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French Ambassador to present Legion of Honour medals to World War I veterans [Herbert Henry Burnard and Thomas James Robinson]



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Media Release

 

The Hon Bruce Scott MP

Minister for Veterans' Affairs

Federal Member for Maranoa

 

114/98

7 August 1998

French Ambassador To Present Legion Of Honour Medals To World War I Veterans

The French Ambassador to Australia, Mr Dominique Girard, w ill present Legion of Honour medals to two Australian World War I veterans at a ceremony to be held on Saturday, 8 August 1998.

The presentations are part of a series that will see all eligible surviving Australian World War I veterans who served in France receive the medal.

The presentations will be made to Herbert Henry Burnard and Thomas James Robinson at a ceremony at Government House, Adelaide. This follows a commemorative service beginning at 2:00 pm at the War Memorial, North Terrace, and a parade to Government House to mark the 80 th anniversary of the Battle of Amiens.

Mr Burnard served with the 50 th Battalion, which was involved in actions in the Somme region in 1918, notably at Etinehem in August and against the Hindenburg Line in September.

Mr Robinson saw action with the 1 st Anzac Cyclist Battalion, part of the 1 st ANZAC Corps, later the Australian Corps, which served in the Somme region throughout the early part of 1917 and most of 1918.

The Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Bruce Scott, said the presentations resulted from the French Government’s decision to award the chevalier grade of the Legion of Honour to surviving allied World War I veterans who had served in France.

"There remains now only a handful of the many thousands of young Australian men and women who participated in World War I and only perhaps 40 or 45 who served on the Western Front in France."

"The decision by the French Government to award the Legion of Honour to eligible Australian World War I veterans is a measure of the gratitude that the French people still feel more than eighty years on."

Mr Scott said that further presentations of the Legion of Honour to Australian World War I veterans would be made as approvals for the award were received from Paris.

The presentations on the anniversary of the Battle of Amiens gave a special poignancy to the occasion, as the battle was the first time that all five Australian divisions of the Australian Corps were used together. The Battle of Amiens was a crucial battle of the war and one which many historians now describe as ‘the beginning of the end’ of the war.

Contacts:

Ministerial Media Contact: Melissa McKerihan Tel: 0419 607 783

French Embassy - Canberra - Gregoire Chilovsky - (02) 6216 0100

10 th /27 th Battalion RSAR - Adelaide - CAPT Sandra Turner, 0414 695 632

Department of Veterans’ Affairs - Canberra - Bob Pounds (02) 6289 6092.

Media representatives should contact CAPT Turner for details concerning the

commemorative service and parade, and to arrange access to Government House.

Acting Sergeant Herbert Henry BURNARD

50 th Battalion

Australian Imperial Force

Herbert Henry Burnard was born on 30 September, 1897, at Burns, NSW, and was aged 20 years when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 1 October 1917 at Broken Hill, New South Wales. He joined the 14 th Reinforcements, 32 nd Battalion with the Regimental Number 5001.

After training, Private Burnard embarked on HMAT Ulysses on 22 December 1917 and disembarked at Suez on 22 December 1917. He continued by sea to Italy, rail to Cherbourg, and sea to Southampton, arriving in England on 15 February 1918.

Private Burnard proceeded to France on 29 April 1918 with the 14 th Reinforcements, for the 32nd Battalion. On 22 May 1918 he joined the 50 th Battalion. He transferred to the Australian Army Pay Corps on 27 January 1919.

He was promoted to Lance Corporal on 24 October 1918 and then appointed to Acting Sergeant on 10 May 1919.

Acting Sergeant Burnard returned to Australia on 18 October 1919 on board HMAT Euripides and was discharged on 12 November 1919. In recognition of his overseas service, Acting Sergeant Burnard was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

The 50 th Battalion, with which Acting Sergeant Burnard saw action, was part of the 13 th Brigade, 4 th Division of the Australian Imperial Force. The 50 th Battalion was involved in actions in the Somme region in 1918, notably at Etinehem in August and against the Hindenburg Line in September.

The above data has been extracted from the Australian Imperial Force records for Herbert Henry Burnard, held in the National Archives of Australia, and from the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18.

Occupation: Before enlistment, Mr Burnard was a metallurgical apprentice with a zinc mining company.

Private Thomas James ROBINSON

1 st ANZAC Corps Cyclist Battalion

Australian Imperial Force

Thomas James Robinson was born on 16 April, 1897 at Victor Harbour, South Australia, and was aged 18 years 5 months when he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 9 September 1915 at Adelaide, South Australia. He joined the 12 th Reinforcements, 9 th Light Horse. He then transferred to the 14 th Reinforcements, 3 rd Light Horse on 16 December 1915 with the Regimental Number 2061.

After training, Private Robinson embarked on HMAT Warilda on 10 February 1916 and disembarked in Egypt. He joined the 1 st Light Horse Regiment Reinforcements, and was then transferred to the 4 th Division Cyclist Company on 16 April 1916.

He transferred to the 1 st ANZAC Corps Cyclist Battalion on 9 July 1916.

Private Robinson embarked at Alexandria on 2 June 1916 to join the Australian Imperial Force in France, and disembarked at Marseille, on 8 June 1916. He was taken to hospital in France, sick, on 19 December 1917 and rejoined his unit on 1 January 1918. He was again in hospital from 30 January 1918 to 6 July 1918. Private Robinson was injured in an accidental explosion on 6 September 1918 and admitted to hospital. He returned to his unit again on 26 November 1918.

