazed we found the lock where Oliver Woodward and his men had pre-fabricated, assembled and launched their assault bridging to span the lock, all the time under the fire of the enemy.

We returned home via Belicourt, where Tour leader Steve Larkins pointed out a relative's grave, that of George W H Bush KIA on 30 September, and the grave of LtCol Vann VC MC and Bar, a former priest who instead of becoming a chaplain, enlisted in the Infantry and went on to distinguish himself on three occasions only to fall to a snipers bullet just days afterwards.

Next stop the Bony American cemetery, and then Jeancourt where a couple of family Members' ancestors had an association with the town, including the award of a Military Medal to John Gordon Hamilton, MM.

From there it was back to Peronne and our final night in this lovely town.


Steve Larkins


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