No corrections yet
AUSTRALIAN ENGINEERS AND PIONEERS. ? n ? 1
The Men and Their Works.
Friends of Iieut.-CoL E. J. H. Nicholson, C.M.G., D.S.O., who arrived by 'the Shropshire on Tuesday, have many inte resting stories— practically all learned secondhand— to tell regarding hi9 achieve ments on the. battle fields' of Gullipoli and France. That some at least of them were thrilling, may be gauged from the decorations which he has received, but when invited to furnfeh a few details con cerning them on Thursday he firmly, though courteously, decliEtjd to do so. The most he would my was that he was an old Adelaide boy-, and bad been en gaged for many years in mining opera tions in Western Australia. The records show that he wag among the first men to enlist in that State on the declaration of war; that he participated in the land ing on Gollipoli, remained there until the evacuation, and then went to France, and that at the time of the signing of the armistice he was commandant of Royal Engineers, Australian Corp9 Troops.
UEDT.-COL. E. 3. H. M0HOI£0N, C.H.G.. D.S.O.
UEDT.-COL. E. 3. H. M0HOI£0N, C.H.G.. D.S.O.
However, when asked to describe the achievements of the men with whom he had eerved, his eyes sparkled, and he immediately responded. —Splendid Examples.— 'Durinp the GalHpoli campaign,' he saiu, 'the work of the Australian engineers was of an extraor dinarily high standard, though little recog nised. The system of trenches developed there was never approached in any other theatre of the war. Lady Galway\s Drive, the Black Hand, -the 10th and 11th Bat talion covered trenches, Chatham Post, and Quinn's were simply perfection. Gun road, Shrapnel Valley Sap, and the. Apex were very fine. Walker's Fier and Wil liams's Jetty were splendid examples of work done under interesting conditions. The actual manual laibour was mainly car ried out by skilled miners from Western Australia and Broken Hill. The engineers were the designers, but the work performed by them was, perhaps, a little underestima ted in the praise given to the worker, who was legitimately intensely proud of his achievement, and apt to claim too great a portion of the credit in which all should have shared. After the evacuation the mining units, subsequently' known as the tunnelling companies, were formed, an-1 did wonderfully good work, but as unite they were distributed among the various armies, and seldom came into touch with the Australian Corps. The British Higher Commands may sometimes be considera to be a trifle elow, but in knowing a good thing when they see it, and sticking to it when they get it, they cannot be excelled. They stuck to our tunnellcrs. .^?Pioneer Battalions.— ; ..,. 'The result of the engineers' work, as sisted by skilled men from the Infantry, was so satisfactory that it was decided in Egypt, on the return from Gallinoli, to form a pioneer battalion for each division. These units were actual fighting troops, equipped as infantry battalions, with abqnt twice the transport. The first 'battalion was formed at Serapeum by volunteers from the three first 'brigades and newly ar rived reinforcements. Altogether aibout 62 different trades were represented. The physique of the men was of a very liwh standard, and, with four exceptions, the officers were all chosen from the other ranto*— mainly a fine stamp of engineer N.C.O.'s, though several engineers of hkh civilian standard were found among the privatfs of infantry battalions and given commissions. Taking the 1st Pioneers as a typical example, and with the exception of the 3rd Pioneer Battalion, which had an equally good reputation, I speak with knowledge, having at various, periods as commandant of -the Royal Engineers' of the corps troop*, had the privilege of directing work on which the 2nd. 4th, and 5th Battalions iwere freauentlv eneaeed— it is
aflmitted tnat thpre was little difterence between them. The pioneers were really engineer corps, with the advantage of hav ing a skived, trained personnel to do the actual work, instead of raying on working parties which might or might not be suit able. Afc no time was there any friction between the two branches. The pioneer was keen to make good. Tlie engineer realized his difficulty in lack of working strength, but his higher standard of train ing made amends. —Engineers' Great Triumph.— 'Gallipoli was the engineers' rreat triumph, birt their work as liaison officers with the brigade commanders, their tech nical advice, and designing skill again and attain proved invaluable, and their losses in officers especially were abnormally high. In France tlie work done at Bullecburt by the 7th Field Company nnder Major Evans in designing and carrying out a system of tranches facing Queant: by the 6th Field Company, under Major Harris, in work ahead of Noreuil, and by the 5th Field Company, under Major Reid and Major Stecle in making strong posts in front of the Hindenburg line was ac knowledged to be very good. The eoisode of Capt. Gflcnrist stands out in one's me mory as a magnificent example of the fight