Private Robinson was on leave in England from 5 October until 17 October 1917.

Private Robinson embarked for Australia on 5 April 1919 on board the Warwickshire and was discharged on 10 July 1919. In recognition of his overseas service, Private Robinson was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

The 1 st Anzac Cyclist Battalion, with which Private Robinson saw action, was part of the 1 st ANZAC Corps, later the Australian Corps, which served in the Somme region throughout the early part of 1917 and most of 1918.

The above data has been extracted from the Australian Imperial Force records for Thomas James Robinson, held in the National Archives of Australia.

Before enlisting, Mr Robinson worked as a labourer.

The Battle of Amiens

The Battle of Amiens was one of the strongest blows against the German line during the Great War and came shortly after the Australian victory at Le Hamel. The attack began on 8 August 1918 and, for the first time, all five Australian divisions of the Australian Corps were used together. The Australian Commander, Lieutenant General Sir John Monash, was well aware of the significance of the occasion:

For the first time in the history of this Corps all five Australian Divisions will tomorrow engage in the largest and most important battle operation ever undertaken by the Corps…The many successful offensive operations which the Brigade and Battalions of this Corps have so brilliantly executed during the past four months have been but the prelude to, and the preparation for, this greatest and culminating effort .

[‘To the soldiers of the Australian Army’, Lieutenant General Sir John Monash,

7 August 1918, in War Diary, 7 th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, AWM 4]

On 8 August the Australian Corps and the Canadian Corps became the spearhead troops of the attack by the 4 th British Army under General Rawlinson. The success of the advance was stunning. The German army suffered 27,000 casualties, including many thousands of prisoners of war, and lost 450 guns, one of which - a 28 cm gun mounted on a railway carriage - had been used to shell Amiens. The Australians ‘souvenired’ this monster and it can be seen today, without the railway carriage, outside the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

In later years General Ludendorff was to write of the impact of 8 August - der schwarze Tag (‘the black day’) of the German army:

Our fighting machine was no longer of real value. Our capacity for war had suffered harm even if the far greater majority of our divisions fought bravely. August 8 marked the decline of our military power and took from me the hope that…we could restore the situation in our favour…The war had to be ended .

[General Ludendorff, quoted by John Toland, No Man’s Land-The Story of 1918 , London, 1980, p.372]

With 8 August, and the days thereafter as the advance rolled on, Australian soldiers were simply elated. As one wrote:

Well, it was easily the best two days the Australians have ever had in France and it did ‘em more good than six weeks in a rest area - I wouldn’t have missed it for anything and only hope that that they give us another show like this every three months…Our chaps are as happy as Larry and simply singing at the top of their voices .

[Captain C R Duke MC (Military Cross), 5 th Pioneer Battalion, AIF, extract from letter 20 August 1918, quoted in Bill Gammage, The Broken Years , Penguin edition, 1975, p.201]

However, despite the success of the Battle of Amiens, the German army, even in retreat, was still capable of fighting back. For the next two months the Australian Corps was in almost continuous action, with divisions only being pulled out of the line for short rest periods. A series of tough battles was fought by the Corps in the days after 8 August as it pushed forward towards the final objectives set for their advance over the plain of the Somme.

By 29 August the Germans had retreated across the Somme at Péronne. Between 31 August and 2 September the 2 nd and 5 th Divisions captured Péronne and the nearby German stronghold of Mont St.Quentin.

The loss of Péronne forced a German retreat back to their last major strongly defended line in France - to the Hindenburg Line and its so-called Outpost Line. General Rawlinson now gave the Australian Corps its last great objective of the war: break through the Hindenburg Line. This was attempted in two stages. On 18 September the 1 st and 4 th Divisions, assisted by a formidable artillery barrage, assaulted the Outpost Line, took 4,300 prisoners and 76 guns. By the end of the day Australian soldiers looked out over the main Hindenburg Line.

The preliminary bombardment of the main Hindenburg Line began on 26 September. For four days the British and Australian artillery fired 750,000 shells at the German defences. On the 29 th two American Divisions - the 27 th and 30 th - attacked but unfortunately the shelling in front of the 27 th failed to eliminate many of the strong-points in the line of advance and they suffered heavy casualties. Coming in behind the 27 th , the Australian 5 th Division found itself caught up in fighting to secure the first objectives and progress was slow. Further south, the British 46 th Division had broken through and the Germans facing the 5 th Division were forced back with the Australians in pursuit. On 3 October the last Australian infantry action of the war took place as the 2 nd Division assaulted and took Montbrehain. With its capture the Hindenburg Line was broken. The enemy in France was broken and on 11 November 1918 Germany signed an armistice, effectively ending the war.

The French, whose country these Australians had helped liberate from the invader, were grateful. The French Prime Minister, Georges Clemenceau, said of them:

When the Australians came to France, the French people expected a great deal of you…We knew you would fight a real fight, but we did not know that from the beginning you would astonish the whole continent…I shall go back tomorrow and say to my countrymen; ‘I have seen the Australians. I have looked in their faces. I know that these men…will fight alongside of us again until the cause for which we are all fighting is safe for us and for our children .

[Georges Clemenceau, quoted by Charles Bean, The Australian Imperial Force in France during the Allied Offensive , 1918, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918 , Vol VI, 1942, Sydney, p.335]

 

 

 

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