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100 YEARS AGO

The Battle of HAMEL 4 July 1918
- Dawn of a Victorious Future!


Lieut. Keith LOCK, of the 43rd Infantry Battalion, wrote about Hamel:  “The 3rd Squadron of the Australian Flying Corps… bombed the rear German positions,
 machine-gunned the trenches, kept the infantry supplied with ammunition by parachute, and reported the progress of the battle to Headquarters.  Many prisoners
and munitions were captured, and all the objectives were attained at a very small loss …thus preparing the line for the big counteroffensive of August 8.”

1918 Christmas Card…

Once the First World War had been brought to its tumultuous end, the thoughts the Australian troops in France turned to Christmas 1918, and sending their thoughts and feelings back to their families on the other side of the world.  Of all of the possible themes for a Christmas Card, the Australian Comforts Fund heeded the wishes of the troops and commissioned original paintings of the two military achievements that they were most proud of - the Battle of Hamel (4 July 1918) and the Battle of Amiens (8 August).

Today it seems hard to comprehend that they chose to recall these violent incidents to their families, after so much suffering and loss.  But what they were really saying was:  I was THERE.  And I SURVIVED.  We finally knew how to WIN that horrible war.  It was Australian PLANNING that put together all the lessons from all the failures that had gone before.  We combined all of the war’s INVENTIONS – aviation, parachutes, tanks, precise artillery, and highly trained, experienced infantry - into a winning TEAM.

General Monash’s Own Souvenir of Hamel

Some recent detective work by 3SQN Association has uncovered a wonderful 3 Squadron story from the Battle of Hamel

In General Monash’s own collection of papers (held in the National Archives of Australia) sits a small map of the German positions around Hamel (trenches shown in red, to the East), with the Australian “start-line” (blue dashes, to the west). 

Our member Des SHEEHAN identified the signature on this map as that of Oscar WITCOMB, an RE8 Observer with 3AFC.  Oscar had taken off before dawn, flown by his pilot James “Lee” SMITH, DFC.  Then our member Neil SMITH (the son of Lee!) provided us with original samples of Oscar’s handwriting - which proved that Oscar had written all of the pencilled notes on the map.  The crosses show exactly where the advancing troops had sent up flares in response to the RE8’s klaxon calls.  Timed “5am”, this was the FIRST indication that General Monash received that his plan had been a complete success“Some tanks are at their objective,” Oscar wrote. 


Oscar WITCOMB can be seen at the centre of this picture, inspecting one of the deadly machine-guns taken from the wreck of the Red Baron’s Fokker Triplane aircraft
 at the 3AFC aerodrome at Poulainville in the Somme Valley.  
 Oscar joined the Australian Army in August 1914, immediately after WW1 broke out.  He served at Gallipoli with the 10th Infantry Battalion, achieved promotion and,
after that, was lucky to be transferred to Army Headquarters in London.  From there he joined the Australian Flying Corps and saw action with 3AFC, as an RE8 Observer,
 from March through to September 1918.  Oscar then returned to Australia, where he enjoyed many decades as a prominent member of Adelaide society.
[22 April 1918.  AWM K00048.] 

The 3AFC War Diary also describes the scene at Hamel:

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