Daniel George Smith

Daniel George Smith enlisted in the AIF on 15 December 1915 at Narrabri, one week after the Wallabies recruitment march had left Narrabri. There were many such marches in late 1915 and early 1916 to recruit volunteers in a response to heavy losses suffered in the Gallipolli campaign. It is doubtful that Daniel participated in any of the recruitment marches as he returned to Moree to marry Ellen Josephine Regent on 24 December 1915.

Daniel George Smith

The 33rd Battalion was formed in January 1916 at a camp established at the Armidale Showground. The bulk of the battalion's recruits were drawn from the New England region thus it was dubbed “New England's Own”. The Battalion's first, and only, commanding officer was Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Moreshead, who would become famous as the commander of the 9th Australian Division during the Second World War. Men from Armidale and Tamworth made up the bulk of “A” Company, “B” Company from Walcha, Uralla, Barraba, Bingara and Manilla, “C” Company from Narrabri, Moree and Inverell, while the nucleus of “D” Company was made up of men from Glen Innes, Guyra and Tenterfield. Despite these geographical groupings, the unit diaries of the 33rd Battalion reveal that on the 3 occasions that Daniel was wounded in France he was part of “D” company.

HMAT Marathon (www.ssmaritime.com)

The 33rd Battalion became part of the 9th Brigade of the 3rd Australian Division and embarked on HMAT Marathon leaving Sydney on 5 April 1916, then disembarking at Devonport on 9 July 1916. On 9 July 1916, during the voyage, Daniel was promoted to Lance Corporal.

Daniel George Smith (back row, 3rd from right) at Larkhill Camp on the Salisbury Plain

The battalion underwent 5 months of intense training with the rest of the 3rd Division at Larkhill on the Salisbury Plain before finally departing for Southampton on 21 November 1916. Battalion transport and 186 men embarked on the Hunslet with the remainder of the battalion sailing on Mona's Queen.

Mona's Queen

After arriving at Le Havre the next morning, the battalion travelled by train to Bailleul, from where they marched to the front, occupying a section of the line around Armentieres. Assigned to the "nursery"sector, for the next month they rotated between occupying the forward trenches and undertaking training courses, as the battalion was introduced to life on the European battlefield. Although the battalion gained some experience of combat over Christmas, when they launched raids against the German lines, their first major battle did not come until mid-1917, by which time the focus of British operations had shifted to the Ypres sector in Belgium.