ing spirit of a tnue sapper. Unfortunately, it was realized too late, but in rallying a retiring company and retaking its position ie ended a brilliant career, his body having been found in an old cardigan jacket, lying across two Germans, with his empty re volver showing what he had done. What these companies did others accomplished, j and my^ regret is that such wonder ful material as idhase young 'Varsity boys represented did not have a more U3eful or ganization. I think sometimes infantry did not realize the toil of getting forward material which meant safety and comfort to all. To know what work such men as Lieut.-Col. Mantyn, Capt. Coghlan, Lieut. Grcenlees, and notably Lieut.-Col. Stur dee did was illuminating. Again, such men as Gen. Joly de Lothbinnier, the most debonnair and'-wisest of men/camonflaging a knowledge of character under an air of smiling simplicity; the directness of Lieut.. Col. Elliott and Iieut.-Col. Carey, and the loving nature of Liei*D.-Ool. Newcome, had a great influence during the hard fighting, and later that great soldier, Brig.-G*n. C. H. Foott, held an even improved the place of the sapper. At the back of all, inwever, Avas LieuMJen. Sir ChaTles B. B. White. - _ Brigade commanders could rage and criticise, even divisional commanders doubt, but once they knew he had ap proved, or more often chosen, there was an end to talk. —Love for the Pioneer.— 'But, greatly as I respect and admire the sapner and acknowledge lis wonderful work, my love is for the pioneer, a true digger and the diggers' friend. The en gineer was the architect, the .pioneer the contractor. His work was very hard; his losses were great, but he never slackened. Big. burly, quiet spoken, self-reliant, the very pick of the finest type of tradesman or worker, miner, carpenter, mason, quarry, man, platelayer, roadmaker! How splen didly the pioneers transformed, the alleged communication trenches and parapete at Sailly-6ur-Lyi— built for British baiitalions, and leaving two feet, of Australian show ing—and dug the first 'kick-off' trenches on the same front in no man's land, working up to their waists in water, witih a covering party to protect ithem! There one of the best, Lieut. Dobie, and Sgt. Pearce, from Bendigo, went out. Who will forget the mining done there, when Sgt. Thomas went dorn a gassed shaft six 'times, and each time pulled out his man unconscious ?vThe great kick-off -trench between Black VVatci avenue and German trench at Pozieres. which gave the 3rd Brigade its start and where Lieut. Jenkins and Capt. Bardin— both engineers turned pioneers— did their great work of surveying out the actual posi tions, which were very obscure, and Jen kins was killed; when one of the brightest and beat, young Capt. Hubbe, followed his father for his country; and Clayton went, too. The infantry had a rougih spin, ana won much glory, but the pioneers came out pretty 'thin in numbers, as well as in other directions. Then there was the work of the 2nd Pioneers, under Lieut.-Coi. An nand, in the advance from Le Sars to Ba paume, in the construction of the torn-up road, with its huge craters, the digging of the communication trench from the railway embankment to the Hjndenburg line in one afternoon, under a wiiherine tire. With
sucu men as major nocKiey ittno was killed near Ypres), Major Donnelly, Capt. Kline. Capt. Shaw, that was tlie time of their lives. People often smiled at the )ld 2nd Pioneers— the most respectable steady., well conducted battalion in the early days in the A.I.F.— but one never could fault them. The 4th Pioneers were about the opposite of the 2nd in some re- , spects, but for fast work they were un equalled. They specialized in railways little 21-in. gauge tracks over auy coun try, under any conditions, and broke the hearts of more than one enthusiastic social reformer. Lieut.-Col. Sturdee, however, | swore by them, though he was a pukka engineer. Later there was nothing wrong with their work in the forward roads round Zonnebeke, done under most unpleasant conditions, and again on the Somme, ahead of Riebmont, they did wonders. Gen. Me Lagan said things about their work, which he never could have admitted to them. The 5th Pioneers were a fine battalion. ?Lieut.-?ol. Carter had them a long time, and his great technical knowledge was an immense advantage. Their work from Zillebeke to Birr X roads ought never to be forgotten by the gunners. They con structed over 2,000 yards or new road in nine days in broad daylight. Major Mc Clean got his D.S.O. there, and Lieut. Pat terson and othere their decorations.'