Tweed Remembers: Adventure turned to nightmare during “war to end all wars”

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The story of Burringbar Lance Corporal Charles Allard of the 7th Infantry Brigade, 26 Battalion

BURRINGBAR LOCAL Charles Allard enlisted in World War I on September 24, 1915, joining the First Australian Imperial Force (AIF) with the rank of Private.

It was Charles’ second attempt at joining the AIF, after he was told on his first attempt that he was too young for the army’s requirements.

However, as the war progressed by his second attempt, when the Government was attempting to raise 100,000 additional troops for the war effort, he was readily accepted.

Charles was born in the Clarence Area on October 8, 1895, and his parents moved to Burringbar to operate a dairy farm.

Charles had four sisters and one brother and was educated at Burringbar and after leaving school he became a farmhand.

What made Charles so keen to join the AIF cannot be known specifically, as there are no records of his thoughts at the time.

But what is known is a popular movement towards young men enlisting to contribute to the war effort with underlying patriotism towards England.

The war had been in progress since 1914 and patriotism for what we then called the “Mother Country” (England) was high, propagated by both government and the media.

However, another more likely story may have been that to a young boy working on a farm for untold hours, seven days a week, the war was the most exciting thing that had ever happened and the pundits of the day were sure the war would end in a hurry.

Little did they know that this war “the war to end all wars” was to become a seemingly never ending bloodbath for the next five years and Charles was dropped into the middle of the action.

On March 28, 1916, Charles found himself and more than 900 others on His Majesty’s Troop Ship A73 bound for the war zone as the 9th-12th replacements for the 7th Infantry headed from Egypt to France after Gallipoli.

The AIF had suffered considerable losses in their early battles in France, so Charles and his companions were pushed straight into the Battle for Pozieres on the Somme River.

The 26th Battalion which Charles had joined as a replacement are credited with being the first to successfully breach the German barbed wire at Mouquet and enter the German trenches.

When the replacements arrived in the trenches the battle-weary veterans took one look at them and pitied them, they were so fresh faced and as one said, “they looked just like normal men” something they had not seen for some time.

From the War Diaries, the replacements acquitted themselves with credit. They later attacked Thieval north of Pozieres and breached the trenches but were driven out by concentrated machine gun and heavy artillery fire.

Charles recounted how during a barrage his trench was collapsed and lucily, he was dug out and saved or risked being buried alive.

The War Diaries for his Battalion cover this incident and relate the heavy loss of life with most buried alive.

The normal routine for manning the trenches was to have 15 days in the trenches followed by eight back at the Nursery.

Where possible longer rest periods were given back from the front and if you were lucky after 12 months they received a ticket to England every four months for eight days.

Charles is known to have received one of these leaves. The Australian successes at and around Pozieres increased troop morale as it was now realised by a battle weary Allied force that the Germans could be beaten.

The German High Command also realised this and to break moral concentrated their heavy artillery fire over the trenches to an area known as the “Nursery” where reinforcements and the soldiers from the trenches were resting.

On the June 17, 1917, the Australians were withdrawn from the Battle of the Somme to the battle for Messines which was initiated by the detonation of five-hundred tonnes of high explosives placed in 19 tunnels dug by the British, including Australian, tunnellers under the German fortifications along the Messines Ridge.

The resultant explosion, the largest ever in the world to that date, was clearly felt and heard in London.

The Battle for Messines was the first time the new reinforcements were subjected to Phosgene Gas.

This gas had previously been delivered by hand grenade and being subject to wind and how far it could be thrown was not all that popular with the enemy.

Later the Germans perfected artillery and mortar shells which delivered the gas into the back of the enemy lines.

Charles along with the rest of his group would have experienced gas to some degree.
The big bang took some of the spirit out of the German troops and they had to regroup for a major spring offensive launched on March 21, 1918.

The AIF 3rd and 4th Divisions under the Command of General Monash were rushed from their position at Messines to defend Amiens and were told to hold the line.

They were very successful and it proved to be a turning point for the war.
The Australians held their positions despite at times heavy losses until the armistice.

During this time, the 26th Battalion have been given credit with exceptional bravery and the capture of the first German tank and crew.

It is not known exactly what part Charles played in the actions of the 26th Battalion from June 1916 until the end of the war.

What is known is that like many who were with him he did not want to talk about their exploits on return. Charles was obviously not a shrinking violet by nature and during his time in the AIF became the holder of the lightweight boxing title for his Battalion.

When he returned to Australia with the help of his family and his accrued pay he purchased a going dairy at Dicksons Road.

From there he went on to farm at Upper Burringbar passing away February 7, 1956.
Photos of Charles on joining the AIF and later on his Burringbar farm are displayed on the local memorial.