Battle of Messines

The following is taken from Charles Bean's First World War Official Histories (Volume IV - The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1917). When, shortly after 11 p.m. on June 6th, the eight attack-battalions of the 3rd Australian Division left their several camps and their billets between Romarin and Pont de Nieppe, to move by four well-marked and reconnoitred routes to Ploegsteert Wood and through it to the front, some of them heard almost at once the soft pat pat of exploding gas-shells. While waiting to start from the gate of “Regina Camp,” the 40th Battalion had caught the smell of German gas, and, as the march started, these shells began to fall like the scattered heavy drops before a thunder-shower. The battalion immediately put on its gas masks, a proceeding which gave complete immunity against gas but always caused trouble if heavy labour was undertaken. For troops in masks the mere effort of marching under the load of rifle, ammunition, tools, and rations, and the excitement of the occasion, caused heavy breathing and consequent distress. This, in addition to the half-blindness of the troops in masks, so slowed the pace that officers and N.C.O's responsible for directing the column were often forced to take the risk of pulling down their masks and retaining only the mouth-pieces between their teeth and the clips on their nostrils. Horses and mules were passed on the road gasping piteously in the poisonous air. The other seven battalions also were meeting with steady gas-shelling, and on their entering Ploegsteert Wood, in whose stagnant air the gas lay densely, the difficulties increased. Long stoppages occurred, intervals of tense anxiety for all ranks. The Germans were shelling the wood more heavily, using high-explosive and incendiary shells as well. One of these exploded a dump near the track of the northernmost column, close under Hill 63, checking the march for a moment. Two incendiary shells burst amongst the 40th, and a little farther on, at “Hyde Park Corner,” a high-explosive shell shattered a Lewis gun team. A high-explosive shell burst in the leading platoon of the 39th as it reached “Ploegsteert Corner.” Here and there officers and men were hit direct by gas-shell. Whenever the slow-moving columns were locally dislocated by such incidents, and excitement or haste occurred, men tended to be gassed by the steady shower of shell, and fell out by the way, retching and collapsed. [The gas was reported to be partly phosgene with some chlorine, but largely lachrymatory. Most of the cases of gas poisoning at Messines were cured by a few days' rest.] The four parallel tracks marked through the wood were not far apart, at one point part of a left-flank battalion (40th) was wrongly guided on to a right-flank route. But the mistake was discovered and corrected. In these extreme difficulties officers and N.C.O's - conspicuous among them Captains McVilly (40th), Grieve (37th), Lieutenant Stubbs (37th), and also Sergeant Bowring (40th), himself badly shaken - worked vehemently to set going the interrupted march. The battalions on the three western tracks - that is, the 10th Brigade and the left half of the 9th - suffered most severely; several trench-mortar and machine-gun crews were killed, wounded, or gassed; the track of the 39th Battalion (10th Brigade) through “Bunhill Row” and “Mud Lane” was strewn with officers and men who had collapsed in the effort to keep the movement going. On the eastern route Major White (33rd), finding his way barred by the blockage of a communication avenue and other obstacles, led his company by another track through the wood. Captain Sorensen (33rd), further north, took a similar step. Throughout the night the saving factor was the determination of the men themselves to reach the "jumping-off" position in time. The result of their efforts was that - although at 2 a.m., when the tails of the four columns should have been deploying for the attack, their heads were only just working out of the wood - the troops soon afterwards began to get clear of its edges into fresher air. The northern columns reaching Hill 63 came out into a practically clear atmosphere and with intense relief the men took off their masks. Some were half-exhausted, but on reaching their assembly trenches - mostly parts of the existing front-line system - they took a long drink of the water which had been specially stored there, and lay down and many immediately fell asleep. At least 500 men,[some estimates put the number as high as 1,000] most of them gassed, had been put out of action in the wood, and others had temporarily lost their direction. Twenty minutes before zero-time only 120 of the 360 men who were to carry out the assault in the sector of the 39th Battalion had reached their assembly trenches north of "Anton's Farm." The officer in charge, Major Tucker, was gassed, but Captain Paterson reorganised the battalion in a single wave, so that, despite its reduced numbers, it would cover its full front. Of the parties of the 40th to attack north of the Douve, one was reduced to an officer and one man, and others were nearly as short. Nevertheless the organisation for the attack remained. It is telling evidence of the training and spirit of this comparatively untried division that, during the forty minutes before "zero" hour, its eight battalions, after the nightmare of that approach, emerged to their proper assembly positions and with their organisation and efficiency for attack practically unimpaired. The rain of gas-shells that descended all night long south of Hill 63 might indicate that the enemy knew the date of the attack, or it might signify merely an attempt to harass the general preparations. Artillery and other observers on the hill watched all night long the Messines Ridge opposite, black and lifeless under the bright moon. Occasionally, in the valley between, a trail of sparks soared to burst into a white flare, which gracefully fell, the only sign that a German garrison existed. The assembling troops were not likely to be seen by the enemy, or the tanks heard, until about 2 o'clock when both would be nearing the front. At 2.10 a white parachute flare floated high over the southern flank and an aeroplane was heard overhead - British onlookers were expecting it and knew that its presence was solely intended to drown the noise of the approaching tanks.

Battle of Messines. Anzac Field Dressing Station scene durinng the afternoon of June 7th, 1917

Still the enemy gave no sign of alarm. In an hour's time the great mines beneath him would be exploded. At 2.52 in the distance, behind the northern rim of the ridge, green and yellow flares, German calls for artillery-fire, went up, and within five minutes a barrage had broken out there. The gas-shelling in the south immediately stopped, but presently continued. At 3.5 the first tinge of dawn appeared over Messines, and an Australian observer noted: Last 5 minutes. Things must be right now. One feels as if it were a won battle. A minute later from the valley immediately in front of the New Zealanders a flare burst into two green stars. A machine-gun broke out; then another. A second green flare followed. A rifle flashed. It seemed certain that the New Zealanders, some of whose assembly trenches had been dug in No-Man's Land, had been detected. But the two machineguns, after chattering for three minutes, fell silent. At 3.9 there was unbroken silence. At 3.10 a number of big guns began to fire and then the trench-walls rocked; to the left, near Wytschaete, a huge bubble was swelling, mushroom-shaped, from the earth, and then burst to cast a molten, rosy glow on the under-surface of some dense cloud low above it. As its brilliance faded two more bubbles burst beside it. During twenty seconds the same thing happened again and again, from the right to the far left. The nineteen great mines had been exploded. With a roar the machine-gun barrage broke out. The massed artillery was already firing. The ridge faded from view, and for two hours nothing could be seen of it from Hill 63 through a fog of smoke and dust. When the mines went up, the last companies or both brigades of the 3rd Australian Division were just reaching their assembly positions. In the 10th Brigade these were companies for the afternoon attack, but in the 9th they formed part of the main assaulting force. Major White, commanding the extreme right-flank company of the 33rd, had just seen his last man into position; Captain Douglas with the support company was just arriving. Both led their men straight on across No-Man's Land. The mine explosions and the tremendous barrage-whose churning dust-cloud on that dry day served as a perfect screen and had a strong moral effect on the enemy---caused this great assault in its early stages to be easier than any in which Australians had been involved. The local German garrison, already overstrained by the week's bombardment, was entirely unstrung. Even some of the Australians closest to the mines suffered a momentary scare-these mines were fired seven seconds before they were expected, and so great was the shock that for an instant men thought the enemy must have obtained word of the operation and exploded a mine of his own. The mines blew vast craters, as much as 300 feet in width and 50 to 70 in depth, and each shattered or buried beneath its heaped-up rim the garrison of some 150 yards of trench. At three points on the 3rd Australian Division's mile-long front lay the huge resultant ant-heaps and saucers, splitting the advance in those parts of the front. The dust haze caused by them and by the churning fog of the British barrage increased the difficulty of keeping direction and organisation, and in some sectors successive waves and lines became amalgamated as one dense wave. But enemy resistance was almost absent. Although much the greater part of the German front-line garrison was outside the physical danger-zone of the mines, the moral shock was naturally terrific. The Australians, stumbling into the German trenches, still recognisable in the shell-torn ground, found a sprinkling of the enemy cowering there, mostly in the numerous rectangular concrete shelters which had formerly lain beneath the parapets but had been partly unearthed by the bombardment. A few Germans were in shell-holes in No-Man's Land, and a larger number behind their line, having lain there for several days to escape the shells. Many others had fled, a litter of accoutrements, rifles, ammunition, cigars, and scraps of food in the shell-holes showing where their line had been. At the "Beak," a small salient immediately north of the Douve stream, some German machine-gunner, despite the shocks of mines and the barrage and the panic around him, had remained true to the tradition of his splendid corps, and kept his head sufficiently to open fire on the Tasmanians advancing with their bridges. But Lieutenant Crosby and six men ran round and without the least difficulty bombed the position from behind, whereupon the gunner's determination gave way. Elsewhere, after firing a few scattered shots, the Germans surrendered as the troops approached. Men went along the trenches bombing the shelters, whose occupants then came out, some of them cringing like beaten animals. They "made many fruitless attempts to embrace us," reported Lieutenant Garrard of the 40th. "I have never seen men so demoralised." Except for a short tussle, presently to be described, on the extreme right, the German front and support lines were easily passed, the task proving child's play compared with the nightmare of the approach march. At this stage in each brigade, 9th and 10th, the left battalion halted to let a supporting battalion pass through, and this, together with the right battalion of its brigade, then continued the advance to the position for the second halt. On the left the 38th had crossed the bridges that had been duly laid across the Douve by the 40th, although this precaution was found to be needless, the stream proving easily fordable at any point. The tail of the supporting battalions was well clear of the old British line before the German barrage fell; but indeed the German artillery - fire at this stage was almost everywhere negligible. On the opening of the British barrage the rain of gas-shells had instantly stopped, and during the first stage of the battle the German field-guns did not seem to open again. Some fire from medium and heavy howitzers quickly descended on a few important points in the old British line, and almost the only casualties from shell-fire at this stage were suffered by the 37th Battalion, waiting there for the afternoon attack. For the troops, following the dust cloud lit up by the lurid flashes of that tremendous barrage, it was almost difficult to realise that danger from the enemy could be present. Kindly convey to the artillery and machine-guns (wrote Captain Chisholm of the 40th to his colonel) our hearty appreciation of their magnificent barrages. Some of our men kept within twenty yards of it and I had to order them back in some cases. In some units indeed most of the casualties at this stage were caused by men pressing forward too eagerly and coming under their own shells. But so well did officers and men know their tasks that, in spite of some disorganisation, and whether they went forward in waves or as a crowd, they made their way to their proper objectives. In some cases they were sorted out and re-formed as they advanced. As the light increased, the tawny, rolling cloud was easier to follow. Without the slightest check the line reached the position of the second halt, where, close in front of the German second line, the Australians must wait for slightly over an hour while the New Zealand centre worked through Messines. So far the only point at which resistance worthy of the name had been felt was, as had been expected, on the extreme right. The 33rd Battalion, an especially fine unit commanded by a young veteran at Gallipoli, Lieutenant-Colonel Morshead, had been picked for this position, and its advancing troops were from the first under the fire of distant Germans, who took long shots at them from safe trenches many hundred yards beyond the flank. Almost immediately also a party of the enemy at a local headquarters in the support trench, just beyond the edge of the attack but closer than the barrage, turned a machine-gun upon the nearest men of the 33rd as they were " mopping-up." Three were hit, but another, Private Spence, obtained the help of four additional men, and, setting two to fire on the machine-gun with rifle-grenades, worked round behind it, killed the crew, and captured the gun. Still farther to the right, where the flank rested on the northernmost of the two great flanking mine-craters, another German machinegun presently opened from a concrete shelter 100 yards up a communication trench, "Ultimo Lane," whose end was obliterated by the crater. Its fire had to be kept under by sniping until 4 a.m., when a Stokes mortar of the 9th Light Trench Mortar Battery with twelve shots drove these Germans again to shelter. Not only the men digging the new front line on the right, but those at work a few hundred yards back on the new support line across the old No-Man's Land, and carriers coming up with supplies, came under heavy fire from Germans beyond this flank. There was especial danger that the Germans might occupy the southern of the two flank craters which lay 150 yards within their territory. The northern crater had a good command, but was so exposed to fire that the platoon told off to fortify it was quickly shot down, and the work had to be postponed until nightfall. The southern crater was too close for safe shooting by the artillery. Major White of the flank company had therefore to trust mainly to his snipers, who - chief among them one named Partridge - prevented almost all enemy movement in that corner. After half--a-dozen Germans had been shot trying to creep to the southern crater, the enemy abandoned the attempt. Thus the first stage of the 3rd Division's advance was complete. Its right settled to the task of fortification; on the left, while the dawn broke and the countryside gradually became visible, the troops waited for the second stage.

The battalion held the ground captured during the battle for several days afterwards and was subjected to intense artillery bombardment. Private John Carroll of the 33rd Battalion was awarded the Victoria Cross when he rushed an enemy trench and killed four Germans; assisted a soldier in distress and killed another German; attacked a machine-gun team, killing three men and capturing the gun; then extracted comrades buried in a shell hole while under heavy fire. Daniel had been gassed during the battle and was transported on June 8th by the 9th Field Ambulance the 47th General Hospital, Le Treport before being moved to 3rd Convalescent Hospital. On July 27th he was admitted to the 40th Stationary Hospital before being discharged and marched into the 3rd Australian Division Base Depot at Rouelles on August 1st, rejoining his unit on August 21st at Campagne lez Bournais. The 9th Brigade held a Sports Day at Campagne where Daniel won a medal in the relay race before the games were abandoned due to rain.

Relay race medal awarded to Daniel George Smith

to be continued......